There is nothing more annoying than an insufficiently equipped kitchen. I’ve been through it all. Kitchens without any cake tins, mixing bowls or mixers. Kitchens without even enough space to spin around your own axis. Kitchens with broken ovens, gas ovens or other prehistoric ways of baking. It all can be charming, it can be fun and exciting, and once you’ve mastered your way through doughs and batters it’s easy to navigate yourself through sparsely equipped spaces. If you’re a beginner though, or got no clue about anything yet, it’s hard to not end up in frustration and throwing batter against the walls.
It’s a sad end to a thing that can be so fun: You haven’t got the right equipment, you get frustrated, you start hating baking, because it never works out, you quit it forever.
My kitchen evolution has been quite an interesting one, and I’d say that today I’m almost where I want to be in terms of equipment. The journey was long; I started at a constantly occupied student kitchen in Maastricht and continued to one with a frequently visiting mouse in New York. In Berlin I had an unfriendly roommate, who thought the kitchen was her property and got annoyed whenever I entered it. In Brussels, there was no equipment that looked even close to something you could bake with. Now that I’ve finally got to a place where I’ll stay for a while, I’ve slowly managed to stock up on the most essential things. Things that will help me not lose my mind when trying to prepare a meringue or anything baked from the oven.
Before you start a crazy online shopping haul: if shops are open in your country, go to a local bakery or kitchen specialty shop. It’s more sustainable than buying everything individually wrapped and shipped to you, plus you can look at the products, feel them and get advice to what will suit you best. It’s more fun, you support your local shops and you don’t only buy sustainable products, but you also buy them in an environmentally friendly way. Great, right!
1. Silicone baking mat
A silicone baking mat, is a robust, non-stick mat made from silicone that can be used for baking anything in the oven. You can cut it into shape, so it fits your cake tins, or you can place breads or buns on top. The best thing about it, besides saving you money, is that it’s sustainable. You won’t need reusable parchment paper anymore, which usually gets thrown away after one usage. You just grab the silicone mat, place it in your oven and bake on it, then you wash it and reuse it, easy.
2. Baking Beans
Many tarte or pie recipes call for blind baking. Don’t skip this step or your tarte will become soggy and pale. More on blind baking another time, but it’s easiest done with baking beans. These are ceramic pea sized beans that weigh down your dough perfectly and keep it from puffing up in the middle. They’re reusable for a very long time and don’t start smelling after a while, as would chickpeas or other beans that many use as a substitute.
3. Dough pin
I can’t even count the times I used an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin, because I didn’t have a proper one. It’s an ok substitute, but isn’t as efficient and easily manoeuvrable as rolling pins are. Even if you wrap the bottle in foil, stuff will stick to it and you’ll get annoyed quicker than you think. I use wooden rolling pins instead. Not those with a handle on each side, but just a simple pin that looks like a thick long stick. They’re my favourite and stay with you for ages.
There’s a bunch of friends or people I’ve met, who say they really dislike baking. When I ask why they say their cakes never work out, I find out they don’t have a scale, or a measuring cup but measure by eye. Won’t work guys! Sorry! If you’ve baked for years and years and are a great expert, then maybe you can estimate, but not at the start of your baking career. Therefore, do yourself a favour and buy a scale.
5. A good quality spring form
It’s easy to be cheap on springforms. You can find them at all supermarkets, 1-Euro stores and even at shops that sell things completely non-related to baking. The springforms you buy there might work fine for a couple of weeks, maybe even months, but at some point they’ll get rusty and bent and annoying. I bought my first, slightly pricier one, a few months ago and it makes baking so much nicer. It’s robust, easy to handle, and I know we’ll be companions for a long time.