Troubleshooting Baking Problems

by Jeanne on January 30, 2012

Below are common actions that affect the success of your baking.  Please read through this list and if you made any of the missteps listed, try the recipe again before contacting me with questions. I will update this section periodically.

Did you use any (and I mean any) substitutions (including pan size or shape?

If so, then your results will differ some (or a lot) from mine.  Substitutions are going to affect the behavior of your baked items.

This is especially true if you don’t use eggs and use an egg substitute.  Eggs provide a lot of structure in a baked item.  If you can’t or don’t use eggs and use a substitute (any substitute) your baked thing will be denser and won’t be as fluffy as one with eggs.  This is most evident in breads.  Breads will typically rise and then fall a bit if you use an egg substitute rather than eggs.  There is no magic way around this at this time.

Did you use substitutions and measure by weight? If yes, go back and measure by volume.

I have found that many people who measure by weight vs. volume (cups) get funky results if they make substitutions.  For example, each gluten-free flour has a different weight.  I have found that the volume of the thing is what is needed and is key to the success of these recipes. So, if you use different flours or a different flour mix than I use, it’s best for you to use the equivalent volume of that flour.  Meaning, if I say 1 cup/140 g of Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour mix and you want to use BlahBlah Flour Mix instead, it’s best for you to find out how much 1 cup of BlahBlah Flour Mix weighs and then substitute by volume, not by weight.  I know this goes against everything everyone else says, but trust me.

Did you leave out the xanthan gum? 

I get a fair amount of questions about recipes that folks try that end up crumbly or otherwise structurally deficient.  After questioning, it turns out that they left out the xanthan gum.  Please note: gluten-free baked items need some sort of “gluten-replacer” in order to behave well.  I like to use xanthan gum. (for more on this, see my Gluten-Replacers post.)   If you don’t like or don’t want to use xanthan gum, you need to find another gluten-replacer that works for you.

Did you follow the exact recipe and the exact ingredients?

If you do not follow the recipe exactly, and you use different-than-called-for ingredients (even if you use one of my recommended substitutions), then I can’t guarantee that the recipes will work the exact same for you as it does for me.  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.

Did you substitute other flours for the flours in my mix?

If so, these flours may behave differently in my recipes.  Also, if you just substituted another flour for one of the flours in my mix (say, sorghum flour for brown rice flour) please note that you need to substitute the equivalent cup measure–not the equivalent weight.  Each flour has its own density.  So, if you are substituting for a cup of brown rice flour and you want to measure by weight, you need to find out the weight of a cup of the alternate flour and then use that.  PLEASE DO NOT EMAIL ME OR COMMENT ABOUT PROBLEMS WITH ONE OF MY RECIPES UNTIL YOU USE MY MIX IN IT.

Did you beat the butter and sugar or the eggs and sugar not at all/too little?

Not following the directions is a huge reason many recipes fail.  And not adequately beating the ingredients as called for in the recipe is a big no-no–it 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.

Have you checked the actual temperature in your oven (vs. what your oven dial says)?  Do you have an oven thermometer in your oven?

If not, 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.

Did you adequately preheat your oven?

Most ovens take a bit of time to reach the appropriate temperature.  And sometimes the correct temperature hasn’t quite been reached even when the control panel beeps to tell you that it’s preheated.  You need to give it extra time to adequately preheat.  This is where having an oven thermometer (see above paragraph) comes in handy–it tells you when the oven has actually reached the appropriate temperature.

Did you use the exact size pan called for?  Did you use a pan made out of metal or glass?

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.   Among other things, the baking time will be different.  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. Often this is a gummy or uncooked center or, alternately, burning.

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 except for ceramic pie pans for pies.

Is your yeast/baking powder/xanthan gum expired?

If you use expired yeast, baking powder, or xanthan gum, you are using a product that may no longer be good to bake with. It won’t perform its designated function.  For example, 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.

Did you double (or triple or halve 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.

Did your yeasted baked thing rise high and then deflate?

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 with a yeasted item, I would recommend trying again, and let the item rise less high (or even not at all if you are baking at high altitude) before baking.

