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  • Make sure your ingredients are not out of date. Using out of date yeast or bicarbonate of soda will impact on your baking.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?

Post Author: Jules

Freelance food geek who's passionate about food education.

21 thoughts on “When baking goes bad

  • Frances

    (November 2, 2011 - 2:13 pm)

    Actually, I think your Bakewell Puffs look rather good. Maybe that could be a Baking Fail tip too: “End product doesn’t look like the name says it should? Change its name!”

    • Jules

      (November 2, 2011 - 2:19 pm)

      Very true. Someone on twitter suggested they should be called Bakewell Vol-au-Vents. What you can’t see in the picture that in most of the puddings the almond filling leaked out so much when you bite into them you have pastry, layer of jam, a void then a crispy almond shell.

  • Susan

    (November 2, 2011 - 3:45 pm)

    I agree that your tarts look lovely! This is an excellent list of ‘must-dos’ for home pastry chefs. Precision is everything with pastry! I like your ‘salvage the disaster’ tips too.

  • Lucy Colman

    (November 2, 2011 - 5:52 pm)

    Excellent list Jules.

    So disasaters…where do I begin? I like to think of baking much like my scientific research career… if it goes wrong there a good scientific reason i.e. I forgot to put a vital ingredient in the reaction mix! Ok so it’s more like I get distracted or substitute something that doesn’t quite work.

    A recent one was when I was making Foccacia. It usually works a treat, only this time I forgot to split the dough into two loaves and ended up with a monster of a dough that was barely cooked in the middle. A little preparation would have maybe avoided this but I thought winging it would be ok.

    As with science though, being ill prepared in baking only ends in disaster.

    Great tips Jules and I love your bakewell puffs.

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:11 am)

      Lucy, unsurprisingly we think in a very similar way when it comes to baking. Now only if we had had more food science lectures at uni rather than boring ones about diatoms.

  • Patrick George

    (November 2, 2011 - 6:19 pm)

    When I was about 13 (an awfully long time ago) my cousin Derek and I decide one afternoon to make some biscuits. Unfortunately we used self raising flower. We just called the result rock cakes.

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:12 am)

      Patrick, I’ve done a similar thing before. I bet they still tasted good though.

  • C

    (November 2, 2011 - 8:25 pm)

    I manage all sorts of baking related fails. Sometimes it’s my own recipe that I’ve made up, sometimes it’s after I’ve followed a recipe pretty closely. I quite often blog them though, just so I remember what went wrong, if I think it was worth making them again, and what I would do differently to make it work more successfully next time. It’s part of my reason for having a blog. Latest fail is bread, made the way I usually make it, but this time it sulked and wouldn’t rise. It’s like a house brick!

    Great list of rules for success. My mum asked me the other day if her out of date bicarb was still usable. I suggested adding it to vinegar – from her reaction at the froth I think she was happy to use it in her recipe! (Parkin, which worked out fine!) I wouldn’t do the same for baking powder though! I love it when the science of baking comes through!

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:13 am)

      I love your bicarb tip so much I told my students it last night when we were making cheese & onion bread.

      • C

        (November 4, 2011 - 11:39 pm)

        I feel honoured! I’m not sure it’s entirely foolproof, but shows there’s some reaction there still.

  • Tracy

    (November 2, 2011 - 11:09 pm)

    Baking does seem more prone to disasters than other types of cooking. I don’t think you can be a real baker until you have had a few mishaps.

    I agree that it is scientific with the measuring and timing but its the little bit of magic in baked goods that make them special.

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:15 am)

      I think with baking it often has to be exact to work but this keep the perfectionist in me happy. To this day I’m always amazed how by combining just some simple ingredients add a bit of heat and they completely transform into cake.

  • Anne

    (November 3, 2011 - 12:02 am)

    I love the look of your bakewell puffs, rustic style ;-)

    I’ve had a few baking ‘issues’, including a coconut sponge that did not want to leave its lovely homely bundt pan, came out in pieces, and got repaired with lots of icing, plus some awful rhubarb and custard experimental muffins, yep they got experimental too with the compost heap!

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:26 am)

      That reminds me of a raspberry & yoghurt loaf I made using a recipe from a food magazine that is unsurprisingly no longer going. It came out of the tin ok, but as soon as it hit the wire rack it collapsed into a mushy heap. It ended up on the bird table and the birds wouldn’t even eat it.

  • Sally

    (November 3, 2011 - 9:31 am)

    Made a beautiful deep tart base for an epic custard tart the other day. Lined rather generously with baking parchment and added beans. Put in the oven, put timer on and after 5 minutes noticed a smell…..the paper had touched the element and caught fire. End result pastry and all the ceramic baking beans covered in an ash cloud! Not great for food photography! Good informative post and I like the ideas about recovery. An easy one is if your cake doesn’t look that great on top, level off and turn it over.

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:32 am)

      I’ve had parchment catching fire before too. Cue panic in my kitchen! Your tip about turning a cake upside down is great. I often do this with cakes being iced as it gives a better smoother top.

  • James

    (November 3, 2011 - 6:54 pm)

    Great advice. Reminds me of the time I was taking the sticky toffee puddings out of the tins while the guests ate their main course and found the centre of the puddings uncooked. Finished cooking them in the microwave.

    • Jules

      (November 4, 2011 - 11:34 am)

      James, that is a great tip and glad to see even the professionals sometimes have baking slipups.

  • Red Velvet Cakes « Butcher, Baker

    (November 4, 2011 - 6:10 pm)

    […] Butcher, Baker cakes, bakes and geekiness HomeAboutAs Seen On…Recipe index Twitter Facebook RSS Feed ← When baking goes bad […]

  • Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours

    (November 6, 2011 - 2:54 pm)

    My learners attemptes to make macarons are being turned into a McEton mess!

    Great tips, esp the egg white and baking blind one. I had not heard that one before.

  • Jules

    (November 14, 2011 - 8:53 pm)

    I love the idea of a McEton mess!

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