As you all know, I love food. Really, all food, well, except processed food (I can taste all the artificial stuff they put in it). But real, homemade food, love it. I have learned over time to say I do not like something. Because what I usually mean is do not like how this dish was prepared, which is usually poorly. Often times I have had people say to me, I thought I hated this but I never had it this way. Now this I love. (I had a friend say this about roasted pumpkin, she hates pumpkin pie but loved my pasta w/ balsamic roasted pumpkin)
So I am always up for trying what other people prepare (although everyone is terrified to cook for me ;-) Do NOT be, by the way). I have to say I know lots of amazing cooks, even though they do not think they are amazing. But I do see a trend in the same mistakes when it comes to baking. BUT let me say something before I list my 5 baking mistakes. First this list is just my opinion, you may disagree with me and that is just fine. And second as I ALWAYS say, suit your palette. Cook food the way you like it, not the way I like it.
5 Baking Mistakes
1. Trusting recipe times of baking (another words overcooking)
Over-baked items I would say is the biggest mistake I see. When I chat with the person who baked, lets us say cookies, I always get, well the recipes said 15 minutes. I ask if they check the cookies at 10 minutes and I always get, no. Again the recipe said. Yes baking is a science but there are too many variables to be able to write an exact recipe. NO cook can tell you it will cook exactly in so many minutes. So use the time they tell you as a gauge but start checking sooner than the recipe say and pull it out the minute it is cooked!! When I can smell what I am baking, is when I start checking. This is why you will see in my recipes a span of time, to give you an idea of about how long it will take. If I ever write a true cookbook, it will probably be titled something like why I cannot give an exact recipe :-P
Salt is a really important component to baking. If left out, you will have a flat, boring tasting cake or whatever you bake. Salt makes sweet things taste sweeter. It adds complexity and is very important. So use salt! I even dare to say use a generous amount of salt. A pinch of salt in a cookie recipe is not enough. Now I have a reader of this blog (I will not say who she is) who cannot stand salt in her baked items and feels it makes them taste bitter. I do not think that this is the norm for most people but again I tell her to suit her own palette.
3. Oven temp
This sort of goes back to rule 1. You need to know if your oven runs hotter or colder or right on temp. I think most people’s ovens run hotter. So again if they are baking cookies and the oven is really baking at 365°F, instead of 350°F, it is already cooking faster than the recipe had called for. I have two ovens, one bakes way hotter. I turn down the heat by at lest 25 degrees, when I use that oven. An inexpensive oven thermometer will tell you the temp of your oven. So know your oven and feel free to adjust the heat. Play with it, until you know exactly how your oven temps work.
4. The oil/butter combo
This is actually sort of not a mistake but more of a trick I have learned over time. Because another issue I see in things like muffins and quick breads is they are too dry. If you are baking items such as muffin, quick breads, cookies or cakes that use melted butter, using a combo of melted butter and oil will give you much more of a moist crumb. Butter gives you the flavor and richness (I adore butter. Just had to say it) but oil will give you moisture.Try using 2/3 butter and 1/3 oil and see what you think. I think you will be happy with the results.
5. Fearlessly playing with a recipe
Lastly the second biggest mistake (well maybe it is the biggest) is not being fearless. Since I love talking food, I have had lots of conversations with people about cooking. Most people I meet are intimated and afraid to veer from a recipe. Usually they do not understand what they are cooking and worry too much about doing something different. Well I hate to say this but to be a good cook, you have to be fearless, you have to be willing to make mistakes, to ruin dishes that only your dog is willing eat, to think out of the box and to play. Cooking should be fun. I know we are all on tight budgets and do not want to waste money or food. But think of it as investment, like college. It is in your mistakes you will learn (you should see alllllll the mistakes and awful food I have made over the years). Really it is in your mistakes you learn to be a better cook, not your successes. Try learning one idea and then think of how you can add that to what you are already cooking. For example I learned last month all garbanzo bean flour in the cookies I was making was terrible. Really bitter, I can only use a in small amount with other flours. I have found most recipes for cakes, muffins, cookies, etc are actually pretty forgiving. You can adjust the fat, sugar, spices, etc. Now you may not get exactly what the person who wrote the recipe planned but it does not mean you will not get something delicious in the end. Plus the more you bake and play, the more you will understand a recipe when you read it and be able to change it to suit you and that is the whole point of cooking!!
A thank you to Niki for letting me use her a photo of her kitchen. I have been a long time reader and adore her house and kitchen!!