How To Become A Self-Taught Baker


If you’re like me, and you want to get fancy in the kitchen but you’re also a little intimated, take some advice from my awesome sister.

Emily is a self-taught baker who loves to make and eat French pastries, and create incredible cakes for her boys’ birthdays. She learned how to bake gorgeous treats with the help of bloggers, a philosophy that it’s okay to make big mistakes, and lots of practice.

If you want to learn how to make beautiful and delicious treats, but you don’t know where to start, explore Emily’s advice below, for a little inspiration. 

(Read to the end of this post to see some of her favorite recipes for cake, Swiss meringue buttercream, macarons, and more.)

 This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links at no extra cost to you. All opinions expressed in this article are my own.

What got you interested in baking?

"Baking with my mom as a kid got me interested in baking initially. My mom made lots of different treats for Christmas, and I loved helping with that. She was good at allowing me to try things on my own. I could make mistakes and messes and it was okay. I think this led to me feeling confident in baking as an adult.

I’m not sure exactly why I turned to baking as an adult. I think I was bored as a new stay at home mom and baking was a great creative outlet. I started baking cakes for my kids and they got more and more elaborate as the years went by. Baking cakes is not my favorite anymore, but I loved making something that would delight my boys."


Would you recommend specific tools or supplies to someone starting out?

"I think it depends on what you want to learn. There are definitely some basics, but I think you can get by with less than you think. I used a little handheld KitchenAid mixer for several years until I could afford a nice stand mixer. You can knead bread by hand, mix cakes by hand, and make choux pastry by hand. You don’t have to have super fancy equipment to get in to baking. Mixers are great for whipping cream and making any kind of meringue.

Some basic tools include good baking pans. I love my baking sheets from OrsonGygi. I also love my straight sided cake pans. But as I said before, the supplies you will use all the time depend on what kind of baking you want to do.

When I made cakes all the time I always used an offset metal spatula for spreading fillings and frosting, parchment paper to keep things from sticking to the pan, and a good turntable for covering my cakes and getting clean frosting edges. For making macarons, I love my heavy bottomed saucepan which evenly heats my sugar syrup, a good candy thermometer, and a cheap super flexy spatula for folding the batter together.

I would recommend reading baking blogs about things you’re interested in making. Other bakers will have things they love that make baking easier for them. You can decide which tools make life easier, and which are just fun bonuses."

One of Emily's go to desserts.
 Follow the link at the end of this post for the recipe.


Do you have a budget or some kind of plan to keep costs low?

"I probably should! I guess that’s a no. I love baking with good quality ingredients, and things like high quality chocolate and European butter are not always cheap. While I sometimes splurge on a fancy jar of pistachio butter for thumbprint cookies, most of my baking is done with basic ingredients. I buy sugar and flour in bulk when it’s on sale. Costco has great prices on baking powder and lots of different salts, flavorings and spices. Orson Gygi also has some good prices on bulk products.

I bought a huge bottle of Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste at Orson Gygi about 2 years ago. I still haven’t finished it. I was an expensive investment at the time, but much less expensive than buying good quality vanilla frequently. I also like to buy butter when it’s on sale (usually around Thanksgiving) and freeze it. My kids laugh at me buying 40 pounds of butter, but it usually lasts the whole year and then I pay around $2 a pound instead of close to $5."


Macarons call for egg whites.
So, Emily will sometimes use the yolks to make custard for fruit tarts.


What resources have been the most helpful as you learned how to bake?

"Baking blogs! I read so many different posts about macarons and tried several different recipes before I found one I love. Bloggers are great at sharing tips often with pictures and step by step instructions. There’s so much more information in a blog post than a recipe book.

When I was teaching myself to do royal iced cookies, I loved Sweet Sugarbelle. She breaks down different icing consistencies and what to use them for. She had fun new techniques to try as I got better and better. I love how generous she is with her knowledge!

For basic cake decorating, I really like Cake by Courtney on Instagram. Her cake recipes are often too sweet for me, but she breaks down techniques for stacking and frosting cakes. She’s great for people just starting out."



Sugar cookies with royal icing


How do you know which resources to trust when you are looking to learn something new?


"If I’m looking for a new recipe, I look for ones with lots of good reviews. I also read the comments for good insights from others who have actually tried it.

Also, this is maybe a funny way to judge, but if I’m making French pastries or something more technical, I’m much more likely to trust a source that uses measurements by weight. Most pastry chefs measure by weight and not with measuring cups to keep recipes more consistent. That also means you’ll need a food scale for those recipes."



Do you have some recipes that you would recommend to a beginner? 

"I think cakes are a great way to get into baking. They can get pretty technical, but there are a lot of straightforward cake recipes that are hard to mess up.

If you want to progress as a baker, I just recommend trying new things from scratch. Make pie dough from scratch. Try it with butter or shortening or half of each. Try it with ice water or vinegar or vodka. Everyone has a “right way” or “right recipe.” Try different variations of a recipe and see what YOU love. It’s okay if it’s not the best or if it’s a total disaster. Just try again!" 

(See recipes at the end)



What was the most challenging recipe you ever tried? 

