Martha Stewart was setting two apple crisps on a baking sheet to catch the juice that was bubbling during cooking when she said, “If you saw how many baking sheets I had, you’d be pretty horrified.” I have a lot of hotplates. “
And she built them up for a long time: Mrs. Stewart was first introduced to commercial baking sheets – the thick, uncoated aluminum baking sheets with 1-inch-high rims and rolled edges – by Fred Bridge in the 1970s. She had a catering business in Connecticut, and he owned Bridge Co., a professional kitchen utensil store located on 52nd Street in Manhattan.
“This is where I really started to learn about high quality, restaurant grade and durable equipment,” said Ms. Stewart. “I bought my best things from Mr. Bridge.”
On her first TV show two decades later, she used hotplates on set, showing them to viewers at home on several occasions – but not intentionally. Like most professional chefs in America, and bakers in particular, Mrs. Stewart relied on these casseroles even if she did not present them.
No one has done this until recently, as the hobs don’t have the vintage car shine of copper pots or the allure of carbon steel knives. Hobs are essential in professional kitchens, but with much more function than form, they don’t cry out for attention. The best cost less than $ 20.
And yet, this utility equipment has become a star. Part of this can be attributed to a surge in hotplate recipes from food publications, cookbooks, and bloggers, a new kind of weeknight cooking that delivers a whole meal on the pan. Cousins of unique dishes, griddle dinners combine veggies, protein, and starch in one kitchen room, but offer a larger canvas for composing a range of shapes and colors. The actual cooking requires nothing more than a passive wait.
Less shocking is its popularity on social media: the non-reflective aluminum surface serves as a built-in backdrop for a tumbler of caramelized carrots, browned roast chicken, a smothered mess with cheese. As of this writing, there are 42,000 posts tagged #sheetpandinner on Instagram.
Their usefulness has been a revelation for home cooks – and even some restaurant chefs. When Kawi in New York City temporarily closed due to the pandemic, executive chef Eunjo Park for the first time prepared a baking dish in her apartment kitchen. “The last thing I want to do at home is use all those pots and pans,” she says.
It might sound like pan-frying dishes have taken over food environments over the past few months, but their increase in home kitchens has actually been slow, more than pound cake than soufflé. According to Google Trends, the term “baking sheet” has been steadily gaining interest since 2009, hitting Thanksgiving and Christmas week highs in 2020.
But popularity is fleeting. The hotplates are not. Available in four sizes, they are the cornerstone of many restaurants, bakeries, and American kitchens.
Full sheet pans are designed to fit commercial ovens; half plates are half the length at 17 x 12 inches; and so on until the eighths. While home cooks revolve around the term “baking sheet,” chefs shorten their names by size: “Bring me that half almond leaf. Prepare this liver on a quarter of a sheet. (Most baking sheet recipes for home cooks are designed for half sheets.)
Half sheets are incredibly versatile, in part because they are the perfect size. Chefs grab them to move ingredients to walk-ins, dirty tools to dishes, and pots to the stove. They use them as trays to organize the set-up. They throw half-leaves in ovens to toast breadcrumbs, roasted bones or sun-dried tomatoes.
Pastry chefs fill them with cake dough and pastries designed for these dimensions. “Baklava goes a long way in these demi-sheets,” said Reem Assil, the chef and owner of Reem’s California, with locations in Oakland and San Francisco.
In the 1990s, casseroles began to be seen more outside of professional kitchens, albeit in the background of photos from cooking magazines and television shows run by chefs. They were also newly visible in the open kitchens of restaurants and bakeries. Foodies who wanted to cook like a pro noticed them and went to restaurant supply stores or specialty cookware stores to purchase them.
“There was no deliberate choice to bring them to the home cooks,” said Sarah Carey, who has worked for the Martha Stewart brand for 21 years and is currently the Food Editorial Director at Martha Stewart Living. .
Kitchen utensil company Nordic Ware began selling the pots to home cooks in 2001. “It wasn’t an immediate hit,” said Jennifer Dalquist, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “It took years to get back on its feet because it is not a glamorous looking product.”
Ms Dalquist declined to share exact numbers, but said that for more than a decade the company has seen double-digit growth in plate sales year on year. Their pan, which is universally loved in cookware reviews, comes with a lifetime warranty. “Unless you hit it with a car, it will last you forever,” she said.
When looking for half sheet pans, pure aluminum is best because it conducts heat more evenly than aluminized steel. Avoid coatings of any kind: Pans with non-stick finishes cannot withstand particularly high oven heat, get scratched and must be replaced every 3 to 5 years. For sturdier options, look for thicker pans depending on the metal gauge (12-18 gauge works well); the lower the number, the thicker the aluminum. Once you’ve used real half-leaf molds, you can’t go back to fragile boxes.
Equally important are the rolled steel edges of the baking trays, which prevent flat bottoms from warping and twisting in hot ovens, as pots with pressed edges do. These steel rims are wrapped in the edge of aluminum and crimped to enclose them. (Ms Dalquist suggests shaking a baking sheet to test its quality. If you hear a clicking sound, it’s coming from the steel rim slamming against the case, indicating a messy crimp probably made with lighter aluminum which may warp or deform over time.)
It’s tempting to keep buying baking sheets – at least two are needed and a dozen is a dream – because they serve so many purposes, and also because they fit together so well for storage. Buy decent ones and they will last for decades. “Anathema to me is those stupid aluminum pans in the grocery store,” Ms. Stewart said. “It’s such a waste. In three years, you have to replace them. “
Some people complain that the hobs are difficult to wash by hand. (Using the dishwasher will discolor them, but does not affect performance.) Ms Stewart said washing is easy as long as the soiled pans are crisscrossed and not stacked on top of each other. If they’re washed in hot, soapy water right away, everything “goes away,” she says, and they look like they did before.
“Those hotplates from my catering days, up to the early 1970s, they’re still perfect,” she says.
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