Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Kitchen Materials

Previously, I wrote about how the type of whole wheat flour that you use can have a profound effect on the resulting baked item. The types of materials that you use can have a similarly strong impact on how your baked items turn out. In order to provide some insight into how I get my favorable results, I thought I'd share information on the materials I use and adjustments you may need to make if you use different materials.

A double batch of raspberry muffins. My oven has uneven heat distribution so I put the thicker walled muffin cups in the back where the oven is hotter.

Muffin tins:

I use stainless steel muffin cups. One set of 6 is thicker and better-made and the other is thinner and cheaper. I get good results with both sets, but am mindful of the baking time differences or positions when using the thicker ones. The thicker ones are slower to heat and therefore may require a few more minutes of baking times.

I also have a silicon muffin "pan" with 6-joined slots. I have tried making muffins in these and have gotten a poor result. It could be the properties of my particular silicon cups, but I have found that my whole wheat, sugar-free versions of recipes don't rise well enough in silicon cups. Even if the sides are ungreased, the sides don't "grip" and shorter, denser muffins are the result. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend silicon for my recipes. However, your results may vary.

Since I use individual baking cups, I can often space 6 cups on a baking tray with a lot of space between them. When I'm using a batter that uses frozen fruit, this may shorten the baking time because the very cold batter isn't resting in proximity to more cold batter in an attached cup. If you use a tin with joined cups, you may need to add a few more minutes to your baking time.

The same muffins baked and ready to cool. 

Pie pans:

I have two types of pie pans. One is a standard-size metal one with non-stick coating and the other is smaller tin with no coating that is about half the size of a standard pie pan. I have used both pie pans for making tarts and pies and have had good results with each. If you use a glass pie pan, there is a good chance you'll need a longer baking time because it takes longer for glass to heat up than metal, especially if it is relatively thick glass.

 My oven. Yes, it looks like a microwave, but it also bakes.

Cookie sheets:

My oven is a small combination microwave/convection oven. It is not a standard American or European-style "real" oven. Therefore, it has no built-in racks and can only accommodate specifically fitted ceramic cookie sheets which came with the oven when I bought it. They're square and rather thick. When I bake, I have to place whatever I am cooking on these sheets and heat does not flow evenly around them. The bottom is much slower to heat than the top because of this relatively thick ceramic sheet that I'm forced to use.

 An early experiment with baking in my oven just after I first bought it. Notice all of the unevenness (and the much cleaner cookie sheet). It has gotten better since then in terms of even baking.

If you are using a conventional oven with a wire wrack, you may find the baking times too long for you. If the bottom of your baked goods are getting too dark or if they are baking too long and drying out, you may want to place a cookie sheet under your pan. If you already use a cookie sheet and have a dry or too dark-bottomed result, you may want to stack two sheets or reduce the baking time.

On the rack. Note that using a butter knife to go around the edges of the tins causes me sometimes slice off the edge of the muffin when I'm being careless. You can see a slice that has fallen from a muffin in the back row.

Cake pans:

I rarely make cakes but favor muffins or cupcakes because they are easier to control portion sizes with, and I only have two very cheap, quite small cake pans which are heart-shaped. I picked them up at a 100 yen (like a dollar) store for a change of pace. I've only used these pans once, and had no trouble with them, but the same baking time issues apply when using a thin, metal pan as was mentioned with the muffin tins. If your cake pan is thicker or made of glass, you may need to adjust the baking time.

I occasionally make cakes (or brownies, but not sugar-free ones) in a square glass dish. This always requires a longer baking time because the glass is heavy and thick.

Loaf pans:

My loaf pans are heavy Pyrex dishes and require a longer baking time. They also do not brown the bottom of dishes very well. My baked oatmeal recipes are made in these particular pans and the tops always brown more effectively than the bottoms. If you use metal pans, you may find you require a shorter baking time than my recipes recommend.

The tins after the muffins are removed. I allow them to soak for about an hour and they come clean easily (I wash dishes by hand) despite having no non-stick coating and only the bottoms of the cups being greased.

