Before any baking, cooking, or food preparation, the most crucial element is cleanliness. Please do not forget to wash and dry your hands before getting started.
1. Starting a recipe without first reading through the directions completely.
This is a mistake often made when we become so confident in our skills and do not give credit to those that write the recipes. Folks, although we are experienced in baking for many years, there is always room for improvement. Please take into consideration the instructions of the writers of a certain recipe.
2. Not gathering all the necessary ingredients beforehand.
This can be extremely frustrating if one gets started mixing the ingredients to realize that you only have 1 egg in the fridge instead of 2. Therefore, it is important to gather all the necessary ingredients prior to beginning the entire process.
3. Using old or expired ingredients.
I remember watching a friend put together some ingredients to bake a pastry. To my horror, I noticed that some of the ingredients were old and some even expired! Honestly, I have baked with old ingredients and I have baked with fresh ingredients and my friends there is a difference. Personally, I want the best for my kids and my family so I encourage you to use fresh ingredients.
4. Not running dry ingredients through a sifter.
Okay. This may seem like an unnecessary step but I promise you it makes a world of difference. Therefore, what I usually do is sift the flour, the sugar, the salt, baking soda, etc. I found that doing this actually makes the batter smoother and it gets rid of chunks. Overall, it makes mixing the ingredients much easier.
5. Not having appropriate bakeware.
Depending on what you plan to bake, there are a variety of pans, molds and sheets available for use. In our society, we are overwhelmed with the number of choices available. So my advice, choose the bakeware that makes you happy and fits your recipe appropriately. (I would make sure that it does not have scratches or has too much baked on mess that just won’t come off. The teflon or old baked on mess can get in your new creation and that just doesn’t sound very appetizing.)
6. Forgetting or neglecting to prepare the bakeware.
My worst nightmare is when I have gathered fresh ingredients, followed the steps correctly and my item is stuck to the bottom of my pan. AAHHHH!!! So, the best thing to do is properly prepare the bakeware prior to pouring in the batter with oil, cooking spray and butter. Afterwards, just sprinkle a little flour on top of that, especially the problem areas like the center and the corners.
7. Improvising and not following the instructions.
I do think that everyone should take recipes and shape them and change them and make them their own. However, at first I think it’s best to following the directions to become comfortable with the entire process. Then I greatly encourage all to find their inner Julia Child!
8. Forgetting to preheat and then constantly opening the oven.
Most recipes will give an approximate time frame for your baked good to be in the oven (15 to 20 min. at 350 degrees). If we don’t preheat, it will throw off the cooking time because it usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to get the temperature up. Then, if you constantly open the oven it releases the heat and can affect your final baking result. My advice is to also use your sense of smell and sense of sight. Do it smell like it is ready? Do it look ready? After it has been in the oven for the recommended amount of time, I test it in the middle of the item with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, then it’s ready. If not, then I leave it for 2-4 minutes and test again. But during this end stage be very careful because it is very easy for your treat. Again pay close attention. And if your house is like mine, with constant activity, then I would set a timer.
9. Cool treats before or serving storing.
Personally, I often serve cookies slightly warm because-face it, there is nothing better than a warm chocolate chip cookie. But as a general rule, I do allow most pastries and baked goods to cool down before I serve them. Packaging a warm treat is also disastrous because the vapor given off by the treat while in a sealed container turns into sweat (for lack of a better word) and your wonderful creation becomes soggy! Lesson here-let these treats cool down before you package them.
I remember someone once told me that 50% of making a good tasting meal or treat is the presentation. Well, I think maybe its 30-40%, but still I think presentation can make a world of difference. I like to use platters that I find at discount stores such as Ross or Marshall’s. I have bought a collection of white items, so even though they are not of the same design, they still match!