Why Do My Bakes Fail?

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Baking has never been more popular. As more amateur cooks look for ways to have healthier cakes and biscuits or go the other way by trying more decadent recipes at home – baking is definitely a new hobby of many. However, for new bakers, try as hard as you may, mistakes do happen. Don’t stress, we’ve compiled a few basic expert tips to help you understand what works best for your bakes.

Changing baking soda for baking powder

One common challenge for bakers, (not just new bakers, in fact) is the ability to tell the difference between baking soda and powder. Both ingredients are odourless and appearance-wise, look like plain white powders, so it’s easy to assume they can replace one another. But, watch out as both ingredients behave differently when used, so it’s best to drop that assumption.

First, baking powder consists of baking soda, cream of tartar and rice or corn flour that acts as an agent to absorb moisture. There are several types of baking powder, some fast-acting, while others work slower depending on the amount of acidic agent in them. Baking powder works the minute it is mixed in with a liquid ingredient, so we advise you to bake as soon as you mix the dry and wet ingredients, whether you’re making cakes or bread. This process allows carbon dioxide to form and helps the cake or bread rise. Use exact measurements to avoid bitterness.

Baking soda is typically three to four times stronger than baking powder, consisting of bicarbonate and sodium ions. In recipes that use baking soda, you’ll need something acidic to help produce carbon dioxide that causes your cakes or bread to rise. Like baking powder, follow exact measurements as it also leaves an aftertaste in your bakes if you use too much soda – a metallic taste is not something you want in your cakes. Just remember to use fresh baking soda or powder, because an expired box will not achieve its effect because they lose potency over time and may lead to sunken bakes.

Follow the signs to a delicious bake

If you’re after a low fat cake, you may be tempted to cut down butter or oil from the recipe. Experts say – don’t! If the recipe calls for applesauce to be mixed with butter or oil, just follow it. You may be unknowingly making a denser or gummy cake if you decide to skip the fat. There are recipes that allow you to bake with fewer calories, so feel free to use that instead. Recipes for low-fat versions often have to go through several rounds of experiments. For example, this author took months to develop a tasty chocolate chip cookie recipe which only uses four tablespoons of butter.

So if you’re confident in making many, many cakes or biscuits to perfect your recipe, you’re more than welcome to do so. But for a quicker route to a delicious bake, why not go stick to low-fat recipes by baking enthusiasts such as these tips where you learn how to correctly swap ingredients – greek yoghurt for sour cream and honey or bananas for sugar.

Preheat, preheat, preheat

Often we’re so in the zone when mixing and measuring we forget to do the first thing that most recipes call for – preheating the oven at the desired temperature. Forgetting to do this at the early stage may lead to problems with rise, texture and colour. If left too cool at the start, it will take longer to reach the right temperature leaving you with overdone cakes or bakes with crispy burnt edges. Another reason for preheating the oven early is so that temperature hits the sweet spot for leavening agents such as yeast, baking powder and baking soda to react effectively.

The opposite effect will also be disastrous for your bake if you preheat your oven too early before working on your dough. Overheated ovens may cause the butter to melt ahead of time, flattening your biscuit dough instead creating the desired shape. When the oven is at the right temperature, the butter will melt at the same time as the eggs and flour cook together, resulting in the right biscuit mound.

Another tip is to bake in the centre to ensure even baking and browning all around. If you have to bake on two racks, make sure to rotate the pans halfway through. Also, use an unglazed ceramic tile from any hardware store to help distribute heat if you find your oven gives out uneven temperatures, so you have a well-rounded bake.

Tidy tools

Unless you’re baking in a new place or even experimenting bakes in wood fire ovens, being at your home kitchen ensures you’ll have the right tools. Start by getting kitchen scales, as they are more accurate than measuring cups. Dipping your cup to scoop out flour may get you slightly more than needed, resulting in doughy or dry bakes. Having kitchen scales, be it digital or analog versions is also fast, easy and efficient. Cups may have slight variations in size depending on their manufacturers, so to be on the safe side, stick the accurate tool. Professionals use scales, so maybe you can try them too.

Other tools you could invest in is a good rolling pin. Experts look for long, heavy, ball-bearing-type rolling pins to help you roll out dough quickly, and layer butter if you’re making rough puff pastry or brioche bread. It’s simply easier to use when you’re bearing down the weight on the dough.

And when you’ve come to the baking stage, silicone-coated baking liners are easy – they work just like kitchen parchment paper. If you’re opting for a zero-waste bake, this could be a great reusable tool as nothing – including cream to egg wash will stick to them.

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