If your Soft Sandwich Bread rises in the oven and then falls, I don’t know what to tell you other than what I’ve included in this post.  A few things to ask yourself:

1) did it fall a tiny bit?  If that happened, that’s OK.

2) does it look like the photo in the post?  If so, that’s what it’s supposed to look like

3) did you make any (and I mean any) substitutions to the way I tell you to make it?  If so, go back and make it exactly according to the recipe.

4) did you measure by weight? If so, I would recommend measuring by volume and see if your results differ.  In the summer in particular (and during rainy days), I have noticed that the dry ingredients–especially the flour–absorb water.  This makes them heavier.  So, if you weigh your ingredients, they will measure heavier on humid days and cause you to use less than is needed for the recipe.  The volume listed is what it needed for the recipe to work well.

Did your yeasted thing crack at the top?

This is normal for bread.  Loaf breads (like my Soft Sandwich Bread) or my Multigrain Bread usually don’t do this, but they may.  Usually I tell you to slash the tops of breads that crack for me.  The crack means that the yeast pushed the outer layer so much that it needed to crack in order to allow for the rising.  This is why many bread (usually artisan breads and baguettes) have slashes at the top.  If your loaf bread is regularly cracking at the top, I would recommend slashing it with a sharp knife a couple of times before placing it in the oven.

Did your yeasted thing not rise, or not rise as quickly as you expected or not rise as much as you expected?

This can be caused by several things.

-Is your yeast expired?  If yes, try again with new yeast.
-Is your kitchen cold?  If yes, this is the cause of slow rising because the yeast don’t rise very well at cold temperatures.
-Did you use all of the exact other ingredients in the recipe?  If no, try the recipe again with the exact ingredients I call for.
-Did it not quite rise to double in size?  This is OK.  To be honest, gluten-free yeasted thing don’t necessarily double in size–they mostly get puffy.  Puffy is a better indicator of something rising vs. doubled in size.

Are you confused about how sticky and/or batter-like your yeasted dough is?

Sticky is normal for gluten-free yeasted things.  And for the most part, gluten-free yeasted things will not have a super-stiff and malleable dough that wheat yeasted things will have.   Gluten-free yeasted dough is almost always like a thick cake batter.

Are you surprised at the amount of or presence of certain ingredients in a recipe?

Please trust that I know what I am doing.  For example: the yeast in breads.  I have found that I need more yeast than normal (at sea level) to get my bread to rise.  So 2 tablespoons is not unusual.  Remember: gluten-free baking is a bit different from wheat baking.  Please check the comments to see if the recipe is working for other people before you start doubting it.  And please actually bake the thing it to see how it works before you comment or email me with your doubts that it won’t work.

Are you expecting something to behave like your old wheat recipes and it doesn’t?

Keep in mind: this is gluten-free baking.  It is somewhat different from wheat baking.  Therefore, you need to be open to some differences.  For example: bread dough.  Bread dough in my recipes (maybe versus some other site’s recipes) is more like a thick batter than a dough.  It is not kneadable.  That said, there is no need to knead (heh) gf bread because there is no gluten to develop.  So, please trust the recipes and see how they work before you comment about or email me doubts about them.

Are you baking at high altitude?

I bake at sea level, so my recipes are tailored to sea level conditions.

If you are baking at high altitude (i.e., higher than sea level) then your baked items may react differently.  The higher the altitude, the less pressure there is on the baked items.  This is sometimes good for gluten-free baking–which often has issues with rising.  But, what this means that your baked items will probably rise higher and faster than the recipes indicate, and if they rise too much, you may have to reduce the amount of leaveners (especially baking powder), and you may need to reduce baking time and/or reduce the baking temperature.  You may also find that your baked items rise high and then deflate after you take them out of the oven.  If this is happening to you, you will need to adjust the leaveners, carefully monitor the rising time on your baked items, and experiment with less baking time or a lower baking temperature.

A good table for how to start adjusting for high altitude baking can be found on the High Altitude Baking website.

Updated: 8/4/14

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