Brookstone Perfect Bake
I can count the number of times I’ve baked on one hand, but I’ve consumed enough homemade baked goods to know that store-bought sweets aren’t worth the calories. So I was intrigued by the Perfect Bake, which promises to “turn anyone into a pastry chef.”
Based on my experience with the product, I think a child could use it to whip up a delicious batch of chocolate diablo cookies from scratch as easily I did. But I could also say the same if that child learned the traditional way, and didn’t rely on a fancy scale plugged into an iPad.
And then that child could apply those acquired skills to other culinary adventures.
Baking isn’t the terribly difficult task Brookstone would have you think it is: “Now you don’t need to be a scientist to bake perfectly” reads one claim on the side of the box. Like I said, I’m no expert, but I’ve learned that as long as you don’t leave out key elements (baking soda or powder, for instance), your recipe will tolerate a little too much or a little too little of this or that. The Perfect Bake's claim to eliminate the need to measure ingredients is just silly.
Here’s what you get with the $70 Perfect Bake system: A battery-operated digital scale, three plastic mixing bowls, an oven thermometer, a stand to prop up your smartphone or tablet, and an app with a few hundred recipes. Plug the scale into the headphone jack on your smart device (I used an iPad 2), launch the app and choose a recipe, and you’re ready to start.
The app lists all the ingredients you’ll need, so you can make sure you have everything. It also lists any prep work you should do, such as allowing certain ingredients to come to room temperature, lining your cookie sheet, and preheating your oven.
The next step is to mix the dry ingredients, with the app instructing you to pour each one into the bowl you’ve placed on the scale. The app interacts with the scale, displaying a rising line as you pour in the ingredient, and it dings when you’ve hit the right amount.
Put too much of any one ingredient in the bowl and you'll will throw the whole system off because it works according to the incremental weight of the ingredients in the bowl. Add too much flour, and you’ll be guided to put in too little cocoa, sugar, and baking soda, for instance. After all, it's very difficult to remove any excess ingredient once it’s in the bowl.
But the next step in the process—mixing the liquid ingredients—is what really irked me. You don’t use the scale at all here; you rely on old-school measuring cups and spoons. I’ve found that I have much better control scooping dry ingredients—flour and sugar, for instance—than pouring them out of their containers. And if you’re using those kitchen implements for the wet ingredients anyway, you might as well use them for the dry makings, too.
If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right
The Perfect Bake can’t eliminate the need for other kitchen essentials, such as an electric mixer. But the app’s step-by-step process indicator includes a timer that helps ensure you don’t under- or over-mix, a second timer that will make sure you don’t under or overcook your creations, and a third to ensure you let them cool sufficiently (okay, that one’s a little silly). The timer doesn't account for oven features such as convection bake, however, so my cookies came out a little crunchier than I would have preferred.
Of course, you could just as easily time your workflow by following the instructions in the recipe, and using the timer on your watch or smartphone. The scale does offer an advantage in that it will measure recipes with portions, such as drop cookies, so they come out of the oven baked to the precise temperature. But I had trouble getting the scale and app to work correctly on this step.
The app has a couple of other good features: It’s loaded with context-sensitive tips to help newbie bakers. When you’re adding small amounts of ingredients, for instance, the app will show you who to dispense them (by pinching granular ingredients, or tapping a spoon instead of pouring right out of the container).
Perfect Bake’s best feature is its ability to recalculate quantities of ingredients when you increase or reduce the amount of finished product you want to end up with. If you want to make 60 cookies using a recipe designed for two dozen, it’s much easier to have the app scale up the ounces of each dry ingredient you’ll need to pour into the bowl than to do the measuring-cup math in your head. The app will also calculate the quantities of wet ingredients you’ll need, but you’ll still need the traditional tools for doling those out.
In the final analysis, Perfect Bake is a solution in search of a problem. Baking isn’t that difficult; humans figured it out before they mastered fire (the earliest bakers would spread their ingredients on a hot rock). If you’re afraid of getting the proportions wrong, even the boxed mixes (or pre-made dough, if you’re making cookies) will taste better than ready-made treats.
Perfect Bake doesn’t make bad baked goods, but using it is no easier than the traditional method. And coming to depend on this system means you’ll never really learn how to bake.
Brookstone Perfect Bake
Baking isn't so complicated that we need a whole new set of tools and methods for doing it, especially when you still need the old tools and methods for more than half of the process anyway.
- Makes it easy to scale recipe servings s up or down
- App offers helpful, context-sensitive tips for baking newbies
- No faster or easier than traditional baking methods
- Scale is good only for measuring dry ingredients
- Using this crutch means you'll never really learn how to bake