One-bowl wonders: How to simplify your home baking (and clean up)

The same bowl can be used for cake batter and icing, just wipe it out between steps.
The same bowl can be used for cake batter and icing, just wipe it out between steps. Photo: William Meppem

Many of us love preparing a homemade treat, even on a weeknight, but aren't crazy about baking projects (the kinds that call for running to multiple shops for hard-to-source ingredients and tackling several components over several hours – if not days). Nor are we fond of doing dishes. I don't think I'm the only one who has assembled something sweet over the better part of an evening, finally placed it in the oven, turned to a sink piled high with dirty bowls, ramekins and measuring cups, and thought, "I am never doing this again".

Well, with one-bowl baking, you may never have to.

One-bowl baking, for the unfamiliar, is for busy people who delight in baking delicious treats with short, easy-to-follow recipes, using pantry-friendly ingredients that mix up quickly in just one bowl. It is for those of us who constantly search for timesaving methods when it comes to meal-prep, but really wish we could find such shortcuts to making dessert (which is everyone's favourite dish anyway, right?).

Cakes can be one-bowl wonders, too.
Cakes can be one-bowl wonders, too. Photo: Marina Oliphant

A one-bowl baked good is essentially the dessert world's equivalent of a one-tray dinner. And just as assembling dinner on a single tray, or in a single pot continues to trend with those of us short on time, it is hardly a leap to conclude that recipes for sweets that are similarly effortless to prep (and clean up) could easily become all the rage.

In fact, a Google search reveals a plethora of one-bowl baking recipes ready for the making, including the chocolate cake, blackberry cobbler and cheesy muffins with prosciutto and chives.

But what about all those go-to recipes dog-eared in your cookbooks; or surreptitiously ripped from a magazine in your doctor's office; or bookmarked from that blog you love? In other words, what do you do with the recipes you already turn to, again and again, for your son's birthday cake or your friend's "I broke up with my boyfriend – again" sympathy brownies? What if, with a few simple tweaks and twists, you could change those recipes into one-bowl wonders?

Sift dry ingredients straight into the mixing bowl.
Sift dry ingredients straight into the mixing bowl. Photo: Marina Oliphant

To simplify my baking, I have several strategies I rely on over and over again, and you can, too. Of course, not every recipe can be converted – for instance, those calling for beating yolks and whites separately will never a one-bowl wonder make – but favourites including upside-down cakes, pavlovas and many others convert brilliantly to a one-bowl assembly. Here, I share the tools every one-bowl baker needs in their arsenal, as well as a few of my favourite tips for putting them to work.

The one-bowl baker's tool kit

A large glass mixing bowl is not only the "one dirty bowl" in which many one-bowl recipes are assembled, but is also the ideal vessel for a recipe that begins with melting butter (or chocolate) in the microwave. A large metal mixing bowl works as well, but to heat its contents, you must create a makeshift double-boiler over a pot of simmering water on the stove top. Hardly a tragedy, but a glass bowl, plus microwave, simplifies the process.

A large (one-litre) glass measuring cup not only measures liquid ingredients, and like the large glass mixing bowl, is handy for melting chocolate and butter in the microwave, but it is also the perfect container in which to prepare an egg wash to brush on scones, for instance.

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A digital scale for measuring your dry ingredients indisputably reduces the number of dirty utensils needing to be cleaned. And as luck would have it for the one-bowl baker, many baking recipes now include weight measurements in grams. I still recommend holding on to your liquid measuring tools (a glass measuring cup, for example), but dry ingredient cups and (often) measuring spoons become delightfully obsolete when you have a scale on the kitchen counter.

A fine-mesh sieve is essential for ensuring your dry ingredients get mixed together before being added to your wet ones, since you won't be whisking them first in a separate bowl. Sift your dry ingredients directly over your mixing bowl or onto a sheet of baking paper (my favourite).

A roll of baking paper is not only your best friend when lining a tin or tray, but is also the perfect landing (and resting) pad for sifted dry ingredients. Moreover, a sheet of baking paper can be recycled for this purpose. Store it folded up in a zip-lock plastic bag or rolled up with a rubber band around it, flattening it out on the bench before reusing.

The one-bowl baker's strategies for conversion

Reject mise en place: Mise en place is the process of measuring and setting out all the recipe's ingredients in a variety of bowls before cooking and is the antithesis of one-bowl baking. One-bowl bakers may still organise their ingredients before starting to assemble the recipe, but they scoop or pour directly from the ingredient's vessel (a bag or a jar) into the designated bowl or sieve.

Modify the order of assembly: When one-bowl baking, there are no extra bowls in which to prep ingredients. Converting a favourite recipe to a one-bowl wonder, therefore, typically requires that you save the following steps for last: adding dry ingredients, prepping add-ins and, perhaps, mixing up such last minute flourishes as a tasty cinnamon-sugar mixture for sprinkling. Additionally, without the extra bowls, tricky-to-incorporate ingredients, such as powdery thickeners, need to be added in a sequence to maximise their mixability (such as, when making a crumble, combining arrowroot or cornflour with sugar in your one bowl, and mixing the two, before adding the berries, will help the berries to evenly absorb the thickener).

Reuse measuring tools for holding small amounts of ingredients: For instance squeeze the lemon directly into a measuring cup, which you will later use to measure another wet ingredient, such as buttermilk and, finally, to whisk an egg wash.

Reuse the bowl for icings and fillings: After scraping every bit of your cake batter into a baking tin, a quick wipe with a paper towel is all your bowl needs before adding icing or filling ingredients.

As these tools and strategies reveal, easy baking with little clean up – even on a weeknight – is 100 per cent within your reach. Converting baking recipes you love to a one-bowl assembly requires nothing more than a little forethought about which tools you will pull from your cabinets and how you will creatively use them, about how you collect your ingredients before baking with them, and about the rejiggering of your recipe's steps. Done, done and done.

The Washington Post