Blackberry Cornmeal Muffins from my blog, A Sweet Spoonful
There's something about this time of year. I find myself baking much more frequently, leaving the Kitchen Aid out on the counter instead of storing it in its proper winter-time home, and bookmarking dessert recipes right and left. Then I start thinking about opening a bakery...but that's a whole different post. On my own blog recently, I've made very special muffins (above) and Jim Lahey's whole wheat bread. And I have big plans for some cupcakes for a party I'm attending this week. So I'm certainly not lacking in the inspiration department. But you've got to be prepared with everything you need, the recipes that inspire, and a few extras just for fun. So here are some of my favorite things to help kick start your time in the kitchen this spring:
Some love them, some hate them: you either find them useful in an 'Oh, my mom used those for our pancakes' kind of way or you're not quite sure what to do with them. But batter bowls are actually fabulous: you can mix batters right inside the bowl and neatly pour into your cupcake tins, waffle-maker, or cheesecake pan. I also use them to help pour eggs for omelettes and I might occasionally mix and pour cocktails in my batter bowl. Yes, you heard that right. You can get them many places, but I find Stonewall Kitchen's batter bowls to be very sweet--nice spring colors and a generous handle.
Prettiest Apron You'll Ever See
I can't get enough of Ice Milk Aprons. I actually don't own one yet, but I gawk frequently online. They're a small family company that does heirloom aprons that are super simple and inspired by the founder's grandmother who always wore an apron when she fixed a dinner of waffles, fresh fruit, and ice milk at home. They do full traditional aprons, but they also do a gorgeous "Rolling Pin Waist" style that is more life a half apron with a sash up top. In many ways, they're almost too pretty to really muck up in the kitchen--but that hasn't stopped me from hinting to friends and family.
While I obviously support going to your local cookware shop, I have found the folks at Layer Cake Shop stock some interesting baking accoutrement that you may not be able to find as easily all in one spot. I love their simple paper tags that come in a variety of colors--great for labeling desserts. And they have all different colors of bakers twine and an incredible variety of little muffin and cupcake cups. Useful and inspiring.
Once you make those cupcakes, you're going to want to decorate them. And this is where on one recent Sunday morning I got sucked down the Etsy rabbit hole. You know the one I'm talking about--the one where you start looking at one shop and all of a sudden you've lost two hours of your life. Well I took a liking to these vintage-inspired cupcake toppers. The seller scanned in prints of the 1950's ladies from her vintage cookbook collection and mounted them on a sturdy bamboo stick. She'll also work with you on different colors of backing or increased quantities for larger parties.
Good Quality Vanilla (and other extracts)
No cutesy aprons here folks. For your spring baking projects this year, be sure you're using really good quality vanilla--whether it's an extract, a vanilla bean, or vanilla paste (my absolute favorite discovery of the year). Nielsen Massey not only stocks incredible vanilla, but they also do harder to find extracts that I'm excited to experiment with. They have chocolate, coffee, and a really nice lemon extract. You can check out their online site and they'll guide you to shops in your area that stock what you're looking for, and they have great information on the history of vanilla and how to choose which product is right for you.
Three Book Suggestions
Now this isn't a formal review because I only own one of these books. But here are a few recent baking books that have come out that I'm eager to get my hands on. If you're looking for a little baking inspiration, look no further:
- Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts: I'm a huge Madison fan, and have made many of her vegetarian entrees in the kitchen, but I'm even more excited to try out some of her well-regarded dessert recipes. She's the master of seasonal recipes, and this is no exception.
- Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain: I've leafed through this book and the photos by Quentin Bacon are truly stunning. But even more important--the recipes are really exciting. Boyce makes baking with whole-grain flours (not always an easy feat) look approachable and second-nature. And we're not just talking whole-wheat flour: she experiments with teff and amaranth and twelve different kinds of other whole-grain flours. I can't wait to start baking from this book.
- David Lebovitz's Ready For Dessert: If you're tuned into the food blogging world, there's been a lot of talk about this book ever since it came out. I have Lebovitz's other books so initially I was hesitant to purchase this one, but there's something appealing about having the best recipes all within easy reach (plus, those photos!). For those who aren't familiar with his recipes, this is the perfect book for you. From relatively easy cookie recipes to Lebovtiz's incredible sauces--inspiration abounds here.