Chapter One: Sarah's Kitchen Pantry
So, what's in your kitchen, Sarah?
...the inside story on equipment I can't live
(or at least bake) without.
The baker must work within the parameters of a recipe to produce a baked good that will rise, set, and taste the way he or she intends. Important in your ability to achieve that is having the right equipment and an accurate oven, and by avoiding overmixing or overbaking. Recipes don't have to be followed dead on, but if you stray by more than about 20 percent, you risk disappointment. Keep in mind, too, that not all recipes work in the first place, and it's hard to tell that in advance!
What every baker should have
Nested metal dry measuring cups: Measure dry ingredients, solid fats, brown sugar, peanut butter, honey, molasses, corn syrup, sour cream, yogurt, applesauce, and flaked coconut. I use them in sets in 1/8, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup sizes.
Heatproof glass measuring cups for liquid ingredients: Measure all liquids such as water, milk, buttermilk, and oil, in amounts at or above G cup; for less than G cup use measuring spoons. I have the basic 1-, 4-, and 8-cup sizes. Larger sizes (4-cup or more) are perfect to use as mixing bowls as well.
Measuring spoons: They come in different sizes. They are used to measure both dry and liquid ingredients. Don't try to measure with spoons meant for table use.
Ruler and tape measure: I always keep a ruler and a tape measure in my kitchen drawer and use them all the time. They measure the size of pans and parchment paper, cookie dough, pie crusts, ready-made pastry, etc. A ruler is handy when scoring dough; place it on the dough as a guide for the knife. A recipe will bake more evenly if divided equally.
Scale: When more than doubling a recipe, I recommend weighing dry ingredients to ensure accuracy. Make sure the scale measures up to several pounds in G-ounce (5-gram) increments.
Thermometers: These come in different types for different purposes. They are essential to accurate baking and chocolate work. When you get a new thermometer, always place in it boiling water for about five minutes to test whether or not it reads 212 degrees F (100 degrees C) at the boiling point. This way you will know your exact thermometer reading, and you can make adjustments if necessary or return it.
• Instant read thermometer: A small and thin thermometer with a gauge or digital readout on top. I use mine all the time to check the doneness of breads, temperature of ingredients, and the temperature of the warm water used to dissolve yeast. You'll notice that chefs have them clipped on their jackets all the time.
• Candy or deep-fat thermometer: A handy kitchen gadget necessary for testing temperature when making candy, syrups, jams, jellies, and when deep-frying, in order to get the food to exactly the right temperature.
• Mercury-gauge chocolate thermometer: Used when melting and tempering chocolate; is the most accurate thermometer for these purposes. Don't use a candy thermometer because the temperature gauge does not register low enough.
• Oven thermometer: Essential to baking. Ovens can be off by as much as 50 degrees F and the thermometer helps you to adjust the heat for proper baking.
Timer: This is essential to help you keep track of baking times. I also use mine to keep track of mixing times. You can use the timer from the microwave or stove or get a freestanding one.
Always use the size and type specified in a recipe. If you don't have the correct pan size, you can substitute one for another, but the ideal pan substitution is one that keeps close to the same batter volume and depth of the original. Heavyweight, dull aluminum pans with straight edges are the best to use. If your budget is limited, here is one place to splurge for a really good set.
For pies, I prefer heatproof glass pie plates. They distribute the heat better than metal ones, and you can look underneath to see how the crust is browning. I also prefer heatproof glass pans for fruit-based desserts, but you can use nonstick metal ones, too.
To verify the size you have:
• Check the bottom of the pan and see if the manufacturer has marked it for you.
• If it is a baking pan such as cake pan, measure the length and width at the inside edges across the top.
• To find the volume measure tap water in a measuring cup and pour into the pan. Fill it to the brim. Note how much water you used.
• Saucepans and skillets should be measured from outside edges across the top.
• Depth is always measured on the outside, vertically from the bottom of the pan to the top edge.
Baking (Cookie) Sheets
When I was invited to tour Land O'Lakes Headquarters in Minneapolis, I witnessed the making of chocolate chip cookies in their test kitchen. The goal was to test three different types of cookie sheets. The winner: non-insulated, nonstick, shiny aluminum pans with rims. The cookies were lightly and evenly browned around the edges, with a hint of browning on top. They spread the least and baked the fastest. Insulated sheets were far inferior for baking cookies evenly.
If you like to use insulated ones and can't buy them, double up your current pans: put one on top of another to create "padding" against the oven heat. Be careful when taking the top sheet out of the oven -- leave the bottom one in the oven and just take out the top one holding the cookies.
You've just got to have them. What kind and how many:
• Mixing bowls: I prefer nested metal ones because they are light and can be banged around more without getting hurt, but heatproof glass bowls work well, too.
• Heatproof glass custard cups: great for melting butter and chocolate in the microwave and for holding premeasured ingredients.
I use plastic cutting boards, separated by the food types I cut on them. Wooden boards can hold oils and odors that food will absorb.
Used as an indirect heating method, a double boiler is basically two pots that stack one on top of the other, where the bottom pot holds boiling water and the top one holds the food. The steam from the hot water beneath gently heats the contents in the pot above with a cushion of air in between. It is used when making delicate custards, melting chocolate (page 166) or cooking meringue icing (page 55), to provide gentle cooking heat.
