The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New to baking - help me please!

Newbakeralec's picture

New to baking - help me please!



I'm relatively new to baking. Although I'm really enjoying it, I keep coming up against the same problem. I'd really, really appreciate some help as I'm going crazy!

Although some of the things I bake taste okay in the middle, so often they are spoilt by a slight "crust', for want of a better word. I might be pleased by the inside of a banana bread, but not the outside couple of milimetres, which are far too hard and dry. This might be great for traditional bread, but not for muffins, some biscuits, quick breads etc. I keep getting different advice - oven too hot, too much baking powder, etc.- but don't know any good bakers to ask.

I'd really appreciate any help anyone could give.

many thanks!



bobmurphy's picture

I suspect too high oven temp, or too long baking time, or a combination of the two. This is assuming that you are using a good recipe to start with.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

There could be many factors, and you touched some already.  I would start with a basic one:  oven temperature.  If you don't have one, get an oven thermometer.  They are not very expensive, and most grocery stores carry them on the utensils and utilities aisle.  Verify your oven thermostat at several temperatures over your usual baking range.  Say 300F, 350F, 400F, 450F.  Make sure you can trust your thermostat, or know how to compensate for it at your common baking temperatures.  What you describe sounds (to me anyway) very much like the oven is too hot since it seems to happen without regard to what you are baking.

The other temperature thing you might consider is an instant read thermometer.  It can be difficult to judge doneness just by appearances and time.  With an instant read thermometer you can take the internal temperature of your baked goods.  The internal temperature tells you what is going on inside, and you will come to know when things are "done" in your own terms.  Some think their breads are done when the internal temperature is above 195F and others think they are not done till they hit 205F.  You will learn to know what you like.

As I said, there are many factors, and I have only given you my opinion on one of them.  You will get others I am sure.

Good Luck

Chuck's picture

...If you don't have one, get an oven thermometer....

Yes, definitely, me too.

If you can legitimately believe what the control says about your oven, you're in the minority. It's not at all unusual for what the oven control says (even on "brand new" ovens:-) to be off by fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Find out your real oven temperature.

(The way ovens work is they cycle back and forth from a little below [25F lower ?] the desired temperature to a little above it [25F  higher ?]. So read the thermometer several times over several minutes [sometimes the heating element just turned "on", sometimes it just turned "off"], and figure out the middle temperature. Don't look at your thermometer just once, as chances are you will catch it near one end or the other of its normal cycle, and adjusting to that temperature will mess things up even worse.)

BakerBen's picture

You mentioned banana bread - my trick for testing doneness for items that normall state "done when TOOTHPICK comes out clean" I use a piece of spagetti.  The size is about the same in diameter - the big difference I find is that spagetti is a substance which is "dry" and a great indicator of moisture.  If you check the baked good and the spagetti noodle comes out clean but moist I find I need to bake just a minute longer.  The spagetti noodle has much "higher resolution" than a tooth pick.

Another factor is the type, and more specifically the color, of your bakeware.  Dark colored backware will bake faster and warmer than aluminum or lighter colored bakeware. You have to learn your bakeware too.

Bottom line, don't give up ... and don't stress to much either ... the more you bake the more you will see and learn if you are looking. 


Brot Backer's picture
Brot Backer

Try placing a pan of water in your oven to keep it moist throughout baking. Tough crusts on quick breads can also be a sign of over mixing, fold ingredients in with something big like a bowl scraper until everthing just comes together. Lumps will bake out as long as they're small.


ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

I think you must at least try some of these suggestions that people are sharing with you and keep a diary of what you do each time.  Good baking takes patience and experimentation.  Don't feel pressured to produce perfect straight up!  My husband has been happy to eat my hits and misses over the years.  Try different recipes, different oven temperatures, different levels in the oven, different timing, and most of all use your brain.  You will find after a while, you begin to understand what is happening as you bake, not just read a recipe and blindly put it into action.  Don't be disappointed by failure, it's the road to success!

mredwood's picture

While you are trying all these great ideas and learning, if you are not afraid of fat, try brushing the tops of the muffins or breads with melted butter when they come out of the oven. My first mother-in-law who baked all the bread for their farming family and helpers, taught me that trick many years ago. Butter and bacon. A cure all for almost everything. Give it try. It won't hurt.


KYHeirloomer's picture

I agree with others, that the likely culprit is false temperature readings in the oven. Very few ovens heat properly. And the cycling range of temperatures, even when the thermostat does work, can be nothing short of incredible. Ranges of 60F are not uncommon.

Something else to consider. Although it's rarely discussed anymore, the fact is that metal and glass bakeware heats differently. If you're baking in glass, for instance, you are more likely to get that outside crust than if you used metal, because the glass, itself, actually gets hotter.

And, as somebody else noted, the color of bakeware can affect cooking times and results as well.

I know its frustrating. But one thing to keep in mind: the "literature" makes quick breads sound much less challenging that yeast breads. And in many respects they are. But there's really more involved than merely throwing the ingredients together, tossing them in a pan, and sliding into the oven. So pay attention to what you are doing. When something doesn't work, try to isolate why it didn't work. And when it does work, figure out what you are doing differently.

Good luck.