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Friday 3 February 2012

Kitchen Gadgets: all kinds of thermometers

Although you can get away with not using them occasionally, or there's a non-mechanical method you can use, thermometers are very handy in specific kitchen situations. Depending on what you make regularly, you might consider finding space for one or more of these in your kitchen. They can cost a little or quite a lot depending on how multipurpose you want them to be.

Jam and Sugar thermometers display a wide range of temperatures and often have the sugar set points written on them - soft ball, hard crack etc. My mum has had one exactly like this brass one, £15 including shipping from Amazon, for years and the wide backing means it's easy to clean. I've got a Tala one which was about £7 and works just fine - for higher temperatures, anyway.

The alternative to using a sugar thermometer in jam and marmalade making is to use the 'wrinkle' test: when you think the jam is ready, put a blob on a cold saucer from the fridge. It should set to the point where you can 'wrinkle' it with your finger when you push it gently, then you know it will set properly in your jars.

Have you ever melted chocolate to use in baking or moulds and then been a bit disappointed that it sets to a dull finish? To keep the shiny look and retain the all important 'snap', you need to temper chocolate. There are lots of ways to do this, including using your microwave, but the reliable way is to use a dedicated chocolate thermometer.

It displays a more detailed graduation of temperature than a jam thermometer - it needs to be able to precisely measure within 1-4 degrees as you heat then cool the melted chocolate repeatedly to ensure that there's no graininess at all.

Cake Craft Shopping sell this one for £7.66 + shipping.

If you're in any doubt at all as to the accuracy of your oven, one of these is a must. You can buy many different types of oven thermometer ranging from this type (£5.79 from Lakeland) which either sits on the shelf or can hang using the top hook, to the more complicated and expensive digital probe sort which usually has a sensor and cable that's left inside the oven while the gauge sits out on the counter.

Especially if you bake, you need to know that your oven cooks evenly and if it's not fan-assisted, what temperature it is on the top versus the bottom shelf if you're planning on doing multiple batches of something. My last oven had a horrifying 100 difference which meant only putting single trays in the centre of the oven to ensure things cooked properly (painful). Its 'official' temperature control was also completely useless so I ended up with one of these on each shelf! But it saved aggravation and wasted ingredients in the long run.

The less scientific method is to prepare three sheet pans of sponge cake mix, and put them all into the oven at the same time. See how long each takes to bake, and whether you can detect any 'cold spots' in the oven where the cake simply hasn't set properly.

Of course, if you're going to shell out on ingredients, the time to do it and then have to factor the results in each time you cook, just over a fiver for a thermometer probably starts to look like a bargain...

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, thanks for the oven thermometer link - I keep hearing how important they are, but had assumed they were a million pounds. My oven is a cake-ruining mystery.


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