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, from mistrusting our oven temperature to using the wrong pan.
Mistake #1: Trusting the Oven Temperature
The digital indicator on the front of the oven reads 350 degrees so it must be 350 degrees. False. 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 to 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: Ignoring the Cookie Dough Temperature
The temperature of the cookie dough has a larger effect than you might think. Don’t let the butter get to warm, too soft. It needs to remain 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 they yellow lumps are integrated into the butter—and stop.
By the way, cookbooks say to cream sugar into soft butter. We never do. It’s too easy to melt the butter by accident. 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: Checking Bread with the “Thump” Test
I’ve done the thump test a thousand times to check if my bread is done, 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 the bread is doesn’t count either. The sugars in the bread (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, nonstick 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 the test kitchen cookies 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: Trusting your Measuring Cup
Measuring cups lie just like ovens.
At one time, we gathered up about a dozen liquid measures to test the accuracy. 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 pie crusts. 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, nonstick 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. Using Foil to Protect the Pie Crust
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 pie crust shields are easier to store.
Of course, we create new mistakes every week . . . but that’s for another time. Thanks for joining us this time.
(Updated from May 15, 2017)