Well, despite the fact that I’ve been cooking this week, I haven’t been cooking anything new or exciting… life has been busier than normal (my sister was in town staying with us last weekend, and my favorite Southern belle is making a last-minute trip to visit me this coming weekend), and that has resulted in sticking to the basics when it comes to dinner. When I get super busy, I tend to stick to meals that I’m familiar with, because then I can count on them being easy, quick, and delicious (and I can also count on them producing leftovers for my husband to take to work) – so that has meant things like chili, pasta, and even easier stuff like salads and quesadillas. In other words, not much that I haven’t already shared here.
However, in preparation for Crist’s arrival, I will be doing some baking, and I figured that if I’m going to share one my favorite cookie recipes with you all, then perhaps I could first share some of my favorite baking TOOLS. There are many items that I use while baking that are really important to me (a stand mixer, high-quality measuring spoons and cups, good rubber spatulas, etc), but I wanted to focus on a couple things that are less obvious, and that people are less likely to have already.
First up, an oven thermometer. Sure, it probably seems a little silly to put a thermometer in your oven, when your oven is built to read its own temperature… but you might be surprised to know that the vast majority of ovens run either hot, or cold. So, when you think you’re baking something at 350°, there’s a good chance you’re actually baking it at 335°, or 370°. An oven thermometer is an easy way to make sure the temperature reading on your oven is accurate – and if it’s not, you can then adjust accordingly. The style that I have looks like this:
It just hangs on one of the racks in the oven, and doesn’t interfere with anything at all. Since my oven seems to run pretty accurately, I mostly use it to determine that my oven is actually preheated to the appropriate temperature when it says it is. A lot of ovens will beep that they’re preheated and ready, when they’ve really got a ways to go to hit the desired temperature; the oven thermometer helps you determine if your oven is ACTUALLY ready.
More than anything, having a thermometer in your oven helps ensure accurate baking results, time after time. I know that my oatmeal coconut cookies will turn out the same every time, because I’ve determined through a lot of practice that they’re just perfect after baking for 8.5 minutes, right at 350°. It’s a small investment that can be a huge help in the kitchen!
Secondly, I am a huge fan of using silpat liners for your baking sheets (speaking of which, I prefer to use rimmed baking sheets when I bake, instead of traditional cookie sheets… just personal preference). Silpat liners are basically parchment paper on steroids. Parchment makes me nuts because it’s always too big and needs to be cut down to fit my baking sheets, and I have to try and keep it from curling up at the edges, and I run out all the time. Silpat liners can be used over and over again, they lay nice and flat, they’re designed to fit perfectly and neatly on a rimmed baking sheet, and NOTHING sticks to them. NOTHING. I have been known to pull the final sheet of a batch of toffee cookies out of the oven as I’m running out the door, and they sit on the baking sheet for hours longer than they should – and if I were using parchment (or had just greased the sheet pan), that toffee would cool and harden, and my cookies would fall apart as I was trying to remove them later because the toffee bits would stick to the paper or pan. Using the silpat liners, ALL types of cookies pop right off, whether they’re still warm, or have been cool for 3 hours. Awesome. A quick rinse with hot, soapy water, and they’re ready to go again! (As a side note, I don’t wash them in between sheets of cookies – I will do an entire day of holiday baking without washing them, and just wash them when I’m totally finished.)
At $20 a pop, they’re a bit of an investment up front – but they’ll last for YEARS, and are so much more useful and convenient than a $4 roll of parchment paper that will run out after 5 batches of cookies.
And there you have it! Two of my (many, admittedly) most useful baking gadgets. I’ll be back here tomorrow to share one of my VERY favorite cookie recipes with you all!
Crist told me if I didn’t bake cookies for her, she wouldn’t visit,
*Both images from their respective Amazon.com links.