The Baking Station

Before I get to the details of my baking station, I need to make this disclaimer.  I am the primary baker in the family, not the primary cook.  My husband (Mr. Man from this point forward) and I decided a long time ago  that we needed to divide and conquer when it came to running our household.  We are both full-time professionals working outside the home, and in order for our home to run in a way that makes us happy, we need to share the load.

It just so happens that Mr. Man enjoys cooking and is good at it.  Win, win! Meal planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning tasks are done by both of us, with him doing the majority of the meal preparation.

I will have a future post on meal planning and preparation as we have researched and tried a variety of “systems” and have found one that works great for us at this time.  Needless to say we thrive on a plan.  The thought of coming home and having to decide what’s for dinner, is a proposition to which neither of us is open.

Now back to me.  I mean baking.

When we renovated our kitchen years ago, we cut a window into our living room and set up a small breakfast bar.  This really opened up the space and is great for entertaining and just living.  I can see the TV from my baking station, which is actually nice, considering we don’t have cable and I watch very little TV. But, I do love to put a cooking/baking show on for inspiration. Currently I am into Baking with Anna Olson on Amazon Prime.

The baking station encompasses two functional spaces for me: the counter and above and the lower drawers/cabinet area.  The station is located next to the refrigerator so it requires minimal travel.  That is the purpose behind all the stations in my kitchen.  I know we all need to get our steps in so we can enjoy our baked goods, but that is counter intuitive to time efficiency.

I’ve set my photos to black and white for most of this post, because it is a little overwhelming from a learner perspective.

Let’s take a look at the top first.

Here you see the counter top vignette that includes the following:

    • measuring cup and bowls from Pioneer Woman (love the colors although you can’t see them here)
    • two tall containers which hold whisks (large, small and flat), spatulas (large, medium, small and skull & crossbones)  S & C is my son’s.  If you want your kids to cook, get them their own tools.  They will love it and feel very grown up. You can’t see my latest and GREATEST “container” well in the collage so here you go.

  • My sister got it for me from a wonderful west coast craftswoman who makes “Designer Objects from Vintage Books”.  I know, right? She can be found on Facebook @theupcycledbookshop. Love it!
  • Cake plate and nested mixing bowls include my favorite Pyrex yellow bowl.  Mr. Man insists it was handed down from his family.  I insist it was from mine.  Either way:  favorite family heirloom.  After I bake, I put the goodies on the cake plate and pull out my clear glass dome to keep them fresh.
  • Hanging on the wall above are two flour sifters.

To the left of the space I have my spice rack and flour canisters. The vintage canisters are from Ebay.

They seal nicely and open easily. I have a plastic bag in each which feels more sanitary to me but goes against my “avoid all plastics in the kitchen rule” so, hmm. I have flour, white sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar in them. I picked up the spice rack shelf at variety store and love it.  It keeps everything I need at eye level.  It includes:

 

  • salt
  • cream of tartar
  • organic and homemade vanilla
  • vanilla beans
  • lavender
  • cinnamon (I love Pensey spices.  These were a gift…a great gift for a baker)
  • cardamom
  • ginger
  • nutmeg

So the top of the station contains most of what I need, but not all.

Now let’s take a look at the cabinets and drawers.

The three large drawers are brilliant and I love them.  When we remodeled, large drawers seemed to be all the rage for kitchens.  I was skeptical but am now a convert. Three of the photos above show the contents.  Other than the top drawer they mostly contain extra supplies or unique baking ingredients.

Starting at the top again.  The top drawer contains:

  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • biscuit and donut cutters
  • icing tips
  • small ingredient bowls
  • pastry blender

I’ve used a variety of utensil dividers.  One is black-coated metal.  Another is bamboo.  Others are just plastic bins.  One drawback to drawers is that they do get dirty from ingredients dropping in every time you open them.  Think flour shower.  So, it is critical that you have dividers that allow you to lift multiple items out at a time, in order to wipe out the drawers.

The second drawer contains:

  • extracts
  • extra spices
  • cooking spray
  • glass measuring cups
  • chocolate chips
  • cocoa

The third drawer contains some heavier items:

  • coconut oil
  • extra flour (keep bulk in freezer) and sugar
  • stand mixer attachments

The right cabinet has my favorite “luxury”: a pop-up stand mixer shelf.  It isn’t automatic, but pulling it up and locking it into place means I don’t have to lug that large appliance from below. Yay for me!  I own a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. It has been sent back for adjustments and repairs twice.  I use it often.  I would love a larger one with an apron on the bowl, but then it wouldn’t fit in that cabinet, so I will muddle through.

In the left cabinet are my baking pans, cake circles and cooling racks, stored vertically (life changing).

One item that I use often but is stored in the pantry is my pastry board. It is a Fantes 28X22 available here .  This one looks good too.It has a lip that keeps it stable on the counter and a backboard that keeps it neat.  We love it and use it for pastry and pasta. Mr. Man learned to make pierogies from his grandmother so when our new Cook’s Country cookbook had a recipe, we were inspired to pull out the board.  The result was a tender cheese and potato filled dumpling, perfect comfort food during this winter blizzard.

I hope this post helps you to consider how to best use your space.  Do you have a baking station?  Are you a completely clear counter person?  What are your favorite baking resources?  I would love to know.  We collect cookbooks so I will post more about how we use and organize them in the meal planning post.

