How to Become a Better Baker

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: I’d love to figure out the secret to baking. I’m convinced it’s like having a green thumb: You either have it or you don’t. As carefully as I read and follow a recipe to a tee, it’s a 50/50 chance it will come out perfectly.—Type A Personality

Dear Type A Personality: We have a friend who claims he doesn’t have a green thumb. We’ve watched him garden. He makes holes in the ground with the heel of his sneaker, dumps in some seeds, and then is amazed when nothing comes up. He’s just going through the motions. Not even. And he’s not practicing.

Practice, practice, practice

The same goes for baking. It’s all a matter of practice. That pie crust may not work the first time you roll it out. You may need to try again. And again. And again. That’s not much consolation on an average Wednesday night after work. But we doubt you’re doing much serious baking on a Wednesday night after work, anyways.

Ask for help

If you have a relative or a friend who’s a great baker, watch them. Pay attention. Apprentice. Ask to make pies together. Or tarts. Or bread. Or cookies.

Be precise

Also, embrace your inner fussiness. Baking is an exacting science. Measure carefully. Follow the instructions exactly. If the butter is supposed to be at room temperature, then leave it out on the counter until it’s nice and mushy. If the eggs are supposed to be at room temperature, leave them out on the counter for 20 minutes or dip them in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for 2 or 3 minutes.

Don’t make substitutions

And don’t make substitutions. We once spent an evening teaching a friend how to make pie crust. When she tried on her own a week later, she complained that the results were a rank disaster. When we pressed further, she admitted she’d substituted cornstarch for the flour. “They’re both white,” she reasoned.

Banish “perfect” from your dictionary

And then there’s this: What’s with the “perfect” stuff anyway? Forget the TV chefs. Those people have battalions off camera to make everything look so great.

Try, try again

Instead, keep at it. A baker’s grasp should always exceed his—or her—reach. With apologies to Robert Browning.

Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Ask us your question in a comment below!

About Bruce Weinstein | Mark Scarbrough

Bruce and Mark are award-winning, international best-selling cookbook authors with thirty-six published cookbooks and over 1,000,000 copies of their books in print. Bruce and Mark have published on topics as diverse as ice cream, ham, barbecue, goat, and vegetarian main courses. They are masters of the air fryer with The Essential Air Fryer Cookbook (2019), and The Instant Pot with The Instant Bible (2018) and The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation (2020).
Their You-Tube channel Cooking with Bruce and Mark offers hours of delicious fun and their podcast Cooking with Bruce and Mark reaches 10s of thousands with their culinary antics.
When they are not in the kitchen, Mark teaches lit classes and runs book groups throughout Litchfield County and online while Bruce teaches knitting and designs knitted patterns for both men and women. Find out more about what they’re up to at

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  1. I have a question: how can I improve my challah? It tastes delicious but it’s almost never as fluffy as I’d like it to be. There is always an area on the bottom that looks like it didn’t rise enough. I’ve been making challah almost every week for close to two years. I’ve tried many different recipes and still haven’t got results that satisfy me. Your help will be very much appreciated! TIA

    1. Elaine, it’s hard to know, as there are many factors that could impact the dough. It could be that you’re working in too much flour when kneading the dough, which would make it dense. Perhaps try playing around with your flour to liquid ratio a bit and see if it improves.