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Before you frost your cake, or serve your roast beef, you may want to place it on a cooling rack. Cooling baked goods before serving them, frosting them or storing them is an important process in maintaining the integrity of the finished product. Meat, likewise, should rest for 20 minutes before being carved, and a cooling rack may be employed to allow the meat to both rest and cool.
Primarily, the cooling rack functions as a way to cool down baked goods, and a handy place to store baked goods until you serve, frost or pack them. Cooling racks come in many different sizes and are usually made of metal. Small metal bars run across the rack, allowing air to circulate not only on top of cookies or cakes, but also underneath them. The rack may also have bars running in both directions or be composed of fine metal net if you're cooling small items.
Sizes and prices of cooling racks vary considerably. You can find simple, single racks for under 10 US dollars (USD). These may be great for cooling a batch of cookies, cupcakes, or a single layer of a layer cake. Other cooling racks have several tiers or levels, and are frequently collapsible so they don’t take up much space when stored. These are great for shorter items, like a batch of cookies for instance, though many feel that the heat from each rack may increase cooling time.
You can find round, square and rectangular cooling racks. Round ones are especially useful for round layer cakes, and they make for an excellent way to easily flip a cake out of the cake pan. You merely put the cooling rack onto to the top of the cake pan, invert the pan, and hopefully, when you lift the pan, your whole cake has come out and can be cooled before being frosted.
Cooling racks for cakes are absolutely essential. If you frost a still warm cake, you’ll end up with a different texture to your frosting or even melted frosting. Even if you plan to leave the cake in the pan, you can still place it on a cooling rack to help speed the cool-down process. Similarly you can place warm pies, tarts or turnovers on a cooling rack and get them to cool down more quickly.
You should look for cooling racks that will best fit your baking needs. For instance, if you bake many cookies, the three-tiered collapsible cooling racks may be the best choices. If you make large oblong cakes, look for cooling racks upon which the pan will sit comfortably. It’s definitely a mistake to use a cooling rack, especially when turning out a cake that is too small. That tends to be the pathway toward breaking a cake when you try to get it out of a pan. You’ll probably want to purchase several sizes if you do a lot of baking.
The cooling rack should have small feet that lift the metal bars or net up off the surface upon which it sits. A flat cooling rack without any lift may be cheaper, but it won’t give the main advantage, which is the ability for air to circulate completely around the food. Also if you’re making anything particularly sticky or chewy, you might want to coat your cooling rack in non-stick spray so that when the items are cool they don’t stick to the rack.
I made fruitcake cookies last Christmas, and I don't know how they would have turned out if not for the cooling rack. They were nice and chewy-crisp, which is how they were supposed to be. I was so tickled that they turned out so well. I know it was because they were able to cool with air circulating between all the cookies. If I'd piled them all on a plate, they probably would have been gummy and nasty.
A cooling rack is also good for transporting layer cakes. If they're on a large rack, you can just carry them, rack and all. Makes the chances of having an accident go way, way down. They store easily too, so I'm all for having the biggest cooling rack that will fit on your counter top!
A cooling rack is one of those utensils that is worth its weight in gold in a kitchen. They're great for cooling cakes and cookies, but you can also use them as drainers for fried foods. You can put the food on the racks and paper towels underneath.
Some cakes just don't do well unless they're cooled in the pan sitting on a cooling rack. They don't want to come out in one piece when they aren't properly cooled underneath, too. Bundt cakes are especially bad about it.