Why Is Scratch Baking So Difficult?

Baking By Pearl645 Updated 12 Aug 2012 , 9:47pm by JackieDryden

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Pearl645 Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 3:25am
post #1 of 29

I've been doing some reading online and I came across a lot of posts and blogs saying that scratch baking can be tricky. What is it that you have noticed makes it this way and why do so many have challenges producing the same quality from scratch recipes each time or say they have given up on scratch recipes? I know they say you will get 99% accuracy with box mixes each time because of all the additives. I am curious to know what is causing these challenges with scratch baking.

28 replies
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Oreobo Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 3:45am
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I do all my baking (I do not sell my cakes) from scratch and I don't think it's tricky at all. Perhaps, since I have been baking for so many years I already have the know how? Practice makes perfect or so they say. Trust me, there is nothing better than from scratch. Ladies, I don't want anyone who bakes from a mix to be offended. That's just my opinion. icon_smile.gif

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Btrfly578 Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 4:10am
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I completely agree. I have been baking for years as well. I have done both, but mostly from scratch. I don't find anything difficult about it.

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cheeseball Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 4:18am
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I think that a big part of what makes it tricky is that one person's cup is not the same as someone else's. Measure out a cup of flour and then weigh it. Dump it back in the bag and do it again. Two different weights. When you find out what a cup of flour is supposed to weigh and then use a digital scale, not only will your measurements be accurate, it's faster and cleaner. I don't use vegetable shortening that much, but I know it's a bigger hassle to clean it out of a measuring cup than it is to put a piece of plastic wrap on the scale and weigh it.

Then of course, there's learning what properly creamed butter and sugar looks like and how it should look once your eggs are incorporated and not under-mixing or over-mixing the final batter. So, yes, even with the digital assist, practice does count for a lot icon_wink.gif.

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bellacakecreations Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 4:27am
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I think it is just learning what things are supposed to look like, feel like, etc. For example, my sis in law asked for my sugar cookie recipe which does not require refrigeration and to me is the simplest recipe I have. Her cookies looked perfect but they were dry and some bites were a bit salty. Turns out her idea of creaming the butter and sugar was mixing it for a minute just until the butter and sugar were mixed. And I don't think she mixed the entire dough long enough. Just practice and general know how. Also a lot of those posts are about altering scratch recipes where it is useful to know what every ingredient is for, whether it's an acid or a base, what it will do when mixed with other ingredients? Again if you use it a lot you probably have a pretty good idea what it does icon_smile.gif

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gatorcake Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 4:42am
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As others have said I do not find it difficult at all. I would say most of the difficulty comes from things individuals do and not any inherent difficulty in the process of scratch baking. Do they read recipes carefully? And if so do they follow the recipe/formula? Failure to do either would certainly impact one's ability to successfully execute and replicate a recipe. Neither however is difficult, however not doing them could making scratch making seem more difficult.

Do they bother to learn techniques? Again this involves some reading if you have not been taught techniques associated with scratch recipes--e.g. creaming, folding, beating egg whites. And as one does not have to do any of these with a mix, some might think this makes scratch baking more difficult. None of these techniques are difficult, however, if you have no idea what is entailed in these techniques it would make scratch baking appear difficult. Yet there are many books and videos that teach these methods. If a person does not take the time to learn about them well then scratch baking would seem to be more difficult. Scratch baking maybe more labor intensive but again that labor is not inherently difficult to learn or master.

Like many things, scratch baking will appear to be more difficult if you have not bothered to learn about techniques associated with scratch baking and if you cannot follow directions. But those have more to do with the person attempting to bake from scratch than anything inherent to scratch baking. Simply because most recipes require more than the dumping of a few ingredients into a bowl however does not mean scratch baking is more difficult.

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FromScratchSF Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 4:55am
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Agree with the above, but I think that so many people think you can just throw stuff in a bowl and it will magically turn in to a cake because that's how box mixes are. Or you can swap out stuff or add more/less and it will still turn into a perfect cake. It just doesn't work that way!

People also overbake overbake OVERBAKE because they are looking for that fake golden brown like a box mix. If your cake is golden brown it's overbaked and dry as a biscuit!

There are also a ton of horrible recipes out there!

