I’ve been noticing a lot of the same types of questions in the comments lately. It’s made me realize that it would be helpful to have a troubleshooting place for folks to go for information on how to make their baking better. Also, it will help me not have to ask the same questions over and over again to try to diagnose what are usually common concerns.
Below are common actions that affect the success of your baking. If you answer yes to any of these, then please rectify the problem and try the recipe again before contacting me with questions. I will update this section as I think about more tips.
“I did not use all of the exact ingredients called for in the recipe” OR “I substituted for one or more of the ingredients: If you do not follow the recipe exactly, and you use different-than-called-for ingredients, then I can’t guarantee that the recipes will work for you. I can’t tell you how many times I have spent a lot of time troubleshooting problems with someone only to find out eventually that they used pancake mix instead of a flour mix or they used an egg substitute in a recipe that calls for eggs, or they used an alternative sweetener in the recipes, or they didn’t use xanthan gum, etc.
“I don’t have an oven thermometer in my oven so I can’t be sure that the oven is heating to the correct temperature”: The answer for this is get yourself an oven thermometer (they are pretty cheap and I got mine at the local drugstore) and determine how your oven is heating. See my oven thermometer post to learn more. This will affect almost any aspect of your baking. Also, most ovens–even new and super-expensive ones–don’t heat to the temperature we think they heat to. PLEASE DO NOT EMAIL ME WITH QUESTIONS UNTIL YOU’VE CHECKED THIS.
“I did not use the baking pan called for.” Or, “I used a plastic or other non-standard baking pan”; Or, “I used a bunch of tiny pans in the place of the bigger pan called for in the recipe”: Using the proper-sized baking pan is very important. If you use a Bundt pan when a loaf pan is called for, or an 8″x8″ pan when a 9″x9″ pan is called for, then you will probably get different results than you would using the correct pan. Also, if you use a baking pan that is made out of a non-standard material (like plastic or paper), you will get different results. Most often this is a gummy or uncooked center.
Stoneware often works well, but there are brands that seem to work better than others. If you are using stoneware and your baking is not turning out right, I would suggest that you switch to metal and try again. I can’t really help you out on this one: I don’t use stoneware for my baking.
“I didn’t check to see if my yeast or baking powder’s ‘use-by’ date has expired”: If you use expired yeast or baking powder, you are using a product that may no longer be good to bake with. Yeast is a living organism. If you use an expired yeast, there is a good chance that all or many of the yeasties have died, meaning that they will not eat the flour and then expel gas to help your bread or cake rise. This will cause your item not to rise and it will be flat.
“I doubled (or tripled or halved or whatever) the recipe”: Unless you are an experienced baker and know what to look for in a doubled recipe, please don’t multiply or halve recipes. It’s best to make the recipe once and then again for the second batch. This ensures a good result. If you did multiply the recipe, please make it again as the single, exact recipe before contacting me.
“I didn’t beat the butter and sugar or the eggs and sugar at all/very well and my baked item didn’t rise very well”: Not adequately beating the ingredients as called for in the recipe can affect the rise of your baking. The leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda, yeast, steam) only work on pre-made air pockets, they don’t create air-pockets on their own. And I have found that gluten-free baking benefits so much from beating the fat and sugar or fat and eggs very well before adding the other ingredients. This will create a flatter than expected result.
“My yeasted baked thing rose high and then deflated”: This often happens when yeasted items are allowed to rise too high before baking–the structure of the baked thing doesn’t have the power to uphold the height. If this has happened to you, I would recommend trying again, and let the item rise less high before baking. Please note that gluten-free yeasted items will almost always rise less high than a wheat yeasted item.