The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Betty Who started her career as a singer-songwriter at age 14 and has been touring ever since. When the pandemic hit, she started baking to feed her creativity. She’s now deep into her journey and calls baking her love language. We joined her in her home in Los Angeles to discuss how baking has become her spiritual tool while she made her favorite snickerdoodle recipe using Sheet Show.
I’ve always been an entertainer and performer; it’s always given me great joy. I started playing the cello when I was four, went to a performing-arts high school, and moved to America when I was 15. I saw people who were so young working so hard, and I think that let me see what it takes to make a dream come true so much earlier than a lot of people. I was singing and songwriting and teaching myself piano and guitar. When I applied to Berklee College of Music, I was like, Okay, this is my new home. Then I moved to New York, signed a record deal, and now it’s eight years later and I’m an independent artist.
The system that we have now doesn’t work for me. So I have to figure out a different way.
Now my biggest focus is trying to be an artist without selling my soul to the devil and not signing away all of my creativity. The system that we have now doesn’t work for me. So I have to figure out a different way, and that’s another challenge to add to my plate: finding a different way to do what someone hasn’t done before.
This is my career and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but being an independent artist is sort of like this hamster wheel — you’re constantly trying to sustain yourself. Hopefully my 30s — I just turned 30 — will be full of finding other ways to do it. Coming into this album cycle that I’m working on now, I had this understanding of myself that I will not do this the way other people have done it before.
I scream out all the time from the kitchen, “I LOVE TO BAKE!”
Baking wasn’t really a part of my life until recently. I think everybody found something to do to cope during lockdown, like baking banana bread or sourdough. I tour, for the most part; that’s what I did for eight or nine years before COVID hit, so I think I got into baking because I was so creatively deprived during quarantine. Being at home so much is also something I’m not great at or used to — I needed something that put my mind to task and made me focus. That time during quarantine showed me how much I could love baking. Three years ago I would’ve never said I’d be obsessed with baking, and now here I am. I scream out all the time from the kitchen, “I LOVE TO BAKE!”
It’s me putting my mind to work; it’s creative, but it’s not forced.
It’s become this weird spiritual thing in my life where I’ll have a really bad day and feel like I don’t know what to do with myself. A lot of the time when I’m feeling like, Okay, what do I need? and the first answer is “I’m going to bake.” It’s me putting my mind to work; it’s creative, but it’s not forced. I have to write songs as my job. Even though I love it, there’s a different level of pressure, whereas with baking, I just want to do it.
It’s become this spiritual tool to pull myself out of darker places, and I’m really grateful for it.
When I’m 50 cookies deep and I’m decorating and I’m buckwild on it, I’m like, Oh, this is a creative expression. It’s so nice to have something creative that is not my job. Nobody is making me bake. It’s for nothing other than that I love doing it. It makes me feel good. I want to learn, and I want to be a good baker. I didn’t realize how much I was missing that until the world shut down. It’s become this spiritual tool to pull myself out of darker places, and I’m really grateful for it.
Sharing my bakes is like a love language of mine.
During quarantine I was doing a delivery service where if I made something really good I would think, Everyone has to try this. I’d wrap up little packages of what I’d baked and drive around L.A. and leave it on my friend’s front step and just be like, “Okay, bye! I love you. I just have to feed you, even if I can’t hang out with you.” I love to do it; I love to feed people. Sharing my bakes is like a love language of mine.
Food is always something you share and that brings people together. I think when we were all disconnected from each other, it made sense that it was something that became really important for people to do for themselves.
It’s like songwriting. To me, it all comes from the same place where you can create something.
Baking also satisfies something in me that cooking doesn’t. It reminds me of why I loved math in high school. I’m very task-oriented, and math is very, like, here’s the formula; then you do the formula and you get the result. Falling in love with baking has satisfied the part of me that loves watching something come to life. It’s like songwriting. To me, it all comes from the same place where you can create something. That’s so satisfying, especially when it’s something you’ve seen before. So when your bake looks different you’re like, Okay, I know I went wrong somewhere, but I can improve and learn, and it’s sort of this great metaphor for how I love to live my life.
It’s sort of this great metaphor for how I love to live my life.
Opening up a recipe is such a satisfying feeling — because we don’t have a recipe for life. Something that’s really scary about songwriting is that I’m staring at a blank page and there’s no right way to do it. Whereas there’s a right way to make puff pastry; that’s life’s little joy to me.
Opening up a recipe is such a satisfying feeling — because we don’t have a recipe for life.
Others have come before me and can say, “This is how you do it.” I find that I struggle with that in my career; it’s very hard to see other people who have done what I’ve done because you’re trying to carve your own lane, and there’s all this indecision and insecurity in that experience. Baking, to me, is the opposite of all of that, but it’s still a creative outlet, so it checks all the boxes for me.
Seeing something grow and rise — seeing the change — makes me confident as a baker.
I like to bake things that are more challenging: I love pastry, and I love working with dough. I love things that transform as you’re baking it. And I love learning and having the knowledge to be like, “Oh this bake is a little wet, so what does that mean? I’ll learn more about that next time.”
I made puff pastry last summer, and I went to sleep dreaming of puff pastry. I watched so many YouTube videos that I had dreams about trying to perfect the puff pastry batter, so I was like, I’m going to spend the next five days and make three batches each day until I get this right. I don’t think I got to a puff pastry that I’m totally satisfied with, but I’m getting there. Being able to work with my hands and seeing something grow and rise, seeing the change makes me confident as a baker.
I love things that transform as you’re baking it.
The favorite bake in my house is snickerdoodles, so that’s what I made today. They are my husband’s favorite cookie so that was a big thing for me, getting my snickerdoodle recipe on point. I tried a bunch of different recipes and found one that had the consistency I liked the most. It was also a matter of baking time: My husband loves them underbaked, but I love them a bit crispy, so a part of that process was figuring out the science of it. My secret ingredient is that I put a little squeeze of lemon in everything I bake — that’s my acid balance for my sugar and in everything I make.
My secret ingredient is that I put a little squeeze of lemon in everything I bake.
Now I crush snickerdoodles. We’ll be sitting in the living room and my husband will be like, “I want snickerdoodles,” and I’ll speed-bake them. If I go really fast, I can churn out a batch in 30 minutes. It’s perfect for when we’re watching The Great British Bake Off and it’s like, “We need to have baked goods to watch this.”
It’s perfect for when we’re watching The Great British Bake Off and it’s like, “We need to have baked goods to watch this.”
They turned out amazing, and I wasn’t expecting the baking sheet to change the experience as much as it did — in a good way! I pulled out a tray, and they were some of the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever made.
When I was introduced to Great Jones, the thing that was immediately noticeable were the colors. I think you’re bringing spirit to your bake when your tools are joyful. I talk to my bakes a lot, so looking down at my perfect little snickerdoodles on Holy Sheet and it’s that bright raspberry pink, I felt like, This is so my energy. I love the impact that it has, even on my mood. Baking is supposed to be fun for me and not too serious.
I think you’re bringing spirit to your bake when your tools are joyful.
I can’t wait to bake more. For the holidays I told my mom, “All I want to do is watch whatever weird Christmas movie is on cable television — Hallmark channel or bust — and I want to bake morning, noon, and night. Every neighbor will have a box of cookies from us.”
Betty Who's Go-To Pan
“Looking down at my perfect little snickerdoodles on Holy Sheet and it’s that bright raspberry pink, I felt like, This is so my energy.”