This is an admittedly incomplete list of equipment that you may find helpful when baking and cooking. I will describe some of the more unusual items here and let you know whether you really need them or not. If you would like me to review a particular piece of equipment, let me know in the comments below or contact me on Twitter or Instagram.
Using the Oven
Please keep in mind that every oven is different. This means that the baking times in my recipes have to be followed with caution – your oven might work differently from mine. I suggest that you start checking regularly on your baked goods some 10 minutes earlier than the baking times specified in my recipes.
One easy way to check whether your cake, cookies, or bread is done, is by sticking a wooden toothpick into them. If the toothpick comes out dry, you can take your baked goods out of the oven. If the toothpick has dough still sticking to it, keep your baked goods in the oven for a little longer.
When it comes to pizzas, tartes, pies, etc., another reference point is the color: Simply check whether the dough is starting to brown. Once it is golden to golden-brown, it is usually time to take your food out of the oven.
In any case, practice makes perfect! Do not be afraid to try and follow your instincts. After a few attempts, you will know your oven better and will be able to judge baking times more easily.
As the name indicates, it is indeed a disk made of stone or ceramic that you put on your oven rack. As you preheat the oven, the stone soaks up the heat and retains it.
You put your food (whether bread, pizza, or any other item) directly onto the hot stone which then passes the heat on, thus creating a crunchy crust.
Pizza stones are mainly used in baking pizza and bread because the heat of the stone helps the loaves to leaven faster and makes the bottom side of the bread (or pizza) crunchy. The stone also helps to bake the dogh faster.
In any case, this is not a must-have item. You can make perfectly nice pizzas and bread rolls without a pizza stone. I baked for years without having one! I only bought a pizza stone recently and would recommend a purchase only if you are a frequent pizza and/or bread baker.
It is also called “brotform” or “banneton” and it is a useful tool to ensure that the loaf keeps its shape and structure as the dough rests and leavens. By now, proofing baskets are available in every shape and size.
Before you put the loaf into the basket, sprinkle it with flour so that the dough does not stick to it.
As with the pizza stone, proofing baskets are a nice tool to have if you are baking bread regularly, but when I started, I simply formed loaves with my hands and that worked fine as well. So, do not fret if you do not have a proofing basket – you do not necessarily need to buy a professional proofing basket. I only bought a traditional breadbasket a while ago and use it both as a proofing basket and to serve bread at the dinner table and it works just fine.
Food Processors (like the KitchenAid)
As you may know already, I have dreamed about owning a KitchenAid for years. I now own one and frankly do not know how I lived my life without one all those years. But then again, I might not be entirely objective here…
Any type of food processor is perfectly fine, though. They have the advantage that you can set the machine to a constant speed and let it knead the dough for you as long as you need.
But do not worry if you do not have one (they are quite expensive after all and you need to have enough space in the kitchen). You can use a hand-held mixer as well or, if you have the patience and the stamina, knead your dough by hand. I used a hand-held mixer for years and my cookies and cakes turned out nicely as well. 🙂
When you use a kitchen machine to knead dough for bread, always knead it at the lowest speed. It is better to knead the dough a little longer but at lower speed – especially sticky doughs like the ones based on whole grain. Check the manual to make sure you are using your machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.