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Graters are graters, right? A box with four sides, options for slicing, rough cut, fine, finest. When you remove zest from a lemon, a box grater skins your knuckles along with the fruit. And if you forget to soak that classic box grater, well, then, forget getting all the little bitties out of those tiny rough-edged holes.
Not any more.
“Zesting a lemon” — taking off the outer yellow skin while leaving the bitter white pith behind — used to be somewhat of a family joke, in part because it involved verbing a noun. And because it got precious, fast. At one point I gave Dad a small, hand-held metal tool with five wickedly sharp holes set on an angle. This miniature torture device carved long, skinny curls from the outer skin of the lemon, curls that we then had to chop before we could use them. “It’s a zester,” I crowed. “A winner in the ‘silly one-use kitchen tools’ category!”
I bought my Microplane grater early in Microplane’s shift from the tool bench to the kitchen: My zester doesn’t have the fancy handle that most now do. It’s just a long strip of stainless steel with squared holes, their leading edge ever-so-subtly shaped. I worried at first about holding the thing, but soon realized it would not bite the way a regular grater does: The single-direction cut, narrow field, and one’s ability to position the “plane” makes it almost impossible to damage either your holding hand or the knuckles of your grating hand.
I use this most often for taking zest off lemons or oranges. The pile of golden shavings that accumulates — fast and freely — is astounding. There’s an estimate floating out there that Microplanes double the amount of zest you can get from one lemon. How? Well, the edges are much sharper than any other grater you own, nothing is left behind on the tool…and it’s fun, so you just keep going.
That increased yield plays havoc with the recipe instruction “add the grated peel of one lemon.” For me, a lover of lemon, the added punch is terrific. If you are not such a fanatic, you’ll want to consider adding grated peel to your dough or dish in stages, to ensure that your new grater isn’t giving you TOO much lemony goodness.
Microplanes are available in a bunch of different sizes and shapes. My go-to for lemon zesting is the finest one; I also have the medium for grating hard cheeses and chocolate. Here in DC, Microplanes are available at one of my favorite neighborhood stores, Home Rule, along with kitchen and hardware stores.
I got a question today from someone who’s thinking of baking a cake — a first-time caker! — but was not keen on the idea of using aluminum cake pans. “I’m a bake-in-glass gal, is there such a thing as glass cake pans?”
Great question, and sure there are: Those familiar Pyrex made-in-the-U.S.A. glass dishes that we’ve been using for lasagne and brownies for years. The deal with these is you trade the ease of pre-shaped round layers for the thrills of post-baking production.
Here’s what I’d suggest: Try the Cordon Bleu basic cake recipe. Set the oven temperature to 375°F instead of 400°F. Bake the cake in a 9-by-13 Pyrex (or other oven-safe glass) baking pan. Use the same pan-prep and cooking time, and watch for that telling gap at the edge of the cake. (I would definitely still use parchment-paper lining with tab handles to make it easy to get this cake out.)
When the cake comes out of the oven, you have at least two options: Let the cake cool a bit, then slice it in half across the long side. Put one “cake” on your serving plate, ice the top, and then layer the second “cake” on top and ice the whole thing. If you’re a stickler, slice off the short ends to get rid of the gently rounded corners — you’ll end up with a fashionable rectangular two-layer cake, with icing to spare. Option two is to lift the whole cake out of the pan and place it on a monster platter or cookie sheet covered with foil. Ice the whole darn thing, and dig in.
And if that seems not as much fun as circular layers, Norpro makes round stainless steel cake pans. Sur La Table also has All-Clad stainless circular bakers, and silicone cake pans. I’ve tried silicone bakers for muffins and they’re pretty good. I haven’t tried a cake-size version, nor have I tried steel pans for cakes, and would be curious to know how they work.
Tell me what you do, will you? Would love to know that there is one more cake baker in this world.