Over the years I have been uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin.
Currently, I have standing appointments with Ina Garten, Sandra Lee, and Alton Brown. They come to my home and demonstrate every technique imaginable while I assume a prone position, front-row-center in front of the television.
Or sometimes my coaches sit right there on my iPad screen, while they walk me step-by-step through recipes and techniques.
They’ve taught me the importance of three things: fresh ingredients, the right equipment and a lot of practice. Which brings me to the topic of today’s column: the right equipment.
We could go broke furnishing our kitchens with the ‘right equipment’ if we look to television cooks and professional chefs as examples—although I must say that my beloved Julia Child was the queen of using this-for-that. Just check out the photos in her classic tome, The Way to Cook. There are so many clever ways we can often use this-for-that and still get the same results.
Also known as a double boiler, bain marie technique means cooking over hot water instead of directly over the heat source. You can buy a beautiful copper-clad double boiler at Williams-Sonoma for $365—and spend the rest of your life polishing copper—or you can use what you have already:
Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and bring it to a boil; reduce the heat so the water is barely simmering. Place a metal bowl about the same size as the pot on top to make a bain-marie. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is suspended above the water level itself before you proceed.
Pizza or Baking Stone
Baking pizza and bread on stone produces excellent results. You can spend $200 for this stone insert for your oven, or fork over close to $100 for the FibraMent-D oven baking stone. Or, you can take about $5 to your local floor tile or home improvement center and buy unglazed quarry (terracotta) tiles, which will do a fine job. You can completely cover the shelves of your oven with tile and just leave it that way for all uses, or use one 16-inch square for bread and pizza. At less than $5 a tile, you’ll save a lot of dough.
Before you run out and buy every size of baking pan (8×8, 9×9, 9×13, 10×15) consider that you can probably use the size pan you have, provided you fill it correctly and you adjust the oven time and temperature accordingly. Regardless of the size of your pan, here are some filling guidelines:
- Cakes and cupcakes: Fill no less than 1/2 and no more than 2/3 full.
- Quick breads and muffins: Fill 2/3 full.
- Casseroles and soufflés: Fill no more or less than 3/4- to 1-inch below the rim.
- Pies: Fill almost to the top.
As for baking times, good cooks and bakers never rely on the times indicated in the recipe. They use them as guidelines, preferring to rely on visual indicators and doneness testers like inserting the blade of a knife into the center of a cake (if it comes out clean, the cake is done). And, when substituting a different size pan, one needs to be even less reliant on the printed guidelines as well.
Need more specific details? You will find a comprehensive Baking Pan Substitution Chart and details for how to measure a pan’s volume Baking Pans Substitution Chart.
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Photo credit: Pinterest
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