I may wait a while to do my “Real Food” post as my baking goes against most of the real food rules.  But, we’ll talk and I’ll let you decide.

Pax,

Kristin

Mother always knows best. So why does it take us so long to figure that out?

Earlier this year I decided to enter my local newspaper’s baking contest.  The theme was pie.  Every year I follow the competition with serious envy.  I enjoy baking as a hobby and am fairly successful most of the time.  But, my success is measured by my family’s happiness with the results.  They are a pretty easy crowd to please.

Here’s why.

I follow Michael Pollan’s premise that in order to cut down on processed foods, you can eat sweets as long as you make them.  Challenge accepted! He’s probably not willing to whip up a dark chocolate layer cake on a random Tuesday after work, but I am!

I digress.

My mother has always baked a great pie, specifically cherry pie.  It’s her thing.  (I am still looking for my thing….you know, that thing where people say, “Have you tried Kristin’s _____________?  It’s the best!”)  So, I chose the cherry pie category in which to compete.

Now this was 2017, so in my digital age wisdom I thought I need to put my spin on cherry pie.  The fact that my mom has produced a no-fail crust for probably 60 years did not phase me.  The fact that she only used water packed cherries (canned pie filling never entered her kitchen), and kept it simple to enhance the true flavor of the cherry, pish-posh. I could do better! The fact that I had used her recipe to make dozens of delicious pies in the past, somehow seemed irrelevant.

I made a lot (A LOT) of different crusts, trying something new each time.  I attempted to “enhance” the natural flavor of the cherry with a variety of different flavors….’cuz that’s always a good idea…perfecting nature.

I’m guessing that you see where this is going.

So I arrive at the contest not knowing what to expect.  This was in fact my first rodeo!  The pie in the picture was my entry.  The crust and filling recipe a combination of some of those I tried. I was proud of how it looked but had no idea how it tasted.

There were a lot of contestants, but a lot of categories.  So that’s good, right? Chatting with other contestants  while waiting for the judging to begin, I learned that there were very few first time cowboys. Let me cut to the chase, as I am sure you are on the edge of your seat.

Good news, I won honorable mention (not everyone got one of these snazzy pot holders) and a professional chef said that my pie looked perfect.  He said it was the only one that had the correct coloration of crust.

That is where the good news ends.  Trust me when I say that the feedback given to me to help me improve as a baker, was less than complimentary. It was brutal.

So here is the lesson.  Don’t try to improve on perfection.  Experts come in all shapes and sizes (85 year old mom’s being one of them). Trust your mom.  Oh, and could someone please tell my daughter that?

Now, I can’t leave you with nothing but sage advice today so how about a few recipes.  The first is my mom’s cherry pie recipe.  It’s the one with the pot holder.  It’s a keeper, but you already know that.

The second is a recipe for Cherry Pie Bars that I found on The Country Cook. I needed something to use up the leftover cans of pie filling I had in my pantry.  Don’t tell my Mom!

Soon, I’ll take you on a tour of the baking “station” in my kitchen.  Prior to setting it up (during a renovation) I planned it to be efficient and fun.  It’s evolved slightly with use, but it is still my favorite place to try out recipes (old and new ; ).

 

Pax,

Kristin

 

What do you do with all those candy canes?

I work in an elementary school so candy canes are everywhere this time of year.  I love peppermint, but one can only eat so much!  So this year I made a plan for those little red and white beauties.  I pulled out our Cuisinart ice cream maker (love this machine) and my recipe from Taste of Home to make a batch of candy cane ice cream!  By itself, peppermint ice cream can be almost…dare I say, medicinal.

So, I also made my favorite “Emergency Blender Cupcakes” from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge. The rich chocolate and the bright peppermint made for a great combination.

I could do a whole post just on this cookbook.  I am in fact a weekend baker, so I love the clear consistent layout and recipes I can depend on time and time again.

 

Now, if you are like us and you find yourself with candy canes for days, don’t save them to give out at Halloween (They won’t be appreciated, trust me!) make this delish dessert.

Candy Cane Ice Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed peppermint candy

Directions

  • 1. In a large heavy saucepan, heat milk to 175°; stir in honey and salt until combined. Whisk a small amount of the hot mixture into the eggs. Return all to the pan, whisking constantly. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches at least 160° and coats the back of a metal spoon.
  • 2. Remove from the heat. Cool quickly by placing pan in a bowl of ice water; stir for 2 minutes. Stir in whipping cream and extract. Press waxed paper onto surface of custard. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
  • 3. Fill cylinder of ice cream freezer two-thirds full; freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Add candy the last 3 minutes of freezing. When ice cream is frozen, transfer to a freezer container; freeze for 2-4 hours before serving.Yield: 1 quart.

Emergency Blender Cupcakes

1 cup flour
1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1  1/2 tsp vanilla extract

 

Heat oven to 375°. Line 12 regular-sized muffin cups with paper or foil liners. Combine flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a blender. Cover with the lid and blend on medium speed until blended. Pour in the water, oil, egg, and vanilla. Cover with the lid and blend on medium-high speed until smooth and well blended, stopping to scrape down the sides once or twice. Pour into lined muffin cups, dividing evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one cupcake comes out clean, 17–19 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool for about 10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cupcakes from the pan and set them on the rack to cool completely before frosting.

 

Let me know what you end up doing with all those candy canes.  I’d love to be ready for next year.

Pax,

Kristin