If you want to learn how to bake, you have to learn how to fail.
A lot. Like, a dizzying amount.
Bakers are not born — they're made. And they're made out of burnt cookies and watery icing and sunken cakes.
It's scary to let yourself fail when everyone else looks like they're constantly succeeding. That's why we need Nailed It, the new baking show on Netflix that celebrates the underloved art of kitchen failure.
"Some shows are dedicated to the best bakers in the world," host Nicole Bayer says as she opens episode two of Nailed It. "This is not one of them."
The premise is a twist on your typical aspirational baking show. Three amateur bakers are given two rounds of themed challenges. The baked goods they have to create are Pinterest-worthy stunners, epic cake universes where fondant reigns supreme. Icing princesses are locked in Rice Krispies Treat towers, treasure maps are sketched out on the surface of oblong donuts, and self portraits are crafted with buttercream frosting.
No one would want to brave a bite of the average confection on Nailed It. Cakes slope. Contestants scratch their scalps before manhandling the dough. Chocolate is microwaved until it bursts into flames and settles into the consistency of tar. People talk to their disastrous donuts as if a glazed ball of dough is going to respond "Oh riiiiight, okay I'll get puffier and easier to fill with jam, that's my mistake."
Here's the thing: None of those mistakes really matter. These are people who love to bake, but they're just not that good at it yet. No one actually does well in these competitions. But watching them learn is delightful. They have fun while they try their hand at seriously complicated culinary tasks. They laugh and crack jokes and learn not to skip the eggs next time. They reveal their gooey, broken confections, yelling "Nailed it!" and grinning.
The judges tune into what's good about each cake, giving a steady stream of compliment sandwiches where they offer up praise but show them exactly where they went wrong, like refusing to read the recipe or deciding that frosting is for suckers.
I can relate to this crew of eager and deeply flawed bakers, because I was a terrible baker for years. Have you ever had someone refuse to take a piece of your cake? Me too! Have you ever shown up with cookies and had three different people tell you they were "interesting" before clearly telling other people to not try them? Same!
I did all kinds of bizarre stuff while I learned how to bake. I poured old coffee into cookie batters. I made ingredient substitutions that I was in no way qualified to make. I assumed that being around my mom and sister, both excellent bakers, made me a good baker by osmosis.
So I stumbled around, accidentally pouring powdered sugar into cake doughs instead of flour, and doling out sweets without knowing that I'd switched the sugar and salt again. It was kind of gross and occasionally demoralizing and led to me scrubbing burnt dough off of a lot of cookie sheets. But in the end it taught me how to bake, and it taught me how to fail.
It never surprises me when people say that they're afraid of baking. We're told that cooking is art and baking is science. On cooking shows and social media, baking looks so serious and meticulous. But the truth is baking is failure. It's failing and failing and failing until you succeed.
Even experienced bakers can benefit from more failure. It's so easy to fall back on your tried-and-true recipes, the ones guaranteed to garner applause and not scorch in your oven. But baking is strictly for fun. No one needs cake. We won't starve for lack of cookies. We're at the counter with a bag of sugar and a greased cake pan because we want to play.
Get inspired by the many, many baking failures in Nailed It. Brave a loaf of homemade bread or a cake piled high with complicated sugar flowers. Face your fears and banish that twitchy stiffness that wants you to skip any recipe with yeast in it or miss out on making your grandma's rugelach. Practice all those big scary real-world skills, like trying and failing and getting back up and trying again, in the comfort of your kitchen.
When you present your sunken cake or rock-hard cookies, remember to announce "Nailed it!" as you do the reveal. You did nail it. You didn't let yourself stagnate. You went to the kitchen and decided to grow.