Take your eggs out of the fridge, immediately.
Have you ever started to bake something then realised that you've accidentally made a crucial mistake along the way? Or have you ever used salt in place of sugar? Or misread the oven temperature in a recipe and charred your bakes? You're not alone.
It's easy enough to be bested by a recipe, especially when you're just starting to experiment in the kitchen.
To help you master the joy of cooking, here are ten common mistakes to avoid while baking that will set you on the right path.
1. Keep your ingredients at room temperature
Not having room temperature ingredients when you're cooking can completely ruin a recipe. Take the ingredients - especially butter if your recipe calls for the creaming method - out of the fridge while preparing your workspace, tins and oven, and avoid the pain of trying to get the perfect consistency in your batter with small lumps of butter flying around the bowl. Conversely, some recipes, like pastry and scones, call for extremely chilled butter and other ingredients, so if they're soft and warm, you risk wrecking your bake
2. Read the recipe ahead of time
Reading the recipe beforehand only takes a short amount of time, but it helps you prepare for what’s ahead. There have been plenty of times when we’ve realised we're missing a utensil or ingredient and stopped a disaster in its tracks by simply reading the recipe. Familiarise yourself with the method, make a shopping list of ingredients (if necessary), and get all your equipment together before you begin baking and you'll be in for a stress-free, enjoyable experience.
Contradictory to the above point, some recipes, like pastry and scones, call for extremely chilled butter and other ingredients, so if they're soft and warm, you risk wrecking your bake before you even get started. The only way to avoid this error: read the recipe ahead of time.
3. Terrible tins
Make sure your tin size is correct before starting, as the wrong tin can result in under or overcooked bakes. When creating speciality dishes, like doughnuts, friands and madeleines, specific tins are required, so if you may need to purchase a new tin before you get going in the kitchen.
4. Measure, measure, measure
As any chef worth their salt will tell you, baking is more of a science than an art. While you may be able to add ingredients on the fly for many savoury dishes, baking requires serious precision. As you become more familiar with the recipe you can begin to experiment with throwing in a little more of this and a dash of that, but if it’s a new recipe stick to what is recommended - especially when it comes to something temperamental like meringues or pastry. Too much flour or egg can ruin an entire cake and might be the reason you're just not getting the right consistency or flavour.
Professional chefs swear by mise en place, which literally means 'put in place' in French, and involves getting all ingredients measured and prepped before you even go near an oven. If you adopt this practice, you'll find your baking experience is much easier.
5. Grease it
Another element of mise en place is preparing your tins ahead of time by greasing or using parchment paper as required - there's nothing worse than having your batter ready to go, then having to wait to line your tin. Some bakes need to go into the oven as soon as they're ready, so if you don't prepare your tin ahead of time, you run the risk of ruining the end result. Poor lining can also cause your cakes to stick and tear as you release them from the tin, which is every baker's nightmare. Avoid the stress by lining or greasing your tins - investing in a silicone baking mat is a great idea as they are completely non-stick and reusable, so they are perfect for biscuits, scones and macarons.
6. Batter it
When mixing batter for a cake you want a silky, fluffy consistency. To achieve this result, as we mentioned previously, your ingredients must be at room temperature in order to mix properly. When you under mix you’ll be left with ingredients sitting at the end and the sides of the bowl, and a lumpy texture; when you over mix the batter becomes too runny and thin. You want to get it just right for a good end result.
7. Size matters
When baking certain recipes like cupcakes and cookies you want them all to be the same size - you don't want to have one large cookie and 11 tiny ones, unless the large is for yourself! The best at-home trick for avoiding this is to use an ice-cream scoop to scoop out the batter evenly so that you avoid any uneven proportions. Many professional chefs weigh each ball of cookie dough to ensure even cookies, so you could also opt for this method.
8. Fight the urge!
Baking is serious business, so don’t go playing 'peek-a-boo' with the oven door, constantly checking your bake. Every time you open the door, you let cool air in which results in uneven baking. Don’t ruin all your hard work so close to the finish line.
9. Clean as you go
Having a messy workspace can be a nightmare when baking: similar-looking ingredients can become mixed up, spills can easily occur and you can be left with little space to work with. Make sure you start with a clean counter and with all of your ingredients ready to go, then clean as you go as well, putting reusable spoons into a cup and having a waste bowl at the ready. Clean down your workspace when you're done with a bowl full of hot soapy water before sanitising.
10. Don’t sweat it
Once your cake is done, take it out of the oven and remove it from the tin as soon as possible, between 10-30 minutes after it leaves the oven. By leaving the cake in the tin, it can start to sweat and get soggy. Place the cake on a cooling tray to air it out and cool it down, but be careful not to burn yourself.