Baking Basics: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing a Recipe
Happy Wednesday everyone!
Today I’m kicking off something a little bit different… a “baking basics” series here on the site. I thought it would be a great idea to periodically check in and bring you some tips to make your baking lives a little bit easier. Some of these might be second nature to many of you, but if I can help a few people avoid baking disasters, then it’s time well spent! I know that I’ve made ALL of these mistakes (multiple times) as I learned to bake, and they’re always frustrating lessons to learn.
We’re going to start off at the very beginning – when you first flip open that recipe and get ready to bake. Let’s go!
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Preparing a Recipe
1. Giving the recipe a quick skim before diving in and starting.
This is pretty much the Golden Rule when it comes to baking. It’s imperative to read a recipe through in its entirety before even thinking about starting. Ideally, you should read through it twice. You’ll get an idea for what you’ll need to do and when exactly you’ll need to do it. Plus, you don’t want to get a third of the way through making the recipe only to find out that something needs to be soaked/chilled/rested for 8 hours. Especially if you were planning on serving that recipe in a couple of hours. That makes for a bad day!
2. Thinking that the instructions don’t need to be followed EXACTLY.
Baking is most definitely science, and not so much art (cooking is pretty much reversed, so there is much more wiggle room with a cooking recipe!) and, as such, it’s vitally important to follow the instructions as they are written. Food allergies and special diets aside, substitutions should be avoided at all cost. If a recipe specifically calls for whole milk, don’t use skim. If the recipe calls for light brown sugar, don’t use honey. Any slight change in ingredients or technique can have a major impact on the final result of a recipe.
3. Not measuring ingredients properly.
It’s important to understand WHEN to measure ingredients. Let’s take a look at a couple of different examples:
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
– vs –
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
That lone comma makes a world of difference. In the first example, you should measure out 1 cup of flour, and then sift it. In the second example, you should sift flour, and then measure out 1 cup of the sifted flour. You’ll see this often when it comes to chopped nuts, chopped chocolate, minced herbs, etc. Be sure to look out for that all-important comma!
4. Failing to preheat the oven at the correct time.
Most recipes instruct you to preheat the oven as the very first step. This is imperative, as putting baked goods into a not-hot-enough oven will result in a less than ideal outcome. Biscuits will not rise, cookies will spread… things will not go as planned. Make sure your oven gets to temperature before you put your masterpiece in there!
In addition, I am a HUGE proponent of keeping an oven thermometer inside of the oven to make sure that your oven temperature is correct. I have owned/used six different ovens in my adult life and only ONE of them has actually been dead-on accurate. My current oven is off by 75 degrees! SEVENTY FIVE! Obviously, that could wreck havoc on any recipe. Oven thermometers are less than $10… get one today!
5. Not getting all of the ingredients ready before starting the recipe.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not always good at doing this, but when I don’t, I totally kick myself. Having everything chopped, measured and ready makes completing a recipe easy sailing. You don’t want to be standing over a pot of bubbling butter and sugar that you’re supposed to be stirring constantly and then realize that you need to chop a pound of chocolate (see also #1 above). Your situation is about to get hairy! Getting everything prepped and ready before you start may sound tedious, but you’ll be so grateful that you did!
Wrapping it Up
So, there you have it! Those are my big tips for setting yourself up for recipe success. Ingredients are expensive, time is precious, and I hate for either to be wasted because of a lack of diligence while getting ready to bake. It’s happened to me more times than I care to remember, so being organized and prepared is a huge deal for me!
Happy Baking! xo