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Professional Chef tips: How to solve common cooking mistakes

We’re all the same at the moment…

Cooking more at home this year, which means more adventurous dishes, but also more amateur cooking catastrophes!

Often we only make simple cooking mistakes, which means they can be rectified easily. Wouldn’t it be handy to have all that information to hand without having to scroll through cookbooks or getting lost on Google?

Below, are a series of short cooking tips from professional baker Gerhard Jenne, founder of London bakery chain, Konditor:

Mistake: Biscuits burned on the bottom
Reason: Make sure your oven is baking at the temperature it says. Get an oven thermometer to check, as ovens can be out by 20C. You should bake on the middle crack for conventional heat, while in some fan in ovens you may still have to rotate trays

Mistake: Biscuits too hard
Reason: Depends on the recipe, but it could be over mixed, too much flour, or not enough shortening (using fat (egg yolks) to make sure the dough is crumbly)

Mistake: Cake rises too high in the middle
Reason: Oven temperature is probably too high, trying turning it down or measuring it with an oven thermometer

Mistake: Cake is under baked or too doughy
Reason: Not 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 – we 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!

Mistake: Icing full of crumbs
Reason: Cake iced too fresh, not given the cake a crumb coat (a thin layer/coat of frosting that picks up any loose bits of cake and evens out the surface) and chilled in between giving the final coat.

Mistake: Pastry is soggy or chewy
Reason: Your oven temperature is probably too low, or not baked enough. Other reasons may be that your pastry might also be overworked, or using whole eggs, just use the egg yolk next time.

Mistake: Soggy pastry bottom
Reason: Probably no blind baking (when you bake the pastry before adding the contents), or it’s not low enough rack in the oven. The filling could also be too wet if not blind baked.

Mistake: Pastry crumbly and difficult to roll
Reason: You might have let the pastry dry out too much, often if it’s in the fridge uncovered the pastry will have become more dry. or you might need some milk or egg yolks. It could also be not mixed enough

Mistake: Collapsed puff pastry
Reason: Removed to 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

Mistake: Dough is too sticky to knead
Reason: Wrong flour , I.e cake flour instead of strong. Too much liquid in the recipe, strong flour quality may vary too and ability to absorb water differs between different mills/brands

Mistake: Bread won’t rise
Reason: It’s likely there’s too much salt in your mixture, you have bad yeast, or the dough too tight and hasn’t been proofed properly.

Mistake: Icing is too sloppy
Reason: Royal icing doesn’t have enough sugar or has been whipped enough. 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.

Mistake: Collapsed cake
Reason: Cut out the collapsed centre and make it into Bundt cake…use the sponge to line tarts to stop them going soggy (apple pies etc)

Mistake: Burned tasting brownies
Reason: The cocoa solids are too high in the brownie mix. Would only use 53% in a cake/brownie mix not 70%. Choc chips can be added with higher cocoa percentage though.

Mistake: You’ve made it too salty
Reason: 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.

Mistake: Lumps of flour in a mix
Reason: Flour not sifted enough, or it’s kept in a damp place in your cupboard so it clumps up.

Mistake: Sweet pastry/it has blotchy appearance
Reason: Never use granulated sugar as it does not dissolve in the pastry. Caster sugar vs granulated : much better to use caster as it dissolves more quickly in pastries or when creaming with butter.

Mistake: Bread has a thick crust
Reason: Not enough steam in the oven and temperature too low. Perhaps purchase a dutch oven, some lava rocks, or try rolling some wet tea towels and place them in a baking tray – this should create a constant stream of steam in your oven.

Mistake: Cake mixture splits when beating with eggs
Reason: 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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