What You Need to Get Started—Equipment, Ingredients and Measuring Techniques, and Storing Ingredients
Many people have remarked to me, since the first Small-Batch Baking book, that baking is a scientific process. Well, in fact, it is but it need not be dauntingly so. True, I did graduate from Virginia Tech with a BS in home economics and had to take several chemistry courses along with the food-related; some of that knowledge from long ago nagged at me while I worked with these recipes. But what has turned me into a baker is the experimenting I have done over the years—the successes and the failures have added to that basic knowledge and have given me a “feel” for baking. Believe me, my grandmother did not take as many science courses as I did, and she was one fabulous baker. All you need to learn is a willingness to practice.
This book can give you a lot of practice, because you can bake almost every day and still not overindulge. You can hone your baking skills and not eat too much of a good thing. Following the guidelines of moderation and portion control as you treat yourself is the ultimate “having your cake and eating it all, too.”
Most methods I describe in Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers are the same as one would use for baking large batches, i.e., you mix cookie dough the same way except in a smaller bowl with less ingredients. But it is not always possible to divide a standard recipe by halves, thirds, or quarters and arrive at the same flavor and texture. So the recipe ingredients are specifically tailored to baking small batches, and they will result in the quality of baked goods you expect from its traditional counterpart. The formulas I have worked out and the clear instructions on manipulating them will give you success and confidence in your baking skills.
Since the original Small-Batch Baking was published in 2005, many manufacturers have come out with smaller pans tailored to baking in miniature. And while those can be fun and efficient, honestly, you can most likely use what is already in your kitchen. I love to recycle 8-ounce and 14- to 15-ounce cans from standard pantry items—like water chestnuts and tomatoes—for baking; they are perfectly safe to use in the oven.
For muffins and small cakes, 6-cup muffin pans with standard-and jumbo-size cups are easily found in supermarkets, kitchen shops, home goods stores, and online. Petite loaf pans, with a 2-cup capacity, are the perfect size for baking loaf breads and cakes. For tarts, I like to use 4½-inch-diameter tart pans with removable bottoms; the 4-inch-diameter tart pans are also good for baking individual pies. Both sizes have removable bottoms for easier serving. And, actually, you can make pies in jumbo muffin cups; look through the section on muffin pans to see how to do it.
At the beginning of this book’s testing phase, I bought an inexpensive set of toaster oven baking equipment that included a small wire rack, baking sheet, and baking pan. Those three items were the things I used most in the kitchen: the rack for cooling and the baking sheet for cookies and cradling cake cans and tart pans. The baking pan was just right for cheesecakes and puddings that needed a water bath. You can find these pan sets at home goods stores and discount superstores.
Here is a basic equipment list for other items you will need for mixing batter or dough and baking it.
The small-batch bowl. The right size for creaming butter and sugar, mixing cookie or cake batter, beating egg whites, and whipping cream is a 1½-quart bowl that is taller than it is wide. I have a collection that began with the mixing bowl that came with my mother’s first stand mixer; it measures 6 inches in diameter on the top and about 3 inches in diameter on the bottom. My most recent purchase is an OXO bowl with a nonstick outer surface; its diameter is 1 inch larger than the other one, but still proportionally perfect for rounding up the small amounts of ingredients. If the bowl is too large, shallow, and wide at the top, the small amounts of ingredients tend to fly up and around the bowl instead of collecting in the center. All-Clad makes a good-quality bowl with a handle; both brands, and others, are available at kitchen supply stores, home goods stores, discount superstores, and online.
Handheld mixer. Being able to control the direction of the mixer coupled with the capability of mixing at lower speeds makes the handheld mixer a more efficient choice than a stand mixer fitted with the small bowl. It works much better for creaming a few tablespoons of butter and sugar, lightening ½ cup of batter, and beating 1 egg white or ¼ cup cream.
Rubber spatulas. Every little bit of an ingredient counts when you work with small batches, and a rubber spatula is the best tool for scraping out every smidgeon of melted chocolate into a batter or frosting, all of the batter into the prepared cans, or the last morsel of cookie dough to make that final cookie. An assortment of wide-to-narrow spatulas will make sure you have one for every need and task.
Muffin pans. A jumbo muffin pan, with six ¾-cup-capacity cups, is just right for baking large bakery-style muffins, single-serving small cakes, quick breads, and even deep-dish pies. If you use them for pies, line the cups with aluminum foil and butter the foil so you can remove the pie from the pan more easily. A regular-size muffin pan, with six ½-cup-capacity cups, is great for baking individual smaller muffins and cupcakes.
Petite loaf pans. These measure 5 × 3 inches and hold 2 cups of batter; they are the right size for baking small loaves of quick breads, cakes, brownies, and bar cookies that serve two or three. Supermarkets, discount superstores, and kitchen shops carry them.
