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Mistakes like these can ruin your holiday — learn how to avoid them so you don’t fall into a holiday rut
Red wine spilling is just one of the disasters that can ruin your holiday.
Your plan is to wake up at 4:45 a.m. After all, today is the day that everyone you know and love will stop by to taste some turkey and get stuffed from stuffing. You’ll be in the kitchen for the long haul, whisking, stirring, and basting for nearly innumerable hours on end all in the hopes of delivering the tastiest turkey dinner. You’ve already dressed place settings to accommodate your 10-person guest list around your beautiful centerpiece. You have plenty of food and plenty of wine, and everyone is set to arrive at 5:30 p.m. sharp. You couldn’t be more ready to take on this Thanksgiving if you tried!
Only, it is 10:45 a.m. and your alarm hasn’t gone off, your turkey isn’t defrosted, and suddenly everyone shows up a half an hour early with three extra guests in tow! You probably never imagined that your holiday would take this turn, but there are tons of things that can go wrong when you are organizing a feast of this size.
Instead of getting caught in the whirlwind of holiday madness, start preparing. There are so many disasters you can avoid just by knowing that they are out there and how they can affect your day. Simple tasks like gradually stocking up on supplies or setting the alarm are easy fixes that can set the tone for your entire day. Take a look at our list of horrible Thanksgiving fails and a few tricks on how to avoid them.
Kansas State University
OLATHE — This Thanksgiving many Americans may find one uninvited guest at their meal: food poisoning. A Kansas State University food safety expert shares some food preparation tips for home cooks that will ensure guests pile their plates with safe food dishes and forgo a side of food poisoning.
"Thanksgiving is a time when many cooks turn to those old family recipes and preparation methods when making the meal," said Bryan Severns, manager of food programs and services at the Kansas State University Olathe campus. "I have seen many instances in which those traditional methods clash with safe food preparation and family members end up sick."
Seasoning is in, stuffing is out
Turkey, duck, quail and other game birds are simple to prepare. Those familiar images of a golden brown turkey filled with stuffing, though, are a recipe for disaster, Severns said.
"For a great tasting bird, rub the inside of the cavity with a seasoning/spice blend made from some salt and pepper and maybe a diced onion or fruit," Severns said. "Meanwhile, stuffing and dressing should be cooked separately to ensure the bird cooks all the way to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and that your dressing isn't based in raw turkey juices."
Also, Severns says never wash turkey or other raw poultry in the sink to prep it for cooking. There is no safety benefit to rinsing poultry. Instead, washing raw poultry greatly increases the chances of food poisoning as water with the raw juice is likely to splash the cook and the cooking area.
Your goose is cooked — to food safe levels
Juices, joints and timers cannot tell when turkey and other game birds are fully cooked. A calibrated meat thermometer can, Severns says. Use the thermometer to take temperatures in the thickest areas of the bird, such as the breast, thigh and leg. The bird is safe to serve once it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Severns also suggests the following to keep holiday cooking efficient and food safe.
• Raw turkey juice as salad dressing? No way, Severns said. Never use the same cutting board for poultry, raw meats, eggs and vegetables without cleaning and sanitizing between projects.
• Plan your preparation by grouping similar items together to improve efficiency and food safety.
"If you're doing the bird first, clear the counters and sink areas," Severns said. "Set up your sudsy sink and a sanitation sink with bleach solution. Do all the raw bird prep and then clean and sanitize thoroughly, especially knives and cutting boards. Then move on to the veggies."
The coalition of forces that hate America realize that destroying one of our most treasured holidays is an excellent way to demoralize our people and hasten our collapse. The Huffington Post suggested in a delightfully festive post titled “The Environmental Impact Of Your Thanksgiving Dinner” that to avoid propelling the world toward climate doomsday, we eliminate visiting family on the holidays.
In this scheme, anti-patriots have seemingly seduced Bon Appétit magazine into a series of videos (some with 2.2 million-page views so far) presenting what the magazine calls “The Perfect Thanksgiving.” It might be the perfect Turkey Day, if you were to find yourself at “Pierre Delecto’s” house this November 28 or if you prefer rugby or polo to the NFL, or instantly translate U.S. road signs into their metric equivalents. Otherwise, Bon Appétit has prepared a recipe for disappointment. Case in point, their mashed potatoes.
