12 Tools for Every Baker’s Kitchen

With so many gadgets and tools available to help you with your baking needs, you may be overwhelmed or confused by which are most important. While everyone is  different and your task is different, there are a few basics that will not only make baking easier but make it more fun too.

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1. Rolling Pin

Rolling pins are awesome. No matter what features or style yours has, you will find it to be one of the most useful items in your kitchen.  It helps keep anything you roll out—pie crusts, biscuits—a uniform thickness.

Some people find rolling pin covers to be helpful. These will keep your rolling pin cleaner so it doesn’t need washed as often.

An additional tip is to store your rolling pin and rolling cloth in the refrigerator together. There is something about having these cold that helps the dough to roll better and not stick as much. You will still need flour but not as much.

2. Pastry Brush

You will find this to be a very versatile tool. You can use it to spread butter on the top of your freshly baked rolls, bread, or the like.  Its uses go beyond that though, as a spreader of glaze or egg wash.

3. Whisk

Whisks are fantastic. Use them to whip eggs as well as to mix any sort of liquid ingredients together before adding them to dry ingredients.

4. Rimmed Baking Sheets

While sometimes called jelly roll sheets, these are so helpful for many projects besides jelly rolls. The edges allow you to bake cinnamon rolls, bar cookies, and other spreading baking projects, as well as regular cookies and other regular cookie-sheet type projects.

5. Parchment Paper

We love parchment paper as a baking hack. With it, you can line baking sheets, cake pans, and more. It helps to keep your baking from sticking to the surface of your pan and helps you to remove cookies and cakes easier. Plus,  it makes your cleanup that much quicker as the parchment paper is the only thing that touches your baked goods.

6. Microplane

This tool helps you to quickly add deliciousness to your baking. It is excellent for grating lemon rind, chocolate, and coconut. Adding these yummy and decorative touches is easy with this in your drawer.

7. Flexible Measuring Tape

For cake decorating, this will be your best friend. It lets you place your decorations in precise mathematical locations and keep everything aesthetically pleasing.

8. Rubber Spatula

This is most helpful for getting all of your cake batter, brownie batter, frosting, or anything out of your bowl. Using your trusty rubber spatula, you can get each and every bit into the pan or wherever.

9. Offset Spatula

Perfect for smoothing batter into corners or icing a cake, you will find this tool to be one of the best for cake baking and decorating.

10. Bench Scraper

The bench scraper is great for cleaning your surfaces as well as dividing your dough into sections to be worked with. Some bakers find it to be helpful to smooth the sides of a frosted cake as well.

11. Serrated Knife

Great for slicing cakes or breads, as well as cutting dough and crust into sections, this is a versatile tool that is handy in so many situations.

12. Pastry Bag With A few Different Tips

For cake decorating, you must have this tool. Depending on the tip you use, you can pipe frosting to outline, write, and decorate your cakes with exact precision.

With these tools at the ready, you will be able to take on any baking task. Don’t feel overwhelmed trying to figure out what you need. The most important part is that you enjoy yourself and the tasty results of your work.

Photos: Steven Karl Metzer



10 Essentials For a Perfect Picnic

You’re all set for your spring picnic with delicious sandwiches, potato salad, and even your famous homemade cupcakes. But besides your favorite picnic foods, there are a few more things you should be sure you don’t forget when planning your outdoor adventure. We’ve put together this list of 10 essential items to make your picnic as enjoyable as possible.

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1. Corkscrew

A corkscrew is one of the number one things people forget to include in their picnic pack. When you’ve taken the time to pack that bottle of Pinot Noir, don’t forget to throw a corkscrew into your basket as well.

2. PieBox

To transport your goodies to your picnic location, nothing works better than a PieBox. You won’t end up with a gooey mess of filling or frosting, as everything is protected and stays where it should. Plus, its perfect aesthetic goes with your relaxing, natural picnic environment.

Don’t settle for an unreliable cardboard box or a plastic container. With a handy leather strap for carrying, transport is a cinch. You can even use your PieBox to easily transport other smaller goodies. It’s ideal for picnics!

3. Small Cutting Board

While you may not initially think to bring one of these with you, a cutting board comes in handy when you need to slice an apple or cut a sandwich in half. As beautiful as your surroundings are, they don’t provide a fitting place to slice up the fruit or cheese you brought along. You’ll never regret having this in your pack.

4. Napkins

Napkins for your picnic guests are easily forgotten. Not only are they necessary for wiping hands, but they are always useful for cleaning up messes, serving pastries, or wiping down your picnic table when you’re finished. Starting today, they should become a permanent part of your picnic checklist.