Loaf pans. Cake rolls, or roulades, are baked in 9 × 5-inch loaf pans. In a perfect world, there would be a jelly-roll pan with those dimensions and 1-inch-high sides, but the 3-inch-high larger loaf pan is a fitting substitute. When you line the loaf pan with parchment and use the paper to lift the cake layer from the pan, it rolls beautifully over a filling. It cuts crosswise into three neat slices that look like you cut them from a long, traditional cake roll.
Individual tart pans with removable bottoms. Having pairs of both the 4 × 13/8-inch and the 4½ × ¾-inch tart pans is helpful with this cookbook. The 4-inch is just the right size for making fluted crust, deep-dish pies; they will come out easily from the pan if you coat the inside of the tart pan with cooking spray before baking the crust. The wider tart pans are good to use when the filling is somewhat richer in flavor and you want a thinner layer of it.
Recycled cans. This is my favorite recycling act: saving cans to bake in. Taller, two-layer cakes can be baked in 14.5- to 15-ounce cans, and single layer cakes and cheesecakes can be baked in 8-ounce cans. So save your tomato and bean and water chestnut cans or others of the same size that do not have pop tops.
You need to be able to cut the tops off an empty can with a “clean-cut” can opener, completely removing the entire top from the now-rounded edges of the can (which forms as the can opener does its work). Remove the can’s label, and run the can through the dishwasher or wash it by hand thoroughly. Use cans that have no dents or nicks; the baked cakes will not show ridges from the sides of the cans, but dented cans will bake misshapen cakes and they may not slide as easily out of the cans.
To prepare the cans for baking, lightly butter the insides of the cans and dust them with flour, tapping out the excess. For easy greasing, use a basting brush and a little melted butter to brush and coat the insides of the cans without having to reach with your hand into the bottom of the cans to butter them. Or coat them lightly with baking spray. Place the cans on a piece of parchment paper and trace around the circumference. Cut out circles of parchment paper to line the bottoms. The cakes will invert right out of the cans, just like they would come out of cake pans.
When you fill the cans for baking layer cakes, the batter will only reach about one-third of the way up the sides of the cans. As they bake, they rise only about one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the cans. When you remove the cakes from the cans and fill and frost them, they will be the perfect sizes for individual servings.
After testing the cakes for doneness with a toothpick, cool the cakes for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then run the tip of a narrow, sharp knife around the edges of the cakes, holding the cans with a cloth to protect your hands. The cakes will slip out easily; remove the parchment paper liners and cool them upright.
Discard the cans if you see any discoloration, otherwise they can be re-used for another baking adventure. If there is any question about their condition, put them in your recycling bin. After all, they are a cinch to replace.
Can opener. To bake in cans, a “clean-cut” can opener is a must. This is one that cuts off the tops of the cans without leaving any jagged edges to tear the cakes as they are unmolded, or that will nick your hands as you prepare the cans for baking. Most sturdy crank and electric can openers perform this task, but throw out your old, dull, rusty hand-crank can opener if it does not smooth the edges as it cuts.
Single-serving ovenproof bowl. These include soufflé dishes, custard cups, ramekins, and even ovenproof single-serve bowls for baking puddings and soufflés.
Ingredients And Measuring Techniques
You can easily cut a stir-fry down to size by dividing the ingredients into halves or fourths, but you can’t tinker with baking in the same manner and expect wonderful results. When reducing a baking recipe, leavening ingredients, such as eggs, baking powder, and baking soda, do not reduce proportionately. This section will explain how to accurately measure the ingredients, and also serves as a good list of ingredients to have on hand for baking the recipes in this book.
Eggs. In most cookbooks and magazines, recipes use large eggs. In this book, some need only a portion of one or two eggs, so I have listed tablespoon measurements of beaten eggs in the ingredient list. Measuring partial eggs is very easy to do, or you can substitute refrigerated or thawed frozen egg substitute.
To measure out a portion of an egg to use in a recipe, crack the egg into a small bowl and use a small whisk to lightly whip the egg until it is liquefied, 30 to 45 seconds. Try not to beat additional air into the egg; it will not measure correctly when it is foamy. If you do whip air into the egg, tap the bowl on the counter a couple of times and let the egg settle down before measuring.
Tilt the bowl and pour the egg into the appropriate measuring spoon, stopping when the liquid is even with the edges. Any leftover egg can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
Chocolate. The best way to precisely measure chocolate and white chocolate is to weigh it on a reliable kitchen scale. Inexpensive scales can be purchased in kitchen shops and discount stores. Measuring with a tablespoon measure is not always accurate; chopped and finely chopped chocolate packs into a tablespoon measure differently. If you do not have a scale, you should get 3 to 3½ tablespoons chopped chocolate per ounce.
Most of the recipes in this book use only a few ounces of chocolate, so it is important to know what to do with the rest of that premium-quality bar. Chocolate picks up flavors from other foods, so wrap the leftovers well in aluminum foil, then seal the wrapped package in a zip-top plastic bag. Store it in a cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator (unless you live in an extremely hot, humid area). If the chocolate is refrigerated, the cocoa butter separates from the solids and coats the outside of the bar as a hazy film, or “bloom.” However, this does not affect the flavor of the chocolate and will disappear when the chocolate is melted.
