Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Here come the gadgets - Things you need and don't need to bake

So. On to Part Troix. The gadgets. I own every baking gadget under the sun (well, almost every), so I am going to divvy it up in three parts. Must have, Nice to have and Indulgences.

Must Have
One good pan
Please don’t buy cheap pans. They will not conduct heat properly and will warp in just a couple of uses. The right pan must be made of professional grade aluminum and should have straight edges. I would recommend Wilton since they are readily available. A 9 inch round is a good first pan to have. Calphalon makes dark pans and are fairly decent, but don’t have straight edges and the cakes don’t come out looking “clean and neat”. I have never found the need to go with silicone bake ware- they are wobbly and synthetic. They are not truly non-stick. Most come with instructions to grease them. Also, you will have to place the pan on a cookie sheet when baking because it is so wobbly. And these pans will never work for Angel Food Cakes – where you don’t grease the pan. Stick to metal. It’s natural. And real bakers don’t need silicone (pans).

One good hand mixer
Unless you want to get exercise and/or a sprained arm, it would be better to go with an electric hand mixer. There are many to choose from. I had a cheap Hamilton Beach that I bought for $15 a long time ago that served me very well. It has been passed on to the MIL now. Don’t use your regular blender or food processor. They don’t work in mixing air properly with the batter which is the whole point of beating/creaming.

One good spatula
Don’t underestimate its importance. A rubber or a silicone or even a wood spatula is a MUST for folding flour. Stainless steel works too, but I hate the grating npise it makes when you fold. Never use a hand mixer for this step.

One reliable oven
That heats to 350F when you turn the knob at 350F. Should not overheat or underheat.

One offset spatula
To spread frosting. They are cheap. They cost a couple of bucks and are invaluable when spreading frosting. Don’t try to do the job with a butter knife. You will not only leave fingerprints all over the cake, but the job will take twice as long and will frustrate you. For the longest time I thought this was an indulgence. But had I bought one before, it would have saved me hours of agony.

Nice To Have
Definitely more pans
If you are bored of baking in the same old 9” round over and over again, you might want to invest in a few more pans. If you have kids, muffin pans are most useful to make quick cupcakes. Calpahalon works well for Muffin pans. I always line them with paper cups. Bundt Pans are another nice thing to have. I would only recommend Nordicware. The pans are expensive, but are very handy when baking for a party or a potluck. Bundt Pans should be heavy. Since they have designs in them and have many nooks and crannies it is vital they are made of a good quality iron for even heat distribution. A 8x4 loaf pan is also nice to have to make quick breads and pound cakes served for tea. And of course a cookie sheet.

Piping bags and tips
For frosting cakes. I would tell you to not spend good money on the “decorating sets” they sell which has a piston like contraption. Decorating is hard with those because you don’t get good control over your motions. Invest in a set of piping bags a set of couplers and quality tips like Ateco or Wilton. Some basic tips to would be a open star to make stars and shells(Wilton#21, #28), a round(Wilton #3, #4), a leaf(I use Wilton #352) and grass (Wilton #233,#234). If you have kids – this will be used very often.

Even more cake pans
Square, heart, different sizes of round (my favorite pan is the 6”round). Character pans. The list is endless. I don’t do character pans – they are expensive, but if you plan ahead you can buy them on e-bay for less than half of retail.

A Stand Mixer
I have one of this and I debated a LONG time if this should go in the nice-to-have section. It probably would have, had it not been for the price. The stand mixer is used more than my food processor. I use my stand mixer every other day to make chapatti dough, mix batters for quick dosa or thalipeeth. It’s a life saver and needs no baby sitting. The best part is that it does not have a zillion lids like my food processor has so it saves on clean up and storage. I have the Kitchen Aid brand and I will recommend that because they don’t change the way their attachments couple to the machine. So attachments from 25 years ago will work on today’s Kitchen Aid and today’s Kitchen Aid will work with attachments 25 years from now. And yesh, the standmixer will also grind, slice and grate (you have to buy attachments).

All purpose flour works well in most cases. I generally use organic. You can even buy whole wheat pastry flour and that is delicious too, although you might have to go to specialty stores to buy it. For fine textured cake, you might want to buy cake flour. Swanson is the most popular brand in the US. I never buy self raising flour. I’d like to add (or not) my own leavening agents.

Butter should be unsalted. Salted butter has way too much salt in it. For sugar, use plain old granulated sugar. I have substituted Splenda for baking with excellent results. Don’t use brown sugar if the recipe calls for white. For frosting, use 10x confectioner’s sugar. That’s standard.

For the seven minute frosting, if you don’t feel comfortable consuming eggs that are not completely cooked, you can buy Meringue Powder (Wilton Brand) which is pasteurized egg whites. For Whipped Cream frosting that is fat free (you can also buy this in a can), you can buy sachets of stabilizers by Dr.Oetkar. Beat them up with cold skim milk and you get a nice mock whipped cream. You can find this in the baking aisle on the lower shelves (where they have boxes of instant mousse). I prefer this to cream in a can because the can is left in the fridge to expire.

So there! Hope you head out and buy pans and spatulas and make that cake you have been meaning to for a while.


desigirl said...

*bows deeply*

Tania said...

