Here are a few common problems I’ve encountered, with my solutions. Always remember – when adding more flour or liquid to a recipe, do so slowly.
Problem: what is “softened” butter, anyway? Just how soft is softened? Softened (or room temperature) butter should be the consistency of ice cream; you can make an indentation in it with your finger or a knife, but you’re not going to go right through it. Learn more here.
Problem: I’m short on time, and my butter isn’t softened. I quick-soften butter by unwrapping the stick and cutting it into chunks, then letting it sit out for about 30 minutes. I’ve also heard that you can grate frozen butter to bring it to room temperature in a short amount of time. And if you’re in a huge hurry, you can cut your butter into small cubes, then place it in your mixer and beat it on high speed for about 3-4 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl well throughout the mixing time, to soften it.
Problem: my cookies are too flat and crispy, instead of fluffy. This can happen for many reasons, but most often it’s because your butter was too soft, or your dough is too liquid. Add a bit more flour, about 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing it by hand with a wooden spoon to stabilize your dough.
Problem: my cookies are too crispy or overdone, even though I baked them for the right amount of time according to the recipe. I set my timer for a few minutes short of the baking time listed in any recipe. That way, I can see if they’re baking quicker because my oven is different than the recipe author’s oven. Cookies will continue to bake for a few minutes while they cool on your baking sheet right out of the oven as well, so when my batches begin to look done, I pull them. This is especially helpful for peanut butter cookies and other softer cookies, like molasses cookies.
Problem: my frosting is too runny. This can also happen because of over-softened butter and too much liquid in your batch. Remember, you can always add more liquid, but you can never take it away. When making frostings, drizzles, or glazes, always add a small amount of liquid like water, milk, or extract first, then check your consistency.
Problem: some cookies are overdone on my baking sheet, while others are underdone. Unfortunately, this usually happens because your oven has uneven heating zones. And since you probably can’t get a new oven right now, you can rotate your pans halfway through baking to even it out.
Problem: my cake tore when I tried to take it out of the pan (like in the photo above). This happens when your pan wasn’t greased properly, and/or you tried to take your cake out too soon. Follow your recipe to the letter on this – slather with shortening and dust with flour, line the bottom of your pan with parchment, and be patient.