Because if you start by trying to make croissants you’re gonna have a bad time
Nobody starts out knowing exactly how to bake perfectly. Even experienced bakers need practice, and if you’re like me and you’re not a beginner OR experienced, it’s basically a game of “who knows if this’ll turn out but fuck it”. Despite what Masterchef wants you to think, cooking and baking should be fun, and there are plenty of easy recipes to try if you’ve never turned on an oven in your life or are an expert in cookie dough that comes in a tube, but you’ve been watching Great British Bake-Off and want to try making “shoe dough”. (Do not start by making choux dough. I’m still scared to make choux dough) I’ve compiled a list of the 5 first things I think you should bake if you’re just starting out (and want to move past the box cake, although cake mix will make an appearance on this list.) Other bakers reading this may or may not agree with this list, but these are MY unwanted opinions so you can deal with it. I’ve included some recipes from my extensive and highly organized Pinterest boards that I think are both easy and tasty.
1. Cake Mix Cookies
In my blog post about cookbooks I listed two books that included recipes for cake mix cookies, and that’s because they’re GREAT! If your experience baking cookies thus far has consisted of opening a package of pre-portioned Nestle dough (no shame in that either!) Then this is the next step up before venturing into cookies that are totally from scratch. It’ll get you used to literally just mixing things together into a bowl and portioning them out yourself, and there are literally THOUSANDS (ok maybe not) of variations you can do so you can play around with creating your own flavors and combos of ingredients. Once you gain confidence in your basic skills you’ll be all ready to venture into from-scratch cookie making. As an added bonus, people usually can’t tell that they’re not totally from scratch. Try any recipe from the extensive list below courtesy of The Frugal Girls, including the cookies pictured above.
2. A Quick Bread
Yeasted bread is SLOW and DIFFICULT but quick breads are EASY and TASTE LIKE CAKE. But unlike a regular cake, with quick bread you literally just dump it all into a loaf pan. If you want to get used to making your own batters from scratch, this is a good place to start. There are many many different kinds of quick-breads (think banana, pumpkin, lemon-blueberry) and they are all delicious. Many of them only require a bowl or two, so there is minimal effort for maximum pay-off. People always appreciate a loaf of something, and you can start to say shit like “this is good but not as good as MY banana bread” which is something everyone definitely loves to hear and will not actually make people want to jump out the window. Nevertheless, quick breads are super yummy and, like muffins, are an acceptable way to eat cake for breakfast (P.S. muffins are just the cupcakes of quick bread, so those are also a totally good option!) Here’s a list of quick breads from Parade
3. Basic Ass Cupcakes
Like cake-mix cookies, cupcakes are the step in between just making a boxed cake mix and making a full-ass layer cake. Layer cakes are intimidating. They can be easy to screw up. I know because I’ve done so multiple times. But the venn diagram of cupcake batter and cake batter is a circle, so cupcakes are the perfect way to get into making your own batter and start learning some decorating skills without the pressure of an entire cake. If you mess up a cupcake, just throw it out or honestly eat it yourself as you’re standing over the stove. If you can find a one-bowl cupcake recipe (like the cupcakes pictured above from The Comfort Of Cooking) Even better. The cupcake trend may be dead but your baking skills are thriving. Here’s another huge list of recipes from Chef-In-Training. Go wild.
What, I ask you, is better than a brownie? A brownie you made YOURSELF is the answer. There will always be a special place in my heart for boxed brownies that you eat straight out of the pan when you’re drunk, but from-scratch brownies are WAY simple, especially if you make things easy on yourself and go with a one-bowl recipe. Personally, my family has always stood by the recipe that comes inside of the Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate package. (As seen in the above photo) They literally take like 10 minutes tops to throw together and pour into a pan. Different brownie recipes will tell you to do different things. Some call for cocoa powder, some call for melted dark chocolate, others a mix of both. It all depends on how cakey, fudgy, or gooey you like your brownies. Play around with recipes to see which kind you like best (but fudgy that leans towards gooey is obviously the best). If you want something a lil’ less chocolatey but still in bar form, I also highly recommend these chocolate chip cookie bars from Food Network. They are just as easy and will change your life.
5. A Fruit Crumble/Crisp
I’m NOT talking about cobbler. Apparently amongst people who have nothing better to care about, there is a debate over the differences between cobbler/crumble/crisp. From what I know and what Bon Appetit has told me, a cobbler has a kind of biscuit topping, whereas crisps and crumbles have a….crumbly….topping. What’s the difference between a crisp and a crumble? Fuck if I know. Oats? Nuts? Doesn’t matter, they’re both about the same skill level, which is easy. Following this list’s trend of “foods that are an easier version of the hard thing”, crumbles are a way easier version of pie. You take some fruit. Any fruit. Apple, peach, any berry. Mix the fruit with sugar, maybe some spices if you’re feeling zesty. Slap that shit into a pan. Mix together some butter and flour and sugar to make a crumble. Sprinkle that shit on top. Bake. Enjoy. Bring it to Thanksgiving dinner or Debra’s baby shower. Top it with vanilla ice cream, of course. The moral is crumbles slap. Here’s some to get you started.
So there you go! My list of the 5 first things you should bake if you’re just starting out and maybe have a history of lighting things on fire. The most important thing to remember is that baking should be fun, and usually people are so happy that you brought dessert that they don’t even notice all the “flaws” that you do. (Or at least they’ll eat it anyway to be polite. Unless they’re an asshole, and in that case they don’t deserve your baked goods anyway.)