5. Trash Receptacle

When you picture your picnic in your mind, you may think of all the lunch components laid out nicely. But did you remember to think about what you’ll do when it’s over?

Especially if you are picnicking in a non-dedicated picnic area, it is important to bring something along that you can throw your trash into. Whether it is a paper bag or a designated container, this is something you mustn’t forget.

6. Tongs/Serving Utensils

Most people remember to bring individual utensils, but forget that potato salad needs to be served in some manner. Having these along will make everything go a lot smoother, with no more concern about putting personal utensils into communal casseroles.

7. Card Games or Other Diversions

It’s such a waste to eat and run! Why not enjoy the location you chose for your outing and play a game, read a book, or listen to music? By doing this, you get to enjoy the trip and your excellent company a little bit longer. Try a game of Charades, Pictionary, or Go Fish to keep both children and adults entertained.

8. Blanket

This is one of the old standbys, but you’d be surprised how many times it gets forgotten. But why not shake it up? For your next picnic, you could try one of these fun alternatives:

  • A camping tent (kids love it!)
  • Fold-up lounge chairs
  • Cushioned and/or waterproof tarp for added protection and comfort

A picnic is all about having fun and enjoying yourself. Use whatever you and your crew are comfortable with.

9. Salt and Pepper

How many times have you sat down to eat your picnic meal and noticed that you could use just a little bit of salt or pepper? These staples of the dinner table often get left behind when we picnic. Bring them along to make sure that the food is to everyone’s liking, no matter what their personal taste.

10. Toothpicks

Toothpicks are a great solution for eating small finger foods such as cut fruit, cheese, deli meats, or even little pastries.  By having these, you can cut down on using your hands to eat. Plus, cleanup is a breeze.

During your picnic, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything besides enjoying delicious food and excellent company. By taking care of these 10 essentials, you can focus on what matters and ensure that everyone at your picnic has a wonderful time.

 



How to Make an Easter Egg Pie

Use an oval baking dish to create an egg-shaped pie for your Easter celebration. Colorful cream washes are what give this pie a bright and festive finish. Fruit pies are great options for this project. Be sure to prepare the pie filling before you start. Depending on the size of your baking dish, you may need to increase the filling.

Follow a good recipe for double-crust pie dough. If using a larger baking dish, be sure to double the recipe so that you have plenty of dough to work with. Once it is ready, roll half out on a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into an oval baking dish. Trim the sides, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Reserve the scraps.

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Lay a piece of parchment paper over the top of the dough-lined dish. Using a marker, trace the outer edge of the dish to create a stencil for the top crust. Roll out a second piece of dough and cut to the size of the stencil for the top crust. Reserve the scraps, then separately transfer both the top crust and dough-lined dish to the refrigerator.

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Use the reserved dough scraps to cut out and create Easter egg-like decorations for the top crust. Re-roll scraps as necessary. Place on parchment paper and transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

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Prepare the colorful cream wash by adding food coloring to a small amount of cream. Gel food coloring seems to works best for creating bolder colors, but liquid food coloring will work too.

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Paint each of the prepared dough pieces.

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If you want your colors to be more opaque, brush the top crust with undyed cream before you start to decorate. This will provide a whiter, more matte-like finish to the baked pie. Place the painted dough pieces on top in a decorative pattern. Chill the finished top crust for 15 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill the dough-lined baking dish with prepared pie filling. Brush the edges with egg wash, then place the finished top crust on top. Fold over and crimp the edges, then brush only the crust edges with egg wash.

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Cut two steam vents across the top of the pie, then sprinkle with sugar.

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Bake on lower oven rack until crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling. Cover with aluminum foil if the pie starts browning too quickly. Let pie cool for at least one hour before serving.

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This article was first published on the MarthaStewart.com Network on March 25, 2015.

By: Adrienne Blumthal

Photos: Steven Karl Metzer



How to Make a St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Knot out of Pie Dough

Here is an easy way to add a festive touch to your favorite pie. Custard pies, like cinnamon or sweet potato, are great options for this project. Be sure to prepare one in advance. You will also need parchment paper and a printed image of the Celtic knot you would like to create.

Follow a good recipe for basic pie dough. Once it is ready, roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Then cut out curved strips of pie dough to about a 1/2 inch wide and 10 to 12 inches long. A soup bowl is a great guide for cutting strips for a larger knot, and biscuit cutters work nicely as a guide for a smaller knot.

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Place a printed image of a Celtic knot on your workspace, then lay a piece of parchment paper over the top. This “cheat-sheet” will be a tremendous help in creating a clean and symmetrical knot.