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gatorcake Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 5:01am
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Originally Posted by FromScratchSF

People also overbake overbake OVERBAKE because they are looking for that fake golden brown like a box mix. If your cake is golden brown it's overbaked and dry as a biscuit!

Or they are following "rules" like "your cake is done when the toothpick comes out clean"---nope by then it is already overbaked.

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jgifford Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 5:36am
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I never even saw a mix until I was in high school - - by that time I had been baking for several years. Mixes just weren't used. I think it's like making a good cup of coffee - some people just have a knack for it. That's not to say that anyone can't become a fabulous baker. It just takes a little more work and practice to develop the skill.

The biggest problem with scratch baking comes when you don't follow the recipe. "I tried your recipe for custard, but I used baking soda instead of baking powder and butter flavoring instead of vanilla and I only cooked it for 2 minutes instead of 5. Why doesn't it taste like yours?" icon_confused.gif Really? Learn the science and know before you start what a substitution will do to your recipe. You'll get to where you can taste something and know what needs to be done to make it better.

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scp1127 Posted 6 Aug 2012 , 6:22am
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With a few good habits, scratch baking simple recipes is easy. The dificulty lies in more advanced recipes and developing your own recipes.

Box mixes will magically become cake with cold eggs, temp off calibration in the oven, too much mixing, inaccurate ingredients by measuring cups bought at the Dollar Store, and yes, over-baking. But some scratch recipes may not. The baker with the bad oven and sub-standard tools will erroniously think that she can't bake when the problem lies with equipment. And the monumental amount of bad web recipes is another culprit for bakers giving up too soon on scratch baking.

There have been many recipes that have kicked my butt and recipes that are so temperamental that the stars have to align to make it work. Even too much swing in the oven temp can cause failure. But these recipes are also the best in my opinion. That's why I keep pushing myself.

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Pearl645 Posted 7 Aug 2012 , 11:35pm
post #11 of 29

Wow thanks for all the responses guys. I have been scratch baking for 10 years now even when it was a hobby. It was how I was taught to make cakes. I had no idea that people used to throw things into a bowl and add in more ingredients than called more but I do know that my 1 cup of flour isn't going to equal another person's 1 cup of flour especially using those dry ingredients measuring cups. I still do scratch baking but wanted to be clear on why it was touted as being so difficult especially when training new people to bake. Of course, I want the same quality each time regardless of if I bake it or another kitchen person does.

Thanks again for all the posts.

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ibeeflower Posted 8 Aug 2012 , 12:30am
post #12 of 29

I love to bake from scratch. I really love spending time in a kitchen and carefully measuring and mixing my ingredients. I am not a fan of boxed mixes but don't judge those that do. I am making 19 cupcakes from 6 flavors from scratch. I ended up switching all measurements to grams so I can accurately scale down the recipes.

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bakechef Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 2:51am
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BAKING IS CHEMISTRY! Until people learn that, they are prone to failure.

Also as others have said, one person's cup isn't the same as another. Even the "experts" at cooks illustrated and king Arthur can't agree on what a "cup" of flour should weigh. Cook's Illustrated says 5 oz. King Arthur says 4.25 ounces, that's a fairly significant difference, imagine how much of a swing people have with different brands of measuring cups and different ways of scooping flour.

My most trusted recipes were written with weight measurments first. When converting my own recipes to weight, I measure using my technique and weigh it, since I know my way works, (my "cup" usually comes in at 4.5 oz.).

Cakes are especially prone to failure with even the smallest substitution.

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scp1127 Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 5:53am
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bakechef, I agree. Years ago when I started weighing, my scale came with a book. The weight of flour was 5 oz. This is fine but all of my recipes are based on the 5 oz plan for adjustments. I will always have to stick with this. But usually the others will be similar, such as the sugar being a little higher too. I do use top chefs' weights when using their recipes, such as RLB.

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vgcea Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 6:06am
post #15 of 29

When I first started scratch baking, things were a little difficult to master for the reasons stated above. I found though that I tended to get more consistent results using one method (reverse creaming) over another (creaming). Creaming was too temperamental for me, and I never put in the time to master it.

Sometimes you just have to find what works for you and go from there.

