Baking is hard work, and in a professional kitchen, it’s a team effort. Buddy Valastro, author of Baking with the Cake Boss, thinks of himself as a coach who must motivate his employees. Here he shares effective, simple tips to motivate home cooks like us.
1. Success in baking is founded on repetition. The most important thing to realize about baking is that repetition is the gateway to greatness. Just as athletes have to train and musicians have to practice, if you want to be a terrific baker, you need to learn to love the process—from measuring out your ingredients to mixing batters and dough to baking to decorating. There’s no separating one part from another, because all those steps add up to success in the final product, and if any one of them is suspect, then the whole thing falls apart. I also think of great bakers as soldiers, because it’s all about discipline, about taking great pride in turning yourself into a human machine that can execute the same series of steps over and over in the exactly same way.
2. There are many ways to be creative. On Cake Boss, the theme cakes are the center of attention, and with good reason: They are jaw-dropping, show stopping examples of unbridled creativity. Our theme cakes make anybody who sees them, even other professionals, say, “How did they do that?” But there are many ways of being creative. If you don’t have the hands for, or interest in, elaborate decorating, but love the flavors and textures of delicious baked goods—and the pleasure those qualities give to the people you bake for—then you might turn out to have a skill for creating your own distinct recipes.
Or you might find that you have a knack for instituting small changes that make a big impact, like adapting my recipe for Raspberry Bars to make apricot, blueberry, or lemon-orange bars; or perhaps making a simple but attention-getting adjustment like dipping half of each bar in chocolate. Or you might take the recipe for Butterflies and relocate the wings from the top to the bottom, using them as legs to fashion a different animal, bringing your own distinct sense of play to the pastry. In other words, don’t feel that you have to become a cake boss yourself in order to find happiness in baking; there are countless home bakers out there who take great pride and satisfaction in making nothing but cookies. If that’s where your comfort zone and happiness lie, be happy with that and get as good at it as you possibly can.
3. Always be willing to try new things. As much as I believe in repetition and consistency, I also believe that it’s important to try new things, to balance the required discipline for baking with a chance to be spontaneous and to grow. Whether it’s tinkering with a tried-and-true recipe to see if you can make it even better, or attempting to design something you’ve never seen before, it’s worth the trouble and relatively minor expense to innovate, especially if you end up bringing a new recipe or design into the world.
4. No two bakers are exactly alike. There’s no one way to do anything when it comes to baking. The recipes and advice I share work for me, and for my family and coworkers, and for the customers who line up outside our shop on Washington Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. But—who knows?—you might come up with a new way of doing things—from tweaking a recipe to discovering a new use for a kitchen tool—that works for you. At the end of the day, baking is about your own individualistic relationship with the tools and ingredients; if you can come up with your own way of doing something, don’t hesitate to go give it a try. And if you change a recipe, be sure to keep notes on what you did so you can do it again!
5. Believe. Along with a good rolling pin and mixer, and a well-stocked pantry, there’s something else you need every time you bake: confidence. If you watch seasoned bakers do their thing, they all exude an easy confidence. You need to have the same slight swagger when you step up to your workstation and dust it with flour. You need to know in your bones that you will not fail. Why is this so important? Because you need to trust all your senses; for example, most dough doesn’t look anything like what the final product it produces looks like, so you need to have the confidence to know you’ve mixed it properly. Similarly, when you step up to a naked cake, piping bag in hand, and get ready to go to work on that blank canvas, if you have any doubt in yourself, it will be reflected in imperfect borders and wavy lines. Believe in yourself when you bake and decorate; it’s as important as anything else.