What's a new baker to bake?
February 20, 2020 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I've got the baking bug. Inspired by the success of a few early attempts at some baked delights over the holiday season like a pumpkin pie, pavlova & several different cakes & then binge watching the great British Baking Show I've set myself a goal I want to master 10 baked items, one a month, over the remaining 10 months of the year. Bakers or Baked good eaters what would your suggestions be for the things a newish baker but pretty experienced cook should master that would set me up with a range of baking skills going forward?

I love breads, pies, cakes, biscuits/cookies and even slices. Sweet or Savory nothing is off the table. I have a great oven, plenty of free time, a 5qt KitchenAid mixer, and all the basic pans, bowls, trays etc. I am happy to invest in equipment as needed too, but I'm thinking specialized pans & spatulas not kitchen appliances.

I'd love to be able to make baguettes or at least a really nice white bread and as an Australian a long way from home a Hot Water crust so I can make a meat pie, but after that I'm overwhelmed with ideas so thanks in advance for helping me narrow down the choices, all suggestions appreciated.
posted by wwax to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Croissants and shortbread cookies
posted by cacao at 9:21 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Cream puffs - they can be savory (i.e. gruyere puffs mix grated gruyere into the choux before baking), and I'm including learning to make a proper pastry cream as part of this.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:31 AM on February 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

Are you up for learning some amount of gluten-free baking? A little versatility is always good, especially if you're around people with allergies...

Generally I'd suggest yeast breads, quick breads, muffins, scones, and pie crusts.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:35 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

My first major baking project was challah! It's a fairly forgiving dough, but looks impressive as a show piece at dinner or brunch. It is also versatile in that you can learn different braids, from basic to complex, or fill it with apples and honey, etc. I have also baked it into buns or pretzels. It appears on Season 5, episode 2 of GBBO.
posted by unstrungharp at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2020

Gluten Free suggestions are great my FIL is eating gluten free so he'd love it.
posted by wwax at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2020

Pie crust, rough-puff pastry, yeast bread. Gluten free baked goods are always disappointing, in my experience.
posted by rikschell at 9:51 AM on February 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Meringue variations! Meringue cookies, dacquoise cake layers, various meringue toppings.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:52 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Those are good for gluten free, as are nut tortes, like this sort of thing: Walnut Torte.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:02 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Learning how to do solid blind baked pie crusts and how to work with puff pastry has been a pretty big game changer for me cooking wise too. You can always stuff things with savory fillings instead of sweet!
posted by astapasta24 at 10:08 AM on February 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

I haven't personally tried a challenge (though I've used her recipes in the past), but blogger Sally's Baking Addiction hosts a monthly challenge here if there's a month you feel less inspired.
posted by paradeofblimps at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by cooker girl at 10:11 AM on February 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

Bagels (homemade are really good and not that hard).

Pizza--everyone around will love you.

Souffles, savory and dessert. Once you see how easy they are, you'll be hooked.

Quiche, which got a bad name some decades ago because it became popular and was served frozen and microwaved in restaurants, but fresh homemade quiche is phenomenally good. If you've mastered pie dough, a quiche is easy-peasy. The texture of a just-baked quiche: nothing like it.
posted by tmdonahue at 10:17 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

The baking projects I have found the most challenging over the years:

macarons (SO HARD to do right!)

croissants (the recipe I have takes about 36 hours, there's a lot of resting and proofing)

baguette (takes all day)

Choux pastry was easier than I thought, as was patisserie cream. I have never tried to make filo, and only once have I done a souffle (need to try those again).

I recommend that you find an outlet for your creativity -- who will eat all your baked goods? It's easy to fill the freezer up very quickly.
posted by suelac at 10:28 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cheesecake. Ruth Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, has an easy and reliable recipe for a very creamy cheesecake. She uses a large food processor, but a mixer (stand or hand-held) works well, too. She lines the pan with ladyfingers, but I do the usual graham cracker crust.

