melted cakeI've been baking long enough now that I'm pretty confident in the kitchen. But I can't say I earned that confidence by following directions perfectly. Nope -- I've learned nearly everything the hard way. I've made pretty much every stupid baking mistake you can possibly make. At least once. I'm not proud, but at least I learned my lessons ... eventually.

It's been a long journey filled with disasters and tears and lots and lots of cursing. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything about baking, here are seven major baking mistakes I'd warn myself about.

1. Beating egg whites with plastic. Plastic contains petrolem, which gets in the way of eggs frothing and peaking. So whip your egg whites in a glass or, even better, metal bowl. And keep any plastic spoons, etc. far away. And avoid getting even a drop of egg yolk in there. Make sure your bowl is sparkling clean.

2. Getting water into melted chocolate. Most of you probably melt chocolate with a microwave. I melt mine on the stove in a make-shift double boiler. But I have to be careful -- if any of that water splashes into the melting chocolate, the whole thing starts to separate and curdle. Sadness.

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3. Not reading the whole recipe all the way through first. Some recipes call for mixed ingredients to refrigerate for an hour -- or overnight. And you were planning to serve that dish tonight. I have made this mistake more times that I'd like to admit. So many tears! Always read the whole recipe first before you get mixing.

4. Sorry substitutions. Believe it or not, fat can play an important role in a recipe -- other than taste. Same goes for a lot of other ingredients. Baking soda and baking powder? Not the same! Unless you're a "seasoned" cook, avoid making substitutions. The wrong ingredient can affect the texture of your recipe and possibly even cause it to fail.

5. Using the wrong-sized pan. Use a pan with the same measurements as specified in the recipe, or your cake may be damned. It may overflow the pan. It may not cook evenly. It may cook too quickly. The pan size matters.

6. Not turning halfway through baking. Most ovens have hot spots and cool spots. That's why it's a good idea to rotate whatever you're baking halfway through.

7. Frosting while hot. No. Just, no. You really do have to wait until that cake or those cookies are completely cooled before you start frosting. COMPLETELY. Otherwise, the frosting will melt and you will say those words you're trying too hard not to say in front of your kids anymore.