At the beginning of almost every cookbook, the author will give a description of the basic things every person needs to cook and bake with. Though most of the information is pretty similar, there is always something new I learn from each cookbook. I am an avid cookbook reader, and I read a cookbook like it’s the greatest novel ever. It’s how I’ve learned over the years. When I initially had the idea of doing a blog, I knew that one of the first things I wanted to do was exactly that same thing, give helpful basic information on the tools and ingredients needed to help you succeed in the kitchen. So here it is, I’ll be doing a series that will be once a week for 6 weeks on the essential baking and cooking tools, products and ingredients that I feel are some of the most essential to have in your kitchen. Most of this might be information you may already know but there is always that one thing you learn that will change the way you’ve been doing things or that one helpful hint that will make things a whole lot easier. Our first in the series are the essential baking tools. The products pictured are the ones I personally use. Please don’t feel that you need the same ones, these are simply my recommendations.
1. Spatulas – The first and most essential tool needed. Spatulas are great for blending, mixing batters, scraping down the sides of a mixing bowl and folding egg whites into batter. I love these particular ones because the actual spatula part is pretty firm. It does not bend easily which makes scraping and mixing a lot easier. I also love the mini ones which are great for using in smaller jars and smaller tasks. I like to have several on hand.
2. Metal Spatulas – I love the spatula on the left in this picture. It’s a large, flat metal spatula that I like to use best for transferring cookies from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. Another benefit of the larger metal spatula is for when you are working with cutout sugar cookie dough, it’s much easier with the metal spatula to lift the cutout and transfer it to your baking sheet. The other two spatulas are great for serving and slicing pies or cheesecakes.
3. Frosting Spatulas – These are essential to have if you want to frost a cake with precision and to create a smooth surface. All three of these provide a different use when frosting cakes. The top one is a large offset spatula that helps with spreading the frosting and for working at different angles. The straight spatula, the one in the middle, is one I use for the initial application of frosting, or applying the crumb coat of frosting (more on that in another series). The bottom one is a mini offset spatula for hand frosting on cupcakes.
4. Whisks – Whisks are so great for so many different purposes–mostly to whisk foods rapidly and for thorough blending. The whisk on the left is a french whisk, it is more narrow with fairly straight loops. I use this to blend my dry ingredients together, and when I don’t want to add any excess air. The middle one is a non-stick balloon whisk. I use this for when I’m making a pastry creme in a stainless steel saucepan. The reason I do is because when you use a metal whisk in a metal pan, your creme tends to take on the aluminum aftertaste. Use the balloon whisk also when you want to create air, and for beating egg whites or cream. I have the balloon whisk in both non-stick and stainless steel. I love the smaller one for using in smaller bowls.
5. Pastry Brushes – Use these brushes when you need to brush egg wash, melted butter, or glaze on pastries or breads.
6. Ice cream Scoops – I’m not sure how I ever managed without these scoops. I use them not only for scooping ice cream but to help with scooping batter to ensure that all my portions are the same in my cupcakes and cookies. I use the largest one specifically for scooping my cupcake batter into the cupcake liner. I like to use the medium sized one for scooping cooking dough onto the cookie sheet and I use the smaller one for bite size cookies or mini cupcakes.
7. Microplane – Handheld graters are so great for so many things. The wider one can be used for hard cheeses such as parmesan and for shaving chocolate. I like to use the long narrow one for grating fresh garlic and ginger or to zest citrus fruits. I have several of these because I like to use one for zesting citrus, and one for the garlic and ginger. The smaller one is specific to grating fresh nutmeg.
8. Measuring Cups – I’m sure that everyone has measuring cups but I’m definitely partial to stainless steel ones for a few reasons. I have gone through probably 5-6 different sets throughout the years due to them breaking or melting. So I decided on these stainless steel ones for durability and the straight edge helps to level off with precision. I also like the options in these sets, they offer a standard set, from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. And an odd set with 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups. The measuring spoons are also available in a standard-size or odd-sized set.
