01 of 06
A lot of home cooks will spring for the premium butter and the top-shelf chocolate, yet skimp when it comes to flour. When you consider that flour is the primary ingredient in baking, you can see why this is a bad habit. Yes, there really are differences in flour! We're not even talking about using bread flour for baking bread and cake flour for making cakes. Even among the different brands of all-purpose flour, there are variations in protein content, as well as so-called ash content, which doesn't mean there are actual ashes in your flour. Rather, it's an indicator of quality, with lower ash content corresponding with higher quality flour.
Different parts of the country will feature different brands and each will have different characteristics. You'll need to experiment to find the one you like the best. Moreover, you might discover you prefer one flour for making cookies and a different one for biscuits. The point is, don't just buy the cheapest kind! Also, stay away from bleached flour. Bleaching affects the gluten in flour and produces a generally subpar product.
02 of 06
Specifically, greasing the wrong part of the pan. Or greasing and flouring. Or spraying the pan with baking spray that has the oil and flour combined. This is a bad habit. Greasing is generally fine for the bottom of a pan (although a piece of parchment is better for the bottom), because you can easily run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen a cake or loaf. The problem is that a cake needs friction to climb the sides of a pan. Greasing the sides make it more difficult for the cake to rise because the batter literally keeps slipping back down. Conversely, using a combination of grease and flour might be fine for the sides, but terrible for the bottom. And when it comes to cookies, you probably shouldn't grease it at all. Here's more about how and when to grease your baking pans.
03 of 06
This is particularly an issue with pie crusts and rolled cookies. Even if you're careful not to overmix your doughs, simply rolling out your dough, stretching it across a pie pan, wrapping it in plastic, shaping it, or handling it in any way whatsoever is working the glutens and thus causing the finished product to be tougher. Obviously, you have to handle your doughs, but keep it to a bare minimum, and when you do, do it gently.
Also, when you're rolling out your dough, it can be tempting to sprinkle flour to keep it from sticking. But extra flour will cause your dough to toughen. For a sweet product, use powdered sugar. You can also oil your hands to keep bread dough from sticking while you knead it.
04 of 06
Stale ingredients can cause a recipe to fail all together. Using expired chemical leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda that have lost their potency won't produce the needed rise. The same is true for yeast. Yeast is a microorganism that reacts with sugar to form gas and if your yeast is old, it means those organisms are dead and won't produce any gas, and thus your bread won't rise.
Other ingredients might still "work" when they're stale, like spices such as cinnamon, for instance. But stale spices likewise affect overall quality because the essential oils in spices dissipate over time, causing them to lose flavor and aroma. In short, use fresh ingredients, and replace any that are past their expiration dates.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Obviously, a chocolate chip cookie that is still warm from the oven is one of life's most glorious pleasures. That's not what we're talking about here. The issue is with cakes and breads. If you try to frost a cake before it's completely cooled, you'll end up with a bunch of crumbs in the frosting. But don't just let your cakes and loaves cool in their baking pans. The steam needs to escape, and if they're cooped up in the pan, that steam will cause the bottom and sides to become soggy.
Instead, let your loaves and cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, by which time it will be cool enough to touch, and you can then turn it out onto a wire cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. And really let it cool all the way, especially if you're planning to wrap it. Wrapping it too soon will also cause it to turn soggy.
06 of 06
Patience (or lack thereof) is often a factor when it comes to baking yeast breads. Have you ever seen a recipe that said something like "let the dough rest for 12 to 18 hours?" Well, that six-hour difference is pretty significant. You might be inclined to let it rest 12 hours and call it a day. But guess what? What you won't realize is that if you'd rested it for the full 18, it would have immensely more flavor. Not only that, but it might not rise properly if rested for only 12 hours, but given the full 18, it will do so beautifully.
This is an extreme example and a good recipe should not be quite so ambiguous. But in general, let things go as long as they're meant to go and don't try to cut corners to save time. When it comes to proofing bread, give it a soft poke with your finger. If it leaves a small dent that slowly expands almost all the way back out again, it's fully proofed.