Baking is big these days, or at least that's the vibe I get from some of my friends. I have a handful of friends and relatives who are not trained chefs by profession, but can bake a real kick-ass chocolate cake, perfectly delectable apple pies with apples fresh from the garden, sophisticated, beautiful fondant-covered birthday cakes, and pretty, luscious strawberry cupcakes. Then there is my husband, who makes the hands-down, best damn banana bread and red-velvet cake in the world! As for me, I am no baker, but I have a cultivated a small repertoire of goodies I have learned to make really well with practice: to-die-for chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies, an assortment of scones, chocolate crinkle cookies, orange-chocolate biscotti, and the latest, espresso brownies, using my own recipe. Cakes are out of my league though, I could never get it right; maybe because everything is too precise. Don't even talk about cake decorating! Once upon a time I made a cake with chocolate ganache frosting and decided to swirl some yellow icing on it. Though I'm quite a visual and artistic person and the design was clear in my head, executing it on the cake was another matter! My wrists hurt and the swirls were not going where I wanted them to go, and in the end I decided to remedy the disaster by swirling the yellow icing onto the ganache. I had thought making marble swirls would disguise the catastrophe, but when my kids saw it they promptly yelled, "Wow, look at that, a monster cake!" After that day, I put away my Wilton icing tips and never took them out again.
Lately though, all these talk of cupcakes, and icing, is well, making me hungry. Frankly, I could just buy a cupcake, but most of the commercially sold ones are overpriced and covered in artery-clogging Crisco. I wanted one covered in fresh, yummy real butter! The cupcake I have in mind is lemon poppy-seed, sweet and tart at the same time, slathered with buttercream icing. It will melt in my mouth and together the moist cake and creamy butter will be the sweet equivalent of a warm piece bread kissed by plain butter. Hence, I have done my research, and between Shirley Corrier (Bakewise) and Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), I think I am ready. This weekend, armed with some tips from my baker friends and a can of Wilton Meringue Powder (another tip I got from a couple of baking relatives), I will attempt to make a decent cupcake.
I have pure admiration for all these folks who have the artistic desire and skill for making something that is already sweet to begin with, even sweeter by being so pretty. It's a great way to release creative juices, and it's wonderful to have something so lovely to behold at the end (or beginning) of a meal. When the wonderful smell of baking scones fill my kitchen in the morning, the day is off to a great start.
Here, some worthwhile investments and tools for great, enjoyable baking.
A KITCHEN FIT FOR A BAKER
Baking includes some specialized tasks apart from regular cooking, as well as adequate storage for equipment. A minimum of 36-54 inches of counter space is desirable for mixing and kneading dough. Kneading dough or rolling out pastries requires more arm movement, so a lower, 32-inch high counter (36 inched is the standard) is more ergonomically correct for most users. This lowered countertop set-up is great as part of an island. You can have your island custom-made to include an end that is lowered to 32 inches, and keep everything else at the standard 36 inches. This mix of counter heights is also great for accommodating a variety of users; children included! As for countertop materials, natural stone and quarts are smooth and cool to the touch, good for working with dough. Granite should be sealed to protect from corrosive substances such as lemon juice.
Above: Photo credit: Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath Ideaswww.kitchenandbathideas.com
Special cabinet features like pull-outs make the best storage mixing bowls and pans. Small appliances like blenders and stand mixers are can also stored in an appliance garage (see picture below), where they can just be pulled out and not have to be lifted.
Left: Base Mixer Shelf Caddy by Kraftmaid Cabinetry
www.kraftmaid.com, Below: Photo credit: Elle Decorwww.elledecor.com
GREAT AND PRETTY BAKING GADGETS AND TOOLS
Williams Sonoma Buttercup Cakelet Pan by Nordicware
Bakes six festive mini cakes with delicate floral details
Kuhn Rikon Frosting DecoratingPen
Set includes three frosting cartridges, one color mixer, three filler plates, five decorating tips and a nozzle for filling cupcakes. Durable plastic construction. Hand wash. Uses two AA batteries, not included. 9½" with tip.
Slice Solutions Brownie Pan
No cutting needed. Just insert divider before baking and remove after cooling.
Heritage Bundt Cake Pan by Nordicware
Use this swirling cast-aluminum pan to create
Bundt cakes in the original 1950 shape.
Emile Henry Artisan Ruffled Pie Dish
Each pie dish is shaped from Burgundian clay, which absorbs, distributes and retains heat evenly, so pies bake and brown to perfection. The dish's generous proportions and scalloped rim make it ideal for baking deep-dish fruit and savory pies that will be served at the table.
Ateco Rectangular Revolving Cake Decorating Stand
Stainless steel ball bearings allow for smooth rotation,
so icing and decorating are easy. Durable aluminum
construction for years of use.
Zebra and Jaguar print Bake Cups, set of 32
Kuhn Rikon Dual-Chamber Squeezable Decorating Kit
Set includes a special dual-chamber bottle for two
colors at once, plus 1 tall bottle, 3 short bottles, 5
decorating caps, 5 steel decorating tips (round, ribbon,
leaf, star and basket-weave) and a frosting
spat—everything you need.
Floral (left) and Retro (below) Measuring Cups
$12 and $11, www.pier1imports.com
Makes a great gift for bakers!