Beranbaum's approach is very practical and she tests her recipes meticulously. There are plenty of her videos on YouTube, and she also has a great website where you can even ask her questions.
posted by wryly at 10:39 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bon Appetit's "Basically" division has just launched a 10x10 baking series -- that's 10 recipes over 10 weeks to help you become a baker, or a better baker. In my experience (with their last 10x10 series) these are a collection of fun and doable recipes.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:43 AM on February 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'd recommend challah as well as an intro bread -- enriched breads take longer to rise but are nice and forgiving. Baguettes are very easy to make as well, though a baguette tray is nice to have for those.

Practicing a really good pie crust would be a good thing to learn, can be handy for both savoury and sweets.

I would practice some kind of rolled cake (fill with ice cream, whipped cream, fudge sauce, etc) because those are tricky but magical when you get them worked out. I'd also get basic decorating tools and practice the real intro stuff.
posted by jeather at 10:50 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sourdough bread

also, Pavlova and angel food cake.
posted by speakeasy at 11:10 AM on February 20, 2020

A loaf of crusty bread. Google "Bittman no-knead bread" for a now quite famous, dead simple recipe that makes astonishingly good bread. I've made it 100 times and I will never get tired of being able to make incredible bread with nothing but flour, water, yeast, salt and a cast iron pot.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 11:10 AM on February 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of The (New) Best Recipe cookbook from by Cook's Illustrated as a general reference. Lots of classics above - croissants, cream puffs, pie crust, shortbread(cookie/biscuit if Aus uses that term the way Brits do), rough-puff pastry, chocolate chip cookies (Smitten Kitchen has a fewgreat recipes).

Cakes. Ranging from gingerbread to yeasted cakes to angel food. If you understand the cooking process and chemistry of cake, it applies to pancakes, cookies, scones, etc.

Yeast bread. So much to learn, but even your less than perfect loaves will be delicious.

As you try different recipes, try to pay attention to how different flours, sugars and other ingredients behave.
posted by theora55 at 1:48 PM on February 20, 2020

By all means, give puff pastry a try if you want, but I've noticed even TV chefs assume you're gonna get frozen from the store.

I began with classic French bread: four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt), two rises and 6-8 hours start to finish. One of the first really wonderful products was cardamom braid. King Arthur recipe, circa 1970.

And I just learned you can test bread for doneness with an instant read thermometer. Research it a little, but I think the magic number is 195F.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:57 PM on February 20, 2020

Croissants if you’re really ambitious (they take forever, I’ve never had the staying power to tackle it) or profiteroles which take much less time but still some precision, while the payoff is delicious.
posted by Jubey at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2020

I too love baking, even if my waistline doesn't appreciate it in the same way. For technique, I really loved and learned a lot from this bread masterclass by ilovecookingireland.

Bravetart and the Serious Eats website are some of my go-to places for something to make.

And, for something that's challenging and time-consuming like a croissant, but really sweet and it's own kind of thing give Kouign-Amann a try. They're great, and quickly became a favorite of mine.
posted by ssmith at 7:13 PM on February 20, 2020

You must master a classic chocolate chip cookie! You'd be amazed at how many recipes are out there and how hard it is to settle on the perfect one. I'd also say the same about brownies; a good homemade brownie is infinitely better than boxed mix! I have my favourite recipes for these two items, but have yet to master a perfect blueberry muffin. That's something you could try as well.

I also suggest lemon bars. They can be tricky but so delicious!
posted by yawper at 7:55 PM on February 20, 2020

Seconding choux pastry - it's surprisingly easy and very flexible. You can use it make something like drop biscuits with shredded cheese mixed in that will never ever yield leftovers - I made them for a party once and half of them got snatched off the tray before I could plate them.

If you want a pretty short, scientific overview of baking I cannot recommend Ratio by Michael Ruhlman enough. It explains the differences in doughs/batters and cooking methods in a very clear breakdown and can help you troubleshoot and experiment with less worry about screwing everything up beyond repair.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m so glad you asked this question! I’ve been in a similar phase recently (stopped a grain and gluten free diet (SCDish) a few months ago) and I have been all about the little breads. Hot cross buns, bath buns, scones, yes please. Do you like rye bread and/or rolls? Making those can be challenging, or maybe just time consuming.

I also went looking for meat pie/hot water crust recipes after watching GBBO and I remember liking Ruby Tandoh’s recipe for it. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one I used—she has two different ones available on the Guardian’s website.
posted by pepper bird at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2020

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