8 Baking Mistakes: How to Avoid and Fix Them — Advice from the Spring Baking Championship Judges

We asked the judges what some of the biggest baking mistakes are, and how they can be avoided and/or remedied the next time.

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Baking with the Wrong-Size Tin

"Always use the right-sized tin," says Lorraine Pascale. Substituting a different pan size for the one the recipe calls for may cause your cake to be overbaked or underbaked.

Using Ingredients That Are Out of Date

"Check dates on things like yeast, baking powder, baking soda," says Lorraine. You never want to go through the experience of putting in all the effort for a recipe just to have it not rise.

Having Irregular Oven Temperatures

"Ovens vary a lot," Lorraine points out. "It is good to test your oven and see where the hot spots are in it." Here's her way to do just that: "Put four pieces of bread on a baking sheet and pop [them] in the oven at 400 degrees F. Pull it out after 7 or so minutes and you can see if your oven bakes evenly or not, as some pieces of toast will be more cooked than others."

Ignoring Words or Directions That You Don't Understand in Recipes

"Our brains say, 'Oh, you don't understand that, so it must not be important,'" says Duff of our inclination to glaze over directions in a recipe. He explains why details are important: "As a baking book author, I don't ever write instructions that don't need to be there. Take the time to look up anything you do not recognize. Those little details can make or break a finished product."

Putting the Wrong Things in the Refrigerator

"Most flour-based baked goods don't do well refrigerated," says Duff about the dry goods that many people aren't sure where to store. "Lots of America is 'germ'-crazy, and [people] have been led to believe that everything needs to be put in the fridge all the time. Don't believe the hype!"

Leaving the Baked Item in the Oven Too Long

When you do this, Nancy Fuller points out, you run the risk of "having it dry out." And if your oven is too hot, you'll have some tough cookies on your hands, so to speak. Use a timer.

Improvising Inappropriately

"Improvised baking rarely works," says Lorraine. "Baking is a science and should be treated as such," she adds. Conversely, Duff reveals, "There is a lot of improvising in baking." You just have to know what you can improvise: "Ratios of the staple ingredients can't be improvised, but all the flavors certainly can," he says. And Nancy's point of view on the subject? "[This] farm cook will tell you to mix the ingredients put it in the pan and get it into the oven the best you can, because you have a whole lot more cooking to do!"

Baking a Cake that Falls

Is there any way to fix a fallen cake? "I tend to start from scratch," says Lorraine, pointing out that there's not much to save. "Next time, to prevent your cake from falling, just don't open the oven during the first three-quarters of the cooking time," she says. But don't waste your failure: "Bland bread can be made into sweet or savory bread puddings. Fallen cakes can be parfait layers," says Duff. Nancy's remedy: "Whip some cream, add some fruit and rename the cake to pudding."

More Spring Baking Championship

Get more tips and tricks from the judges, follow the competition with photo and video highlights of the baking challenges, and get recipes for the winning baked goods.