Sunday, April 25, 2010

Essential Baking Equipment Part 2: Cakes, Pies and More

In part 1, we discussed some pretty basic ovenware, mostly for breads, muffins, cookies and the occasional casserole. In this baking equipment installment, we're going to start with cakes.

Layer Cake Pan
You can bake a cake in a square baking dish, but there's just something about a round one that screams, “I took extra time for you” when your baking a cake for someones birthday or other special occasion. You didn't actually take any extra time, of course, but they don't have to know that. Mine have solid bottoms, but I know many people who like the loose-bottom variety, making it easier to remove. I can see the appeal, but for the extra cost I don't see the need. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan, anyway. Butter and flour the pan well and you should have no problems removing the cake by placing a large plate or baking dish over the top and gently flipping it upside down. For that same reason, you don't need to invest in a nonstick surface, but you do want them to be solidly made. I recommend buying two.

Springform Pan
For those who don't know, a springform pan has a clasp on the side that opens up the pan and releases the bottom. They're much better than a regular cake pan for baking cheesecakes and other delicate cakes that can't be turned upside down to remove. Again, non-stick isn't necessary. A springform pan has to be greased and floured well, or lined with parchment paper, no matter what it's made of. Spend the extra money on solid construction, not unnecessary coatings.

These small ceramic baking dishes are really fun for making individual servings of souffles, custards and other dishes. Ramekins come in various sizes, the most common being about 3/4 of a cup,  and can be brought straight from the oven to the table. The larger ones are great for making French onion soup. They can be a little expensive, but keep your eyes open for deals, buying a few at a time as your budget permits, until you have enough for every member of your family and maybe a couple more for guests.

Pie Pan
Some people claim that metal is better than ceramic or ovenproof glass for pie pans. It's reported to give the pie a crispier crust, because the heat distributes more evenly. Understanding the physics of it, I'd have a hard time arguing with them. They may be right, but I've gotten good results with my Pyrex one for the last twenty years so I'm not looking at replacing it very quickly. Regardless of the material, though, plain sloping sides and a good sized lip of the pie edging is essential.

Quiche Pan
I've seen metal quiche pans with lovely fluted edges designed to strengthen the pastry shell. Most of them have a loose-bottom design so the entire quiche can be removed without breaking the crust and for easy serving. To be honest, I've never felt a need to buy one. I've only made a half-dozen quiches in my lifetime and my regular pie pan has worked  just fine for them.

Next time in Essential Kitchen Equipment, we'll cover roasting pans and such.

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