Monday, November 23, 2009

Have and Have Nots

Many people say that your finished product is only as good as the tools you use.

I guess this might be true. Maybe for painting? I don't know. I haven't painted in years.

Knitters sometimes argue about it. I'm OK with using my Boye Needlemaster while people are using their KnitPicks Needle Set DuJour or their Efficient German Needles. My knitting doesn't come out unbearably crappy because I use cheap-o needles.

I promised I would go over my "must have" tools for my campaign for people to Just Bake It.

I was inspired to do this by reading the post Joy the Baker did a few weeks ago.

While I agree with some of her choices, I don't with others.

And if you've baked, you'll do the same with mine.

The underlying message I'm trying to promote here is that it doesn't matter.

Just Bake It.

That what you will from this list.

Substitute as necessary.

And keep in mind 90% of my baking is cookie related. Although the tools really don't vary too terrible much between say cookies, bread, cake/cupcakes, etc.

First up--a mixing bowl.

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You don't need a ton of mixing bowls. I have basically one that I use all the time. It's just a simple melamine bowl that was given to me as part of a three-piece nesting set from Williams & Sonoma. Oooo! So chi-chi! Whatever, if it hadn't come in a Williams & Sonoma gift bag, I would have never known. It could easily be a dollar store bowl.

I love it--it's not too big, it's not too small.

It's also nice to have measuring spoons and cups.

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These are another set of cheap items you can go all out on or buy at a dollar store. The only thing I hate about my measuring cups are they don't emboss the sizes on there. They're painted and as you can see they wear off after time.

Sometimes when I'm feeling lazy, I'll just eyeball a fractional cup by using the 1 cup sized cup instead of dirtying up the 1/3 cup or 1/2 cup measuring cup. Oooo! I'm going to baking hell!!

If you're a cookie maker like me, the cookie sheet is a must-have.

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I've got two. One is a cheapy chicom sheet and one is a chi-chi Williams & Sonoma one (part of that same gift I got the bowls). Technically I think the Williams & Sonoma pan is a jelly roll pan since the sides are bigger.

But as far as I know, no one has died eating my cookies baked on a jelly roll pan instead of a cookie sheet.

My next must-have is my beloved apron.

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It's nothing fancy. It's one of those craft-store "blanks" that I bought probably 8 or 9 years ago and puffy-painted up with ladybugs.

Now that I've tamed The Beast (my sewing machine) I've thought about maybe making myself a cool new apron.

But the truth is, I just love this one so. Why mess with a good thing?

One thing an apron must have for me is a bib. Those cute little half-aprons that just tie around the waist don't cut it for me.

These next few items are nice frivolities. You don't need them to bake, but I find life easier with them.

Boopsie, my hand mixer.

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You can certainly bake WITHOUT A MIXER OF ANY KIND. I did it for years. And then I started lusting after those sleek Kitchenaid stand mixers.

You know the ones that come in all those kicky colors and have all those cool attachments?

But the reality of the situation is, I don't have the counter space to devote to a stand mixer.

Nor the money to drop $200+ on a kitchen tool. So for our anniversary (4th, or maybe 6th??) Dr. Mad Scientist gave me a Kitchenaid hand mixer.

I didn't think I would like it as much as a stand mixer.

But I was wrong.

LOVE THIS THING. You don't have to sit there scraping shit off the sides of the bowl and you get more control over the mixing because you're doing it yourself. And although I've never used any other hand mixer, I've read that the Kitchenaid ones are pretty durable and this one will sort of "change gears" when the dough you're mixing becomes stiffer to compensate for the stiffness.

Now? If you gave me a stand mixer, I would turn you away. No interest in one whatsoever. You can keep it.

This next "nice to have" thing is my dirty little secret. You know all the cheapassedness and recycling I do? Well I have a weakness.

That weakness?

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Parchment paper. I'm addicted. I love it. I'll use a sheet on each cookie sheet for each batch of cookies I make and reuse it til the dough is baked up.

Some people swear by those Silpats. That was also a part of the baking gift I received the jelly roll pan and mixing bowls. And I HATED the damn thing.

In my opinion, they're a bitch to wash, they never feel clean and I always got really spready cookies with them. Yuck.

They're expensive too from what I can tell. If you have the income to spare, I guess try it out. But I'll keep using my beloved parchment paper. And hey, there is a coupon inside the package for $1.00 of your next purchase of two rolls. Ha ha!

(As a side note: You can live without parchment paper or a Silpat--the butter wrapper or a small pat of shortening/butter/spritz of non-stick spray works just as good!)

The next tools are a cooling rack and a metal spatula.

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A metal spatula (or metal turner as the Home-Ec teacher in middle school told us was the correct name for this implement) is a must have. However, what you see in this picture is a teeny one that's about 1.5" x 4". I find it's the perfect size for getting under my cookie without disturbing the neighboring cookie.

