Essential Baking Tools
Baking is so much easier and effortless when one has the right tools in the kitchen. It isn't necessary to have the best or the most expensive set of gadgets to bake a perfect cake, cookie, pie or loaf of bread, but it is a wise thing to have the proper tools in order to do so. Just think at how much lighter a cake is when the dry ingredient are sifted through a fine mesh sieve or how perfectly round and consistent in size a chocolate chip cookie can be when portioned out with an ice cream scoop. Zesting citrus after citrus using a microplane, scaling batters or entire recipes in metric units or in U.S. measurements using a digital scale, or making sure one's oven is at the exact temperature by using an oven thermometer, are just some examples of how one can benefit from a good set of baking tools. How else does one expect to get consistent results for a recipe every time? By measuring, weighing, portioning and baking with the appropriate tools is how one achieves precision at home.
Every honest baker will tell you that baking is an exact science and they are absolutely right in saying so. As one who likes to bake on a regular basis I find that having my essential tools at the ready enables me to bake at a moment's notice. Use the list I've compiled as a guide. There is nothing on it that is out of reach for the beginner baker. Take a look at what I use the most in my kitchen when I bake.
- Aprons are great at keeping clothes free of flour, butter, chocolate, egg, sugar syrups and many other things that may end up splashing as you bake. Look for those which will fit you as if they were custom made for your body type. Although they all say they are one-size-fits-all, it isn't always the case. I have some that are virtually useless to me because they are so large. If you can try one on at a kitchen wares store then go right ahead.
- Kitchen Towels are a tool I consider to be important. Not only do they double up as oven mitts and pot holders, they are wonderful for removing skins from toasted nuts or for draping over a stand mixer when adding flour (this keeps it from flying all over you counter). I keep all-cotton towels that are of the bar mop & flour sack variety. The flour sack cloths are large and bar mops are smaller. Keep several on hand at all times and use fresh ones every single day.
- Digital Scales are an invaluable tool in a baker's kitchen. Having one enables you to properly weigh all of your ingredients for consistent results. I love this one from Salter which allows me to switch between Metric & U.S. measurements. A lot of professional bakers weigh everything instead of using measuring cups.
- Liquid Measuring Cups are meant for just that. Don't think that you can measure flour, sugar or other dry ingredients in them. Tempered glass ones that range in size from 1 cup all the way to 16 cups (1 gallon) can be purchased just about anywhere. There are also some that come in clear plastic with measurements that can be viewed from above so that you don't have to bend or stoop over. Choose what's best for you. Dishwasher safe.
- Dry Measuring Cups are the preferred way to measure dry ingredients in the United States. I love having several sets of these in stainless steel and even in plastic. Flour, sugars, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips and many other things that are considered "dry ingredients" should be measured in these. A standard set will have a 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 & 1 cup measure. There are also odd measuring cups which measure everything in between and even up to 2 cups. Dishwasher safe.
- Measuring Spoons also come in standard 1/4, 1/2, 1, 1 1/2 teaspoon & 1 tablespoon sets. Again, I like having more than one set of these so that I can measure several things at once without having to transfer flavors onto something else. They do come in odd measurements as well. Dishwasher safe.
- Kitchen Timers are a must in a baker's kitchen. Having 2 will allow you to keep tabs on two things at once. These can make the difference between a cookie that bakes to perfection and one that ends up resembling a piece of coal. Either a digital or dial timer is good for the home baker. Although my kitchen range has a built in timer which I do use, I still rely on these countertop timers.
- Candy Thermometers are meant to sit in a pot of boiling sugar or hot oil (think fritters & donuts). They come with a clip on attachment that makes it possible to set onto the side of a saucepan. These are important when making caramels, buttercreams, meringues, spun sugar and other confections.
- Instant Read Thermometers do come in handy for bakers. Some bread recipes will give you an internal temperature with which to gauge for doneness, so it does help to have one in your kitchen. A digital one is more precise, but a dial instant read works just as well.
- Oven Thermometers are a must in every baker's kitchen. You should have one set in your oven at all times so that you can determine if your oven is working properly. Some ovens will veer off course when it comes to temperature, so it's wise to use one. As you can see from this picture, mine is a well-used one!
- Rulers let you measure the width of pastries and the thickness of doughs when baking. If you want to have croissants that are exactly alike in shape & size, you're going to need a ruler. They aren't expensive.
- Rubber or Silicone Spatulas are necessary to scrape down bowls, fold & stir ingredients. Have several of these ranging in size from small to large. A spoonula is also handy for transferring batters into baking pans. Top rack, dishwasher safe.
