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Bake a lot?

(article, Amy Ahlberg)

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Wintertime, in many home kitchens, is baking time. You may have already discovered that your cookie sheets are looking a little warped, or your cake pans a bit rusty. Or your goodies are turning out too dark, or too bland, or just not what you had hoped.

What do you really need in a kitchen that bakes? Matt Lewis — who, with his partner Renato Poliafito, is a co-owner of Baked, a five-year-old bakery in Brooklyn, New York — had plenty of suggestions for Culinate. (For more tips, especially on regional American treats, check out the bakery's new cookbook, Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented.)

[%image mixer float=right width=400 caption="A stand mixer is a good purchase for bakers."]

Get a stand mixer. Even though it’s a big expense, Lewis thinks every home baker should have one, with at least the three basic attachments: whisk, paddle, and dough hook. 

“I've had mine for almost 15 years," he says. "It really does the bulk of the heavy lifting for me — beating butter and sugar together, whipping cream and egg whites, making marshmallows. I can't imagine not having it.”

Splurge on high-quality chocolate and vanilla. Lewis recommends Callebaut, Divine, and Scharffen Berger baking chocolate, and Valrhona cocoa powder. 

“Buy high-quality chocolate and cocoa powder in bulk; you’ll save a ton of money," he says. "Since chocolate and cocoa powder last up to six months or longer, you’ll save a good deal of money buying it in big blocks and big bags from a specialty grocery store or online. It sure beats the price you'll get on the four-ounce baking bars, and hey, it might even encourage you to bake more often.” 

As for vanilla, Lewis likes Nielsen Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste, which is thick and full of real vanilla bean seeds. Because it's somewhat more concentrated than vanilla extract, you can get away with using slightly less paste than you would pure vanilla extract.  


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Stick with the basics for mixing bowls, baking sheets, and pie plates. Ceramic mixing bowls might be more aesthetically pleasing, but Lewis doesn’t find them easy to clean or lightweight to work with. So save money here by buying a few large stainless-steel mixing bowls or a nesting set of melamine mixing bowls.

“Avoid the fancy, insulated, specialty baking pans and sheets," adds Lewis. "They don't work, they aren't necessary, they cost too much, and all you need are heavy-duty, light-colored baking pans and sheets.” (Dark metal bakeware produces undesirably crispy edges on baked goods.) Lewis uses the simple aluminum half-sheet pans (the 18-by-13-inch size) found at restaurant-supply stores and various kitchen retailers. 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Splurge on good chocolate."] 

He also prefers light-colored metal pie tins; ceramic pie plates are prettier, but they can conduct heat unevenly.

Parchment paper is essential. “I use parchment paper for everything," Lewis says, adding that he uses it to line cake pans and pie plates as well as cookie sheets. Silicone baking mats, he notes, don’t produce the same kind of browning that parchment does. And you don't have to chuck the paper after a single use; you can bake on a piece of parchment several times before it's too greasy to reuse.

Lewis also has a list of versatile tools for the baking kitchen. Here's a quick rundown:

 A dough scraper (also known as a bench knife). A 3-by-5-inch sheet of metal attached to a handle, it’s used to cut, portion, and turn dough. It’s also effective for scraping down and cleaning surfaces.
 A candy thermometer. The old-fashioned, inexpensive, clip-on version is fine for beginning candy makers; it shouldn’t cost more than about $15. It should have gradations of 2 to 5 degrees and a range of 100 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and often marks the stages of candy-making (hard-ball, soft-ball, etc.) as well.  
 Collapsible cooling racks. Collect them in multiples, so you have plenty of room to cool everything that has just come out of the oven. 
 Liquid measuring cups in the 2-cup and 4-cup sizes, as well as dry measuring cups ranging from ¼-cup to 2-cup sizes. For measuring spoons, get the most basic set of metal spoons you can find, starting with ¼ teaspoon and going up to 1 tablespoon.
 Build a collection of high-heat spatulas in a variety of shapes and sizes; they're essential for scraping the sides of bowls, mixing light batters, and folding egg whites. 

Got all that? Then you'll be able to bake your way through the winter like a pro.

p(bio). Based in New York City, Amy Ahlberg* writes about food, health, and living well for publications such as National Geographic Traveler, Cooking Light, and Eating Well. She’s also a contributing writer for

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