How to Bake In a Tiny Kitchen
Here’s what to do if you don’t even have a built-in oven.
For two and a half years, I lived in a small 350-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong. And while tiny homes are in vogue right now, my choice of a small living space wasn’t an attempt to save money or to downsize. The city is the world's most expensive to rent in, and apartments there are notoriously cramped. When I first moved in, I marveled at how I could swivel around a chair in my living room/kitchen and be able to reach everything in the room.
Halfway through my time in Hong Kong, I decided that I wanted to bake my own sourdough bread, though I was at a loss for where to start. Most apartments in Asia don’t have built-in ovens, let alone enough countertop space for a toaster oven. Eventually I met a baker named Eva Montauk, who moderates a Facebook group called HK Bread Bakers. Turns out, I wasn’t alone in my struggles. Navigating a small kitchen space is a universal reality for the average baker in Hong Kong. The Facebook group not only provided me with my first sourdough starter, but also gave me some useful tips on how to churn out a consistent supply of sourdough given space constraints.
Here are some of the invaluable tips and tricks I learned about bread making (and baking in general) in a small kitchen.
Get a Countertop Electric Oven
A portable oven might seem a bit janky for baking, but it actually works really well. By now, I’ve baked over a hundred loaves of bread in my 32-liter Panasonic electric oven. In Hong Kong, I would store it on the floor and hoist it up onto the table whenever I needed to bake. If 32-liters is still too big of an appliance for your kitchen, you could start even smaller. Montauk’s first major baking appliance in Hong Kong was a little toaster oven. “I had to tear off the handles of my Dutch oven because it wouldn’t fit into my oven otherwise,” she recalls.
If You’re Using an Electric Oven, Preheat Your Baking Dish
Compared to a traditional conventional oven, electric ovens aren’t great at trapping heat because they have such thin doors. If you’re baking sourdough or using a recipe that requires high temperatures, I recommend baking your bread in a preheated Dutch oven. It’ll provide an extra layer of insulation and help bump the temperature up. It’ll also create steam, which gives bread a crispy exterior. I bake my bread in a five-quart Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, which makes all the difference between a fluffy, full bread and a lackluster flat loaf. If you’re baking something like a cobbler or cornbread, consider preheating a small cast iron skillet before adding your ingredients to it.
Ditch the Fancy Mixers
Skip the stand mixer and hand mixer which take up space and go as low-tech as possible. I use my hands or a rubber spatula to mix up dough, or if you want, you can just buy a plain dough hook without the fancy machinery behind it.
MacGyver Your Baking Dishes So They Fit In Your Oven
As much as you want it to, sometimes a standard-sized pan just won’t fit in a small oven. This is where it’s important to be creative. I had a roasting pan made out of galvanized steel that was only a couple centimeters too wide for the oven, so I bent down its sides with a wrench so that it would be a snug fit. When Montauk unscrewed the handle from the top of her Dutch, she would cover the resulting hole with a coin to keep the heat in. You might have to Macgyver your tools a little bit, but it’s well worth the effort. If regular baking sheets won’t fit into your oven, you can always purchase 1/4 sheet pans. You get the drift.
Bake Small Batches
Recipes tend to be written with a large oven in mind. It’s important to pare down your quantities ahead of time to adjust to the size of your oven. For example, most sourdough instructions call for 1000 grams of flour. In my small kitchen set-up, I can only use 800 grams and will bake two loaves back-to-back. When I don’t have as much time, I’ll reduce it to just one loaf at 400 grams. When we’re baking lasagna, we’ll assemble a mini lasagna in a rectangular, glass Pyrex container.
Bake On All Your Oven’s Racks
While a countertop oven might be small, many of the brands still have sliding racks that you can stack on top of each other, and they’re a great way to cook multiple things at once. Of course, because of the limited height of these ovens, the options are rather limited. Flatbreads and pizzas are good dishes to bake at once and make the most of the space.
Use the Refrigerator as Storage
Countertop space is hard to find in a small kitchen, so instead of leaving things out, I like to use my refrigerator as storage space. I leave my starter in the fridge and it does just fine. I proof my dough slowly overnight in the fridge. This adds a bit of extra time to the cooking process, but the trade-off is a clutter-free kitchen.