To mislead America about this seminal national dish, the magazine with an enormous and often clever online presence, headed by the inimitable Brad Leone, chose two of their most bubbly and engaging culinary avatars, Molly Baz and Carla Music. Together, with a Greek chorus of whiny millennials looking on, they lead us through a series of steps that produces something between a potato soup and a potato sauce designed to run all off your plate and onto the floor. Tests also included crumbled potato chips and techniques that caused video commenters to demand a redo.
It’s not a very hard dish and certainly shouldn’t include anything produced by Lays. Look, our belief is, if you can’t make a pretty convincing scale replica of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming out of your Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, you are using the wrong recipe.
What’s a right recipe? Well, we always use Julia Child’s garlic mashed potatoes presented in her trusty and timeless “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 1” from 1961. It’s a tasty recipe that captures the essence of what mashed potatoes on the Thanksgiving table really should be: savory, without chunks, highly absorbent of gravy, shapeable, and fork-friendly. Saveur published this easy to follow version in 2014, which we use every year.
As a family that takes holiday meal preparation quite seriously, Julia’s was not the only recipe or process that we have tried. But it is the best and, quite simply, Thanksgiving calls for potatoes that fill your home with nostalgia and your bellies with delicious, no-fail, perfectly fluffy potatoes. The regimen of sticking to a recipe also prevents over-zealous hands from pouring too much cream into the pot or forgetting if you’d already added butter or salt.
Thanksgiving has proven to our family that adding extra or somehow sophisticated ingredients to the potatoes is always a bit of a disappointment when the dish is passed around the table. Each year festive culinary magazines try to reinvent the wheel and add different, colorful meats and vegetables to the dish, but they simply don’t belong there on the most classic of American feasting holidays.
While simple, Child’s recipe is also quite tasty. Julia’s formula for the perfect American dish includes 30 cloves of garlic, and feeds the army of friends and family that should surround you on our country’s glorious day of thanks. It’s accessible to those with limited kitchen know-how, and cannot be consumed through a straw like Bon Appétit’s.
While few improvements can be made to this classic recipe, our family has found over the years that Yukon Gold potatoes are the inarguably best potatoes to mash instead of the Russets in Julia’s recipe. Yukon Gold potatoes were not widely available until 20 years after Julia’s recipe was published. You can’t easily over-cook potatoes meant for mashing, but they can be undercooked so make sure they are easily split with a fork before mixing and use room-temperature, real butter.
Of course, preparation is much easier with a formidable stand mixer such as a Kitchen Aid model, but the beauty of mashed potatoes as an American staple is that they can also be made easily with an electric hand mixer or even a good old-fashioned potato masher. Should you have access to the two latter tools, mix the potatoes on the stove on low heat while mixing in the cream and butter.
Truly, every kitchen in America can enjoy the splendor of this magnificent dish. Use the cream quantity called for as a guide rather than a rule. Add enough to achieve the consistency you want but do not substitute milk. Also, don’t skimp on the garlic. Even generally less seasoned recipes from America’s Test Kitchen call for 22 cloves in their version of this classic.
If cooking for the immediate family, we often do not bother to peel the potatoes. However, for the Thanksgiving table, we recommend doing so. Peeling is a chore that annoying relative can do.
This Thanksgiving, stand up for America, visit your loved ones, and make the biggest carbon footprint you have to in order to be near them. And for heaven’s sake, make mashed potatoes great again and don’t fall for the un-American liquefied potatoes in the popular internet video. Demand solid food.
2. Your Cake Didn't Rise
There are a number of reasons you might have ended up with a flat cake. 1) You forgot to add baking powder, or you used expired baking powder. 2) Your pan is too big, so the mixture can&apost rise enough to fill it. Or 3) You over whisked.
Next time, make sure to use baking powder, and pay attention to the expiration date. An expired leavener is only going to give you a flat cake. Always be sure to bake in the pan specified, and only whisk until your ingredients are combined, not any longer.
To salvage a flat cake, you can always cut it up and serve it as mini cakes (masked with a little icing), so long as it&aposs not over baked.
Common Thanksgiving Dinner Fails and How to Fix Them
Despite my limited kitchen experience and history of ruining the most basic meals, I’ve been designated Thanksgiving host this year. Chances are, I’ll screw something up. If you’re in the same boat, we should be prepared. Here’s how to prevent and fix a few common Thanksgiving fails.