I believe this was a freebie "hostess" present Grandma Mad Scientist got for hosting a Pampered Chef event. I never buy any of that stuff--but she gave it to me for Christmas one year. The handle is a bit melted and I know I'll get misty if it ever dies/gets lost.

In this picture you'll also see my beloved cooling rack.

Again, not necessary. I baked for years without one. But it provided Dr. Mad Scientist with a great Christmas (or Mother's Day or Birthday or Anniversary) gift opportunity where he could spend less than $10 on something and make me a very happy woman indeed.

Finally, for the cookie-baker there is the cookie scoop.

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I used to have one of those cool ones that you scoop and then squeeze the handle and it released the dough ball. Mom got it for me with her Joann's employee discount way back in the day I believe.

But the spring gave out and it broke.

So I resorted to using a melon baller.

Sometimes I muse why I even own a melon baller.

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But it provides the perfect size cookie when you use the big-ball side.

Again, not a necessity. A regular spoon works just fine for stickier doughs and your two hands are easily used to roll out stiffer doughs into cookies.

There you have it. My list.

Again, you'll think of other must-haves, or scoff at what I think is a must-have. But that's OK.

As long as we're all out there...

Just Baking It!

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25 Comments:

Blogger Brena said...

Good list! I hate the lists that claim that you absolutly must have a cookie scoop or you die a thousand baking deaths. It's nice to have sure, but I've been baking for many years without one. You can easily go to the dollar store and spend $5 and be baking in no time!

Although a cookie scoop would make a fantastic stocking stuffer. Must tell the husband.

8:51 AM  
Blogger knottygnome said...

i'm convinced that the only people who own kitchenaid stand mixers are those who received one as a wedding gift. and most of them never use it.

i will say my hand mixer gets tiring to use after awhile. but maybe it's b/c i have a cheap one.

i really want some cooling racks. maybe i'll ask santa for some.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Tactless Wonder said...

I was yearning for my old cooling racks yesterday...No idea where in all my movings they got to.

But one kitchen tool that is the bomb for baking cut-out cookies, pie shells, etc: A $2 rolling pin! Basically a fat scrap of a dowel that does the job for me (after a little sand paper and mineral oil).

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good list! I have converted to the paper to bake my cookies on. I still don't have a really good mixer, I still do most of it by hand. Love, Mom
Ps: Lots of shortening in pie crust and just a little cold water.
Pss: When making that sugarfree apple pie splenda will work wonders.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I have a cookie scoop that the bottom is some kind of rubber stuff that you can push in with your thumb and out pops the dough. LOVE IT!

9:52 AM  
Blogger lisa said...

another fan of the parchment!

my stand mixer was a gift from my mom. i love it and use it at least weekly. yeah, it was a BIG gift, but it's lasted 15 years and is still strong. thanks, mom!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

My Delonghi mixer was a Xmas gift a few years back. I lurve it.

And I completely agree on the silpats. I've got a couple and I hate them. I'm parchment all the way.

We have the same measuring cups. :)

11:24 AM  
Blogger Donna Lee said...

Ok, I own a kitchen aid stand mixer and the hand one. We bought the stand mixer 26 yrs ago (before the kids came along and used up all of the disposable income!) I love it for lots of things and I use it all the time. Is it a necessity? No but I love it. The hand mixer was a surprise gift years ago (probably 15 or so)and it's strong enough to do anything the stand mixer does, except maybe bread dough kneading. They are so well made they've lasted for so long. I've baked without them but I'm so glad to have them! (and I agree with you on the parchment paper. I've used waxed paper in a pinch but it smokes up the house)

11:28 AM  
Blogger Jo said...

So, what were you making with the chickpeas? I have a standing mixer, and I have to say I rarely use it because of my scant counter space. It's so much easier to whip out the hand mixer. I bought the best mixing bowl at IKEA recently - I think it was $4 or $5, but it is tall - about 10". My complaint with my existing bowls is the stuff I was mixing would fly out of the bowl and get all over everything. I love parchment paper, too - I just wish I could buy pre-measured sheets so I didn't have to cut them down to size every time!

11:37 AM  
Blogger DPUTiger said...

Another parchment person here. I love my cooling rack and have a KA stand mixer that I bought myself and use regularly (sorry knottygnome!). I use it for most of my baking, but for my chocolate chip cookies, I always mix by hand in the yellow mixing bowl I inherited from my grandmother. I have got to get baking again.

As for tools in general, I believe in the value of good tools, but I also believe that the really nice ones are indulgences and there's nothing wrong at all with entry-level stuff.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list! I love this time of the year because I do lots of cookie baking & candy making. I'm still old school with mixing by hand...works my old lady arms. I have one cookie sheet that I really don't like. It's an Air-Bake & it doesn't work as well as my plain, old metal ones. Seems like my cookies are always underbaked when I use that sheet. Love my Tupperware measuring cups...had them forever(they are a burnt orange color!). They have the size embossed on the little handle. Love, Aunt Susan

12:13 PM  
Blogger janna said...