Ramekins and casserole dishes:

I use ramekins and small casserole dishes that I have bought at the 100 yen shops. I doubt that there is much variation between such types of dishes, but more expensive ones might conduct heat more evenly and efficiently than my cheap ones. Overall, this should mean your dishes would bake more evenly than mine, but have little effect on the overall baking time (aside from the fact that I place my dishes on a ceramic sheet in my oven and therefore the bottom of these dishes take longer to heat up).

Cooking Spray/Oil applicator (spritzer)/pan greasing:

I used to buy cooking spray ("Pam") for my pans but it's very expensive in Japan and creates more waste. I bought a stainless steel oil spritzer and have been using that instead with Canola oil. This is the sort that you have to pump about a dozen times to force air into and then it emits a highly pressurized fine stream of oil. This works very well with my metal pans, particularly for the bottoms of my muffin tins. It seems to work less well with glass and I'd recommend spreading a solid fat (shortening, butter, margarine, etc.) onto glass baking dishes if you don't have conventional cooking spray. While I have used the oil spritzer on glass loaf dishes for baked oatmeal, I have to carefully sprinkle flour into it or the center of the baked oatmeal comes out too moist and a little gooey.

Mixing implements:

I use metal mixing bowls, a metal whisk and wooden spoons. Usually, liquid ingredients are whisked together then the dry ones are stirred in with a wooden spoon. I use the whisk for those ingredients which are unlikely to be affected by overmixing and the wooden spoon for the flour and baking powder.

I also have an immersion blender set for which I use the whisk attachment when dealing with eggs for souffles or meringue. This electric whisk puts more air in the eggs more effectively than a hand mixer and spares my wrist compared to using a manual whisk. However, you can use whatever works for you personally with no ill effects as long as you get the eggs to the proper peak stage.

This same immersion blender is what I use for pureeing soups and as a small bowl food processor. I don't have much room in my small Tokyo kitchen and the set with its mixer, blender, whisk, ice crusher, and food processor attachments allows me to work with one appliance that occupies the smallest space. The benefit of the small food processor is that it works well for creating things like oat flour (ground oats) in small amounts. The down side is that it doesn't have the best ability to grind or process dry foods to a fine sate. I have also used the food processor to make homemade unsweetened applesauce (stewed apples that are pureed), and it works well for this.

My little photo pals:

The little fellows who I use to spice up my pictures are also 100-yen shop finds. They're actually erasers that I can buy in 3-packs for 100 yen. They have no effect on baking times or evenness of cooking, but they do make me smile. :-)


  1. Those ovens are no laughing matter... they cost as much as a full oven with various bells and whistles..I like both actually, each one has a real learning curve... and.. I also have a Braun too, and it has a lot of miles, I honestly only use my big mixers when I need too, the Braun does such a great job.. and I just recently switched to a cordless mixer.. convenient, high powered and less clean up.. such a huge time saver. With the combo oven, our first was so expensive... as much as a viking, and it lasted for a LONG time, seven years, between all our moves.. it stood up. One day.. it broke....

    I'm still getting to know our ovens, having to download the english PDF version....aside of not being able to fit everything into the combo... they do, if not more, or just as much as the large oven I have...

    I bought my first addition Braun almost 9 years ago... (I think) and the first recipe I made was a Maryland Crab Dip....nom nom nom... but used Japanese crab meat...I'm a sucker for East Coast crabs and Old Bay Seasoning.

    I like your use of those tins.. what a great idea, and you can get a nice height too.

    OH.. and i burnt the hell out of our first Turkey... I was still learning the metric system.. (cough, cough) lol

    You know, my full size euro oven's are not THAT much bigger, I just like the size and the ability to throw in more racks, setting things to a broil.. and there was only two places out of the amount of years here that had in wall ovens.... so.. i'm blabbing here, as I could go on forever about baking and what not...

  2. I really miss having the ability to cook two trays of anything at once. In theory, I can cook two trays of cookies at once, but because of the heavy ceramic sheets, the one on the "bottom" (in the center) gets very little heat and I have to switch off an increase baking time. In the end, it's better to just do them separately.

    I also miss wire racks though. Heat flows around them so much better. I think every oven has a learning curve, but this one is trickier than even my old one (which was a similar type, but slightly bigger with metal fitted trays instead of ceramic).

    Thanks for commenting!