Baking 101: learning from your mistakes #1

I’m not a pastry chef, I’m not a chef baker. Just an amateur who is passionate about making food, and obviously, putting it in my mouth. People in life will tell you that very cliché line: you learn from your mistakes. And indeed you do! Every time I do something wrong in the process of cooking, or I have to face an unexpected situation I can’t help being bummed out. And at the same time, I always tell myself: “won’t make that mistake again!”
So here’s to a reverse baking 101: mistakes to avoid for better baking!
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[although this post is about mistakes, I don’t usually take pictures of my baking disasters so you will have to just go with this picture of a gorgeous pink praline brioche I made]

It would seem easy to not makes mistakes when it comes to baking right? After all, you have a recipe, and you just have to follow it. Except that if you give the same recipe to an experienced baker, and to a learner, you’re very unlikely to get the same result because technique requires practice, and through practice you learn the tricks that make the technique.

 

#1: My first comment would be about the recipe itself: do not be fooled. Not all recipes are great, just because an editor agreed to print it in a book, and a photographer made it look good on a picture does not mean it’s good. Trust your judgement. Be open-minded of course, and trust your pallet memory: do those flavours really go well together? Will the textures contrast? Does it sound like a good idea? Trust me, I’ve cooked and baked things following recipes from great cooks/chefs which I promised myself I would not make again. But again, it was worth trying because I know now it doesn’t work for me! #learningfromyourmistakes

 

#2: Another comment worth making about recipes would be to not feel trapped by the ingredient list! So many times have I struggled to get my hand on all the ingredients a recipe called for because “it is what the recipe says you should use!” WRONG! You don’t always have to restrain yourself to the text… especially in cooking, but it works in baking as well: I’m not going to say you can substitute or ignore everything like butter, sugar, flour and eggs but you know, with all the alternative diet recipes being developed, you learn that even those basics can be substitute. You just need to learn the few tricks, and what can be replaced by what but it’s already a step to think: “I don’t have buttermilk, and I can’t find it, let me google it, maybe google will have a solution”. Google knows everything! (almost) And the trick for buttermilk I use is the classic lemon juice mixed in some regular milk. I actually think it works better than some of the buttermilk you can find in UK supermarkets like Waitrose, which is too thick and does not achieve the right texture.

 

#3 This is going to sound silly but… read the whole recipe first before you even buy ingredients! Seriously. The first time I set out to make a classic New York Bakes cheesecake, it was totally on a whim. I knew my boyfriend really craved for some and I thought, “sure I’ll make one for our goûter this afternoon!” I went out and bought a springform pan, assumed we needed cream cheese, sour cream, eggs etc. Got home and started baking. Realised we didn’t have enough sour cream, (this is my point about substituting things… we had double cream and could have totally used that) so we had to go get some more. We then realised that there would have been no way for us to eat the cake the same day since it needed to bake for 1hour, then rest in the oven until cooled completely, then left in the fridge to set OVERNIGHT. Maybe only I have done a mistake like that, but I am now sharing my experience. Read the whole recipe!

 

#4 Finally, still recipe wise, take initiatives, think ahead: a recipe need to hold on an entire page. It needs to be practical, direct and efficient. Of course whoever wrote that recipe is not going to hold your hand throughout the process of baking, especially if they’ve already given you tricks in other recipes in the book, they’re unlikely to repeat themselves on every page. This is something you also learn with practice, but sometimes you will follow all the tasks until you read “put the tin in a preheated oven at *** temperature”. Oh… Forgot to preheat the oven. Most recipes will tell you to do so at the beginning, but not all of them do. Again, this sounds silly but raise your hands if you’ve already forgotten to preheat your oven (don’t let me hanging by myself here). Or: always, ALWAYS line your tins with baking parchment. I don’t care how much you’ve been told that greasing and flouring is enough: it’s not. It’s not because we don’t all have the same quality of baking equipment, and it’s always better to think a few steps ahead. You will always be able to unmould your cake if you used baking (non-stick) parchment. You might not always be able to do so if you just relied on butter, flour, and a loaf tin from Poundland. Trust me.

 

I’ll keep this first #LearningFromYourMistakes Baking 101 focused on how to use recipes for today but I hope this was helpful, and you don’t think of me as a baking failure… I’ve come a long way since I’ve started baking in the past three years and I still have plenty of mistakes to share.

Lots of baking love xx

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