They say baking is more art than science, but it seems that applies only to professional bakers. For the rest of us, even a slight deviation from the recipe often yields a result that's more mess than cake. For those times when even smothering with frosting has failed, try these tricks to get your recipe back on track.
1. My cake is too runny.
Your cake looks great on the outside, but when you tap the pan it jiggles like a sad Pillsbury Doughboy. All you have to do is cover the pan with tin foil and decrease your oven temperature by 25 degrees (75 F). Keep it in the oven until a toothpick comes out clean, checking every few minutes.
2. My cookies are overbaked.
You looked away from your oven for 2 minutes, and now your cookies are charred on the bottom with the consistency of a drug store jawbreaker. Never fear: once the cookies cool you can scrape off the burned bits with a microplane grater or dull knife. Then store them in an airtight bag with a slice of bread to help them get a bit more chewy.
3. My dough won't rise.
It's now been 15 minutes since the recipe said your dough would double in volume, but it's just sitting there like a wet Pomeranian. If you're using the same flour that your recipe calls for, and if your yeast isn't expired, you should be able to fix the problem by microwaving a cup full of water, then placing the dough next to it with the door closed. Do not microwave the dough!
4. My muffins are stuck to the pan.
First you tried gently twisting them out, then the surefire method of "turn them upside down and whack the bottom," but all that rained down were crumbs and your dignity. It might be slightly easier to get them out once they've cooled completely; if not, submerge the bottom of the muffin tray in hot water and try again.
5. My entire dish is an incoherent, jumbled mess.
You really gave this the old college try, but at several points along the way certain mistakes were made, and the end product looks like the "before" picture from a Billy Mays commercial. Maybe you weren't actually making the dish from the recipe-- you're the only one who knows what it said. Crumbled cookie fragments make a great ice cream topping, even if they're a bit burnt, and salvaged cake remains can be layered with whipped cream and fruit for a beautiful parfait. Or go with the last-ditch strategy of home cooks everywhere: buy a cake from the store and try to pass it off as your own. We won't tell.
If you're consistently having trouble with baked goods, we recommend using a thermometer to make sure your oven is really getting to the temperature it claims. Or it could be the recipe, in which case maybe try one from our Damn Delicious Desserts cookbook, which is full of easy, impressive recipes to make your next baking attempt a resounding success!