I’ll be honest, hearing someone say “I can’t bake” or “I burn everything” is very weird to me. I LOVE to bake. And I wish everyone else did too! It really, truly, isn’t that hard. For instance, everyone can follow a recipe. 1 cup of this, 1 tablespoon of that, some mixing and you’re ready to bake! Yes recipes can get more complicated, but they don’t need to be, in order to be delicious.
The key to not over-baking is simple: don’t trust the time on the recipe. Yes, it’s probably right, but every oven operates at a different temperature. If the baking time is 8 – 10 minutes, I will normally check at 5 minutes, then every couple of minutes until it’s done. If it’s 20 – 25, I’ll check at 15. You get the idea. Be cautious when baking, and you’ll get it right every time.
As for knowing when it’s done, almost all cookies and cakes use the same techniques.
- Eyeball it. Is it browning around the edges? Probably time to check done-ness via the following two options.
- Press gently with a (clean) finger. If it springs back, it’s probably done.
- Stick a toothpick (or chopstick, or fork, or knife) in it. If it comes out clean, it’s also probably done.
When do you use the different options?
With cakes it’s best to use both 2 & 3 in conjunction. It’s best to use both for cakes because, unfortunately, just because it’s springy on the top doesn’t mean the batter is cooked all the way down–but if it’s not springy, you don’t have to bother poking a hole in your beautiful cake quite yet.
With cookies, technique 2 should keep you covered. Technique 3 is mainly useful for cookies that are thick and goopy/sticky (very technical terms!) batters like black forest cookies. The only cookie it doesn’t apply for is ones like shortbread, because they don’t really rise. In that case, you’ll have to stick with technique 1.
As for the more complicated recipes, such as the ones that call for separating eggs and whipping the egg whites…I must confess: I still cannot separate an egg. Instead I use a tool called an “egg separator” very similar to this one (or get someone else to do it). As for whipping the egg whites, just make sure to try and keep as much egg yolk out of it as possible. A tiny bit will not totally ruin your recipe, so try not to panic (like I usually do).
Remember, it doesn’t need to be complicated to be tasty!