Epic baking fails and how to avoid them

No one likes sad bread, right?

A couple weeks ago I was reading a back issue of Cooking Light where the editors profiled the top 25 mistakes that cooks make. I saw myself in several, for instance, scalding milk (see my battle with custard for more information), not realizing that a simmer should barely bubble, and not tasting along the way (unless we’re talking spaghetti sauce or cookie dough, obviously). A few days ago, during my baking extravaganza featuring 36 loaves of pineapple-banana and pumpkin-pear bread, I found myself in the middle of two more mistakes.

I blame the postman.

Mr. T (and others) suggest I am a glutton for punishment. When I’m not imitating a sloth (as I have been for the last couple days!), I tend to fill my available time with more to-dos than will reasonably fit. I call this striving for maximum productivity but sometimes I create stress for myself. Like baking 36 loaves, Christmas shopping, crafting other holiday gifts and writing a zillion cards inside of the five days before Christmas. Tis the season, yes?

So with these tasks stacking, I thought about ways to use my time efficiently. With my stores nearly depleted from the many rounds of banana-nut, I planned to use up my eggs and flour on the first batch of pumpkin-pear bread. With it in the oven for an hour, I could finish up the Christmas cards in time to run them to the post office by 3:30 p.m. so that I could haul ass out to Winco for more supplies before rush-hour started. I kept thinking about making it to the post office and started to dole out ingredients for the bread.

I started by prepping the wet ingredients for blending–sugar, oil, eggs and pumpkin. Until I realized that I was supposed to cream the first three before adding the pumpkin. Hrm. I’d done that once before but given the ticking clock, decided to press on. Maybe the consistency wasn’t quite right, but I could improvise, yes? With that blended, I moved on to the dry ingredients which I’d layered into a separate bowl, per the recipe. As I poured the wet mix into the dry, I realized I forgot to sift, meaning that my spices and soda were not blended into the rest of the flour and would not be distributed evenly throughout the dough. Crap.

Refusing to give up, I stirred really, REALLY well before pouring the mix into baking pans. I got a little taste at that time and wondered why it was so sweet. Well duh, I forgot the salt. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Welcome to one of Cooking Light’s major mistakes: Not reading the recipe through carefully before beginning. The kicker? I’d done this once before!

As baking is a bit more science than art in terms of improvisation–things really do need to be measured well and mixed in the right order–I contemplated whether or not to just roll with it and see how the bread turned out. But then I realized that the bread was meant to be a gift and gifts with taste-slices taken out just don’t go over that well. So I dumped the double batch down the drain, cursing as I went, but AVOIDING one of the frequent cooking mistakes I read about which is not knowing when to start over. Yay me.

Long and short, I recommend these three tips to avoid epic baking fails in the future:

1. Read the recipe through carefully. Twice. Make sure you have all of your supplies at the ready (unlike my mushroom meatloaf mistake) and know in which order to add ingredients. This is particularly relevant with items that use yeast where incorrect ordering may inhibit your bread’s ability to rise due to dead yeast.

2. Practice mindful cooking i.e. pay attention! My biggest failure in this instance was thinking about everything except for my task at hand. Paying attention and being mindful about recipes can help forestall cooking disasters and likely, help prevent injury in the kitchen. For me, I was so worried about timing and yet by not mindfully executing the recipe, I cost myself many extra hours, not to mention the cost of ingredients.

3. Know when to start over. While prevention and mindfulness are certainly important, some mistakes cannot be overcome. Like my custard catastrophe. Once the milk curdles, there is no way to recover. While this is particularly painful with $10 vanilla bean pods or other delicate and expensive ingredients, some times the best course of action is to suck it up, start over and maybe, bitch about it on the internets. Doesn’t change the outcome, but at least catharsis feels good.

So there you have it. Happy baking my friends.


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