These are the main mistakes I can think of - let me know if you have any to add!
1. Cake is too dry
This is really, really common - and really, really easy to do. It's not limited to cake, either. Cookies that are supposed to be chewy can end up crunchy and muffins can taste stale almost immediately.
|I was in denial at the time but |
these are definitely overcooked
Why does it happen? Overcooking - probably the baked goods should have been taken out of the oven five minutes earlier. If you're making a cake, use a knife or skewer to check - the probe doesn't have to come out clean, but if the consistency has changed from gooey batter to cooked-looking stuff it's probably good to go. Lightly touching the top of a spongy cake to see whether it springs back is another good test - but doesn't work for denser things like mud cake.
For cookies, usually they will form a slight crust around the edge, so gently touch the side and if it seems to have gotten a bit crisp they're probably ready. It does vary by recipe so check the instructions for clues on when they're done - but cookies usually finish cooking after they've been removed from the oven so they'll probably be ready to take out earlier than you think.
And if you discover after the fact you cooked a cake for too long you can bring a cake back into the tasty zone by making a simple sugar syrup and drenching the cake in it.
2. You can taste the raising agent
This can really ruin otherwise delicious baked goods, and unfortunately you can't tell for sure until you take a bite of the finished product. Usually baking soda is the culprit.
Pre-activating the baking soda can resolve this, and many recipes call for this in their method - usually with a combination of liquid and heat (my favourite chocolate cake recipe dissolves the baking soda in warm milk).
The other thing you can do if you have an otherwise-awesome recipe that has a bit of an aftertaste is to reduce the measure next time. Try using half or three quarters of the recommended amount and see what happens - it may take some trial and error to get it just right but you might be pleasantly surprised!
3. It doesn't look like the picture
Apart from the fact that you haven't spent hours on styling your food with fancy props - remember that the pretty picture on the recipe has probably had quite a bit of special treatment - there are a few things that'll help your baking come out looking fancier.
|These macarons were intentionally hideous... |
That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
Being in a hurry can also cost prettiness. If I'm in a rush I often make mistakes with the recipe, or just don't have time to let it cool before decorating or cutting or whatever, and that generally means the end result will be sloppy.
A few bonus touches: trim the edges off things with obvious crusts (then eat them, obviously - no waste here); trim the top off dome-topped cakes and flip them upside-down before icing; use a hot knife to slice anything gooey, and wipe it down between slices... And remember that so long as it tastes good it doesn't really matter, so feel free to disregard all of the above.
4. It's tough and chewy
Gluten, that much maligned protein in wheat, makes things chewy when it's developed. It's developed by working - think kneading when making bread - and that's awesome when it's wanted. My favourite brownie recipe relies on a bit of gluten-development for its va-va-voom.
Unfortunately it means if you overmix cake batter it's likely to get chewy, too - so when instructions say to fold in the flour until just combined, that's what you should do. Just the bare minimum to get everything mixed together. Lovely.
5. It doesn't rise the way it should
Raising agents can be rather fickle so there's definitely heaps of room for failure here (reassuring, right?). Did you beat enough air into your batter? Are the raising agents fresh? They can eventually lose their efficacy. Did you add too little or too much? Too much can sometimes cause baking not to rise enough, counter-intuitively, so make sure you measure accurately.
6. It's just an all out fail
Oh dear! I'm so sorry for your loss.
|It was supposed to be a cake!|
It could just be a terrible recipe. In these days of unqualified bloggers filling the internet with delicious-looking photos there are plenty of those about (hopefully not here...).
Or maybe it's something that's quite sensitive and something was slightly off - your oven temperature is out by 20 degrees, your ingredients weren't at room temperature, or the humidity is too high.
So, tell me about your worst baking fail... Please? It'll make me feel better...