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When baking goes bad

Every once in a while things go wrong in the kitchen. Grand ideas turn into unmitigated disasters. As requested by twitter here is the blog to prove that sometimes baking does go wrong, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a learning experience and sometimes the ugliest baking tastes the best.

We won’t talk about the breadmaking class ran few weeks ago where thanks to getting distracted by chatting to the students and answering questions I managed to overknead the dough. This then turned into a lesson on what happens when you over knead dough and showed that while the dough would no longer be good for a loaf of bread, it would certainly be acceptable for pizza dough. Then there was the time I baked a banana bread as a present for a friend, I was busy and made a silly ingredient substitute leading it to cook much faster in the over, hence burnt cake. Many problems with baking can be solved with a reliable cooker, or at least using a thermometer so you know what temperature your oven is but there are times when it can be a problem with ingredients.

Baking is chemistry in disguise where the components need to be at the right ratios to work. Don’t let this put you off. Unlike what some TV programmes try to make out, baking isn’t rocket science. It’s just a case of making sure you use the best ingredients at the right quantities.

  • Invest in a set of digital scales.
  • If a recipe calls for a water, weigh it. 1 ml = 1 g. It is far more accurate to weigh.
  • Make sure your ingredients are not out of date. Using out of date yeast or bicarbonate of soda will impact on your baking.
  • Use the pan size recommended in the recipe.
  • Don’t overfill the tin.
  • Unless you are confident with baking, stick to the recipe word by word for the first time you make it.
  • Unless the recipe states otherwise, cook in the middle of the oven. The difference in temperature between the top and the bottom of the oven can greatly vary.
  • What ever you do, do not open the oven during the first 2/3 of the baking time. This can sometimes lead to cakes sinking but also makes the oven cool down.
  • Use a timer. In baking sometimes just 2 minutes can mean the difference between an undercooked and an overcooked cake.
  • When working with pastry always allow the pastry to chill and rest for at least 30min before working with it. This helps the gluten formation in the dough and will stop it breaking and shrinking.
  • When blind baking pastry, just before it is ready brush the inside of the case with a thin layer of egg white and bake for a further 2 min. This helps seal the pastry.

Today knowing I had some puff pastry left from a class to use up I decided to have a go at making mini bakewell puddings. No true recipe to hand, but just working on instinct and experience. I knew the pastry would puff up so rolled the pre-rolled pastry even thinner and pricked with a fork before adding filling. Topping with a spoonful of either raspberry jam or lemon curd then an loose almond and egg mix. After 10 minutes in the oven I opened the door to be greeted with what could only be described as volcanic vol-au-vents oozing their jammy contents all over the bun tin. Big fat fail. Thankfully taste wise they aren’t too bad and a liberal sprinkling of icing sugar will make them prettier.

Don’t worry if something does go wrong while baking, more often than not it can be saved. Why do you think we ice cakes? To hide the imperfections, hence why cakes like Victoria Sponges are so popular in cake competitions. No chance to hide behind a flurry of buttercream.

Centre of cake not cooked but outside of cake dry? Cut out the uncooked center of the cake and discard. Drizzle the cake with syrup or liquer and fill the center of the cake with fruit and/or whipped cream.

Cake burnt on top? Trim the top of the cake and cover with icing. If this isn’t an option, trim off the  burnt bits of the cake and transform the decent cake into truffles.

Meringues not looking great? Crumble and mix with whipped cream and berries to make Eton Mess.

So share with me, what kitchen baking disasters have you had? Do you have a question about something in baking that hasn’t worked for you?

About the author


Freelance food geek who's passionate about food education.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.butcherbakerblog.com/2011/11/02/when-baking-goes-bad/

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