So there you are, all ready and eager to test the latest cake decorating technique, when your cake comes out of the oven and the top is cracked. Or domed. Or it caved in the middle. Or itâ€™s sticking to the sides of the pan. Or it looks fine but once itâ€™s been decorated and you serve it, you realize itâ€™s dry or crumbly or too dense or underdone. Whatâ€™s a baker to do? Hereâ€™s what: Read on for the most common baking mistakes and how to never make them again.
1. Not Waiting for the Butter or Eggs to Come to Room Temperature
Thereâ€™s a reason your recipe specifies ingredients at room temperature: using them cold from the fridge or softened from the microwave can ruin your cakes and cookies. So be sure to take eggs and butter out of the fridge at least 30 minutes and up to an hour before you need them. If you havenâ€™t planned ahead, then youâ€™ll have to practice patience.
2. Being Cavalier about Measuring Ingredients
Savory chefs can be whimsical when it comes to measurements; bakers cannot. Using a wet measuring cup (one with a spout) to measure your flour; substituting sugar substitute for real sugar; replacing ALL the fat in a recipe with applesauce â€” all of these can wreak havoc with baked goods. So read your recipe carefully and measure accurately. And if youâ€™re going to use substitutions, make sure youâ€™re using a recipe thatâ€™s been tested.
3. Using Expired Baking Soda and Baking Powder
Your cake didnâ€™t rise properly? Check the expiration date on your baking soda and baking powder. Thatâ€™s usually the culprit. In the future, always check before using ingredients that have been in the pantry for a while.
4. Not Bothering to Sift the Flour
Donâ€™t see the point of sifting flour? Sifting serves a number of important purposes in the baking process, most notably helping to remove any impurities, aerating, and incorporating ingredients. Donâ€™t have a sieve to sift your flour? At least take a whisk to it to aerate and evenly distribute ingredients.
5. Over-mixing or Under-mixing
Both scenarios can lead to sad cakes. Over-mix and the cake may fall, be tough, or have a cracked crust; under-mix and the cake may bake unevenly, have tunnels and holes, or even have a wet texture. Gently beat until all ingredients have been incorporated; no more, no less.
6. Not Smoothing and Tapping
Once your batter is in the cake pans, take the 10 seconds to do these two tasks: smooth the batter so the top bakes evenly and tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Also, if youâ€™re working with a square pan, build up a little extra batter in the corners after smoothing it, itâ€™ll help ward off those drooping corners in your finished cake.
7. Trusting Your Oven to Be the Correct Temperature
Sadly, just because you set your oven to 350Â°F does not mean the temperature inside the oven is 350Â°F. To make sure you are baking your cake at the ideal temperature, always use an oven thermometer. Also be aware of hot spots within your oven and rotate pans once during the baking process. To test your oven for hot spots, place slices of white bread in a 350Â°F oven; once they begin toasting you will easily see which areas of your oven burn hotter than others.
8. Peeking at the Cake
Once youâ€™ve put the cake in the oven, give it the privacy it needs and deserves. When you open the door, your oven loses 25-50 degrees in heat depending on how long itâ€™s open. Leave the door closed to avoid creating temperature fluctuations that can cause your cake to crack or collapse in the middle.
9. Cutting the Cake Too Soon
Congratulations! Youâ€™ve just taken a gorgeous cake out of the oven. Donâ€™t blow it now by trying to decorate the cake before itâ€™s cooled or â€” horrors! â€” sticking it in the fridge to try to speed up the cooling process. Hereâ€™s what youâ€™re gonna do: Let it sit in the pan until the top feels firm (about 20 minutes), then transfer it to a cooling rack and let it cool completely. Now go and decorate to your heartâ€™s content.