Common baking problems and how to solve them

Professional baker and pastry chef, Gerhard Jenne sheds some light on common baking problems you might encounter and how to solve them.

Image credit: Gerhard Jenne, founder of London bakery chain Konditor.

Professional baker and pastry chef Gerhard Jenne, founder of London bakery chain Konditor, sheds some light on common baking problems you might encounter and how to solve them.

My biscuits are burnt on the bottom!

Make sure your oven is baking at the temperature it says. Get an oven thermometer to check, as ovens can vary and the temperature could be out by 20°C. You should bake on the middle shelf for conventional heat, while in some fan ovens you may still have to rotate trays to ensure even baking.

My biscuits are too hard!

It depends on the recipe, but it could be caused by overmixing, adding too much flour, or not enough shortening (using fat (egg yolks) to make sure the dough is crumbly).

Why has my cake risen too high in the middle?

Your oven temperature is probably too high – try turning it down or measuring it with an oven thermometer.

My cake is under-baked or too doughy

It sounds like your cake hasn’t had enough baking time, or it may be handled too soon or roughly after taking it out of the oven. There also might not be enough creaming of butter and sugar – you need to make sure the sugar has aerated (created enough bubbles) the butter to make a lighter and better-textured sponge. Equally, the egg might need more mixing into the butter before flour is added. It’s important to consider all of these things if your cakes are under-baked!

Why is my icing full of crumbs?

You may have iced your cake while it was too fresh, or you didn’t give the cake a crumb coat (a thin layer/coat of frosting that picks up any loose bits of cake and evens out the surface, which is then chilled before giving your cake the final coat).

My pastry is soggy or chewy, what did I do wrong?

Your oven temperature is probably too low, or you didn’t bake your pastry enough. Other reasons may be that your pastry might also be overworked, or if you’re using whole eggs, try just using the egg yolk next time.

My pastry has a soggy bottom

Did you forget to blind bake (when you bake the pastry before adding the contents) your pastry? Or perhaps the filling was too wet.

Why is my pastry crumbly and difficult to roll out?

You might have let the pastry dry out too much – often if it’s in the fridge uncovered, the pastry will become drier – or you might need some milk or egg yolks. It could also be not mixed enough!

My puff pastry has collapsed!

You may have removed it too soon from the oven, but another cause could be because the lamination is not good enough. For example, if rest periods in between turns have not been observed.

My dough is too sticky to knead!

Check you used the right flour, or maybe you used too much liquid in the recipe? Flour quality may vary too, and the ability to absorb water differs between different mills/brands so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Why won’t my bread rise?

It’s likely there’s too much salt in your mixture, you have bad yeast, or the dough is too tight and hasn’t been proofed properly.

What can I do with a cake that's collapsed in the centre?

Cut out the collapsed centre and make it into Bundt cake, or use the sponge to line tarts to stop them going soggy (apple pies, etc).

My icing is too sloppy!

Royal icing may not have enough sugar or hasn’t been whipped enough. If it’s a cream cheese frosting, different cream cheeses give better consistency, therefore the icing sugar may need to be adjusted within it. Occasionally, you may find that there’s been too little beating, or that your butter is too hot when mixing.

Why do my brownies taste burnt?

The cocoa solids could be too high in the brownie mix – I prefer to use 53% in a cake/brownie mix, not 70%. Chocolate chips can be added with higher cocoa percentage though!

I’ve made my bake too salty

If you use salted butter in cakes you don’t need to add more salt, but make sure you have enough salt to enhance the flavour.

Why have I got lumps of flour in a mix?

Your flour is not sifted enough, or it’s kept in a damp place in your cupboard so it clumps up.

Why does my cake mixture split when beating with eggs?

This could be because the temperatures of the ingredients are uneven, or you’ve used too much egg. Next time, try alternating the egg with flour, and you should find the right mixture consistency.

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