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lomfise Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 8:32am
post #16 of 29

Couldn't agree more with what's been said in the posts above. Scratch baking is NOT difficult, it's simply a matter of taking the time to understand a few basic rules icon_biggrin.gif

- Have all your ingredients at room temperatur before you start
- Follow the recipe
- WEIGH your ingredients
- Learn what creaming, whisking, beating and folding means.

I love baking from scratch, it's relaxing and such a wonderful feeling when the cake comes out of the oven smelling delicious, but best of all to see the smiling faces of those that gets to eat the cake.
Of course it sometimes goes wrong, but so do many other things in life and you just have to try again until you've learned.

On a side note; I've just booked a trip to London in September where there's going to be a Cake & Bake Show, SOOOO exited icon_lol.gificon_lol.gificon_lol.gif

Just keep baking birthday.gif

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MJbakes Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 1:35pm
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Scratch baking came natural to me. My grandmother is a baker, she sells dainties cookies etc at Farmer's Markets. She lives out in a small town, so whenever I would go visit growing up I would always help in the kitchen. Whether she was making brownies, ginger snap cookies(my fave lol) or cinnamon braid, she always let me help. I don't think I've ever used a box mix for anything I've baked. My mom used to like the "shortcut" way of making muffins, but everything else has always been from scratch.
One of my good girlfriends uses box mixes, and I think this is one of the reasons why I've never used them. But she asked me to help her bake a cake. I went over to her house, opened up the box mix and there were little tiny beetles crawling in the mix. YUCK! I've never even looked at a box mix since. Now I know it was just a coincidence probably (maybe a bad box), and I'm not bashing those who use them, but after that experience, I've always asked before eating a cake "Is this from scratch or a box?" If it's a box, I won't eat it. And once again, no offense to those who use them, that's just my experience with them.

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MJbakes Posted 10 Aug 2012 , 1:41pm
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Oh, and scratch baking is not difficult at all. Yes, it does take one bad recipe to turn you away if you're not used to it. But that's only ONE bad recipe. There are hundreds of good ones out there. Not that long ago I was looking for a new white cake recipe and I found one that was getting rave reviews. I followed the instructions and ingredients to a T. When it was cool, my boyfriend and I went to try a piece and it was like cornbread. Dry, crumbly and my boyfriend almost choked on it. I even took it out of the oven earlier than the stated time. (I think it said bake for 30 minutes, and I checked it at 18 and it was done)
But that didn't stop me, I went back and looked for another one and another one, until I found that perfect cake.
I love scratch baking, I don't think theres any other way....I don't know any other way icon_biggrin.gif

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scp1127 Posted 11 Aug 2012 , 6:13am
post #19 of 29

Scratch baking can be as challenging as you want to take it. Every week excellent scratch baker fail on Cupcake Wars. The ability to manipulate the ingredients and weigh all of the characteristics of each ingredient and their respective relationships to all other ingredients is quite an accomplishment. This is just one example.

To generalize that all scratch baking as easy is actually eliminating all complex recipes and all of the bakers who make the exhausting efforts to create the more advanced recipes.

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BakingIrene Posted 11 Aug 2012 , 6:51pm
post #20 of 29

If you learn scratch baking as a teenager, you retain that skill for the rest of your life.

Don't know why that should be. But I have never met a good scratch baker who started learning as an adult.

Scratch baking is as controllable as mix baking, IF you weigh everything and IF you use the relevant technique.

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scp1127 Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 3:30am
post #21 of 29

BakingIrene, I usually agree with you, but not on this one. I have worked with hundreds of CC members in PM's and in threads and they have started to master the skills of scratch baking. I outline a starting point, books to study, and good habits. I would like to think that anyone can learn the skill.

Of course the person must be the type who is precise, doesn't mind failure in the persuit of the skill. and who isn't afraid of a little math and science.

I would hate to think that I didn't have the ability to learn new skills. I can't tell you how many detailed skills I have learned as an adult. I am learning one now that is just as challenging as baking. My retail store has purchased the rights to coffee/cappuccino/espresso in an upscale location. I have never made coffee and don't even like it. But by December, I will have the best coffee in my area and right now I can't even get through the thousands of options for the machines... but I will.

It's a proven fact that learning new skills as an adult is the number one way to preserve your brain capacity as you age. My husband, a physician, chose to learn to play classical guitar in his 50's. We have my mom memorizing her beloved Bible as a brain activity.

