Even More Common Baking Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
Mistake #4 - Over or Under Filling Your Pans
Once all your mise en place is taken care of, your oven is well preheated and your pans are prepared, it’s imperative to fill the pans with the right amount of batter.
If you overfill the pan, you can end up with a cake that overflows the pan and bakes onto your oven floor. If you under-fill the pan, you could end up with an overly browned, dry cake.
The Fix = Fill Your Pans Properly
Most well written recipes will tell you how full to fill your pans. If they don’t, they should at least tell you the size and number of pans you should use.
If a recipe is scaled to be baked in 2 - 9” pans and you only have 2 - 8” pans, if you use all of the batter, you will end up with overfilled pans and a mess in your oven.
Conversely, if you use 2 -10” pans, you will end up with thin, over-browned cakes. Either way, you won’t be happy.
Use the right sized pan. If you don’t have pans that are the right size, only fill pans between ½ and ⅔ full.
This will give them plenty of room to rise without overflowing. It will also ensure that you have batter deep enough that it won’t bake too quickly, resulting in dry, overly browned cakes.
Mistake #5 - Relying on the Stated Baking Time
As stated in Mistake #3, all ovens are different, so not all ovens will bake an item to completeness in the same amount of time. There are a lot more variables than just oven temperature, too.
You must take into account the temperature of your batter, what kind of pan you’re baking in -metal, glass, silicone, how large your oven is and how much you’re trying to bake at one time.
If a recipe calls for 2 cake layers, and you’re baking 4, baking times will increase. If you’re baking in silicone bake ware, baking time will increase because you’ll be missing heat conduction through the sides of the pan since silicone is an effective insulator.
If your oven runs a little hot, the baking time will probably be less than the recipe states. You can see the problem.
The Fix = Use Your Senses
Look at the baking time as more of a suggestion than a law. Begin checking for doneness fifteen minutes before the stated time, and then continue to check until it’s done.
If the recipe says that the cake will take 45 minutes to bake, don’t just blindly take it out of the oven when the timer goes off and assume that it is done.
Use your eyes, nose and sense of touch. The cake should be a deep golden brown (if it’s a white or yellow cake), the kitchen should smell like cake, it might be starting to pull away from the sides of the pan just a little bit, and the top should spring back when you press gently on it.
You can further, and more accurately, test for doneness by inserting a wooden skewer into the center of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean or with only a couple of crumbs on it, the cake should be done.
If it comes out covered in gooey batter, you’ll need to leave it in the oven for at least a few more minutes. The most accurate way to check for doneness is to take the cake’s temperature. Ideally, your thermometer should register between 195˚F and 210˚F.
To summarize, use your senses and some implements so you’ll know when your cake is done instead of having to guess, and use the baking time in the recipe just as a guideline.
Mistake #6 - Soggy Cakes, Breads and Cookies
Once you’ve taken the time to get all of your mise en place together, you follow all the directions and take your baked good out of the oven at the perfect time, you’ll want to keep your winning streak going.
Now is not the time to start rushing things.
When the recipe says “let come to room temperature,” believe it. If you try to hurry and wrap your bread or cake before it is completely cool, you can end up trapping steam in your product.
And that results in sogginess. No fun.
The Fix - Cool Your Heels
Once you take a cake or bread out of the oven, the interior of that product will be right around 200˚F. The starches in the flour, while gelatinized, aren’t completely set because they are too hot.
If you’ve ever tried to cut a loaf of bread straight from the oven, you know that you end up with a squished piece of bread. Even a serrated bread knife will shred and smash hot bread. This is because the starches and protein haven’t set up.
As it cools, the starch and protein firm up. This is also true of cakes, and that’s why you shouldn’t remove a cake from its pan for at least ten minutes. If you do, chances are it will fall apart.
Even when the starches and proteins have set up, your bread (or cake, for that matter) is still far from cool. Heat and moisture will continue to escape, so just wait until all of it has escaped before wrapping.
Patience is a virtue, especially in baking, and waiting as little as fifteen minutes for cookies or as much as three hours for a dense fruit cake is a small price to pay to keep your baked goods at the proper texture.