Butter. Unsalted butter produces the best flavor. Although sweet foods are enhanced with a bit of salt, you want to be able to control the flavor of salt by adding it from a shaker, not the unknown quantity in butter.
Butter should be softened for creaming. If your butter is still cold and you attempt to beat it with a mixer, you will end up chasing the butter around the bowl with the beaters. If it is softened, it will cream and blend easily with the other ingredients. Notice I do not call for “unsalted butter, at room temperature,” but “unsalted butter, softened.” Many times, if the butter is actually at room temperature and is too warm, it will separate, and your baked product will not have the desired texture.
Dry ingredients. There is a technique to measuring flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder, and other powdery ingredients, and it is especially important to measure them correctly for the small amounts of batter and dough in this book. One extra tablespoon of flour, for instance, will drastically alter the bread or dessert; and if you scoop the flour from the canister with the measuring cup, packing the flour down as you scoop, you’ll end up with close to one tablespoon too much flour. Leavening ingredients should be measured in the same manner; if you pack baking powder or soda into the measuring spoon, your baked product can become overly dry or develop an off flavor.
For ingredients, such as flour, to be measured in a dry-ingredient measuring cup, place the cup on a piece of wax paper and lightly spoon the ingredient into the cup, filling it a bit over the top. Hold the flat edge of a knife against the edge of the cup and scrape it across the top to even the flour with the top lip of the cup. You can then pour the flour that has fallen onto the wax paper back into the flour canister. For baking powder and baking soda, spoon the leavening ingredient into a measuring spoon that you hold over the carton or over a piece of wax paper; scrape the flat edge of a knife over the spoon to even the ingredient with the top lip of the spoon.
When you bake in small batches, you will have unused portions of ingredients that were not needed in recipes, such as partial eggs, canned milk, candy, cream of coconut, and others. Pantry staples store easily; most dry ingredients will keep for a year in airtight containers, but other ingredients do not age quite so well.
Here are some guidelines:
Flour, cornstarch, unsweetened cocoa powder. It is not necessary to refrigerate these, but you do want to keep them in a dark place, away from heat and humidity, for them to last up to 1 year.
Whole-grain flours, including cornmeal. These have natural oils that can make them turn rancid quickly, so store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer and let them come to room temperature after measuring.
Dry yeast. Yeast should be frozen to keep it fresh for 6 months to a year; to be safe, check the expiration date on the package. You can use it right out of the freezer; snip the package and measure what you need, then slip the rest of the yeast, still in the package, into a zip-top freezer bag and refreeze it.
Milk, cream, buttermilk, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, sour cream, yogurt. Store these in the refrigerator and, for best quality and flavor, use by the expiration or sell by date. On the other hand, if it smells and tastes fresh, you can sometimes use it a couple of days after the date on the package.
Cream cheese. Usually, cream cheese will last 2 weeks past the expiration date on the package if it is kept in the refrigerator.
Butter. Leave it in the original wrapper to store in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 months. You can freeze it for up to 6 to 9 months; be sure to wrap it well in moisture-proof freezer packaging material that will prevent freezer burn as well as keep odors from other foods from leaking into the packaging and absorbing into the butter. Thaw the butter in the refrigerator.
Spices. Store the jar, tightly sealed, in a cool, dark, dry place, away from appliances that produce heat. Ground spices will keep for 6 months; whole spices and dried herbs, about 1 year.
Sweetened flaked coconut, dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots, currants, cherries, cranberries. Store these products in zip-top bags in a cool, dark, dry place for 6 months.
Jams, jellies, and preserves, such as raspberry, apricot, and blueberry. After you open them, store them in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 months.
Homemade dessert sauces, such as caramel and chocolate sauce. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator for 1 week.
Peanut butter. Although refrigeration is not necessary, it will keep for a couple of months longer than the 2 to 3 months it is good on the pantry shelf.
Vanilla and other flavors. Keep the bottles tightly sealed so the volatile oils do not escape, and store in a cool, dark place for a year.
Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, sesame seeds, and almond paste. After opening, put the leftovers in airtight freezer bags or containers and, to be safe, freeze nuts and seeds; refrigerate or freeze almond paste. All three contain oils that can turn rancid if they are not kept cold and dry.
Canned fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, unsweetened pumpkin. After removing what you need from the can, transfer the leftover product to a clean airtight container, zip-top freezer bag, or glass jar. Do not store in the can. Refrigerate and use within 5 to 7 days.
Coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk. Pour the remainder into a glass jar, cover and refrigerate up to a week.
SMALL-BATCH BAKING FOR CHOCOLATE LOVERS Copyright © 2011 by Debby Maugans
Debby Maugans is the author of Small-Batch Baking, and writes the weekly “Tables for Two” food column for the Birmingham News. A food writer and stylist for more than twenty-five years, Maugans developed recipes for Fannie Flagg’s popular Whistle Stop Café Cookbook. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.