*Follows Desigirl in her bow"
So DotT , how long have you been baking and how often fo you bake?
Thanks so much for the cake series, especially the icing one.
I baked a strawberry cake yesterday but just topped it with coolwhip for icing purposes.This helps.So where do you get cheap decorating bags(or arethere reusable ones)?

choxbox said...

whoa. double whoa actually!

btw we did that california trip abt 5-6 yrs ago, with a kid similarly aged as chip. have almost identical pix :)

rayshma said...

oh boy!
i'm gonna touch ur feet when we meet. and probably stay there if u let me.

i shall PUCCA try... and YOU are responsible for me & vin gaining weight now!
p.s.: did i tell u that ur sour cream pound cake didn't see the light of the next morng? that is how much we loved it!

DotThoughts said...

deej: oh come on! :D I am just an amateur.

tania: I haven been baking for close to two decades now. Started decorating cakes about 5-6 years ago. Here's the post with my baking history

I bake in fits and spurts. Holiday season ofcourse and birthdays and anniversaries and just because. These days I mostly bake egg-free (son allergic to egg) and low-fat(husband has cholesterol) cakes and cookies and pies.

DotThoughts said...

chox: wanna see the pic. And its been a while since you came this way stranger!

raysh: I am so glad I have one more baker to join my force. Afterall when the alines invade we are the only ones that will save the world :) I have plenty of low fat recipes. egg-free too. This is the bulk of my baking these days.

DotThoughts said...

tania: do share your strawberry cake recipe! I tried one some years ago and it didn't taste the way I imgined it to. Cool Whip is very convinient. I personally find it a bit sweet though.

Preethi said...

now I know.. can you just move to Charlotte instead..

K 3 said...


Can you post/email me low-fat recipe - honey wont touch the cake otherwise. Would like to try one out before my deathbed - at least just to say "Did that" :)

ddmom said...

Wow! So many nitty-gritty details just to choose the pan, I would have never guessed. Good time to buy a hand mixer I guess.
LOL on K3's and rayshma's comment. I have baked just the base many times, but never once tried the icing.. I will try and will not spare you from the pix, not matter how it turns out.

Rohini said...

*Bows deeply, touches feet and genuflects in the presence of the domestic goddess*

Anonymous said...

I am going to print this and file it. You are a true inspiration.


Mystic Margarita said...

More feet-touching coming up! You know what, you are doing people like me who are err...challenged in baking skills...a huge service. Off to catch up on the previous posts!

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

WOW, thanks for taking the time to write out such details!
LOL on the silicone ;)

Suki said...

Ha, no wonder my cakes turned out better E.V.E.R.Y time I mixed them by hand! Everyone told me to use the blender and save effort, which is when they stopped rising properly :P
I used a wooden spoon, no electric hand mixer available.
:sort of experiencing a series of epiphanies with your baking posts:

DotThoughts said...

Preethi: I love NC! I have a friend who lives in Cary.

K3: Coming up. Lots os lowfat recipes I have.

ddmom: I want to se the decorated cake. You know buying a pan is like buying a cooking utensil. Gotta reasearch :) Although I have to say, clay pots make very nice pans. and unusual looking cakes too. So do empty coffee cans.

Ro: puhlease. I am far from it :)

Nithu: I am glad you enjoyed the posts adn found them useful!

Mystic: there is this aura of mystery around baking. bakers are these esoteric people.. Nothing is easier than that. It's all math.

gnd: trust you to catch THAT. :D:D

suki: A lot of people think batter is just mixing, but a blender does not mix air. I am so glad about the epiphanies.. you have discovered your inner baker :)

Ananva said...

So what about my wish list for a spring form pan and a candy thermometer and a mandolin etc. etc...??? I have refrained from buying all these knowing that I have only one coffee cake recipe which could use the springform and that I have managed well without it. The other 2, I just dream of making goodies that I haven't yet:)But still, it will remain on my wishlist for sure!!

DotThoughts said...

ananva: yay! you go gadget girl. I have a candy thermometer and yes it is useful simply because you don't need to drop blobs of hot sugar syrup in bowls of cold water to determine which stage it has reached. Especially if you make fudge or chikki. I want a mandoline too, but the good ones cost about $80. I have the FP I use for bulk slicing/shredding/grating and have a set of very expensive knives(I paid > $500 for the set) so I really cannot justify the mandoline :). I think springform pans are overrated. You don't need them, even for a cheesecake. They are not exactly water proof and the water from the bain-marie will seep into it while baking cheesecakes.

noon said...

Dottie - copying Rohini's comment!
Wow wow wow! Please post a picture each time you make a cake!

I need to first figure out how to clean our oven enough to be sure that is a functioning one - it is not a self cleaning one from the looks of it!

And with so many people falling at your feet, I am going to call you
Mata Dotthought!

Lol on the Silicon (pans)!

And Mandoline? Over rated springform pans? You two cake gurus throwing jargon at us like this! Tch Tch! :)

Neera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neera said...

Wow!! On the baking trilogy!! I have announced to hubby that I am going to bake a super duper cake next week for Jiya's first b'day , thanks to a blogging buddy (for us at home only, let me spare any gusts from the first time experiment, well not first time but certainly after a long time from scratch) and shall be visiting awesomely helpful posts of ur often. However I discovered yesterday that my hand blender stopped functioning, its basically stuck and not rotating :( - any ideas on what I can do (just thought may be u know), otherwise how much time should I be beating with hand.

DotThoughts said...

noon: its not rocket science and did i tell you its addictive?

neera: the victorians made fluffy sponges without hand blenders. so yes, it can be done. use a thin wooden or plastic spoon with a comfortable grip. Use a large mixing bowl so you get plenty of room to move and using circular motions cream away. The butter+sugar is cramed when the it is light and fluffy. the butter changes color from yellow to cream.

bird's eye view said...

hey how about springform tins? My indispensible baking aids?