How Do I Avoid Poisoning Everyone at Thanksgiving Dinner?
Dear Lifehacker, This year I'm hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, and I'm nervous. I don't…
The Turkey Is Overcooked and Dry
It’s easy to overcook a turkey. You have darker meat that takes a while longer to cook, usually at the expense of the breast meat, which can dry out a lot faster.
If you’re going to roast a turkey whole and don’t want it to be dry, make sure you brine or salt crust it beforehand . You also have to be mindful of its temperature (that’s what meat thermometers are for). SErious Eats recommends you cook your turkey to 140 to 150°F to ensure its juiciness. (Other sources and recipes vary, up to 165°F)
But let’s say it’s too late for that. The damage is done your bird is dry. At this point, your best bet is to hide the evidence. Epicurious recommends a few options :
- Pouring broth over the turkey: Not too much, though, as you don’t want to completely drench it, either. Similarly, you could slice the turkey and dip in broth before serving, as shown in the video above.
- Add butter: Add butter to your gravy, then brush over the turkey.
- A gravy/broth mix: Create a thinned-out gravy and broth stock, then pour it over turkey slices, cover the pan with foil and warm it at 200°F for about ten minutes.
And then there’s the opposite problem, of course: an undercooked, frozen bird. A turkey can take days to thaw . If you didn’t thaw your turkey enough, it’s possible to roast it frozen , but it will take some extra time. According to Still Tasty , it takes 50% longer to cook a frozen turkey than a thawed one. If a thawed turkey takes 3 ½ hours to cook, for example, the same sized frozen version will take about 4 ½ to 5 hours to cook. Adjust your recipe accordingly (or chop it up first ).
The Best Last-Minute Tips for Saving Your Turkey
Prepping and roasting an entire turkey can be a heck of an ordeal, especially if you mess up. If…
The Pie Crust Is Still Soft and Raw
My biggest pie problem is an undercooked crust. The filling is great and everyone scarfs it down until they reach the soggy, raw crust.
The easiest way to fix this problem? Blind baking . You pre-cook the crust before you add the filling. The video above shows you how it’s done, but it’s pretty easy.
Line the bottom of your pie crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil. To keep the crust from bubbling, add beans or rice to weigh down the foil, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 400°F. If you want a partial bake, for a pumpkin or pecan pie, you’ll stop here, remove the weights, add your filling and bake your pie per the recipe. If you want to bake the crust all the way through (ideal if you’re making a custard), remove the weights and put the crust back in the oven for another few minutes to dry out the bottom.
If it’s already too late, though, and you notice guests forking around a soggy mess, you can pop the pie back in the oven. All Recipes recommends covering the pie with tin foil, then baking for 12 minutes at 425-450°F. Depending on what kind of pie you’re dealing with, you could also remove the top crust and filling , then rebake the bottom crust, pour the filling back into the cooked crust, then crush and sprinkle the top crust on top of the filling. It won’t be the same, but at least your crust will be cooked.
If you have the opposite problem, a burnt crust, you can try to use a grater to remove the burnt part . You could also try masking the taste with powdered sugar.
The Most Common Cooking Disasters and How To Save Them
Even if you have cooked a dish a hundred times, something can go wrong on the 101st time, whether…
The Pumpkin Pie Is Cracked
Baking can be a pain. If your crust isn’t soggy, then your filing cracks. This usually happens when your oven is too hot or the pie gets overcooked (it’s a common issue with cheesecake, too). The problem is, your pie looks perfectly cooked when you pull it out, but then it starts to crack as it cools. Fine cooking explains why this happens :
Residual heat continues to cook the filling even after you’ve set your pie on the cooling rack, so the proteins continue to shorten, tearing open cracks in your perfect custard. To minimize cracking, it’s a good idea to remove pumpkin pie from the oven as soon as the custard filling sets but before it’s firm the filling should jiggle a bit in the center when the pan is nudged.
In some cases, you might be able to smooth out these cracks with a metal spatula as shown in the video above. Chill the pie for a bit and use a heated spatula to get the job done.
If you can’t put the cracked pie back together, the good news is it’s easy enough to hide. Cover it with some whipped cream (or in the case of cheesecake, cherry topping), and most guests will be none the wiser. You could even serve the pie already sliced so the cracks won’t even matter. Again, add whipped cream and you’re good to go.
Mistake: Forgetting the meat thermometer.