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Using the image as a guide, place strips of dough in a Celtic knot pattern on the parchment paper. For this paticular knot, starting with the circular section works best.

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Continue adding strips of dough, weaving in and out through each section. Be patient: This project will challenge your lattice skills!

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Once the Celtic knot is complete, pull out the printed image from underneath the parchment paper. Pinch together the edges at each point and gently press the dough at each intersection. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush finished knot with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Transfer to oven and bake until the dough is golden, about 10 to 15 minutes.

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Remove from oven. Let baked knot cool completely.

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Place baked Celtic knot on top of your prepared custard pie.

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Add additional decoration as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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This article was first published on the MarthaStewart.com Network on Feb 26, 2015.

By: Adrienne Blumthal

Photos: Steven Karl Metzer



Dish Debate: Choosing the Right Pie Plate

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If you’re a baker, you may have noticed the variety of pie plates on the market. As with most cookware, there’s a lot of debate about which type is the best. Pie plates typically come in three different materials: metal, glass, and ceramic. All three can absolutely create a fantastic pie, so determining which is “best” is primarily based on personal preference. But, just like anything that’s up for debate, there are pros and cons to each.

Metal: Most metal pie plates available (also often referred to as pie tins) are made of aluminum, many of which are coated. Avoid using aluminum disposables, unless you are gifting or mass-producing pies. I’ve found that the lighter-colored aluminum pie plates work best.

• PRO: Aluminum pie plates heat and cool very quickly, making them an optimal choice for pies that require blind-baking or par-baking.

• CON: Aluminum plates, especially coated ones, are typically not knife-friendly, meaning if you use a knife to cut the finished pie, you will likely cut through or scratch the coating.

 

Glass: Glass plates are the number-one choice for many pie bakers that I know. They are inexpensive, easy to find, and predictable –- a good trait for a baking dish. I’m a big fan of glass plates with small handles, they are easy to rotate and remove from the oven.

• PRO: Glass heats at a slow, steady, and even pace, which promotes consistent baking and browning. The process might take a bit longer, but a perfectly baked pie is worth the wait! Plus, because glass is clear, you can see the browning through the bottom of the pan.

• CON: Glass plates have a tendency to “slip” and produce more dough shrinkage when baking. Your dough might look perfect when it goes in the oven, but then shrink during baking.

 

Ceramic: While ceramic plates are typically more expensive, they are usually my top choice. Ceramic plates, in my opinion, provide the best of both worlds — they conduct slow, even heat, similar to glass pie plates, but they also provide a beautiful serving vessel.

• PRO: Many ceramic plates are freezer-to-oven safe, a major advantage when you want to bake ahead. It’s very important that if you are freezing an unbaked pie, your dish can sustain the major temperature change from freezer to oven (if it can’t, your dish might shatter in the oven!)

• CON: Many standard ceramic plates come with a thick rim, which makes for easy fluting. While this is helpful in the decorative process, it has a tendency to brown much faster than the whole pie bakes. Have a crust protector handy! Ceramic plates also seem to be a bit larger in size, even if listed as “standard.” This could mean a bit more crust and filling, and slightly longer baking.

 

Choosing the right pie plate is important, but the oven is too! And not all ovens are created equal. Know your oven and check on your pie while it’s baking. If you have a “hot spot” in your oven, be sure to adjust. If your pie is browning too much, cover and rotate as necessary. I always keep an oven thermometer inside my oven to double check the temperature accuracy.



Five Pie Pit Stops for Your Summer Road Trip to Chicago

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I make a lot of pie, but I eat a lot of pie too. Fortunately I live in Chicago and great pie is not too hard to find if you know where to look. Whether you are visiting Chicago or you live there, here are five places worth stopping for pie.

 

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Apricot Crumble

Bang Bang Pie Shop (2051 N. California Ave): This hip little Logan Square pie shop specializes in two amazing things: pie and biscuits. The key lime pie was my favorite, until I had the apricot crumble –– it’s tangy, balanced, and just all-around amazing. And when you go, be sure to check out the outside “pie garden.” bangbangpie.com

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Lemon Meringue Pie

Hoosier Mama Pie Company (1618 W. Chicago Ave): This vintage-style pie shop in West Town serves up whole pies, mini pies, and pies by the slice. You can’t go wrong with anything served here, but my personal favorite is the lemon meringue. The store even serves “pie flights” on Friday nights. hoosiermamapie.com

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French Silk Pie

First Slice Pie Cafe (5357 N. Ashland Ave): This truly humble shop’s cause is just as good as its pie. First Slice, which operates as a nonprofit, serves up incredible handmade pies daily, all while feeding many Chicago families in need. With a well-stocked case, it’s hard to choose. But try the French Silk pie, and you won’t be disappointed. firstslice.org

