Equip yourself for success
Of all of the new hobbies people have adopted during COVID lock-downs and quarantines, I would venture a non-scientific guess that baking is in the top five. Remember when recipes for banana bread blew up? Beginning to bake is an exciting prospect: so many new recipes to try out, so many delicious treats to eat! When I first started regularly baking a few years ago, initially, I was confused as to what equipment I should buy. It seemed like each new recipe required a different type of pan or tin! I did not want to shell out hundreds of dollars buying equipment for a new hobby. I bought the basics and then saved buying the fancier tools, like stand mixers and food processors, for when I moved on to making more complex advanced desserts. Here, I hope to demystify the different gadgets and tools available to ensure a simple, straightforward, and cost-effective baking experience.
#1 Parchment Paper and Non-stick spray
There is nothing worse than making some delicious brownies and then being unable to get them out of the pan- a disaster at the last possible step! To avoid this, it is helpful to not only spray pans liberally with nonstick spray but also use parchment paper. After spraying the pan, I cut strips of parchment paper, about the width of a ruler, and then lay them in the shape of a cross, with a little bit of the paper hanging off the edges of the pan. I then pour the batter or cake mix on top. After baking, I run a knife around the edges of the cake and then pull up on the little parchment tabs to get the cake out. May you never have to hack out a cake from a pan ever again.
#2 Rolling pin
Yes, I know this seems almost stupidly basic. Yet, up until about two weeks ago, I did not own a rolling pin. For years, I just used an old wine bottle or an empty jar of peanut butter to rolling out pie crust or cookie dough. I thought this technique worked until I finally bought a rolling pin and realized what a fool I was! A small peanut butter jar doesn’t have the length and control of a rolling pin. My pie crust is much thinner, and ever since I started using the pin. This tool is also handy if you have to crush or break up anything for a recipe: think nuts, graham crackers, or Oreos. Please put the item in a Ziploc, seal it, and then go to town with the rolling pin. No need to buy a fancy one: a basic wooden or plastic one will do; even a clean, detached broom handle can do the trick!
#3 Metal sheet pan
Whether you call it a sheet pan, cookie sheet, or baking tray, this plan is essential. I use it for baking cookies, focaccia, tarts, scones, and biscuits. My preferred brand is Nordic Ware: their sheet pans are thick-bottomed and durable. The sides are high enough to avoid wet batter spilling out onto the bottom of the oven. There’s nothing a sheet pan can’t do!
#4 Two sets of measuring spoons and cups
It was a common occurrence: I needed a teaspoon of baking soda and reached for the measuring spoon, only to realize that I had already used it to measure the honey. Could I wash it? Yes, but I’m lazy, and I prefer to do my dishes after baking, not in the middle of it. Having two sets of measuring spoons and cups ensures that the measuring cup or spoon you need next is clean. These tools are cheap, and having multiple ensures a smooth baking procedure. One can never have too many tablespoons!
#5 9 x 9 metal pan
If you are going to invest in one baking pan, a metal 9 x 9 is the way to go. Most cake, brownie, and bar recipes call for one. I’ve also used it to make cheesecake, cinnamon rolls, pie, and ice cream sandwiches. The pan being metal means it heats evenly and will cook the product more quickly than glass, helping you avoid overcooked, dried out baked goods. As a wide vessel with tall sides, it is also useful for making and then cooling non-baked desserts: think pudding, ice cream, and icebox cakes. While spring-form and loaf pans are useful for particular desserts, the 9 x 9 can do almost anything.
With these tools, any beginning baker is well on their way to success in the kitchen. May your cookies, bread, and brownies are plentiful and delicious!