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Baking Emergency: 5 Fixable Fails

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Dawn is a baker and former restaurant owner. Her years in the kitchen provide a wealth of experience to share.


First Things First: Fix It

It goes without saying, when baking, that preparedness is key. Following the instructions and using the intended ingredients is always going to deliver the best results. When baking, best practices are to read the recipe from start to finish before starting. Then, get out all of your ingredients, prepare your baking dishes, preheat your oven, and check off the steps as you go in pencil. Because, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even still, best practices or not, we're human, and mistakes happen. What then? Well, if you've happened to make one of these five common mistakes, then you're in luck; it can be fixed.

Fixable Fail #1: Forgot to Add Yeast

You're making a dough that calls for yeast. You've carefully mixed your dry ingredients, added in the wet ingredients, and kneaded the dough. It's sitting in a warm spot in the kitchen. A half-hour has passed, and there's no noticeable action happening. The dough doesn't appear to be rising. You let it sit a little bit longer. Still, no lift at all. Did you forget to add the yeast? Or, maybe, are the yeast dead? Either way, it's the yeast and here's what you do:

  1. Add the amount of yeast called for in the recipe to a small amount of lukewarm water, about 3 Tbsp (tablespoons). Mix it together; it should make a slurry similar to the consistency of pancake batter.
  2. Let the slurry sit and look for bubbles to form. The formation of bubbles signifies that the yeast are alive. This is called proofing. If no bubbles form, the yeast are dead and no longer active; you will need new yeast to proceed. In which case, you can tightly cover the dough in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for a day and then continue on to the next step once you have new yeast.
  3. Knead your dough 3 or 4 times (your dough should be room temperature for this step).
  4. Pour the slurry over the dough. Covering as much of the dough as possible with the slurry.
  5. Gently knead the dough until it becomes smooth again, and the slurry has worked in. Take caution to avoid over kneading the dough, which could result in a tight and tough end product.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let the dough complete its first rise. Continue with the recipe as directed from this point forward.

Fixable Fail #2: Overbaked Cookies

There's nothing like the smell of cookies wafting from the oven. But, what if you're pulling them out a little too late? Well, if they're burnt and really dark brown or black, toss them. They'll taste burnt, and there's no fixing that. But, if they're overcooked by just a minute or two and they're just a little darker than they should be, here's what you do. Do it quick:

  1. Get them out of the oven!
  2. Get them off the baking sheet and on to a cooling rack!
  3. Get them into the refrigerator! Getting the cookies out of the heat, off of the heat and into the refrigerator will immediately suspend the cooking. This will keep your cookies from becoming any more overcooked than they already are.
  4. Allow the cookies to cool. They should be cool in about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator. Are they hard? If not, enjoy! If so, see the next step.
  6. Eat them warm. Wrap a couple of cookies in a damp paper towel and microwave them for 20–30 seconds. This will soften them back up, they'll be delicious, and you'll be glad you didn't throw them out. However, as they cool, they will become hard again.

Fixable Fail #3: Overcooked Custard

You've got a custard pie in the oven. You followed the directions. The recipe said the pie was done when the center was set. The center looks set, but it's overdone and grainy. Don't worry. As long as it hasn't become scrambled eggs or completely burnt, we can save it. Fixed doesn't mean perfect, but it can still be delicious. Here's what you do:

  1. Turn off the oven. If the crust is completely cooked and golden brown, there' no need to put it back in the oven.
  2. Scoop out the custard into a mixing bowl. Gently use a silicone spatula to remove as much of the custard as possible. Be careful not to scrape bits of crust off.
  3. Add a little bit of heavy cream—a tablespoon or two at a time.
  4. With an immersion blender, blend until smooth and thick. If more cream is needed to reach the desired consistency, add a tablespoon at a time and blend. The custard should be thick enough when the back of a knife is cut across its surface, and the sides do not come back together.
  5. Return the custard to the pie crust. Smooth out and serve.

Fixable Fail #4: Forgot to Grease the Pan

Let them eat cake! If you can get it out of the pan. Forgetting to grease the pan is a rookie move that even the pros make from time to time, and its a pain in the neck when it happens. Which is why it's smart to prepare your bakeware before you start mixing ingredients. Regardless, when it happens, it's not the end of the world. A stuck cake can be unstuck, like this:

  1. Let the cake cool completely.
  2. Loosen the edges of the cake. An offset spatula works best for this. Slide it between the cake and the cake pan and gently run it around the perimeter. If the cake is too stuck to do this, skip this step for now.
  3. Set the cake pan in a roasting pan or something similar with deep sides.
  4. Fill the roasting pan with hot water, stopping below the edge of the cake pan.
  5. Let sit for about 5–10 minutes or remove before the water has cooled.
  6. Remove the cake pan from the water.
  7. Loosen the edges.
  8. Place a plate, top side down, over the cake, and carefully flip over.
  9. Gently, lift the cake pan off the cake, and it should come out with ease. If not, repeat steps 4–9 again.

Fixable Fail #5: Dry, Overbaked Cake

Didn't get the cake out of the oven on time? At first glance, it looked okay, but come to find out it's dry and overdone? Sure, it's not what you'd hoped for, but don't throw it out. As long as it doesn't look burnt or smells burnt, we can fix it. Here's how:

  1. Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, but do not remove it.
  2. Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer. The holes should go through all the way to the bottom of the cake. They should also be spread out evenly across the top of the cake about 1/4" apart.
  3. Brush the top of the cake with simple syrup.
  4. Loosely cover the cake, so that the cover is not making contact with the surface. Let sit out at room temperature for 1–2 hours before checking.
  5. Sample a small bit of the cake to see if it needs additional moisture. If so, repeat steps 3 & 4. If it's moist enough, slice it and enjoy.

Need More Help?

Having a baking emergency of the ingredient kind? We've got you covered. Check out the article, Baking Emergency⁠—13 essential ingredient substitutions, for more assistance. A baking emergency doesn't have to become a baking catastrophe, there is help.

© 2018 Dawn M