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Royal Pie

Pleasant House Bakery (964 W. 31st St): This is the home of the “Royal Pie,” a bold name, but one these savory pies lives up to. It’s a small shop, a bit off the beaten path, but the English-style meat pies are absolutely worth the trip to Bridgeport. In fact, I love them so much that they are being served at my wedding in August! pleasanthousebakery.com

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PB & J Pie

Little Goat Diner (820 W. Randolph St): While Little Goat is not necessarily known for its pie, the mini PB & J pie is insanely delicious and worth saving room for. It’s made with a white-bread crust and strawberry jam and topped with peanut-butter meringue. littlegoatchicago.com



Time to travel! Tips for your next pastry promenade.

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At PieBox we’re always thinking about traveling with baked goods!  Transporting your precious treats, whether across the street or across the state, can be tricky if you are not prepared. With picnics, BBQs, and all kinds of other summer outings quickly approaching, here are some tips that will help get those baked goods safely to your final destination.

Decisions, decisions: When deciding what to bake, think about the length of the trip and the temperature outside. Does your pie need to be cold? Will your buttercream melt? Are you going to a park or someone’s home where there is refrigeration? Choose what you bake based on the answers to these questions.

In the scorching summer months, stick to fully baked fruit pies that are usually served warm or at room temperature. They can generally survive hot days — even if that means they’ll be sitting on a picnic table for several hours.

Save meringue pies for the cooler, less humid weather. There is nothing worse than a deflated meringue, and humidity is a meringue pie’s worst enemy.

If transporting a cake or cupcakes during the hot summer months or on a long trip, try putting them in the freezer for a half hour before you leave, and only take them out right before you set off. This will help keep your icing from melting.

Yep, you can carry-on and fly with your baked goods — I often do! Just be sure they are in a carrier. According to the TSA website, a passenger can carry pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but they are subject to additional screening.

Travel safe with you pie and cake!



Hooray for Gluten-Free Pie Crust Mix!

We were beyond excited when we learned about Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pie Crust Mix. Sure, GF pie crust was achievable before, but it was a bit hard on the grocery list. So now you have it, the perfectly packaged, pre-measured quantities needed for flaky, all natural, gluten-free pie crust. It’s impressive… easy to use and more importantly the the taste is spot on,  making it one of those GF items that most people won’t know is GF until you tell them!

Given the time of year, we decided to whip up a gluten-free sweet potato pie filling to fill the crust: RECIPE HERE! For those not familiar, sweet potato pie is really similar to pumpkin pie in terms of flavor and texture and is a Thanksgiving staple on many dining room tables. Kudos to the south for making it so popular.

Bob’s Red Mill is doing a very cool promotion right now where you can enter to win a bundle of awesomeness, including their new gluten free pie crust mix, a custom Bob’s Red Mill PieBox(!) and more… Easy As Pie, Check it out HERE.

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Baking with Pumpkin

While pumpkin carving season is behind us, pumpkin baking season has only just begun! And we love baking with pumpkin… pies, cake, tarts, and muffins. The best pumpkin-baked goods are from scratch, using fresh pumpkin puree. Sound complicated? It’s not! Plus when you use a fresh pumpkin, as a bonus you get the seeds too! And they make for a delicious (and healthy) little treat.

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Pumpkin Puree, let’s do it.

1. Pick the right pumpkin: you want a sugar pumpkin or “pie” pumpkin. You can get them at most grocery stores during the fall months.

2. Chop off the stem and gut the inside (just like you would do if making a jack-o-lantern.)

3. Save the seeds! Wash and dry them, then toss in a bit of olive oil and salt then toast in a 300F preheated oven.

4. Cut your pumpkin in half, and then lay each side face down on baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast the pumpkin at 400F for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the flesh is tender and a table knife can easily be inserted.

5. Let cool, but while still warm, scoop of the flesh and puree with a blender or food processor. Discard the skin.

Done. You now have fresh pumpkin puree. Let  your pumpkin baking imagination run wild!



Bucktown Apple Pie

We love the fall for so many reasons…changing leaves, cozy weather, fall flavors and apple pie being baked in kitchens across America! One of our favorite annual events in Chicago is the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest. This year was the 9th annual contest and as usual, it was a lovely day eating crazy delicious pie from many talented Chicagoland bakers. Plus all of the proceeds from the event benefit the historic 100-year-old Holstein Park.

Congratulations to the 2013 finalists and THANK YOU for all of your delicious apple pie!

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