my home bakery
January 23, 2012 § 1 Comment
THE COOKBOOK – Do you skip reading the introductions of cookbooks and head right to a recipe you want to try? I usually do, but baking with the TWD group seemed to demand a little more discipline from me. So I did my reading homework before getting started (well, I cheated a little and made the White Loaves once) and read the first two chapters “Baking Basics” and “Batters and Doughs”. Baking Basics is worth a quick read before you get too far into the book. You’ll find all the terms, ingredients and basic techniques important to bakers in those first few pages. Leave Batters and Doughs for future reference. While these are the classic French baking components, it’s a bit intimidating to read instructions on how to make puff pastry, pâte a choux, croissants and three kinds of genoise all in one sitting!
THE OVEN – I have a single wall oven, so baking days and holiday dinners usually means a bit of hot juggling. I keep a rectangular baking stone and an oven thermometer in the oven all the time (except when baking sheets of cookies); they assure more even heating and accurate temperatures. I often place an old pie tin with some hot water on the lowest rack when I bake yeasted breads, to provide the steam for a good oven rise and well-browned crust.
ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT – Definitely your hands, a bowl scraper, a bench scraper or a bench knife (it’s sharp enough to divide many doughs and cold butter, but safer than a kitchen knife), and most of the items Julia listed in her Basics. One item that I consider essential, that she considered optional would be a digital kitchen scale, accurate to 1/4 ounce (or even 1/10th), with a capacity of at least 6 or 11 pounds (or even 13). It’s almost impossible to get consistent baking and pastry results when you measure by volume (cups) instead of weight, especially with a key ingredient such as flour which easily packs down despite your best intentions. You should be able to buy a reliable and durable scale for as little as $25. You’ll measure more accurately and quickly than when you filled and leveled cups, and get more beautiful and delicious results.
Of course, this means you need to commit a few conversions to memory, but they’re pretty easy to remember. Here’s a few to start with…
- 1 cup of flour weighs 5 ounces
- 1 cup of sugar weighs 7 ounces
- 1 cup of butter or oil weighs 8 ounces
- 1 cup of water, milk and many liquids weighs 8 ounces (not liquid sweeteners though; they’re denser/heavier)
When you’re weighing a new ingredient, just measure it by volume and weight the first few times until you remember the conversion.