More Common Baking Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
You can find Part 1 of How NOT to Bake here. This is Part 2 and looks at improper measuring and not knowing your oven as well as you think you do.
Mistake #2 – Improper Measuring
Some recipes are written in fairly straightforward terms: one cup of this ingredient, one tablespoon of that ingredient, etc.
But others might employ rather confusing measurements: 1 1/3 cup milk, 2/3 cup butter, 1 ¾ teaspoons of salt.
When faced with measuring just one ingredient, it might not seem like such a problem, but when you have to use every measuring cup and spoon you own just to make one recipe, it can be pretty easy to make a mistake.
The Fix – Organization
Technically, measuring is part of your mise en place, but since measurements in baking are so critical, let’s focus on ways to minimize the chance of mistakes.
When reading over your list of ingredients and measurements, get out every measuring device that you’ll need: dry measures, liquid measures, measuring spoons or a scale.
If you do a lot of baking, you would do well to own at least two sets of metal measures.
It’s more than a bit frustrating to have to wash and dry out a single teaspoon measure when you need both one teaspoon of salt and vanilla.
Purchase high quality metal sets so they will last you a lifetime. One by one, read each measurement, measure it out, and then put that ingredient and the measures you used for it away. That way, you won’t accidentally measure something out twice, or overlook an ingredient entirely.
While it might cost you a few more dollars to get a couple of extra sets of measures, at least you’ll know that you won’t be throwing away a cake or a batch of cookies because your measurements were off and the recipe didn’t work.
Mistake #3 – Not Knowing Your Oven
I don’t mean introducing yourself and going out to lunch with your oven. What I mean is that all ovens have their own idiosyncrasies. Some run a little hotter than the thermostat; some run a little cooler.
Unless you have a really good convection oven—one with an interior fan that blows heated air, most ovens have hot spots and cold spots which can impede baking and browning evenly.
The Fix – Know Thy Oven
It’s always a good idea to purchase an oven thermometer and hang it in the oven. Just doing that is not enough, though. You’ll want to set the thermostat at one temperature and then take readings using the oven thermometer.
Notice I said readings with an s. Take a reading with the rack at the top of the oven, one in the middle, and one at the bottom. Also make sure to take readings at the front and back of the oven.
Preheat the oven for a good fifteen minutes and then take your first reading, preferably with the door closed. Just take the reading through the oven window.
Take note of the temperature, and then move the thermometer. Wait another 5 minutes before taking a reading to allow the oven temperature to recover.
Continue doing this until you have temperature readings for all parts of your oven (About five readings, give or take, should give you a clear picture).
As I said before, some ovens run a little bit hotter or colder than the thermostat, so consider the temperature readings in relation to each other. Is it hotter in the front or the back of the oven?
Is there a hot spot on the left side of the oven? How much hotter or colder is the oven running?
These are the kind of questions that you need to know the answers to about your oven. Then, when it comes time to bake, you can allow for your oven’s idiosyncrasies by turning the baking pan and/or increasing/reducing the thermostat.
At the end of the day, though, even though the oven is doing all the work, it can’t just turn itself off when your dish is perfectly done. You need to monitor what is going on in that box and make adjustments as necessary.