Baking accidents happen—here’s your damage control.  

By Gillie Houston
April 04, 2019
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Photo: Greg Dupree; Food Styling: Margaret Dickey and Elise Mayfield; Prop Styling: Kay Clarke and Laura Evans

When done right, baking can be an incredibly calming and gratifying process, yielding mounds of fresh, hard-earned baked goods. However, when the baking process goes awry it can lead even the most level-headed cook to the brink of madness. After all, baking is a science and the smallest miscalculation or mistake can result in a frustrating finished product that doesn’t hit the mark or fails altogether.

Luckily, the most frequently made baking mishaps can be easily prevented by following a short list of guidelines. Use these tips and tricks to correct some of the most common baking mistakes and ensure that your next batch of cookies, cakes, breads, and beyond make the time and effort you spent making them entirely worth it.

Watch: 5 Baking Tools You Need

Your Oven Isn’t at the Right Temperature

One of the most common baking crimes is one that you probably didn’t even realize you were committing: baking at the wrong temperature. While in a perfect world, we’d all be able to trust the temperature displayed on our ovens, the reality is that each oven heats differently and unevenly, and the only way to guarantee that it’s set to the perfect temperature for your given recipe is to invest in an internal oven thermometer.

Once your oven has reached the perfect temperature, avoid opening the door during the baking process. Unless you’re rotating your baked goods or checking for doneness, it’s best to observe the baked goods through the window to avoid letting outside air into the oven, which will affect the overall temperature.

Your Cake is Too Dry — or Too Wet

Baking the perfect cake is a delicate process: Baking for too long will result in a dry cake, while baking too little can result in a mushy center. If your cake comes out dry, poke some small holes in the top and brush the cake with simple sugar syrup, which will permeate the cake and give it some much-needed moisture. If the outside of your cake appears perfectly baked but the center still looks wobbly, decrease the oven temperature by 75 degrees, cover the top of your cake with foil, and continue to cook for a few minutes until a toothpick through the middle comes out clean. This lowered temperature will prevent the outsides from becoming overbaked while firming up the center.

Your Dough Isn’t Rising

If you’ve given your dough ample time to rise and it still doesn’t appear to be growing in size, give your yeast a boost with this trick. Heat a cup of water in the microwave, then place the dough next to the water and close the microwave to use it as a makeshift proof box and speed up the rising process (just make sure not to microwave your dough with the water). If your dough still doesn’t rise, chances are the yeast you used is expired and you’ll need to start over.

Your Gluten-free Batters Aren’t Binding Well

One of the common pitfalls for gluten-free bakers is not including a binding agent. While some alternative flours have a binding agent, many do not. So, when baking with these flours, make sure to check the ingredient list for a “gum” ingredient, like guar gum or xanthan gum, or else your gluten-free cake and bread recipes will likely have a difficult time coming together.

Your Dough is Tough and Chewy

When the gluten within your dough or batter has been over-activated, it can lead to tough, dense dough that will result in unpleasantly chewy baked goods. To correct this, mix your dough on a slower level until your batter or dough has just been combined, rather than mixing on high. Another way to prevent this is by mixing your wet ingredients and dry ingredients together separately before combining them together, rather than attempting to add your wet ingredients one at a time into the dry mixture while mixing.

Your Flour Isn’t Incorporating Smoothly

If your batter or dough is taking on an odd texture, there’s a chance one of two common flour mistakes is to blame: using the wrong amount of flour, or not allowing it to aerate. When scooping out flour, use a spoon to add the flour to your measuring cup, rather than digging the cup into the bag, which will pack the flour too densely. For the best results, always use a kitchen scale to achieve a precise measurement. Another common mistake for beginning bakers is skipping the flour sifting step, due to lack of patience or equipment. However, this step is necessary for the aeration of the flour, which will allow the flour to evenly incorporate with your liquid ingredients and prevent clumping.