Don't just guess. Guarantee. Smith and her 49 Turkey Talk-Line compatriots counsel over 100,000 calls every holiday season and field the "how hot is hot enough" question often. They say to always use a meat thermometer to know when the turkey is done.
The USDA says you're A-OK to eat at 165 °F. Keep in mind that the internal meat temperature will continue to rise about 10 degrees after you remove the turkey from the oven, so pulling it out at 155 to 160 °F should get you to a safe temp after resting.
15 Common Cookie Baking Mistakes You Might Be Making
Want to bake better cookies? Check out these common cookie baking mistakes before you bake another batch.
1. Your cookies aren't baking evenly.
If you&aposre having this issue, it may be because you&aposre putting too much trust in your oven. Ovens have hot spots and cold spots, causing some cookies on your pan to be undercooked while other are nearly burnt. To avoid this conundrum, rotate your pans halfway through the baking process so that they&aposre exposed evenly to the different temperatures in your oven.
Your oven will also try to trick you and tell you it&aposs reached your desired baking temperature, but that&aposs not always true. Home ovens have been known to be off by 20 degrees or more. Consider investing in an oven thermometer (try this $7 Amazon bestseller) to get an accurate read on your oven temperature and a flawless bake every time.
2. You use eggs straight from the fridge.
To achieve a fluffy, light-as-air texture, use room temperature eggs. Cold eggs prevent the dough from aerating properly, meaning you won&apost have those air pockets that help improve the texture of your cookies. If you don&apost have time to allow your eggs to reach room temperature, you can quickly bring them up to temperature by placing them in a bowl of warm water for several minutes.
3. You use the wrong kind of flour.
While most cookie recipes call for all-purpose flour, make sure you are using the type of flour specified in the recipe. Using the wrong kind of flour can drastically change the texture of your cookies. Learn how to make sure you&aposre baking with the right flour.
4. You measure flour the wrong way.
Simply using the right type of flour isn&apost enough — it&aposs just as important to make sure you&aposre using the right amount as well. The ol&apos scoop straight out of the bag method could actually be packing way too much flour into your measuring cup. Instead, use the "spoon and level" method by spooning flour into a measuring cup and scraping off the excess with the flat side of a knife or straight edge.
5. You soften butter too much or not enough.
Let&aposs be honest, not many people are clear about what constitutes "softened" butter. Often our impatience gets the best of us, and we nuke the butter in a microwave for a few seconds. That&aposs when the butter ends up more liquid than soft. Butter that is too soft won&apost hold air, giving you a dense and heavy dough, but if you&aposve ever tried to cream cold butter, you know it&aposs no fun. The best way to get perfectly softened butter is to let it sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes. It should give a little when you press down on it, but it shouldn&apost break, crack, or lose its shape.
6. You use stale baking powder or baking soda.
Baking powder and baking soda act as leavening agents in the baking process, helping to give baked goods their rise. With time, they will become less and less potent, and using stale baking powder or soda will give you dense dough. A good rule of thumb is to switch out opened containers of baking powder or baking soda after six months.
7. You overwork the dough.
If you&aposre one who likes to mix until you can&apost mix anymore, I hate to tell you, but your cookies will be doomed. If you mix or roll out the dough too much, you&aposre going to end up with hard cookies. Over mixing can add excess air to the dough, causing it to rise and then fall flat in the oven. Over rolling the dough can cause gluten to get tougher. The best practice is to mix or roll your dough the minimum amount needed to get uniform dough.
8. You skip chilling the dough.
If you&aposre looking to get cookies that are crispy on the outside yet gooey on the inside (so, that&aposs everyone), then chilling the dough is a step you can&apost skip. Chilling cookie dough in plastic wrap for up to 24 in the fridge allows the ingredients to mingle. It also keeps your dough from spreading so much in the oven. And putting cold dough into a hot oven gives you that crisp outer layer that is so desired.
9. Your baking pan is too dark.
Dark baking sheets are going to make your cookies bake faster, as they absorb more heat than light ones. So while you don&apost have to replace your baking sheets altogether, you will need to adjust the temperature if you&aposre using a dark colored baking sheet. Try reducing the temperature by about 25 degrees, and the cooking time by about four minutes. Learn why using aluminum foil-lined baking sheets can have a similar effect.
