I’ll never forget when my niece interviewed me for a school project. The interview took place maybe 4 years ago or so, when my business was located in Stow. She asked me a series of questions, the child-like kind of questions that were both adorable and surprisingly on-point. One question stumped me: What is the most important tool I use every day?
I could have listed at least ten different items:
- My phone
- My laptop
- A scale
- Pen & Paper
- A calculator, with my finger on speed-dial to my father just in case I needed help making sure I was doing the ‘right math’
- Cookie scoops
- Gloves – both for working in the kitchen & the purple kind for doing dishes
- Baseball hats
- Spatulas, rubber & offset
This morning, I happened to think once again about my niece as I walked into the bakery. She recently had her Bat Mitzvah (or, as my Rabbi always points out, ‘she became at Bat Mitzvah’…don’t want to upset anyone on the morning of Passover). She and her cousin baked and sold muffins and cupcakes to raise money to help send girls to camp for her mitzvah project. She has always been fascinated by baking, which of course, I love. We gave her a necklace as a present, but I’m working on something else for her: A baking essentials kit.
What I’ve realized throughout the process of hunting & gathering baking stuff for her is that I left off two very important items on the ‘most important tool’ list.
The first is cookbooks. Knowing you’re using a reliable recipe can make the difference between feeling like a baking hero or feeling like a frustrated wannabe stuck with a sink full of dirty dishes and nothing to show for it. I always assume the recipes I find online or in cookbooks will work…if they’re ‘published’ and put out there by ‘real professionals’, why should I think otherwise? What I’ve realized however is that those ‘professionals’ make mistakes just like the rest of us humans. They forget to list eggs in the recipe, or the eggs are listed, but they are not included in the directions. Oven temperatures can be wrong and ‘recommend baking times’ can ensure you’re going to have a brick come out of that oven instead of a cake.
Here’s my first baking tip of the day: The best information comes from your friends: ask them to recommend a good recipe or cookbook, and trust me…you’ll get an honest answer. If you don’t have friends, or you don’t have friends who like to bake, look online and sift through the comments. We bakers love to share our successes and failures – the ‘review’ section of recipes found online always contain a wealth of vital information. You will very quickly find out whether you should skip the recipe and move onto another one, make the recipe ‘but reduce the amount of salt’, or make the recipe and hide the finished product from everyone in your family because the results are so damn good. This is my go-to cake cookbook…the recipes are outstanding, the instructions highly detailed, and the variety of recipes provides endless options.
The second item I should have listed is parchment paper. Parchment paper, like gloves, is one of those things I take for granted. I could not live without it. We use it on every single sheetpan for everything we bake. When we used to make cakes, we used it to place on the bottom of the cake pan to make it easier for the cakes to release from the pans. We use it to make paper cones, to line the tables when we’re drizzling to reduce clean-up time, to protect the tops of freshly baked cupcakes before wrapping them with plastic wrap, and for an impromptu ‘white’ background for quick facebook pictures.
Here’s my second baking tip of the day: I would recommend skipping the rolls of parchment and buying pre-cut sheets, such as this box of 50 sheets from King Arthur Flour. The rolls of parchment paper are beyond frustrating and should be avoided like the smell of scorched chocolate.
If you have any baking questions, please feel free to send me an email. We bakers have to stick together, and I am always happy to do whatever I can to help.