Scratch baking is a dying art. We can use all of the converts we can get to love and learn this practice. Of course, start out easy and then the sky is the limit.

For anyone who has never scratch baked, I will guarantee that the $25.00 spent on Warren Brown's book can teach anyone at any age. In this type of book, it is important to actually read the book like a textbook to understand the importance of the method. This book is simple and a great start with recipes that will work for the novice. From there, a baker will have the skills to do a few adjustments and decipher good recipes from bad on the web. Most of all, the confidence of accomplishment will be a big incentive to move forward with the skill level.

In the past, I do believe what BakingIrene said was true. If we didn't learn it from our grandmothers, the knowledge was harder to come by. But with Cake Central and the many members who freely share, phenomenal books by extraordinary chefs, great bolgs by home bakers, coupled with youtube and the answer to everything on the web, this is no longer true.

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tigachu Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 3:55am
post #22 of 29

I have always baked everything from scratch and I learned the basics from my grandmother at a young age. My working parents opted for convenience more than anything when it came to baking desserts, with the exception of pound cakes. Everyone in my family knows how to make our family's pound cake recipe, if nothing else. I grew up in a very large family with talented cooks but very few were actually interested in baking. I decided to pursue baking while in college, unfortunately that was after my maternal grandmother passed away (she suffered from alzheimer's for over 10 years). I lost her as a baking resource and decided to dedicate more of my time to scratch baking. I learn something new all the time. I constantly try different techniques and/or ingredients, some successes and a lot of failures but I learn from it all. There is a strong sense of satisfaction when you finally get it right using such basic ingredients. I think if my grandmother were alive, she would still strive to learn new baking techniques and refine the skills she already had. Scratch baking takes time to learn and dedication to truly "master" icon_biggrin.gif

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kazita Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 4:03am
post #23 of 29

I have'nt tried either one of these recipes but im have a cupcake order coming up and im gonna try the cupcake one here are the websites hope they help. Wwwfromscratchsf.wordpress.com www.cupcakeproject.com

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tigachu Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 4:10am
post #24 of 29

Fromscratch's recipe is awesome thumbs_up.gif

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kazita Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 4:16am
post #25 of 29

I see on the cupcake website there are alot of cupcakes recipes to try from i was gonne try the Ultmate Vanilla cupcake recipe icon_biggrin.gif Happy Baking

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JackieDryden Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 5:04am
post #26 of 29

I had been doing well with scratch recipes, except the SECOND time I tried fromscratchSF, from the blog. I baked and rebaked, and yes I measured EVERYTHING to a T. They all fell. Every cake. I now think that the humidity and my kitchen being hot (c/a was on but still 90 in the kitchen) was the culprit. I was scared to try it again, even though I had it work before, but I did. This time, it looks, right, settled a little in the middle but nothing major. Tomarrow I see how it tastes. Tasted a peice from leveling and seems fine. Some people would not have gone back to that recipe, but it irked me so bad all the failure, I just HAD to! Now I'm happy. And BTW I used 3 whole eggs instead of 5.0 oz egg whites, this time.

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scp1127 Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 5:57am
post #27 of 29

Jackie, could your oven have "jumped" out of calibration? That is usually how it happens, great one time and then everything is just not exactly right. Get an independent thermometer and see if that has happened. I hope this is it because it's a $5.00 fix. Good luck to you on this.

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FromScratchSF Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 6:56am
post #28 of 29

Glad it worked the 3rd time!

Believe me, I know how frustrating it is when you have a recipe that's great... then it isn't. You re-do, re-do, re-do and it doesn't work. Then one magical day, it does again and you have zero idea what changed.

Yay scratch bakers!

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JackieDryden Posted 12 Aug 2012 , 9:47pm
post #29 of 29

I am going to invest in an oven thermometer. I used to have one. I know I have a "hot spot" in my oven, so I try to avoid placing layer cakes in that area. Todays cake was just ok it was a little dry for me, and I took it out early (i pressed the top and it did not spring back, and tooth pick had crumbs) So I had hoped not to over bake. The texture was off a little, maybe because it was dry. I noticed at the baby shower the majority of people who had this one left peices of cake on their plates, everyone who had chocolate cake ate it all. So not sure what to do. It worked like a charm the very first time...

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