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Baking sheets don't generally evoke strong emotions, but mine does; it's one of my favorite kitchen belongings. My baking sheet, a shallow carbon steel rectangle with edges rolled around a copper thread, has lived with me since my early days as a cook, and has weathered every step of my career path from cook to writer to start-up founder. Unlike humans, baking sheets get more handsome with age, and this baking sheet, 18 years later, is in its prime, with a gunmetal patina, and scrapes and blackened areas in all the right places. It's so dashing that we use it every week for our Food52 photo shoots.
I bought this baking sheet at E. Dehillerin in Paris in 1996. I'd been cooking in Europe for a couple of years and saving my money. Determined to get my future fantasy kitchen off on the right foot, I made a trip to Dehillerin to outfit it with copper pans, a French rolling pin, cannele molds, and 2 baking sheets. I shipped them to my mother's house in Pennsylvania, where they sat for another year and a half, until that fantasy kitchen (tiny though it was!) became a reality when I moved to New York City.
In my Upper West Side apartment, I broke in the pans on my rinky-dink stove, flattened doughs with the rolling pin, and baked hundreds of cookies on the baking sheets – most of them recipe tests for my work at the New York Times. One night I threw a dinner party with my friend Jenn at her apartment. On the menu was Jeffrey Steingarten's potato gratin, which we assembled on one of the shallow baking sheets. At the end of the evening, I left the baking sheet at Jenn's apartment, and promptly forgot about it.
A few years later, when I visited Jenn in another city, I spotted the baking sheet, and asked her where she got it. "Zabar's," she said with conviction. I couldn't bring myself to tell her -- although I am doing so now! -- that it was mine, part of the pair from Paris. But over time I grew to like the idea that we each had one of the baking sheets.
More recently, when Merrill and I started Food52, we began photographing recipe ingredients, arranged on surfaces. We hunted around for backdrops -- white plates, glass, and fabrics. Turns out that almost any ingredient, especially greens and citrus, look spectacular against the aged grey of an old, well-loved steel baking sheet.
This post is sponsored by Allstate. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
Photo by James Ransom