When people find out that I’m a food blogger, I often get the same response.
It’s generally something along the lines of, “Oh my God, I’m such a terrible _____!” That blank may be replaced by cook, baker, chef, decorator… whatever. My canned response is always something along the lines of how everyone can be a good cook or baker, but in reality it takes two things: patience and practice.
If you repeatedly find that whatever you made doesn’t look or taste anything like it should, despite having followed the recipe to a t, here are some reasons why.
You need to read the recipe first — like actually read it.
This is everyone’s major problem, and I’m going to file it under patience. Recipes aren’t fun to read, so I get it! But if you’re going to rely on a recipe to make an impressive dinner or bake something special, you have to read the recipe all the way through. Don’t just skim it, read the whole thing: that means the introductory sentences, if there are any, the ingredients list, and each step.
Read it twice if you aren’t a seasoned (get it?) home cook. Chances are, if you don’t do this, you’re going to miss something or forget to pick up a much-needed ingredient.
Set enough time aside, and don’t rush through any steps.
Recipes cannot be rushed. There are plenty of “fast” and “easy” recipes out there, but even those are probably hiding a misleading step or two.
Make sure that you have more than enough time to make the recipe, which leads us back to the first step: reading it properly.
A recipe may state that you must chill your dough for a minimum of three hours before baking, but you were in a hurry, so you skipped that part, and then your pie crust was soggy and limp. The recipe wasn’t the problem: you were. Pie crusts need time to rest, both for the butter to chill and for the gluten to relax.
You can’t just skip part of a recipe and hope for the same results.
Know what you’re doing, and practice.
Practice! Practice, practice practice. What would I do if I were making a pie but didn’t have time to rest my pie dough? I’d probably make a graham cracker crust or a cookie crust instead of a traditional one. Problem solved.
I know how to do this because I’ve been baking for a long time, but also because I’ve messed up a lot of recipes. Your failures make you stronger, and the biggest piece of advice I have for home cooks is to keep cooking, keep baking, and keep learning.
There is never going to be a perfect written recipe. There are things that experienced cooks and chefs just know, and these things are hard to articulate. You learn how to hold a knife so it’s comfortable in your hand, which allows you to chop faster. You learn how to cut butter into dough quickly and efficiently. You learn to check what’s in your oven every five minutes so it doesn’t burn. Recipe writers try their best to fit all of this information into each recipe they write, but some things just become second-nature the more you do them.
Becoming a proficient home cook can really only be learned by doing, so if you pick up a moderate-to-difficult recipe and expect it to look like the picture on the first try, that’s probably not going to happen. But if you make it once or twice more, you’ll probably nail it. And either way, even if it isn’t picture-perfect, as the old saying goes, “It still tastes good!”
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