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, Ree Drummond, Molly Yeh, and Alton Brown. They come to my home and demonstrate every technique imaginable while I sit, front-row-center in front of the television. Or sometimes my coaches show up on my iPad right there on my kitchen counter, where 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 the late 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 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 produce excellent results. You can fork over a lot of money 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 will want tiles that are at least ½ inch thick. That is a pretty standard size and shouldn’t be hard to find. If you have any concerns about there being lead in the tiles you will want to contact the manufacturer to be sure. As long as the materials are things like “all-natural clay and shale” you are good. Concrete is not a good choice. Some of the tiles at Home Depot are called Saltillo tiles or pavers. Other places have other names. Fireclay is a manufacturer that makes lead free tiles. You may also have some small, local manufacturers if you look around your area.
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 tile that you use for baking bread and pizza. At less than $5 a tile, you’ll save a lot of dough.
Artist-style brushes are handy for all kinds of uses in the kitchen. Use them to apply an egg wash or spread glaze on pastries before baking, coat bread with oil or melted butter, or baste meat with pan sauces or a marinade.
Pro tip: Designate your brushes for sweet or savory applications. Even when you wash them well between use, you could still end up with a bit of garlicky flavor in your sweet pastry.
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 bread 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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