10. You overgrease your cookie sheet.
11. You overcrowd the cookie pan.
To avoid the dreadful cookie blob, be sure to stagger your cookies on the baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Not only will this prevent your cookies from spreading into one another, but it will also prevent you from getting flat cookies as a result of too much dough sharing the heat. You may have to use two pans, but it will be well worth it in the end. Save yourself some baking heartbreak and resist the temptation to fit as many cookies as possible on one pan.
12. Cookies bake on the wrong rack.
Using the top rack of the oven (or placing your oven rack too close to the top or your oven) will result in burnt cookies. To get the most even bake, use the middle rack. This is where air is circulating, and heat sources are evenly distributed. If you have more than one pan baking at once, be sure to switch them halfway through.
13. You sneak too many peeks.
While opening the oven door every few minutes to check on your festive goodies can be fun, it can also affect your results. Heat escapes every time the door is opened, so it&aposs best to use the oven light and a glance through the glass door to check on the progress of your cookies.
14. You don't give your cookies enough time to cool down.
Your cookies are finished baking, and you&aposre pleased with the result — don&apost let your hard work go to waste by immediately removing them from the pan. Allow them to set a few minutes on the baking sheet. This will prevent them from falling apart when you transfer them to the cooling rack.
15. You eat the cookie dough.
To eat cookie dough or not to eat cookie dough — that is truly every baker&aposs question. It&aposs guaranteed to spark a debate anywhere you go, but I&aposm going to argue that you want to save that cookie dough for your cookies. Yes, raw cookie dough contains raw eggs that can carry Salmonella, leading to foodborne illness and, well, you know the rest. But you&aposll also be shorting your batch, and why do that when there are many edible cookie recipes out there to enjoy without risk? Learn How to Make Raw Cookie Dough Safe to Eat (and 10 Treats to Try).
How to Fix Every Pie Problem
Let’s face it: pie-baking at Thanksgiving is almost as intimidating as turkey-roasting. You're sweating a bit right now just thinking about it, right? Well, think of these tips as a cool moist towel held right up to your overheated forehead. Because even though pie can bring problems, we've got solutions. Right here. For pretty much anything that can happen to your precious pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies.
My pie is always soggy on the bottom.With these pies, and baking in general, first on the fix-list is a well-calibrated oven or, at the very least, a super-accurate oven thermometer. I use 3 to get a consensus on temperature. (If only 2 read the same, toss the outlier—it’s inaccurate) To address the potentially under-baked bottom, use a glass pie plate. It’s that simple! A quick (and careful) peak at the underside will guarantee your bottom crust is golden and perfectly cooked. It eliminates the guesswork, because all too often, the top is gorgeous and golden long before the bottom crust has a chance to fully cook.
My dough always sticks to the counter.
Before your pie dough even hits the work surface, make sure the dough is nice and chilled: It's easier to handle, less likely to shrink, and bakes more evenly. Now, you might be great at flouring your countertop, but remember, it's important to keep the dough moving—and the work surface re-floured the entire time you're rolling it out. An easy system: Every two or three times you go over the dough with your rolling pin, lift up the dough with a wide-open hand and quickly dust some flour underneath. And move quickly. The longer the dough sits in a warm kitchen, the stickier it will get!
My carefully crimped crust always melts away.It’s such a bummer watching your beautiful crust melt and sink into the pie plate as you peer into the oven. Once the crust crimps starts disintegrating there’s not much you can do, so it’s best to combat it from the start. Freeze your assembled unbaked pie for 15 minutes before baking to slow down the fat from melting—and don’t bake it below 350°. The heat needs to set the crust quickly. Also, when blind baking, (pre-baking for a single-crusted pie) make sure the pie weights go all the way to the top of the chilled crust—that will help shore-up the sides and keep them from sinking or puffing.
My pumpkin pie always cracks or separates from the crust.
If your pumpkin filling cracks or separates, it's probably overcooked. And that's not your fault: It can be hard to nail the perfect level of doneness for pumpkin pie, since most recipes have you pour the custard into an unbaked pie shell, and by the time the crust is perfectly golden brown, the filling is overcooked. The solution? Blind-bake your pie crust with pie weights until light gold, then pour in the filling and bake until inch or so diameter in the center is still jiggly like jello—not soupy. Edges getting too brown? Just cover them with foil or a pie shield.
