Having the right tools is essential to successful cooking and baking -- and so is knowing how to use them. Here, Martha helps you make the most of your kitchen tools and appliances.
Rolling pins fall into two categories: those with handles (American) and those without (French). The French style offers more hands-on control and greater mobility when rolling dough and is generally preferred by professional cooks. In terms of material, wooden pins are reliable and the most common. The best are made from a hardwood, such as maple or beech; those made of softwoods are effective but dent easily and can pit the dough. Marble pins are pricier but have an added benefit: The stone helps the dough stay cool and minimizes sticking. Metal and silicone versions are also touted for their nonstick properties, but tend to weigh less and may require more muscle to roll out dough.
Foods are ready faster with convection ovens, which heat them more quickly than traditional ovens. You can adjust recipes in a couple of ways to work with this speedier performance. One option is to reduce the cooking temperature by 25 degrees. Or, for dishes that take a long time to cook, such as a holiday turkey, cut the time by 25 to 30 percent. You'll also want to dispense with kitchenware and techniques that may block the air's movement. Use rimless cookie sheets or low-sided baking pans, and avoid covering meat with foil. In the beginning, stick with familiar meals so you'll know when they're done based on your knowledge of how they should look and taste.
Unfortunately, there's no way to bring back the finish. Prolonged water exposure and high heat from the dishwasher removed the aluminum tongs' lustrous shine. If you replace the tongs, make sure everyone in your household knows to hand-wash them. Use mild dishwashing liquid, and dry them immediately to prevent water spots from forming. Also protect them from acidic substances like vinegar by coating the ends of the tong arms with vegetable oil before each use. If the finish eventually becomes dull, apply a dab of metal polish with a lint-free flannel cloth.
Stand mixers blend ingredients more quickly and evenly than handheld ones, but a handheld mixer costs less and is easier to store. More important, the appliance does a fine job tackling most mixing tasks, although it may take more time. You'll need to rely on the mixer's beaters, rather than choosing from the dough hooks, paddles, and whisks of a standing machine. When blending thick mixtures such as cookie dough, be sure large hunks don't get caught in the beaters' bands; stop it occasionally to push out these pieces with a rubber spatula. Be aware, too, that the motor of a hand mixer may not have enough horsepower to handle heavy-duty tasks, such as blending stiff dough like gingerbread.
If you're planning to bake cookies or pastries, either a nonstick baking mat or parchment is fine. Some say parchment is better for crisp-bottomed cookies because it is less insulating than a baking mat. A mat is good for thin, delicate cookies, such as tuiles, or for sticky pastries. Unlike parchment, it's reusable. To clean, simply wipe it with a dishcloth or damp sponge. You can dry it in seconds in a warm oven, putting it directly on the rack. As for greasing a cookie sheet, that's more trouble than it's worth, and you will end up with patches of burnt butter in the spaces between your baked items.