Gear Essentials: Baking (Part 1)

I’m going minimal here because I wish to underscore how powerful this simple gear array is when used in combination with an oven. An oven stone, a few sheet pans (“half sheets” technically), cooling racks and some parchment paper will deliver a truly stunning amount of delicious bakery: breads, rolls, sponge cakes, galettes, cookies, bars, free-form pies and tarts…I could go on and on.

Find the thickest oven stone you can (you can even use clay tiles or bricks if your oven can handle it and you’re sure they’re unglazed), lay it on the lowest shelf of your oven and leave it there all the time. Bake directly on it or simply use it to even out cold or hot spots. Similarly, buy good, thick sheet pans. They bake more evenly and are resistant (though not impervious) to warping.

Where parchment paper is concerned, the roll stuff will do in a pinch. Far better are pre-cut flat sheets. Get them at the King Arthur Flour website and let them on top of your refrigerator where you can always get at them. You can bake on them, line pans with them, make pastry bags out of them. They have a thousand uses. How do I feel about silpats? Good, not great. It’s true that nothing sticks to them, but you can say the same thing about coated parchment and it’s much more versatile. Just a preference. Don’t jump all over me, silpat lovers, I know you’re out there.

16 thoughts on “Gear Essentials: Baking (Part 1)”

  1. Agreed! But I have become a major convert to Jim Lahey’s incendiary-hot-enclosed-baking-vessel method. I use it even with conventionally raised dough. And my preference is the Emile Henry large Flame tagine.

    I think the Flame ceramic is outstanding and versatile and the profile of the tagine means I can load dough in with ease (naked or on a piece of parchment), slash without burning my wrists and the tall conical top provides more than enough room for anything to rise at will.

    The enclosed pot method provides all the steam you want without that irritating open-the-oven-door-every-10-minutes-and-spray and the crusts are fantabulous. Far, far more than a baking stone in the cavity of a home oven achieves. I take the stable loaf out for the final 10 minutes to brown and get a “singing crust” every time.

    1. Interesting. You may have just provided me with an excuse for another acquisition, Rainey!

      – Joe

    2. I could have written your comment myself… I also LOVE Jim Lahey’s vessel method of baking, AND I love using my Emile Henry Dutch oven for baking breads using his method. Perfect and delicious every. single. time.

  2. I love those King Arthur Flour parchment sheets! While I was in the UK, I found even more sizes that suited my needs. Thanks for the tip about storing on top of the fridge. That is a GREAT idea!!

    1. That way they’re there whenever I want ’em. Parchment is so essential in pastry shops that it’s always out and available. I got used to that, which is how I came up with the fridge idea. It’s the perfect solution and it doesn’t kink the sheets!

      – Joe

  3. $20 for 100 half sheets of parchment from KAF? Dang. That is like 5 or 6 times the price of a restaurant supply store, but buying a case of 2000 sheets may not work for everyone.

    1. Yeah, it’s not cheap. KAF is a struggling company that needs its markup. Still, for the amount I use I think it’s worth it. But then maybe your could offer to buy some from a local pastry shop? It’ll be full size, but you can always cut it in half. Just a thought!

      – Joe

      1. Are they struggling? I’m soooo sorry to hear that!

        KAF is a great company that makes terrific flour, has a wealth of basic and specialized equipment AND operates the wonderful phone line where you can call up and get the personalized advice of a skilled baker at the drop of a hat. The Bakers’ Catalogue is where I discovered USA Pan pans because they had the special really deep size I needed for an oozey gooey dough laminated with a sweet filling.

        If all that wasn’t reason enough to support KAF, it’s a company owned by it’s employees rather than by some corporate monolith.

        I get KAF flour locally at my market but I’m going to look more seriously at the Bakers’ Catalogue from this point out.

  4. KAF does cost more…but I like supporting American businesses, especially employee owned ones, like King Arthur. The parchment is totally worth it…and their cheese powder for homemade burger buns!

  5. Do you have a brand suggestion for the sheet pans? Or just whatever is available at the restaurant supply store?

    1. Hi Erika!

      Actually I don’t have a suggestion on a brand. Just make sure they’re thicker than those things that are marketed as “cookie sheets” so they won’t warp in the oven. They should be quite sturdy. Otherwise definitely value shop, since good sheet pans can be quite expensive depending on where you go.

      – Joe

      1. I came back to this page with a similar question. In shopping around a couple say that they are 18 guage. Is this a sturdy thickness, or are they just hoping that I’ll assume so since they give me a number?

        Thanks so much! This series was a great resource for me, as I’m trying to slowly fill my kitchen with quality products that I won’t be tempted to replace.

        1. That should do you, Faith. In general if it says something like “half sheet pan” you’ll probably get the right thickness. If it says “cookie sheet” then probably not.

          Thanks for the email!

          – Joe

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