Recipe Spotlight

10 Confidence-Building Recipes for New Bakers

Even novices can pull off these CI staff-recommended favorites. And more-experienced cooks will also love their impressive results.   

Published Jan. 31, 2023.

While I love cooking, I tend to shy away from baking. 

As someone who “seasons with my heart” when cooking, the precision required by baking is intimidating. I’m not sure I have the know-how to evenly frost a cake, recognize perfectly softened butter, or to whip whites to just the right stiffness. 

I am not alone. Many people who otherwise love to cook avoid baking because they think it requires experience or a level of finesse they simply don’t have.

Fortunately, our archives are filled with baking recipes that make it easy for you to succeed. Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary coined a term for recipes that look beautiful and impressive, yet even novice bakers will be able to pull off. 

She calls them “Confidence-Builders for New Bakers.”

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Enter: These 10 recipes recommended by Cook’s Illustrated staffers! They range from items that can be made in less than an hour to those that are more of a weekend project. Either way, these are recipes that will inspire pride and give you the confidence to continue on your baking journey. 

1. French Apple Tart: A stunner you can nail on the first try

“This recipe uses very few ingredients and has no intimidating techniques, but looks super-impressive and tastes great. A quick and buttery pat-in-pan dough bakes to a shortbread-like texture that gives the tart a sturdy base to build the fruit rosette on top. Its the ultimate ‘win your office bake-off even though you have zero baking experience’ recipe.”

-Deputy Food Editor Andrea Geary

Get the recipe. 

2. Easy-Braid Challah: Fluffy, gorgeous, and forgiving.

“Braiding challah is usually intimidating because the dough can be soft and sticky. And if you make a mistake, you can’t un-braid it—the dough just melds together. This dough locks away most of its moisture in a tangzhong, so it feels pretty firm and dry but bakes up soft and moist. This makes the dough easy to braid (and re-braid, if necessary). It is a super-impressive finished loaf, easily accomplished by novice bakers.”

-Photo Test Cook Eric Haessler 

 Get the recipe. 

3. Peach Hand Pies: Flaky, fruity, and low effort.

“The peach filling is so vibrant and summery, but what makes this recipe really appealing is the rough puff crust. Rough puff is flaky like puff pastry, but with more irregular layers rather than perfectly stacked ones. I was convinced to try this because you make it by rolling and shaking the dough ingredients in a zipper-lock bag. This simple and fun technique results in a crispy, flaky crust.”

-Senior Content Editor Alyssa Vaughn

Get the recipe.  

4. New York Bagels: Absolutely achievable—big flavor and big chew.

“This method is very straightforward and everything is mixed in the food processor. You do need to buy special ingredients like malt syrup, but they’re worth it since you’ll want to make this again and again. It is a great way to practice different shaping techniques as well as handling tougher dough. They are so tasty and you can even branch out with your own homemade flavors and seasonings.” 

-Art Director Jay Layman

Get the recipe.

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5. Foolproof All-Butter Pie Pastry: Grated butter is the key.

“Our formula takes all the guesswork out of pie pastry (especially how much water to add), and as long as you weigh ingredients and follow this unique method, the result is foolproof. The end product is a dough that rolls out easily and bakes up tender and flaky so you can use it for any type of filling—fruit, cream, or custard.” 

 -Managing Editor Liz Bomze

Get the recipe.

6. Almost No-Knead Bread: Homemade has never been so easy.

“A bulletproof recipe that yields a bakery-quality loaf without using a mixer and with hardly any hand-kneading. We start the baking process in a covered pot so the lid can trap steam released from the bread, creating a springy crumb. By finishing the baking uncovered, we create a beautifully browned crust. Whats not to love?”

-Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser

Get the recipe.

7. Cheese Soufflé: Demystify soufflés (no fuss or folding).

“Our Cheese Soufflé is supereasy, delicious, and a real confidence-builder for anyone anxious about notoriously tricky recipes. Soufflés have such a bad rap as a finicky dish, but they’re more resilient than you think. Just whip whites to stiff peaks, then pour a cheese sauce right into the mixing bowl and whip it all togetherno folding needed. Oh, and that old saying about soufflés falling if you slam the oven door? Thats a myth.”

-Senior Editor Steve Dunn

Get the recipe.

8. Milk Chocolate Crémeux Tart: An elegant way to impress 8 to 10 people.

“Everyone needs a bakery-quality chocolate dessert in their back pocket. This is mine. It uses a pâte sucrée tart shell, which is sweeter-than-usual crust thats slimmer than the ones you press into a pan, so you can squeeze in more delicious filling. Cutting the dough into one large round and a few strips makes the shell so simple to assemble and the intensely rich chocolate-custard filling is equally easy.”

-Assistant Editor Emily Rahravan

Get the recipe.

9. Best Almond Cake: Got a food processor? You’re almost done.

“This cake has it all: sophisticated looks, delicate crumb, and pronounced almond flavor. And no tricky ingredients or techniques come into play. There is no softened butter, no whipping whites to medium peaks, no creaming butter and sugar together, and no folding egg whites into the batter. Just grab a food processor and give this recipe a whirl! Also, dont skip the orange crème fraîche. Your guests will thank you.”

-Senior Editor Lan Lam

Get the recipe. 

10. Financiers: Nutty, buttery, two-bite treats.

“You may never find anything as impressive and easy to make as these famous French treats. They are buttery little cakes that are chewy on the outside and moist on the inside. You don’t even need a mixer or a food processor. All you do is brown some butter and stir it together with almond flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and egg whites. The original treats were baked in gold barshaped molds, hence their name. We portion ours into a mini-muffin tin.”

-Editorial Director Amanda Agee

Get the recipe. 

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