You want some dessert, but are satisfied with a few cookies or a slice of cake, not more than that. And you don’t want it hanging around the house for days, worrying about eating too much, have to give away the rest, or have to freeze it. If you are half of a couple or live alone, small batch baking is not a new concept for you, but a practical way to bake.
Traditional from-scratch baking recipes for pies, layer cakes, fruit crisps, and cookies are designed to feed eight or more, which is far too much for two. Even recipes for cupcakes, which are portioned small, are for batches of 18 to 24. Often times when I go to make some cookies, I cringe at the thought of the big batch since a cookie dough yields dozens when one dozen will do.
So small batch baking is a natural for many people who love spectacular, good tasting homemade desserts. For this type of baking you need recipes that scale down nicely and use the same familiar techniques that you as a baker are used to performing. What changes is the size of the pans.
On my last visit to that bastion of fabulous baking equipment, Williams-Sonoma, I spent my time checking out what was available in essential small baking pans. First is a round 6-inch springform pan. This is a must for single layer cakes and little cheesecakes. The other place to find six-inch baking pans is when they are part of a nested set of pans used for making wedding cakes (usually by Wilton); they come in square, octagonal, and heart-shaped as well as round. But my favorite is the 7-inch springform, nonstick. It used to be hard to find but it fits perfectly in a slow cooker crock or pressure cooker. Look for it on Amazon.com. Inexpensive too.
For pies, there are Emile Henry ceramic 5-inch deep dish pie pans with a fluted edge, or 4 to 4 1/2-inch tin tartlet pans. I buy 5 3/4-by-3 1/2-inch disposable aluminum mini-loaf pans for pound cake (one of my favorite pans for individual loaves of bread as well) at the supermarket. Nordic Ware has a pan with a set of four 6-inch swirled loaf cake molds that have sort of a Celtic knot on top that is perfect for pound cakes. Little freeform shortcakes and crostadas can be made on a standard baking sheet.
The oversized muffin tins, called jumbo or Texas, with six 3/4- or 1-cup capacity cups can be used for little deep dish fruit pies and single serving upside down and angel food cakes, as well as oversized muffins. I like the 3/4-inch size since it has straight sides and a wider bottom (the 1-cup is a bit deeper and sloped but can be used okay). Stick with a 6-cup standard muffin tin for cupcakes and individual quick breads. Classic Apilco French porcelain individual souffle dishes, gratin dishes, and Pyrex custard cups are great for baking bread puddings, cobblers, crisps, and hot souffles.
I indulged in one of the NordicWare miniature bundt tube pan molds with one of my favorite designs (I adore the cathedral), which make mini-decorative tube cakes and quick breads. There is also a set of 6 miniature straight-sided angel food cake pans, which can be used in the same manner as the bundt pan. If you want to make individual angel food cakes, you must look for the metal, not nonstick, since that cake must be baked in an ungreased mold to rise properly.
My newest acquisition is a set of Kaiser 4 1/2-inch non-stick springform pans (which come in a set of 4 pans), which I use not only for cheesecakes and individual cakes, but for making mini-layer cakes. Wilton makes a fantastic 4-inch heart-shaped springform (available from amazon.com). While some books on small batch baking recommend using 8- or 12-ounce fruit cans with the labels removed for baking individual layer cakes, I do not do this since the cans today are often made of recycled material and I am unsure about the health benefits when these cans are heated. Best to play it safe here. Besides, baking with cool equipment makes it all the more appealing to me.
For mixing, if you have a stand mixer, you will need to mix with the whisk attachment; the regular blade will not get close enough to the bottom of the bowl with such small amounts, and be sure to scrape down the bowl at least two times during mixing. The alternative is a small, deep bowl with the use of a hand mixer. Treat yourself to a set of high quality, real stainless steel measuring spoons from Williams-Sonoma; it has the 1/8 teaspoon measurement, which you use alot in small batch baking.
Valentine’s Day is built for two, included with the heart-felt baking. The recipes here are for chocolate lovers, the culinary symbol of Valentine’s Day.