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We bake for a living . . . and make mistakes! But we do learn from our mistakes. Here’s an opportunity for you to learn from seven of our mistakes.
Mistake #1. The digital indicator on the front of the oven reads 350 degrees so it must be 350 degrees.
That’s a timer you’re looking at, not a thermostat. After the reading says 350 degrees, let it sit for another ten minutes. Even then, you don’t know what the temperature really is. An oven cycles on, heats up and then begins to cool. It’s a moving target and not very accurate either.
We did a demo at an appliance store once. We asked them to check the ovens, new or nearly new ovens. They averaged 50 degrees off.
Solve that problem. Put an oven thermometer in your oven. They don’t cost much.
Mistake #2. Not paying attention to the temperature of your cookie dough.
Don’t let the butter get too warm, too soft. It needs to remain a solid. If it turns to a liquid, it will saturate your cookie dough and create a mealy mess.
If you beat your butter and sugar together too long, the friction will soften the butter and you’ll have a mealy mess. Cream it until the butter is dispersed into the sugar–when the yellow lumps are integrated into the butter—and stop.
By the way, cookbooks say to cream sugar into soft butter. We never do. We always start with hard butter. It becomes soft in the beating. It’s less trouble than trying to soften the butter before beating and we seem to have more control over it.
Mistake #3. Relying on the “thump” to tell if my bread is done.
I’ve done it a thousand times but I don’t rely on it, especially with new recipes. I rely on a thermometer. I stick the probe into the deepest part of the bread. If it doesn’t read 190 degrees, I keep baking.
How brown it is doesn’t count either. The sugars in the breads (and the starches that turn into sugar) caramelize to turn brown. We sell bread mixes, usually made in a bread machine, that are a creamy white when they are done. And some of the artisan breads are a dark, rustic brown (although some of those breads are baked to 210 degrees).
Mistake #4. Using the wrong pan.
We had a lovely lady working in our test kitchen who insisted that her heavy silver sheets at home would bake just like the dark, non-stick ones that we were using.
Finally, she got tired of me haranguing her and took a mix home. The cookies that took 8 ½ minutes at work took 11 to 12 minutes at home. That’s because the dark pans were absorbing the heat and her silver one was reflecting the heat.
Her cookies at home didn’t look like those at work either. They were flatter. That’s because the cookies kept spreading until the pan finally got hot enough to set the eggs and flour.
Mistake #5. Believing your measuring cup.
Measuring cups lie just like ovens.
At one time, we gathered up about a dozen liquid measures. One at a time we put them on the scale and added eight ounces of water. They were all over the board, as much as 20% off.
We have some glass cups that we really like. The one-cup measure is dead on at one cup. Good job! The two cup one is dead on at two cups . . . but it’s off a mile at one.
Grab a scale and test your measuring cups.
Mistake #6. Using silver pans for fruit pies.
We have some pretty silver pie pans. They are great for chilled pies. They are perfect for soggy bottoms on our fruit pies. But we don’t want soggy bottoms. We want bottoms that are thoroughly baked and crispy. For that, you need a dark pan that will absorb the heat not a silver pan that will reflect the heat.
We always use dark, non-stick pans. After the pies are cool, we grab them by the crust and twist them enough to break them loose. We then slide the pies out of the pans and onto a platter for slicing. It always impresses the in-laws.
Mistake #7. Putting tin foil around the edges of our pumpkin pies.
I did that for years, covered the edges of my pies with tin foil to keep that delicate crust from burning. It never worked. Some of the tin foil pieces would fall into the pie and some would fall into the oven. Parts of my crust would always be too brown.
There is an easy solution: Use a pie crust shield.
A pie crust shield is a ring that slips over the top of the pie and protects that crust. I like the silver ones because they deflect the heat better. The silicone ones are easier to store.
Of course, we create new mistakes every week . . . but that’s for another time. Thanks for joining us this time.
About the Author
Dennis Weaver has burned food from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Miami, Florida. He is the founder of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho and the author of “How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking” available as an E-book or as a Kindle book on Amazon. Dennis lives in Rigby, Idaho, with his wife, Merri Ann. They have five wonderful children and six beautiful granddaughters.