Specialty kitchen stores are a lot of fun to shop at, but my local grocery store actually has quite the extensive bakeware selection and the prices are very reasonable, which makes it a great place to pick up new basics. So when I needed to replace a loaf pan in my collection, the Baker’s Secret Large Loaf Pan available at the grocery store around the corner sounded like it might be a good choice – and the price was right. The loaf pan is nonstick, with a silicone-based coating that not only gives you a clean release of baked goods, but is safe to use with metal tools (such as spatulas) if you need them to give you a littler leverage getting your banana bread out of the pan.
The loaf pan definitely delivers when it comes to preventing baked goods from sticking. Everything that I’ve tried – using only a very light coating of cooking spray or vegetable oil to be on the safe side – has literally slid out of the pan. The very slightly rounded edges of the pan also mean that there are no places where a loaf can really get stuck. The pan bakes evenly, browns well and has a lip large enough that I can grasp it easily with potholders on. I also appreciate that the pan cools down very quickly after coming out of the oven and can be handled even without potholders in just a couple of minutes.
The only real downside to this pan is that it is slightly larger than the standard 9×5-inch loaf pan. It comes in at 9 1/2 x 5 1/4-inches, which means that your baking times may need to be very slightly reduced when using it for a recipe that has been designed to work in a 9×5-inch pan. This shouldn’t pose much of a problem, and checking your bread a few minutes early will prevent overbaking. It’s also a small price to pay if you’re used to struggling to get a loaf of banana bread or pumpkin bread out of an older loaf pan without leaving half of the loaf stuck inside the pan.
Breville’s new Personal Pie Maker is one kitchen appliance that got me excited when I first heard about it. It’s a countertop appliance that is slightly bigger than a waffle iron and it bakes individually sized pies in just a few minutes, cooking pie pastry from both sides with a hot, griddle-like surface. Regular pie making is not a difficult process, but it is time consuming while you wait for pies to bake and cool. You really can’t appreciate how much faster and easier the pie making process when using this appliance until you use it to bake your first batch of pies.
To use the pie maker, you need to make or buy some pie dough and prepare your filling.The dough will be rolled out and cut into rounds that are just the right size using an included dough cutter (it has a second size for cutting the smaller pastry tops), which are then pressed into the preheated pie cavities using an included dough press. The filling can then be added and the pies can be baked either open or after being enclosed with another piece of pastry. The pies bake in about 10 minutes, which is why the fillings (sweet or savory) have to be cooked before they’re added to the pie.
Most muffin and cupcake wrappers are designed to keep your baked goods from sticking to the pan, making them easy to remove and easy to pick up and eat. The design options when it came to these wrappers used to be very limited. These days, you can really get creative with your cupcakes just by using a variety of multi-colored or unusually patterned cupcakes. The only problem is that many of these wrappers still perform in much the same way as their plainer forerunners: they absorb some moisture and fat from the cake batter and lose a lot of their color. This can be a bummer when you’ve been looking forward to using that set of funky leopard-print wrappers and end up with a plain result!
This problem was the inspiration behind Reynolds Baked for You StayBrite Baking Cups. These baking cups feature vibrant designs on the outside and are lined with nonstick foil inside, so no moisture bleeds through the cupcake wrapper and the design on the finished product is just as bold as the design in the package. I’ve used these several times now with great results. The wrappers come in an always-changing variety of patterns and they really make an otherwise plain muffin or cupcake look great. If I had any complaints, it would be that they actually released too easily from the cake in some cases and the wrapper started to peel off when I moved the cakes around! This wasn’t a problem for me, but you might want to handle them with care just in case if you’re bringing these to a party and plan on moving them in and out of cupcake carriers or different serving plates.
The muffins, with the StayBrite wrappers, pictured below are Coffee Cake Muffins.
Not every cake mix is going to appeal to me, but the gourmet mixes that use all natural ingredients tend to catch my eye and get me wondering how they compare to real, homemade baked goods. I’ve tried some mixes with great results, and others with more mixed feelings. This Sof’ella Gourmet Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix is a little bit unusual because it is gluten free, and there are fewer gluten free options out there (although there are certainly more now than before!). It is made with a blend of white rice flour, cocoa powder, navy bean flour, tapioca starch and cornstarch, all of which work together to take the place of wheat flour. The mix also includes ingredients like sugar and leaveners, of course, and just requires that you add butter, eggs and some warm water.
The box gives you several different options for baking this cake: cupcakes, a single 9-inch cake or 2 8-inch layers. I went with the easiest option and baked my cake in a 9-inch springform pan. The mix made a very thin batter that rose up beautifully in the oven. It is very dark – almost black – in color and is very moist, with a tender and even crumb. The cake is not too sweet and has a well-balanced chocolate flavor. The texture was excellent for any cake, and especially a gluten free one because it was just as tender as a “regular” chocolate cake and neither dense nor crumbly, which some gluten free cakes tend to be. In fact, I would say that if you didn’t already know that this cake was gluten free, you definitely wouldn’t know after eating a slice. This is one box mix that I would definitely make again.
The cake pictured here is unfrosted, but I ended up topping this off with a layer of milk chocolate frosting that really rounded out the chocolate flavors in the cake and added a nice sweetness to it, too. I also want to note that, for those cake pop fans out there, the company has a recipe for Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Pops up on their website. Most cake pop recipes start with a mix (not all, but most), and this definitely a good base for a moist chocolate cake pop whether you’re looking for a gluten-free pop option or not!
Nothing beats a key lime when you’re going to make a key lime pie. Key limes are more acidic and more tart than Persian limes (the most common variety of lime), and they make for a very bright and sweet-tart pie. I use regular limes when I don’t have key limes because they work just as well and still turn out a very good key lime pie. While I definitely wouldn’t use just any bottled lime juice, I wondered how bottled key lime juice work work and picked up a bottle of Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice to give it a try.
This key lime juice is from concentrate, but it is made with 100% Key Limes from Key West, Florida. It comes in a 16 ounce bottle, which gives you more than enough juice for 3 or 4 key lime pies. The juice looks and smells very fresh, and the very bright and slightly bitter key lime flavor is unmistakable. It is definitely the best bottled lime juice I’ve had to date, and it worked beautifully in a test pie. Fresh persian limes are still a good choice when you can’t find Key limes, but you’ll do very well if you opt for this bottled key lime juice in place of fresh key limes, too.