- Large & Small Metal Spatulas make it possible to transfer baked goods from one place to another. The large pancake style turner is handy when moving an iced layer cake from a decorator's turntable to a cake stand. Look for those which are sturdy and well made. The smaller spatulas are perfect when removing cookies from baking sheets onto cooling racks. All stainless steel spatulas are dishwasher safe, wooden handled ones are not.
- Large Stainless Steel Spoons are great for stirring simmering and boiling ingredients. Think jams and jellies. They too are dishwasher safe.
- Metal Icing Spatulas are available either straight or offset. Both come with either a plastic or wooden handle and are wonderful for icing cakes, rolls, cupcakes and many other pastries. Ranging in size from small to very long, the most useful for me are the small offset & straight ones (great for cookies!) and the medium-sized ones (perfect for layer cakes). Wooden handled ones are hand wash only, plastic handled ones are dishwasher safe.
- Ice Cream Scoops with release mechanisms are handy for portioning out cookie doughs. This makes even sized cookies every time. Although they come in all sizes having a 1 1/2" and 2" is perfect for me.
- A Metal Skewer is one of those little helpers that are often overlooked. I use one to stir or marbleize batters instead of a knife and I even use it to test cakes and breads.
- Vegetable Peelers make handy work of prepping several ingredients in the baker's kitchen. Wonderful for peeling carrots for carrot cakes or the like, they can also be used to shave off pieces of your favorite chocolate for garnishes. A traditional shaped or Y-shaped peeler work just the same. Look for all steel ones.
- Citrus Reamers allow you to extract every drop of juice from various citrus fruits.
- Biscuit Cutters with sharp straight sides cut biscuits quickly and effortlessly, but they also work on cookie doughs and other types of pastry. A set of graduated rounds with or without handles should be in every baker's kitchen.
- A Small Sieve/Strainer is an invaluable tool. I always sift my baking soda or baking powder & spices through one of these little strainers to remove any lumps.
- Kitchen Shears should only be used in the kitchen and not for anything else. You will need a good set for cutting parchment, waxed paper, kitchen twine, cheesecloth and even excess pastry when making pies.
- A Cherry Pitter or Olive Pitter will effortlessly remove those stubborn pits.
- Melon Ballers are good for doing just that. They can also remove pits from halved pears, apples and other fruit. Get one that is all stainless steel.
- Zest Strippers removes strips of zest form your favorite citrus. The strips can be used for candied peels or as garnishes to many desserts.
- An Apple Corer is just the tool for coring apples for dumplings, pies or other desserts. One quick shove into the fruit and the entire core comes out cleanly.
- Microplane Zesters or Rasp Graters need to be in your kitchen. I LOVE microplane graters to no end because they zest citrus fruits effortlessly. I can measure my zest so much easier by using one of these than by using a traditional box grater. Rasp graters are my second choice before I reach for a box grater.
- A Balloon Whisk is perfect for whipping up egg whites in copper bowls or heavy cream for whipped cream garnishes. The smaller whisk can be used to mix dry ingredients in a bowl when a recipe calls for it or for making curds & pastry creams. Get all steel whisks and stay away from those which have silicone covered wires. Over time the silicone will crack and break off. Not a good thing to have go into a baked good!
- Pastry Cutters make quick work of cutting in butter or shortening into flour when making crusts. An all stainless steel one is best for this task. I sometimes use one to mash up fruit if I'm making a jam.
- Pastry Wheel Cutters allow you to cut strips of pastry for weaving lattice tops or for making croissants and danish pastries. They come with a fluted or straight wheel. Both types are handy.
- Bench Scrapers are necessary to keep doughs moving on your countertop. These scoop up doughs that are prone to stick to surfaces, but they can also be used to cut & divide doughs for portioning & scaling.
- Bowl Scrapers made of plastic are nice to have to do just that. I also like to smooth out certain doughs with it.
- Pastry Brushes are a must! Dedicate a set for pastry and pastry only. Leave those for marinades and barbecues elsewhere. I like a wide brush for sweeping off excess flour from pie crusts and cookie doughs, and the smaller ones for brushing glazes and syrups onto goods. Wash them well and dry them completely after each use.
- Round Cooling Racks make it easy to cool cake layers and flip them right side up. Get those which are several inches wider than your cake pans. Two of these racks are good, but three are better.
