Baking 101 (Part 2)

In Part 1, I commenced my conversation with Nodee di with why baking excites both of us and then talked about ovens, especially how the microwave oven can be easily used to create amazing bakes. This time, we move into more equipment and ingredients…

Utsav:  Let’s move on to hardware, as Alton Brown from Good Eats would call it. What are the bare essentials in terms of equipment needed to start baking?

An assortment of bakeware (Courtesy : Good Housekeeping)

Nodee:  I’m guessing our bright-eyed baker would be into a variety of baked goods!

So for cakes: most recipes call for an 8 or 9 inch pan, but unless you are serving a party, go for 6 inch tins. These are easier to fill and layer for a few people. Any metal tin would do the job, but be mindful of the colour. The teflon coated black ones absorb more heat and cook faster!

A 8×8 square pan is crucial for brownies with crisp edges and gooey centres.

Invest in a springform pan with a removable bottom for perfect cheesecakes.

A removable bottom is also necessary for pie tins, whichever shape they maybe.

You can bake cookies in any large container, but you may also want a large flat cookie tray if you plan on making big batches.

I’ve also had good experience with silicon moulds: for cupcakes or loaves, these might be an easy alternative as you can do away with greasing or flouring the pan.

Other than these, you need baking paper, cling film and piping bags. If you want to decorate, you may invest in piping tips also. Don’t forget the all-important oven mitts! The mitts maketh a baker!

Piping bags

I had done a mini checklist here:

U:  So here I am standing in the baking aisle, with enough money for just one cake tin. What would the best buy be?

N:  I think you should go for the basic 6 or 8 inch baking tin. You can get cheap ones in bakery speciality shops for about 200 bucks. And if you want perfect quality, most supermarkets keep imported brands that are about 500-700 for a basic pan. A very important test: check if the bottom is even by placing on a flat surface, you don’t want crooked cakes.

Another appliance which is a bit costly but a must for anyone who wants to go past baking 101 is an electric whisk. You can whisk the basic cake by hand, but egg whites or buttercream would be murder.

U:  Yes I agree. An electric whisk becomes essential when it comes to certain applications like meringue or whipped cream. Where do you stand on the stand mixers, though? The price is enough to put most people off.

The Almighty Stand Mixer

N:  Well a kitchen aid is still a distant dream, but there are Indian brands selling stand mixers for about 5k, but if you ask me they’re more luxury than necessity. Other than buttercream which i don’t make very often, most things can be properly executed with the handheld one.

U:  And while we’re on whisks, another absolute essential is the rubber spatula. It’s quite cheap and makes life so much easier.

N:  Oh yes, the rubber spatula and the silicon pastry brush are something i would never let go of.

U:  No metal spatula can scrape cake batter or melted chocolate as effortlessly as a rubber spatula. And the pastry brush is perfect for coating baking dishes with oil or butter.

N:  Yes!

U:  As for silicon cake moulds, I’ve never really used them. I’ve used silicon moulds for chocolate and they’re super easy to use. When should we consider using silicon bakeware instead of the more conventional options?

Chocolates in a silicon mould

N:  Silicon is easier when the thing you are demoulding is small and/or finicky. Cupcakes, muffins, chocolates and mousse cakes are a good idea. Things that require a crustier exterior would do better with a metal touch: like cakes or bread.

U:  Alright, moving on to software. The good thing about baking is that the basic ingredients like flour, butter and eggs are staples in every kitchen. But go a little further down the list and things start getting complicated. Unsalted butter, heavy cream, 70 percent chocolate. Many of these are not easily available and when they are, they’re pretty expensive.

N:  Okay, let’s break it down.

You don’t need unsalted butter, though it’s available nowadays. Most sweet recipes call for added salt for balance. Just don’t add any salt. Though 70% chocolate or couverture is a luxury, this is also not a necessity even for a serious baker. Most dark compounds have 50-60% cocoa solids, and work just as well.

U:  Yeah for bakes I’ve almost always gone for salted butter. You do need some salt, especially in chocolate desserts.

Chocolate Tart

N:  Heavy cream is a BIG problem. The only reliable one I have found so far is an Amul whipping cream. The non-dairy ones available in bakery shops, i don’t like the aftertaste. There are a few hacks from the regular 25% fat cream though. Cream cheese also i make at home, as the imported or locally produced gourmet stuff is ridiculously overpriced.

U:  What hacks do you use for the heavy cream and the cream cheese? The price of the block of Philly cream cheese is what has hindered me from making a cheesecake to this very day.

N:   Shivesh has recently posted this recipe, and it’s what I’ve been following for the last 5 years.

When it comes to heavy cream, the first thing to remember is that we need to increase the fat percentage in the usual fresh cream (double cream) we get in the market. 

First, chill an unopened container till you use it. The 250ml tetrapack has about 100ml fluid which you keep aside. The rest you freeze in a metal or glass bowl, along with your whisk attachments. This helps in getting to soft peaks at least. For stiffer peaks, add about 50g room temperature butter per 200ml double cream and continue to whisk.

Another thing i used to make mistakes on: heavy cream needs to be beaten AT LEAST for five minutes till peaks start to appear. So patience is key!

And in warm weather, consider doing all of this atop a large bowl of ice.

U:  Excellent. Whipped cream and cheesecakes are a lot more within reach now.

Kiwi Cheesecake

N:  What I would suggest though: invest in good quality cocoa, yeast and gelatin. They make or break a dessert and don’t do well with compromise.

Next time, we will resume our talk with a discussion on cocoa, yeast and gelatin before moving on to other stuff. Do join us next time as we continue our conversation with the expert.


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