I judged the baking section at a county fair here in Oklahoma today. It is always a fun time to judge at the county fairs, but not all entries are made equal. I want to share with you some of the common mistakes I encountered at the fair today. I’ll talk a little about breads, cakes and cookies.
Kneading is an important step in bread making, but when done wrong, the end product can really suffer. Bread dough is kneaded to develop the gluten, which helps the bread stay together during baking, helps bread hold its shape, and is responsible for the elasticity that allows bread to rise. These are all essential to bread- but you can knead too much. This makes the bread tough. Some people do not knead the dough long enough. This is also a problem. Under-working the bread dough means the yeast may not get enough interaction with the moisture. The bread may not rise enough or at all.
The best rule of thumb for how long you knead bread is the recipe.
When a person enters a cake into a county fair, it is totally from scratch (or it should be) as no mixes are allowed. I have to say, I love cake mixes. They make cake absolutely fool proof. Unfortunately, baking a cake from scratch is not fool proof. There are some common problems. Cake batters need to be beaten with an electric mixer (I guess you could do it by hand, but why?) so that air gets worked into it. This air is what gives cake its springy texture.
Cake should be light and airy. It should create a lot of crumbs when cut and eaten. Over-beating cake batter can make the cake tough and dense or could possibly cause it to fall during baking. It will be less crumbly and will be heavy. Under-beating cake batter does not whip enough air in which can cause it to be too flat in the end.
Another cake problem is having the top be sticky. This could be due to low oven temperature, or not cooking long enough. You can buy a small thermometer for your oven to make sure that it is heating to the set temperature if you are not sure that your oven is working properly.
I am discussing a regular drop cookie dough, not a rolled cookie. Cookies should be slightly rounded on the top and perfectly round. I see two really common cookie problems with regard to shape: flat cookies and puffy cookies. If your cookies spread out too much during baking, you are probably using melted butter instead of softened butter. If your cookies are tall and puffy it’s probably because you are using too much baking powder.
I also see some problems with color. Leaving out the salt or not using enough sugar can keep the cookies from browning properly. Also, not baking long enough or at a hot enough temperature can also do this.
A lot of cookies are hard or too crumbly. There are numerous reasons why this might happen: too much sugar, not enough fat, over-baking….
I have shared this tip before but I think it’s genius: Freeze your cookie dough before baking. It makes the cookies so soft! I don’t know the science behind it, but I promise it will improve your cookies.
I hope this helps with your future baking and I hope you will enter your goods in the county fair!