Holiday Baking Championship: Baking Myths (Debunked)

While our contestants were competing for the championship, we went back to the basics to find out if these 10 baking beliefs are fact or fiction.

Get the Real Facts to Better Baking

There are the constant bakers, like our contestants on Holiday Baking Championship, and there are the only-on-the-holidays enthusiasts, but there are certain “truths” anyone who has ever held a whisk will tell you: Cold cream whips faster than room temperature, if you add hot milk to eggs without stirring they will curdle, and overmix only if you like tough cake. But as we discovered, not all of our common wisdom turned out to be worth its weight in butter.

Baking Powder Lasts Forever — False

When you find yourself digging for that little tin of baking powder, you know it doesn’t get much use. And while it doesn’t visibly go bad, like a curdled jug of milk or moldy loaf of bread, baking powder does have an expiration date where it stops doing its job properly — cue sad, deflated muffins. If it has lingered open on the shelf for more than a year, toss it in the trash.

Preheat Your Oven or Bust — False

Can’t stand the waiting game between when your oven needs to preheat and you can start baking chocolate chip cookies? Skip it. The short time it takes for your oven to go from cold to 350 degrees F isn’t long enough to really affect quick-baking items, like cookies, cupcakes and your morning muffins.

Measuring Cups and Spoons Never Lie — False

Professional bakers swear by kitchen scales for one very good reason: Weight doesn’t lie (as long as your scale is calibrated properly). On the other hand, using measuring spoons and cups requires a little more care, as even how you scoop your flour (pack it down or carefully spoon it into the cup) or whether your cup is wet when measuring sugar (sugar will stick, giving you an inaccurate yield) can affect the final outcome of your baked goods. Keep an eye out for cook’s notes on baking recipes, as they will often spell out the technique used to measure.

A Dusting of Flour Keeps Berries from Sinking — True

Never suffer through a soggy-bottomed blueberry muffin again. Rolling your berries (or any fruit, really) in flour will prevent them from collecting on the bottom of the baking tin. Fruit contains a lot of water, which makes it heavy. Flour helps to absorb some of that water, making berries more buoyant. Yay, science!

Sift Your Flour or You’ll Be Sorry — False

This is a step you can skip — most of the time. If you are baking a light-as-air genoise or delicate sponge cake, it never hurts to sift. But for the most part, sifting is a throwback from a time when flour was less processed and might have had a few weevils hiding out in the sack. Today, it’s safe to assume your flour from the grocery store is free of bugs and chaff, so if you find yourself in a time crunch, sifting might not be worth the effort. 

An Open Oven Door Will Ruin Your Baked Goods — Both

Staring through the glass window is probably the best compromise for bakers who can’t take their eyes off their beautiful creations. But if you find yourself overcome with enthusiasm and open the oven door on occasion to peek at your browning cookies or puffing cake, chances are it won’t ruin all your efforts. For delicate souffles or any meringue-based cake, though, the closed-door rule still applies.

Humidity + Pie Dough = One Tough Crust — False

Good news! Your dough will be negligibly affected the next time you decide to make a pie in the rainforest. If someone ever complains to you that humidity in the air made his or her crust tough, don’t believe it. While water does activate the gluten in flour (giving it structure), flour doesn’t absorb water molecules floating around in the air that easily or quickly. 

Fat Is the Enemy of Egg Whites — True

When a recipe says you should use a clean mixing bowl, do so. Egg whites are a fat-free protein with some water thrown in, and water and oil (or butter) don’t mix. You can forget about voluminous meringue if your bowl contains even a tiny bit of oil from a last night’s cornbread.

Tough Cakes Happen When You Don’t Alternate Adding Dry and Wet Ingredients — False

Adding dry ingredients in three batches is a baking standard. But honestly, it cuts down on mess more than it affects the finished baked good. Really, you can add as much of the dry at once as you can incorporate into the (usually) creamed butter. Follow it up with the wet ingredients, being careful not to overmix, and you won’t even notice the difference in how your grandmother’s secret pound cake recipe turns out.

Eggs Must Always Be Added at Room Temperature — False

The world’s not black and white; the same goes for the baking world. Cold eggs won’t achieve the same volume as room-temperature eggs, so if you are whipping them in the recipe, use room temperature. If you're following a basic cake recipe that doesn’t require whipped eggs, you will have to strain to find a difference once your layers come out of the oven.

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