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As with utensils, few people are as passionate about pans as they are pan’s bosom pals, Pots. So few people, in fact, that none (read: “not one”) of my contributing friends and relatives listed any baking equipment they couldn’t live without. But I’d be willing to bet they are wrong.
Pans & Baking Equipment. Along with various appliances, such as food processors and hand mixers we have already addressed in “Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without— Part 4: Appliances,” gadgets like the measuring cups and spoons described in “Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without— Part 3: Gadgets,” and silicone basting brushes and whisks described in “Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 5: Utensils,” you will need the following:
—Mixing bowls. Two sets of nesting tempered glass, like the Pyrex Prepware 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set, Clear and Duralex Lys Stackable 10-Piece Bowl Set, at least one stainless steel one for use as a double boiler top or for beating eggs, like the Fox Run 1.5 Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl, as well as one extra large ceramic for big doughs, rising bread, and salad tossing, like the Waechtersbach 10-Quart Extra Large Serving Bowl, Cherry.
—Baking pans. 9″ x 12″, 9″ x 9″ square, and loaf pans in tempered glass, like Anchor Hocking Oven Basics 3-Piece Baking Dish Value Pack and a metal of each of the above sizes plus metal (usually, aluminum) pizza pans (with and without holes), a large jelly roll pan, a cookie sheet, and two stainless steel wire cooling racks.
I can’t really recommend anything in particular for the metal components in this list. They can usually be found pretty cheaply at restaurant supply stores, but you must feel them to know if they are any good.
The quality you are looking for is heaviness for the size. Such a pan is less likely to bend or warp while heating and is more likely to evenly distribute heat. But price has no relation to quality so be sure to get your hands on the actual item you are considering before you buy.
And remember: just because one pan is good doesn’t mean the entire line is. In this instance, buying pans sight unseen makes about as much sense as buying shoes without trying them on.
—Cassaroles with lids. Corning makes good glass and composite ones, like the Corningware SimplyLite 6-pc. Casserole Set. This set also comes with handy travel/storage lids.
—Rolling pin. Use it to roll out dough for pie crusts, cookies, or even pasta. You and your significant other can even reenact your favorite “Punch and Judy” moments with a simple one made of hardwood, like the J.K. Adams 10-1/2″x 2-1/8″ Maple Bakers Rolling Pin.
—Parchment paper or silicone baking mats. At some point in your life, you will want to bake, broil, or roast something that might stick to your pan (like anything containing protein). You may want to have a barrier between your food and your pan, just then, if you prefer removing the same amount of food from the pan that you originally placed in the pan.
If you’re like me and have discovered that oil, lard, butter, and even crumbs of various types just don’t give you the kind of food removal capabilities you may want, you should reach for the good stuff—a sheet of single-use silicon-impregnated paper (a/k/a, parchment paper) or a virtually indestructible, multi-use silicon mat, like the Silpat Non-stick Baking Mat in three sizes—full, half, and quarter. This is way better than non-stick pans, which use mystery chemicals to earn their lack of adhesion and have an unfortunate tendency to flake or become “not non-stick” after just a few uses. The only caveat when using a mat on the bottom is that the sides of pans may need a light coating of butter to aid later separation.
—Bowl and board scrapers. There are three essential kinds of scrapers/spatulas you will want—a nylon or silicon one for the bowl, like the Rubbermaid Commercial Products 9-1/2″ High Heat Scraper for stirring, folding, and scraping, even hot pots, and the MIU Silicone Bowl Scraper for quick, clean dough removal from a bowl (you will likely want both), as well as a metal scraper for removing pastry from the board or counter, like the OXO Good Grips Pastry Scraper. The OXO Pastry Scraper can also be used for some light chopping and removing other sticky stuff from counters or cutting boards, like candy or herbs.
—Ramekins. I was on the fence about this one, but went ahead and included a set as these can be used for baking single-serving things, like individual soufflés, or for serving sauces, melted butter, dressing, etc. Try this set for your basic needs, the Progressive International Porcelain Stacking Ramekins.
So that concludes our list of what you need to outfit your new or recently refurbished kitchen of your dreams. After ruling out the superfluous, the needlessly expensive, and the overly ambitious, what remains is precisely what you need.
Go ahead and add muffin pans, springform pans, mezza lunas, crème brulee sets, and other odds and ends later, as needed, but only then. Until such time, cook the basics and own the equipment you need to do so now. And even when you decide to buy something new, follow the Alton Brown rule to the extent possible—no “unitaskers.”