I bake a lot, but I don't have a dedicated cookie scoop - I just use a pair of spoons. I also rarely wear an apron. And while I agree with you that, for cookie baking, a hand mixer works fine, I really like my stand mixer (yes, it's a Kitchen-Aid - I got it after my Sunbeam died after about 20 years) for things like meringue or cakes where you need to beat in a lot of air, or for things that need to be beat a long time. Also, if your butter is straight from the fridge, it will soften it up in no time flat!

1:06 PM  
Blogger weezalana said...

I have one of those Kitchenaid Mixers. It was a wedding gift (knottygnome makes a valid point!). You think your sewing machine is a beast? This thing is monster heavy and huge. And I think I've used it maybe three times in the last six-and-a-half years. Sure is pretty, though.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Woollycraft Workshops said...

I'm with you on the apron, just putting mine on makes me efficient!

1:37 PM  
Blogger Zonda said...

Hee I just bought hubby a hand mixer, as he doesn't like using my stand mixer. I keep it in a cupboard, and long for the day I can keep it out, might be why I don't bake as much as I used to. Love the parchment paper too! Just bake it, love that statement.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Crafty Christina said...

I also have those measuring cups and got them recently on the cheap. I was given 3 hand mixers for my second wedding, haha! One already broke and I use the other 2, depending on which I can find first.

I don't have a cookie scoop...I just use a tablespoon. Also, oddly enough, I don't own an apron, though having one would be nice.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

Heh. Maybe they put dollar store stuff in the Williams' Sonoma bag? It's the kind of thing some of my relatives would do....

6:01 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The only reason I think good tools can be important is because it's fun for me. None of the high-end cooking toys made my food taste any better. You know I'm all about my tag sale Pyrex bowls. I will say my super-size cooling rack was worth whatever I paid for it (at TJ Maxx). And I am considering trading in my teaspoon for the melon baller.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Impressive! I'm probably the laziest baker around - I think the little refrigerated cookie dough rounds are the greatest invention ever. I even got excied when I saw a brownie pan at Walmart that has a removable bottom (so the brownies will slide right off) and a metal grid thing to cut the brownies into perfectly even squares. Yes, I have a thing about my cookies/brownies, etc. all being the same size. I even prefer microwave pancakes over homemade ones, because they're all perfectly round and the same width.

My husband said if I had lived during colonial times, I'd have been stoned to death, for not being hopeless in the kitchen, ha, ha! He might have to take that back though, because I'm actually kind of sort of starting to enjoy cooking (not baking, just cooking). I'm a lot better at it then when we first started living together, and all I could make was Hamburger Helper. I've even (gasp!) been lusting over food processors lately!

9:32 PM  
Blogger Coco, not as in Chanel :) said...

I don't use parchment paper or a scoop, but everything else is a yes, well except the hand mixer. I have one, but dont' use it for cookies - only for cakes, and only when I feel like pulling it out of the drawer. Oh hell, really the only time i use it is when i make mashed potatoes. :)

I love Joy the Baker. She cracks me up and makes normal food. She's cute as a button too!

Baking is one of my favorite things. Love it!!!

Here is a tip for pie crust: use wax paper on the bottom and top while you roll it out. It will work, I swear to you it will.

My big thing I am going to try making while on vacation is bagels. I want to see how they turn out.

I do not fear the oven or the cookie sheet. Baking is my friend :)

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with the pie crust!
(from a former bakery prep-cook)

9:31 AM  
Blogger Rebel said...

Hi Boopsie!

I always heard it said that "A poor craftsman blames his tools". I think it's a combination. If you don't know what you're doing, or don't take care to improve your skills... the product will be crap no matter what tools you use. But the right tools can make it easier to take your skills to the next level.

I am 100% with you on the apron (without the bib - what's the point??) and the cooling rack. The cooling rack really does allow baked goods to cool without getting soggy.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Rebel said...

knottygnome.... you need to come to my house (at some unspecified date when I actually have a house) and I will show you all the things that Betty (my kitchenaid mixer) does for me. And I spent my very own money on her!

10:39 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

I love parchment paper, it's the best surface for cookies in my kitchen!
I also love my kitchenaid stand mixer. I love it. I need to replace some of the destroyed accessories but it is used often here. I have the smaller version of it and yes indeed, it matches my nifty aqua stove and fridge and makes me darn happy to look at. Funny that my hand mixer went the way of the water and I do not miss it at all.
I use two spoons to scoop my cookies but I am not baking them all that often.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

I broke both beaters on my stand mixer after about a year. That was ok with me because I never could get the bowl to spin slowly enough unless I stood there and held it. It flung batter all over the kitchen. I did without power tools for many years, but I do like a hand-held power mixer. Tip o' the day: I keep a measuring cup right in the flour and sugar. You don't have to get one dirty. The half cup size works best.

8:01 PM  

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