When I decided to enroll in pastry school, I had (or thought I had) a pretty decent foundation of baking know-how. I could follow a recipe no problem, and I could always tell when my cake was finished—even without a timer. I was more than capable of assembling the layers, frosting the cake and using a piping bag to decorate it. But once I got to school, I realized just how much there was to baking that I hadn’t ever realized. I learned how temperature affects whether or not a frosting will stick to the side of a cake and what techniques to use in order to prevent sugar from crystallizing. I learned how gluten is created and all about the chemical reaction baking powder has when it meets a liquid. At the end of my two years in school, I emerged from the kitchen confident and informed. A lot of what I learned came from my instructors, who had years of hands-on experience and knowledge to impart. But a lot of it came from practice. In baking, as in life, things don’t always turn out right the first time, so it’s important to stick with it. Skill and confidence will come with practice.
If you want to become a formidable baker but pastry school isn’t in the cards for you, plan to make one cake every month for a year. Not only will you learn multiple techniques, but you’ll begin to feel more comfortable with baking. Bonus: You’ll have a different cake to eat every month for a year. Here, the 12 cakes to help you conquer your baking fears.