As far as oven temperature, stick to 350°F—anything higher will make the custard to puff up like a soufflé and fall upon cooling. Another thing that can make your pumpkin pie sink? Cooling it too quickly. Let the pie cool gradually in a warm place in your kitchen, and never ever refrigerate your pie until it’s completely cooled—the change is too drastic.
My pecan pie puffs and then falls.Pecan pie has a somewhat similar set of issues—the filling can crack, the bottom can be under-baked, the filling can seep under the crust, and the nuts can be soggy. Like the pumpkin pie, the filling will crack if the pie is over-baked or cools too quickly. But unlike pumpkin pie which has pumpkin puree to give it structure, pecan pie filling is mostly just sugar, corn syrup and eggs, so the tendency to soufflé and fall is even greater. To test for doneness, look for a filling that's puffed—it should jiggle just slightly when you gently shake it.
My pecan pie always has soggy nuts. So I am sad.Dry your tears. All you need to do this time around is toast the pecans for a few minutes before folding them into the filling. This not only keeps them crisp, it intensifies their flavor.
I can never tell when my apple pie is done, so it always turns out under/overbaked.Apple pie differs from the others in that it’s the only one with a double crust and a hidden filling, which can make guesswork of “doneness”. Underdone, and the apples are crunchy and the liquid is runny—the thickener doesn’t have the chance to do its magic. Overdone, and the boiling juices break the crust and ooze all over the bottom of your oven, making an awful smoky mess. An apple pie is done when the top and bottom crusts are uniformly golden (remember that glass pie plate—it’s more important now than ever) and the juices bubble up slowly and thickly through the vent holes.
My apple pie is always runny.Most apple pies call for some kind of thickener, from flour to cornstarch to tapioca—the challenge is making sure all that thickener is evenly dispersed throughout the filling so it thickens up nice. To make sure, always combine the thickener, sugar, and any other dry ingredients together before tossing them with the apples. One more thing: As apple pie cools, its juices thicken up. That takes a surprisingly long time—at least 1 1/2 hours. I like test whether it's ready to slice by holding the pie plate in the palm of my hand. If I can hold it comfortably for 30 seconds, it’s cool enough to cut into.
What's up with all the pie gap?Even the best apple pies can sometimes fall victim to the dreaded "pie gap": The empty space that can form between the top crust of an apple pie and its filling when it bakes at higher temperatures. Some people like the gap, believing that it makes the top crust less soggy, while others detest it, since they feel they're missing out on more apples in their pie. If you "mind the gap," make sure your apples are packed tightly and evenly into your crust before topping it, and cut back the heat in your favorite recipe to 375°F, which allows the top crust to melt a bit onto the apples as they cook. At least everyone can agree on vanilla ice cream.
The mistake: It's bland
What goes wrong: It is always hard to adjust seasoning on a casserole, because once it is baked, the seasoning, such as it is, is cooked in and there is no “taste and adjust seasoning” in the cooking process.
How to fix it: Some other flavor boosters can help. Try a drizzle of good olive oil or an herb oil once it’s out of the oven. Fat carries flavor, which is why so many restaurant chefs finish dishes with a twirl of extra virgin or a sprinkle of chive oil. Fresh herbs or citrus zest can also punch up flavors with a bit of welcome brightness for a long-cooked dish, as can adding some heat in the form of a dash of hot sauce, a generous pinch of minced or sliced fresh chili pepper, or a shake of red pepper flakes.
16 Common Baking Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Baking accidents happen&mdashhere&rsquos your damage control.
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&rsquot 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𠆝 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 &mdash 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&rsquot 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&rsquot 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&rsquot 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&rsquot 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&rsquot 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&rsquot 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𠅎ven 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.
3. Lemon Thyme Mashed Purple Potatoes
Zesty + fragrant + creamy = guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It all adds up.
- 4 Pounds Purple Potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 1/4 Sticks Room Temperature Unsalted Butter
- 4 Teaspoons Minced Fresh Thyme
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
- 1 1/2 Cups Half and Half
- Add potatoes to a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.
- Let simmer until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, 15-20 minutes. Drain and return to pot.
- Use a potato masher to mash until smooth and creamy.
- Heat half and half in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Add to mashed potatoes.
- Mix together butter, thyme, and lemon. Season with salt and pepper and mix into potatoes.
- Top with extra lemon zest and a few sprigs thyme.
There you have it, folks! What are your fave recipes? Sound off in the comments!