The One Thing Every Home Baker Needs (Plus Five Things They Don’t)December 29, 2018
- Katrina IriberriWords
Baking is not exactly a cheap hobby. Apart from the cost of ingredients (butter, real vanilla, cream cheese, fancy chocolate), the equipment required can also cost you quite a sum (and I don’t mean just the KitchenAid mixer). Walk into any baking supply store, and you will be overwhelmed by the dizzying amount of pans, cookie sheets, moulds, icing tips, spatulas, and utensils that you may or may not need but end up buying anyway. If you’re anything like me, the heady aroma of couverture chocolate, the reflective sheen from the fluted tart pans, and the rainbow of rubber spoonulas they have on display make it hard to keep myself under control. Before you know it, I’m going home with four new mini springform pans that I just had to have.
To help save you from additional expenses, wasted storage space, and regret, I’ve listed below the one thing you absolutely cannot live without (on top of the basics, of course) and five that you could easily leave on the shelf.
The One Thing You Need: An Oven Thermometer
Yes, I know your oven manual says that the number four setting is equivalent to 350°F. Maybe your oven has a built-in thermometer. Either way, you still need to buy an oven thermometer to monitor your baking temperatures. Don’t be stubborn, buy one. I insist.
Ovens can become de-calibrated, even when they’re brand new, depending on how long they’ve been sitting in the department store storeroom. Ambient temperature can also impact how hot (or cold) an oven can get. Even if you think you know the exact spot between numbers three and four that corresponds to 325°F, you could still end up ruining whatever it is you’re trying to make. Spending PHP500 on an accurate oven thermometer will save you from the disappointment of your French butter and Belgian chocolate ending up a charred or underbaked mess.
Five Things You Don”t Need
1. A Sifter
If pastry chefs can’t even agree amongst themselves about the need to sift dry ingredients, then you probably shouldn’t be spending your hard-earned money on a specialized contraption to do it. This is doubly true when a simple handheld wire mesh strainer and a spoon can serve the exact same purpose. I’ve owned two types of sifters: the basic kind with one rotating arm for sifting, and one that’s more complicated with three layers of mesh and sifter blades.
They saved me time, sure, but the few minutes I saved were negated by the extra time it took to clean flour from the tiny crevices of the sifters. I’ve used toothpicks, skewers, and old toothbrushes to get at the nook and crannies of my sifters but a teeny tiny bit of flour always gets left behind. Who knows how old the built up flour is in the middle layer of my fancy triple sifter.
Apart from being unnecessary, sifters are also a hotbed for bacterial buildup. If you’re a believer in sifting your ingredients (or simply want to get fancy with your sugar dusting), just buy yourself a large strainer.
2. An Ice Cream Scoop
If you’ve watched one episode of Cupcake Wars, you know how useful a spring ice cream scoop can be. It’ll let you scoop batter into those partitions faster than you can say “Red Velvet.” They also help to make identically sized cookies. However, unless you need to bake a hundred cupcakes in two hours, you don’t need to be scooping batter that fast. Neither will the world end if some of your chocolate chip cookies come out of the oven slightly bigger or smaller than his cookie brothers. Bottom line, you don’t need to spend PHP500 on a spring ice cream scoop. If you’re obsessive compulsive about your cookies being the same size, then just double up your tablespoon measuring spoon and form the full cookie with your hands.
3. Baking Pans in Every Shape and Size
I insist on following recipes precisely, especially when I’m trying it for the first time. This includes following the specified size for the baking pan. However, if I bought every single pan that each recipe I make requires, my kitchen would resemble the Lestrange vault. I would also be as broke as the Weasleys. Instead, I’ve learned to work with what I’ve got.
There are helpful resources online (like this one) that compare baking pans and their corresponding volume capacities. Going through the comments sections for recipes can also help, as sometimes other readers may already tried to make the cake in a 9 inch pan, instead of the required 10 inches. You can use their experiences to guide you.
Keep in mind that smaller pans mean thicker products, which require more time in the oven. Also, remember to keep a close eye on what you’re baking for the last quarted of the cooking time and you should be fine.
4. A Wire Rack
It is imperative that baked goods are allowed to cool on a rack. Cool air needs to circulate around the pan and under it to evenly cool a cake and stop the cooking process. Leaving a hot pan on a solid surface could end up ruining a product that was perfect when you took it out of the oven. What isn’t necessary is that you use a specialized PHP500 wire rack.
I’ve cooled cakes on the extra wire racks that came with my oven, I’ve rested cookie sheets on upturned coffee cups, and I’ve left brownie pans on empty metal dish drying racks. You just need to be resourceful and creative. Just make sure the surface is heat resistant, sturdy enough to support your cake, and lets air circulate over, under, and around your pan.
5. Fancy Silicone Mats
You see these a lot on television. They’re the fancy orange-trimmed mats that Jacques Torres spreads his chocolate over, and Ina Garten makes Parmesan crisps on. The mats are non-stick (even for caramel and melted sugar for candies), easy to clean, and eliminate the need to grease your pan or use parchment paper. The manufacturer’s site even positions it as an environment-friendly alternative to disposable baking paper (although, I must point out, baking paper is reusable as well).
What they don’t mention is that you can buy about sixteen rolls of baking paper for the price of one silicone mat. If you want to line two cookie sheets, you’ll need to shell out about PHP2,500. That’s the equivalent of going through ten rolls of parchment a year, for three straight years. I bake several times a week and consume nowhere near that amount. I think we’d all be better off spending that money on butter. We can find other cheaper ways to be environment friendly.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I could go on and on and talk about how inessential egg separators, fancy cake testers, and churro makers can be. The bottom line is, if it’s too specialized a gadget, then it’s probably best to keep you wallet in your purse,
Have you ever bought a cooking and baking gadget that you thought you needed but really didn’t? Ever splurged on something that turned out to be worth every centavo? Let us know in the comments!