A garlic baker is a piece of cookware which is designed to be used to bake garlic. In addition to being used in the oven, a garlic baker can also serve as a garlic keeper, for cooks who like to keep their garlic at room temperature in the kitchen. Many kitchen supply stores sell garlic bakers, and they can also be ordered from specialty purveyors. Creative potters might also want to try their hands at making a garlic baker.
When garlic is roasted, it brings out the natural sugars in the garlic bulbs and caramelizes them slightly. The result is much sweeter than raw garlic, with a chewy, dense texture. Many people enjoy baked garlic spread on bread, and roasted garlic can also be mixed into mashed potatoes, breads, dressings, and other foods for additional flavor. While it is certainly possible to roast garlic in other dishes, a garlic baker is specifically designed for the task.
There are two parts to a garlic baker. The bottom is a shallow dish which may be glazed or unglazed. The top is a large dome, which may be fancifully shaped like a head of garlic or left plain. To roast garlic, cooks rub off the outer papery layers of a head of garlic and then cut the top off, exposing some of the cloves of garlic. The garlic is placed inside the garlic baker and roasted in a hot oven for around an hour, until the individual cloves turn soft.
The top of a garlic baker is usually soaked in water first, so that the garlic partly steams and partly bakes. The moisture keeps the garlic from drying out and turning tasteless. For a more varied flavor, some cooks drizzle garlic with olive oil and herbs before roasting. It is also usually possible to roast multiple heads of garlic in one garlic baker, or to roast other small vegetables as well.
If a garlic baker is not available, a clay pot can also be used quite effectively. A small covered roasting dish also works. However, you will need to pour a shallow layer of water into the dish to retain moisture through the baking process, since you have no porous terra cotta to soak. Once roasted, the garlic can be served hot directly out of the clay garlic baker or roasting dish, or it can be allowed to cool and gently squeezed to separate the cloves from the papery outer skin.