Wondering why your most recent recipe failed? We’ve all been there. Today, I’m sharing 10 of my favorite recipe troubleshooting tips! Prevent those kitchen disasters before they have a chance to ruin your recipe!
I get so many questions about why recipes failed, and I do my best to help people troubleshoot. More often than not, I go through the exact same recipe troubleshooting questions every time to try and get to the bottom of what happened. Hopefully, by sharing them here I can help you avoid some of the same mistakes!
My Top 10 Recipe Troubleshooting Tips
These tips mainly apply to baking, but I think many of them cross over into general cooking as well.
1. You didn’t follow the recipe exactly as written.
This is my #1 recipe troubleshooting tip because it’s honestly the problem 9 out of 10 times.
This includes not using the exact ingredients and equipment listed, and not following the steps as they were written. This could also include a mistake, like accidentally omitting an ingredient. It’s completely understandable that sometimes you don’t have the right equipment, but unfortunately you can’t always substitute a different sized cake pan and expect the same results. You definitely can’t substitute different sized eggs.
If you’re missing an ingredient or some of the equipment listed, or you have a dietary restriction and can’t use something listed in the recipe, I recommend one of two things. Either ask the recipe author, or perhaps find a different recipe that’s more suited to your dietary restrictions and/or current kitchen inventory.
Most recipe creators are happy to help if we can. However, the truth is we honestly don’t know if our recipes will work with certain ingredient or equipment substitutions if we haven’t tested them ourselves. And we usually haven’t tested our recipes with multiple ingredient and equipment variations.
There’s a chance many of these substitutions will cause the recipe to fail, which is why you’ll often receive a hesitant or vague response. If you’re looking for an 8-inch gluten-free cake, I recommend trying to find that exact cake instead of adapting a gluten cake prepared in a bundt pan. It will save everyone a lot of headache.
2. You might be using expired ingredients.
When’s the last time you checked the expiration date on your yeast, baking powder and baking soda? They don’t last forever! If you don’t bake frequently, they could be long expired. If you’re not sure, you can also do tests on your baking soda and powder to see if they’re still active. Science!
Also, even though they technically don’t expire, many ingredients like spices, dried herbs, and infused oils will lose their flavor potency over time. If you make a spice cake and it tastes bland, that might be why. I recommend writing the date on your spices when you purchase them (if it’s not already listed).
3. You might be using the wrong type of ingredients.
Did you know that different types cocoa powder aren’t interchangeable in recipes? Neither did I for the longest time! I remember a few occasions where my cookies came out flat and I had no idea why! Basically, if a recipe called for Dutch-processed cocoa powder and baking powder, you can’t substitute natural cocoa powder because there’s a chemical reaction that needs to occur between the two ingredients. I wrote an article on it, if you’d like to read more.
Keep this in mind for ingredients in general. If a recipe calls for a specific type of ingredient, there might be a reason for it. If you’re not sure, see if you can ask the recipe author, or do a bit of research.
4. You didn’t weigh the ingredients.
If you know me, you probably knew this one was coming. For baked goods, it’s important to weigh your dry ingredients, especially flour, on a kitchen scale. Why? I’ve written an entire article about this called How to Measure Flour Correctly.
The short version is that a cup of flour can weigh vastly different amounts, and that will have a big impact on your baked goods. If you’re looking at a recipe photo and want to make sure your cookies come out looking exactly the same, a scale is the only true guarantee. If the recipe you’re planning to make doesn’t include a weight measurement, they haven’t given you all the info you need to succeed.
5. The ingredients were the wrong temperature.
When it comes to baking, having ingredients at the right temperature can be critical. Pay attention to any temperatures listed in the ingredients. Too much heat can kill yeast, but warmth will help it thrive. Ingredients for cakes and cookies should often be at room temperature.
Fun fact: one mistake people often make is thinking that room temperature = body temperature. Nope! Think about it. Our bodies are 98.6° F. Room temperature is…. somewhere around 70° F, depending on your home. So, the ingredients should still feel cool to the touch.
My favorite example of how ingredient temperature can wreck havoc on a recipe is meringue buttercream frosting. If the butter is too cold or the meringue is too warm, you’ll end up with a mess that looks like cottage cheese. You can fix it, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you start with ingredients at the correct temperature.
6. Your Oven is the wrong temperature, or it’s cooking unevenly.
Oh boy did I learn this one the hard way. You guys, ovens don’t always just keel over and die one day. They sometimes die a slow, quiet death and you don’t realize the oven temperature is way off until you’ve tested your white cake recipe 10 times and can’t figure out why it keeps rising unevenly.
And then you realize maybe it’s your oven, so you line the entire center shelf with bread, and wind up with ombré toast.
I was going crazy trying to figure out what was wrong with my recipe! Nothing was wrong. It was my oven. Sometimes an oven person can fix the issue. Sometimes you need a whole new oven (I did).
If you keep running into issues with different recipes, consider calling the oven fixer upper guy.
7. You over or under-mixed the ingredients.
This can a tough one if you’re new to baking. The more you bake, the more you develop an instinct for how long the ingredients need to be mixed. Until that time comes, you need to follow the recipe exactly as written.
To complicate things: this also brings back the issue of ingredient temperature. If the recipe calls for room temperature butter and yours is cold, it will need longer to mix correctly. So the temperatures need to be accurate in order for the times to be accurate. Sorry.
This whole thing is a like a dance with several moving parts. The more you practice, the less you’ll have to worry about this sort of thing.
8. You opened the oven
Use the oven light. If you absolutely have to open the oven, do it gently, quickly and open it just a crack. Don’t leave it open, because the temperature will rapidly drop. Don’t slam the door closed, because this can disturb delicate baked goods, causing them to collapse.
9. You’re baking at a high altitude.
I’m very little help with high altitude baking, unfortunately, since I have no experience with it. However, I do get emails from readers who struggle with my recipes if they’re baking at a different altitude. This will impact your baked goods, and you might want to seek out cookbooks and recipe websites dedicated to high altitude baking. The recipes will already be adapted for you! Set yourself up for success.
King Arthur Flour has a high altitude baking chart which I often direct people to, but I do so with hesitation since I have no way of testing if it will actually work.
10. You were multi-tasking or not paying attention.
Put down your social media. Stop watching YouTube makeup tutorials or true crime videos while you’re cooking. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Do as I say, not as I do. I’ve never ever watched an eye makeup tutorial while baking cookies. But if I did, and the cookies turned into a hot mess, I have no one to blame but myself.
More Cooking and Baking Tutorials
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