- Small Round Cooling Racks can serve as trivets, but they can also be used to line a stock pot of simmering water for steamed pudding molds or bowls (think Plum Pudding for Christmas!).
- Rectangular Cooling Racks are absolutely necessary for cakes, breads, pies & cookies. I like large ones and those which fit snugly into a half sheet pan. When place over a baking sheet, one can ice & glaze many baked goods without fear of dirtying up a counter. A baker should have at least 2 of these.
- Tempered Glass Bowls can handle boiling liquids or ice cold liquids without fear of cracking or breaking. I sometimes fill one of these bowls with iced water to cool down other ingredients. I'm also known for using them as double boilers when making boiled icings or when melting chocolate. Get a set of nesting bowls that range in size from small to large. Dishwasher safe.
- Stoneware Bowls are nice for mixing & proofing bread doughs. I have many collectible bowls that are nice to use on a regular basis. I don't put these in the dishwasher.
- Stainless Steel Bowls are useful for mixing anything. Since they are dishwasher safe, I reach for these more often than not. A set of nesting bowls is perfect for any kitchen.
- Sieves can sift dry ingredients or they can strain any type of liquid. Stainless steel ones with a long handle and a hook on the opposite end are the most useful. Having a set of nesting ones will see you through many recipes.
- Cheesecloth will give you the clearest jams and jellies every time. It's great to have clips to clamp down the cheesecloth onto strainers.
- Repurposed Jam Jars are always kept in my cupboard for storing all sorts of items. If I want to make a small batch of jam with fresh fruit from the farmers market I store the confiture in one of these. I also keep simple syrups in them.
- Canning Jar Funnels are essential when pouring jams & jellies into jars for safe storage. Buy those made from stainless steel.
- Waxed Paper is handy for lining cake pans and for putting under cake layers when icing directly onto a cake stand. It keeps pedestals clean of any frosting when putting the finishing touches on cakes. Waxed paper is NOT suitable for lining cookie sheets. It will melt & smoke with the heat of your oven.
- Parchment Paper is what you reach for when lining cookie sheets. Either bleached or unbleached, the paper can withstand temperatures up to about 425F. It makes any baking pan nonstick. Cutting small pieces of parchment into cones, one can make small piping bags for fine filigree work of chocolate or other icings. This type of paper should be in every baker's kitchen.
- Silpat Liners are used a lot in my kitchen. They're silicone based mats which make any surface nonstick; no need to grease cookie sheets anymore. Although they are a bit expensive (about $20 per liner) the mats will last you through thousands of uses in the kitchen. I've had some for almost 10 years now and they still haven't degraded! A wise investment to be sure.
- A Basic Set of Piping Tips is nice to have if you want to create nice layer cakes. Get yourself a few couplers so that you can switch piping tips without having to switch pastry bags
- Pastry Bags range in size from a mere 8" to well over 16". A 12" and 14" pastry bag will get you through many cake decorating tasks. Disposable clear plastic ones can be bought in bulk, but I find plastic coated nylon bags (they're reusable) great for buttercreams.
- Muffin Liners make greasing & flouring pans unnecessary. They come in a range of sizes and colors, with many companies offering festive ones during the holidays.
- A Cake Decorating Turntable is an investment. Made with a heavy cast iron base, the plate rotates independently of the stand making it easy to ice a cake like a professional. The plate can be removed so that one can chill cake layers without having to move the entire stand itself. I'm lost without mine.
- A Ball Bearing Rolling Pin that is large and heavy is a must when making pastry. I find myself reaching for this one the most because its size & weight makes quick work of rolling out just about anything. The one I own is made by Ateco and the barrel measures 18" in length.
- A French Rolling Pin without any handles is also wonderful for rolling pastry. Bakers will often say that this type of rolling pin allows them to "feel" the dough and work it properly.
- A quick note. I like putting my spatulas & wooden spoons in separate containers because I don't like to mix the ones I use for savory cooking with those I use for baking. The last thing I need is to stir a cake batter with a spatula I've used to make a seafood marinara. This is a wise thing and it's an essential thing if you're going to bake well.
I rely on each of these tools and gadgets to get me through my baking tasks at home. These are all things that I've acquired throughout the years, being careful to keep what has worked for me and getting rid of what hasn't. My hope is that more and more of you continue having good, successful baking in your homes and that you attempt new recipes in the future. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than having a reader send me an email thanking me for having given them a certain recipe or a certain tip through this blog. It's my intention to give you the best advice that I happen to know. With the right tools and the right baking equipment at one's disposal, it is indeed possible to be a formidable home baker.