If you don't have a double boiler, you can take a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fit a stainless steel or heatproof glass bowl tightly over it. I prefer a glass bowl because it retains the heat more evenly, which is good for chocolate work.
Never let the top of your double boiler touch the water below. Boiling water is 212 degrees F; that's too hot and is considered direct heat.
These can be either stand or handheld. I have both a KitchenAid Heavy Duty stand and Cuisinart handheld mixers. If you are a beginner, start with a handheld mixer.
Stand mixers are more powerful and quicker than handheld, so be sure not to overmix your dough or batter.
I recommend both wooden and heatproof spoons for hot mixtures. Stainless steel cooks' spoons work well for all others. Do not use wooden when melting chocolate (page 166); it absorbs moisture and may cause chocolate to seize.
Muffin tin measurements will vary. Use a size closest to the ones listed. They come in 6- or 12-muffin sizes. Fill about 1/2 to 3/4 full depending on the recipe. Muffin top tins are filled to the rim:
• Standard muffin cup is approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter and holds 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter.
• Giant, jumbo, or Texas-size muffin cup is approximately 3 1/2 inches in diameter and holds 1 cup of batter.
• Miniature muffin cup is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and holds about 1 tablespoon batter.
• Muffin top cup is approximately 4 inches in diameter but only 1/2 inch deep. Holds 1/2 cup batter.
Papers and Foil
• Parchment paper: I use parchment paper, also called baking paper, frequently because it is nonstick and allows me to remove the baked recipe from its pan more easily.
• Waxed paper: Waxed paper is essentially tissue paper that's coated with paraffin on both sides, supposedly making it greaseproof and moisture proof. It lets liquids soak through eventually, tears easily, and the wax will start to melt unless it's completely covered and protected from the heat. Many bakers use it to line the bottom of a batter-filled cake or brownie pan, but I prefer parchment.
• Aluminum foil: There is no difference between the shiny and dull sides -- I called the manufacturer and asked. It doesn't matter "which side is up."
Pie and Tart Pans
Standard pie pans are 8 or 9 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches deep. The two sizes are interchangeable. Deep-dish pies are baked in larger pans with deeper sides or baking pans or casserole dishes. Larger or deeper pans require additional dough and filling.
Standard tart pans are round, with a 9- or 10-inch diameter and 1-inch deep fluted sides and a removable bottom. I prefer tin-plated tart pans to black steel ones; they are easier to maintain and do not rust. Tarts are also baked in metal rings placed directly on a baking sheet.
Both straight wooden and straight stainless steel pins are highly recommended. Never wash your hardwood pin; wipe it thoroughly with a damp cloth after each use.
Sheet (Jelly Roll) Pans
There are two types of sheet pans, one for commercial use, and the other that can fit in a home oven. You'll see both types for sale. Home sizes:
10 1/2 - by 15 1/2 - by 1-inch
12 1/2- by 17 1/2 - by 1-inch
Spatulas and Scrapers
• Rubber spatula: I have them in multiple sizes. I mostly use them to scrape ingredients off the sides of bowls during mixing, for folding ingredients into a dough or spreading batter evenly in a pan.
• Offset spatula: the true spatula. A long metal blade with a rounded tip and straight edges, bent at an angle to be lower than but parallel to the handle; used to flip and transfer foods, lift edges to look underneath, and level dry ingredients for proper measuring. I also use it to loosen the sides of baked goods from the pan because it's thin and relatively sharp.
• Icing spatula: I like to use a 10-inch spatula for icing cakes. An icing spatula can be straight or offset, and only about 1 inch wide.
• Metal Spatula. A versatile utensil for flipping pancakes, removing cookies or corn bread from baking pans, and serving cake squares. The sharper the edge, the better.
• Bench or dough scraper: Used to scrape and lift dough from flat surfaces, for example pastry or cookie dough. A bench scraper is a small, rectangular (3 by 6-inch or 4 by 6-inch) stainless steel somewhat dull blade with a handle, available in cookware stores. If you can't find one, go to any paint or hardware store and pick up a 5- or 6-inch wide Sheetrock broad knife.
Strainers and sieves are bowl-shaped utensils with a perforated or mesh bottom and sometimes a handle, used to separate solids from liquids and to sift dry ingredients. I have from small to large.
A whisk has strands of looped wire attached to a long handle. I use a flat, straight whisk for making smooth sauces or cooked fillings because it can get into the corners of the pan. Balloon whisks are used for whipping and folding delicate ingredients by hand. I also have piano whisks in several sizes that I use to mix sauces or light batters as well as to do quick whisking.
Wire Cake or Cooling Racks
Essential. They are used to cool baked goods. Mine have a 3-inch clearance between the rack and the countertop; it prevents condensation from forming. The general rule is to remove the pan with its contents to the wire cake rack for 10 minutes before unmolding. This will help prevent the recipe from cracking or breaking because it's too hot. However, if you leave most baked goods in the pan too long after baking, they will sweat on the bottom and become nearly impossible to remove neatly from the pan.
For glazing baked goods I use a I-inch-high rack set in a parchment- or waxed paper-lined sheet pan.
Copyright © 2003 by Sarah Phillips