Chatelaine Kitchen

Baking blunders: Six common cookie and pastry mistakes and solutions

Although baking blunders can be frustrating, we do learn a lot from our mistakes. We've identified six common cookie and pastry mistakes and a quick solution to fix them

Although baking blunders can be frustrating, we do learn a lot from our mistakes. Here are solutions to some common cookie and pie mistakes, along with the very first thing you should do before you start any baking recipe.

First tip: Read your recipe before you start
This is the first and best piece of advice that will save you time and heartache later. Baking is a precise process, therefore measurements, cooking method and temperature all play a factor in the success of your final product. The Chatelaine Kitchen triple tests all recipes, and our baking recipes are often tested more often than that. We’ve done the homework for you, so give the recipe a read, have faith and have fun!

We highly recommend trying your hand at any of these 57 reliable holiday cookies: 2011 Holiday Cookie Collection.

Here are six common baking mistakes and how to fix them:

1. Problem: Cookies that don’t spread out
Solution: The most common reason cookies don’t spread out is too much flour in the batter. To remedy this, there are a few things you can do: First, re-check the recipe measurements; second, make sure you are using the proper technique to measure your flour, spooning the flour into the measuring cup, not dipping into the flour bag (the latter will result in excess flour). Another common cause of poor spreading is an oven temperature that is too high. This causes the base of the cookie to form a crust too quickly, before it has had time to spread. Make sure the oven is properly preheated before placing your baking trays inside.

2. Problem: Cookies that spread out too much
Solution: For the most part, cookies that spread out too much have too much sugar in the batter. If your recipe was measured correctly, then check the heat of your oven. An oven that isn’t hot enough means they have too much time to spread before firming up. Finally, an over-greased pan can cause overspreading. Choosing parchment over a greased pan is a good solution for this.

3. Problem: Cookies that are too crumbly
Solution: Creaming butter with sugar and spices is very common in cookie recipes.  However, over-creaming can cause several problems – such as a crumbly cookie. If you are making a recipe that has a lot of fat (shortening or butter) over-creaming will cause the cookie to become crumbly. Cream only until you see a pale, smooth, slightly fluffy texture and then proceed with your recipe. Also, double check your sugar measurements. Too much sugar can make a cookie brittle.

4. Problem: Cookies that are tough or hard
Solution: For the most part a tough cookie can be attributed to either too much flour, too much mixing or too much baking.

5. Problem: Pie crust that is tough
Solution: A tough pie crust is primarily caused by too much handling – whether it be over-mixing or using too much re-rolled scrap dough. The toughening of a crust typically happens after the fat has been cut or rubbed into your flour. The next step is to add in your liquid – and this step is critical. Once you combine flour with liquid and begin mixing, gluten forms and gluten is not desired in pie crust. Therefore, once you add the liquid, stir only until the dough begins to come together, then turn out onto a surface and work into a ball. Press into a disc and let the dough rest according to your recipe. In terms of re-rolling, it is very tempting to keep using your dough scraps, however each time they are re-rolled, more gluten is formed. You are fine to re-roll your pie dough once and re-use it, after that expect a tougher product.

6. Problem: Soggy pie crust
Solution: We all hope that the bottom crust of our pie will be as flaky and tender as the top and sides. There are a few things that you can do to prevent a soggy crust. First, make sure that your oven is hot enough and set to bake (the heat needs to come from the bottom). Filled pies that are not frozen bake at between 425F-450F. Second, if you are making a fruit pie, which contains a lot of moisture, blend the fat into the flour slightly more than you normally would. This coating of the flour produces a water resistant barrier and prevents moisture from being absorbed into your crust. The food processor method of making dough is a great alternative for these pies as it coats the flour well with the fat. Finally, if you are precooking your pie filling, ensure that it is fully cooled before adding it to an unbaked crust.

For a delicious and reliable pastry, try: Sour cream pastry

Originally published December 7th, 2011.

Watch: Baking School: How to measure ingredients accurately