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It drives me mental when I get out all the baking gear, the ingredients, you follow a recipe to a tee, and all you can see before your eyes is a melted pile of cookie mess creeping out of the oven. What on earth went wrong? Then you decide to make it again, cause hey, you’ve already got the stuff out, the kitchen’s a mess and the kids are keen to beat the eggs all over the walls again. And bingo, it happens again! You want to ring the celebrity chef, cookbook author, food blogger, your mum, your mate, whoever and grrrowl. Would love to hear your stories of things that went wrong in your kitchen, but most importantly how you rectified it. These questions are from some of the disasters that have happened in my kitchen, and hopefully some of the answers.

1. Why do biscuits/ cookies melt/ spread in the oven?

If your cookies or biscuits are overly flat and thin and you followed all directions, begin your next batch with a cool baking sheet making sure that it’s not over-greased. Too much sugar can also increase spread. As a rule, Caster Sugar reduces spread; White Sugar increases spread.

2. Why do some cakes not rise?

Inaccurate Measuring

Even when the recipe lists all the ingredients in their correct proportions, it’s easy to make mistakes while measuring. Professionals usually measure and set out all their ingredients before starting to minimize the risk of errors. Measure carefully in good-quality measuring cups and spoons, following the recipe’s guidance if it gives you specific instructions. Your grandmother may have just estimated ingredient quantities by eye, but you probably don’t have her experience. A large number of cake failures are due to poor measuring. This is why professional recipes are generally measured in weight, which allows for better accuracy.

Specific Errors

Not creaming your butter and sugar long enough can make your cake dense, by not incorporating enough air into the butter. Too little liquid in the batter makes it dense and heavy, as does too much flour. If your baking powder is old, or if you don’t use enough, there may not be enough leavening to rise the cake. If you’re making a sponge cake, even a small amount of oil or yolk in the whites keeps them from foaming as they should. You also need to fold the whites gently into the batter to avoid losing the air.

Problems in Baking

If your cake fails to rise adequately and sets with a crater in the middle, your oven may not have been hot enough. Check it periodically with an oven thermometer to be sure it’s accurate. A sudden vibration can make your cake fall if it has risen but not yet become firm. If you’re baking a sponge cake or angel food cake, it’si mportant not to grease the sides of the pan. Your cake needs to cling to the sides. Otherwise it won’t be able to support its own weight until the baking is finished.


3. Why are my muffins rock hard?


Over-stirring the batter is a common cause for dry, hard muffins. You should mix the batter until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Do not worry about getting the lumps out. Fifteen to 20 stirring strokes with a wooden spoon should be plenty. Never use an electric mixer.

Not Enough Baking Powder

If a recipe does not include enough baking powder, your muffins will have a poor texture. Baking powder reacts with other chemicals in the batter, causing air bubbles to form during the baking process. Without these bubbles, your muffins will turn out very dense and tough. Most recipes typically call for two to three teaspoons of baking powder.

Too Much Egg

If a recipe includes too much egg, the muffins will come out dry and rubbery. If this is happening, try reducing the amount of egg in your recipe or find a new one. Most recipes call for only one egg.


If you bake muffins for too long or at too high a temperature, they will become rubbery and tough. This is particularly true if you are using a dark, non-stick pan, since these absorb heat better than other types of cookware. When baking muffins, use a shiny, greased pan and monitor them closely while they are in the oven.


4. Why did my cake split?

Cake has cracked on the top – the oven temperature is too high causing the outside of the cake to cook faster than the inside.  Tip: your oven might be actually running hotter than is indicated.  You can check it out by buying an inexpensive oven thermometer.


5. Why is my icing/ frosting so runny? Can I fix it?

Recently Vanessa and I did a shoot for a Creme Fraiche and Walnut Bundt cake and we must have made so many cakes and spread the icing on wanting the result to be thick and drippy and gorgeous but instead we achieved watery and insipid so in the end the cake was left un-iced, only dusted with icing sugar – it was a disaster that proved a wise choice, the cake was much better without. However we struggled to figure out what went wrong, and it made us nervous when approaching a cake again. Here lies the answer.

Solution: Fret not, the fix here is easier than you think. More likely than not, the frosting either doesn’t have enough confectioner’s sugar in it, or contains too much liquid. Gilletz suggests adding more confectioner’s sugar until the desired texture is achieved. “For chocolate frosting, try adding a spoonful or two of cocoa. You [can] also try refrigerating or freezing the frosting to thicken it up.” Also note that if your kitchen is very warm, it’s possible that the butter or fat may have softened too much, leading to a more watery frosting than you wanted.

Comments (7)


7 Responses

  1. Genie says:

    This whole post would make a great teatowel. I fail at baking more than I succeed. I’m terrible at measuring and following directions though so it is to be expected. Baking is more science than art.

  2. Ingrid Opera says:

    You sound just like me – it frustrates me to have to follow rules! I love your tea towel idea – I could just see it selling at Milly’s Kitchen or Redcurrant. I’d buy it!

  3. Imelda says:

    Thanks for this… so frustrating when things don’t go right! Luckily I have a husband and son who love eating the failures just as much as the successes!!

  4. Cindy Lombard says:

    This is what’s happening! My cookies are like hollow inside! Not staying together! This has happened on my chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin! Do you know why? Thanks!

  5. Cindy Lombard says:

    My oatmeal rasin and chocolate chip cookies booth of them are not turning out! Maybe you can help! They have one out like hollow in middle and don’t hold together! I am an experienced baker! Please help! Thanks, Cindy Sue

    • Ingrid Opera says:

      Hi Cindy,
      I asked Jen from Main Course to answer your question. She has years of experience in this department and I wanted to make sure you got the right information. This is what she said ” “Hollow biscuits that fall apart is a common problem especially with oatmeal biscuits. Try using slightly less butter with the chocolate chip biscuits this will stop the spreading. Use slightly less oatmeal with the Oatmeal and Raisin biscuit. Bake them at a lower temperature 160oC for an extra few minutes. Make sure you cool them on a wire rack and wait until they are completely cool before you remove them.”
      I hope this helps – let us know how you get on. Cheers Ingrid

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