Your Ingredients are the Wrong Temperature

When a recipe calls for room-temperature butter, milk, or eggs, it’s important to not bypass the temperature step in order to save time. While it might be tempting to zap your ingredients in the microwave to speed up this process, ultimately that will just result in uneven heat levels and too-high temperatures. Instead, give your ingredients ample time on the countertop to reach the proper temperature before beginning the baking process.

Your Melted Chocolate is Clumping

If you’re attempting to melt chocolate and it’s coming out clumpy and uneven, there’s a chance there was water in the bowl. Even a single drop of water can mess with the makeup of your chocolate and cause clumpage, so make sure the bowl is bone dry before you add your chocolate. If your chocolate has already started to clump together, a quick fix is to add a small amount of vegetable oil into the chocolate, which will allow it to smooth out and mix evenly.

Your Egg Whites Aren’t Getting Fluffy

If you’ve been whipping away at your eggs for some time and they’re still not developing any kind of peak, there are a few possible issues to blame. Eggs for whipping should be as fresh as possible and at room temperature; cold eggs are unlikely to whip well. As for your whisk and bowl, both should be completely dry before whipping. Any added water can throw off the chemistry of the eggs and prevent them from hardening.

Your Cookies are Overbaked, or Rock Hard

We’ve all experienced the dismay of baking our cookie dough a few minutes too long, resulting in blackened bottoms and an overly crunchy texture. The good news is that all hope is not lost with slightly overbaked cookies. Allow your cookies to cool completely and use a microblade or knife to scrape off the blackened bits from the bottom. Then, store in an airtight bag with a slice of white bread to add some moisture back into the cookies. If your cookies aren’t overbaked but still come out hard, try baking on parchment paper, rather than a greased tray, especially when using a darker cookie sheet.

Your Goods Aren’t Baking Evenly

The heat within your oven is unlikely to be perfectly distributed throughout, with certain parts of the oven containing hotter pockets of air. Because of this, if your baked goods remain in the same position throughout the baking process, they will most likely bake unevenly. To avoid this, make sure to rotate your goods at least once throughout the baking process to make sure they’re being baked evenly.

Your Cakes Are Becoming Dome-Shaped

When making layered or decorated cakes, it’s essential that each layer is flat and even. To avoid your cake rising in the center and taking on a domed shape during baking, wrap an even-bake strip or damp towel around the edge of your cake pan, which will prevent the top from rising, and leave you with a smooth, level cake.

Your Muffins are Stuck in the Pan

If your muffins won’t budge out the pan, the first step is to make sure they’ve cooled completely before turning the pan over and firmly tapping the bottom to dislodge them. If they’re still not coming loose, submerge the bottom of the muffin pan in hot water and then attempt this process again.

Your Cookies Aren’t Getting Flat

The secret to a perfectly shaped cookie is the temperature. Cookie dough that’s too cold will result in rounder, thicker cookies that won’t have a satisfying crunch. However, cookie dough that’s too warm can spread too much while baking. Allow your dough to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking, and cook on a tray that is at room temperature, not chilled. If your cookies are spreading too much, make sure you’re making your dough with room-temperature butter and eggs and that the dough hasn’t become too warm before baking.

Your Baked Goods Have Soggy Bottoms

While resting is a necessary step in the baking process, resting for too long on certain surfaces can result in your baked goods having soggy bottoms as a result of condensation. To avoid this, transfer your baked goods to a wire rack to rest, which will allow for more airflow and the heat to escape through the rack, preventing your goods from becoming soggy.

Your Baked Goods are Getting Soggy in Storage

If you find your stored baked goods are taking on a soggy texture despite being firm post-bake, chances are you didn’t allow them to cool completely before storage. Any excess heat—even a small amount—will allow condensation to gather in the storage container and make all of the baked goods soggier. In a pinch, add an apple slice to your storage bag or container, which will help absorb some of the moisture.

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