Baking is a science, cooking is an art – as the popular saying goes, in truth baking is both but there are some basic guidelines to avoid common baking mistakes. In this post we will explain essential tips for baking and lead you in confidence on how to bake perfect bread. There are a whole assortment of doughs to master from your basic flatbreads, to sourdough, to complex panettone, but first let’s cover some ‘mistakes in baking and overcoming’ so you don’t make them in your journey to baking success!
Not measuring ingredients correctly
Using a scale to accurately weigh your ingredients gives precise results. Cups are a standard form of measurement in the US but when it comes to baking you require precision, volume is far less accurate than weight. A digital scale is fairly inexpensive and will take the guesswork out of your baking, there’s no need to worry “did I measure ⅔ cup or was it more of ¾ cup?”. Invest in a set of digital scales and have confidence that your bake will turn out as planned.
A challenging step in learning how to bake perfect bread is the ability to read when the dough has risen. Over-proofing or under-proofing are common baking mistakes and the results can be dense, deflated bread or a tight and moist crumb. To avoid these mistakes, follow the poke test – press your finger into the dough whilst proofing. If the dough spring backs straight away, then it needs a little longer, if the dough slowly springs back halfway, then it is ready, and if the dough doesn’t spring back at all, then it is over-proofed.
Failing to prepare a bread proofing basket
Use a bread proofing basket to shape and prove dough into artistically designed loaves. Proofing baskets provide the ability to create perfectly shaped bread in an artisan style but require a few guidelines to be followed for best results. A new proofing basket needs to be simply prepared before first use. Lightly dampen the inside of the basket with water then generously dust with rice flour. Allow the rice flour to dry and your bread proofing basket is prepared.
Before proofing dust the basket again with rice flour, rice flour is preferred as it does not contain gluten. If you dust with wheat flour which contains gluten then this gluten will react with the moisture in your dust and increase the chance of the bread sticking to the basket. A combination of wheat flour and rice flour will also provide better results than wheat flour alone.
Opening the oven too often
There is the temptation to check on your baked goods by quickly opening the oven door whilst baking. This is one of the worst mistakes because everything could have been going perfectly until this step. By opening the oven door the temperature will drop significantly and can cause the bread to collapse. Instead, have faith that everything will turn out right and open the oven once a golden crust has formed.
Cleaning a proofing basket with water and soap
To clean a proofing basket after use, turn the basket upside down and pat out any flour, then lightly dust the inside of the basket with a dry brush to remove any remaining flour. Avoid using water as any leftover moisture can lead to mold, also avoid soap as the perfume odour will be absorbed by the wicker and then transfer to your breads.
Cut into warm bread
Warm bread directly from the oven is irresistible and yet slicing straight into a loaf is a big mistake when baking, the result will be torn bread which is gummy, soft and wet on the inside. After removing bread from the oven it is still cooking and needs time to rest, so should be placed onto an airing rack and allowed to cool. To serve the bread warm, wrap in aluminum foil after cooling and place in the oven for 10 minutes to reheat.
Baking mistakes will happen, that is part of the learning process so don’t give up if your loaf didn’t quite turn out right or even if it ended up as one of your worst cooking mistakes. Bread making is therapeutic and once you reach the point of learning how to bake perfect bread all the failed attempts will be worth it.