"The most challenging recipe I’ve tried was Princessa Tarta. It’s a layered dome shaped dessert made of sponge cake, pastry cream, whipped cream and raspberry jam, covered with marzipan and decorated with chocolate. The funny thing is, it was challenging because I am terrible at making sponge cakes. Sponge cakes rely on eggs alone to rise and don’t use any chemical leaveners like baking soda or baking powder. I got so frustrated trying to get that cake to rise!"

What are your favorite treats to make?

"Pretty pastries! A few years ago, I wanted to conquer eggs in desserts. So many French pastries use eggs in different ways like egg yolks tempered in cream for custard and pastry cream and egg whites whipped into meringues and folded into macarons or sponge cakes.

After I got comfortable with that, I wanted to try different kinds of doughs like choux, flakey pastry, and puff pastry. Lately I’ve tried to learn how to better use chocolate. I think trying to learn all of those skills has made pastries really fun to make."

Do you have any tips for making a layered cake?

"Yes! Multilayered cakes need dowel supports and cardboard cake rounds to keep them from collapsing on themselves. I stick a big long skewer straight through three tiers of cake to keep them from wobbling around.

Also, dirty ice your cake by covering it with a thin layer of icing after you stack it. Then freeze or chill it for 30 minutes or so before covering it with more buttercream. I chill my cakes each time I add a new layer of buttercream when I’m covering a cake."

Do you have any tips for decorating a cake?

"Be patient! It’s really hard to whip up a beautifully decorated cake in an hour. Give yourself time to let your cakes cool and to let cake layers chill after icing. I swear cakes can sense when I’m stressed and rushed, like they smell fear! Take your time.

When it’s all done, remember you’re your own worst critic. You see all the flaws that no one else will notice. Cake by Courtney says that your cake only needs one good side! I love that! It helps me let go of trying to make everything perfect."




What was your biggest baking mess up?

"I made a tank cake for my son’s birthday one year. I learned that stacked and carved cakes require a more dense cake. I had used a fluffy cake and hadn’t chilled it. I tried to carve and stack that cake, and it just fell apart. I spent a lot of time making it camo-colored inside and didn’t want to start all over, so I kept trying things to save it in vain. As my husband watched in shock, I picked up the whole cake with my hands, and plopped it in the garbage can! I took an hour or so to calm down and started again, with a better thought out plan! The new cake ended up being a family favorite."




Which of your cakes do you think was the prettiest?

"Probably the wedding cake I made for my brother and his wife. I actually don’t make a lot of pretty cakes. It’s mostly kid cakes. I really liked the Scooby Doo Monster Burger cake I made for my kids too." 




Which was the tastiest? 

"That same wedding cake I made for my brother. It was white almond cake with raspberry filling and white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream."

I know for a fact that this cake was delicious



Do you have a favorite cookie recipe?

"My favorite cookie recipe is actually super easy. They’re cream cheese drop sugar cookies rolled in fine sugar. I like that they’re easy to make with kids and they’re soft and not dry."


What do you do with all the treats you make? Do you sometimes halve recipes to help with that?

"I often halve recipes or I share with friends. I’ve thrown away many cake leftovers!"

What do you do when something you make turns out terribly wrong? 

"Throw it in the garbage can! And then laugh/cry. It’s good to remember that it’s just cake, or cookies, or whatever."


What is something you have always wanted to learn how to bake? 

What was your biggest mess up in the kitchen? 

Share in the comment section below!

  

Some of Emily’s Favorite Recipes:

 

Best-Ever Cream Cheese Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter (room temp)

3 oz regular cream cheese (room temp)

1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar

½ tsp baking powder

1 egg (room temp)

½ tsp vanilla

½ tsp salt

Heat your oven to 375 degrees and line your cookies sheets with parchment paper. Combine butter and cream cheese in mixer and beat until fluffy. Add sugar and baking powder. Add egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in flour until just incorporated. Chill for 30 minutes. Scoop by rounded teaspoon full and drop into superfine sugar and roll to coat. Bake for 7-9 minutes. Cookies should be slightly browned on the bottom, but will still be very soft until they cool.

 

White Almond Wedding Cake

1 (18.25 oz) package white cake mix*

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

¾ tsp salt

1 1/3 cup water

1 cup sour cream (full fat)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp almond extract**

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

4 egg whites

1.      Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour an 11 x 13 inch cake pan or two 8 inch round pans.

2.     Stir together the white cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until well mixed. Pour in the water, sour cream, vegetable oil, almond and vanilla extracts, and egg whites, and beat with an electric mixer on low until all the ingredients are mixed and moistened but some lumps still remain, 4 minutes.

3.     Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake in the preheated oven until the top is a light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes. Allow to cool before frosting.

*It’s sometimes difficult to find 18.25 oz cake mix. I usually have to use two and measure the amount on the food scale. **You can play around with the flavoring with other emulsions or extracts.

 

Follow these links to see more of Emily's favorite recipes:

 

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Recipe

 

Royal Icing for Cookie Decorating 


French Macarons





Hi! My name is Kait. Follow this link to learn more about me and my blog.






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