9. Liquid Measuring Cups – Liquid needs to be measured in liquid specific cups. They are available in two different materials, glass and a firm food-grade silicone. A few years ago I switched out my glass ones for the silicone cups. Over the years, some of the glass ones I had, had the marking wear off or they were dropped and broken. These silicone cups are flexible enough to squeeze so that I can control the amount of liquid pouring out–such a great feature. The cute little mini cup is so great for measuring smaller amounts of liquid. I use these multiple times throughout the day for different cooking and baking needs, so it’s great to have a few of these on hand.
10. Kitchen Scale – A kitchen scale is recommended by chefs and professional bakers across the world due to the fact that it provides the most accurate measurement. Just a little side note, not all standard measuring cups are accurate as far as measurement goes. They all vary slightly. For this reason, chefs rely on the accuracy the scale provides. For a home cook, most recipes are not converted into grams or ounces, so I use both. I use my kitchen scale for measuring chocolate blocks that have been chopped or for measuring specialty flours and sugars.
11. Thermometers – Thermometers are available in a wide range of styles. Instant read is the most commonly used and the one I always use. It provides the fastest, most accurate reading. If you cook or bake a lot, may I recommend investing in a Thermapen, the bottom green one. I like the ease of use as well as the fact that it reads the temperature so quickly. My recipes calling for cooked sugars have dramatically improved since owning this great tool. I also strongly urge everyone to own an oven thermometer. Here’s the thing, when you preheat your oven, the temperature indicator goes off in only about 5 minutes. All that tells you is that the air inside the oven has reached that temperature, the metal surfaces have not. It actually takes about 30 minutes for your oven to reach the correct temperature. Test it out, next time you preheat your oven, use an oven thermometer to check for accuracy. If your cookies have been falling flat, or your cakes have been sinking in the middle, chances are your oven wasn’t at the correct temperature. Try to preheat for at least 30 minutes. Also, try to check what you are baking or cooking by using the oven light. Once you open the oven door, the air escapes and the temperature drops.
12. Pastry Blender/Scraper – A pastry blender is a great tool for cutting butter or fat mixed with flour for dough or for creating a streusal topping on baked goods. The scraper is used for scraping sticky dough from surfaces, cutting dough into portions, or folding dough.
13. Rolling Pins – Rolling pins are essential in any kitchen for obvious reasons but let me tell you the difference in these two that I own. The one on the left is a tapered rolling pin. The tapering enables you to pivot and rotate the pin while you use it to create a round dough. It is perfect for pie dough. The straight rolling pin (on the right), is a little heavier, perfect for rolling dough such as a sugar cookie dough, flat bread dough or puff pastry dough. Both are fairly inexpensive and should last quite a long time.
14. Pie Weights – I like these ceramic pie weights mostly because I don’t generally have dried beans (which is also recommended instead of weights). They are used to weigh down pie dough when it is blind baked (pre-baked without a filling). A sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil is fitted onto the dough and then the weights are placed on top as it bakes to prevent the dough from puffing up and so the bottom crust stays even.
15. Pastry Cutter – These are used to cut straight lines or scalloped edges on things like pastry dough or pasta dough such as ravioli. I use mine often for making homemade graham crackers or for cutting lattice top pie crusts. I love this dual one because it’s two products in one.
16. Biscuit Cutters – I like having these cutters with the handle for ease of use. They are great because the rim is sharp and cuts nicely into the dough. In addition to using them for cutting biscuits, you can use them for cookies, or doughnuts. Yum, doughnuts
17. Graduated Cutters – I love the options these cutters offer in the varying sizes. Use them for anything from a large sugar cookie as the base for mini-fruit pizzas, or small scalloped square shortbread cookies for beautiful presentation.
18. Pie Cutters – If you want a beautiful edge for your pie, these cutters take your pie to a whole new level. I am all about presentation in anything I cook or bake. It’s actually more of an OCD thing for me. I love beautiful presentations. These cutters generally come in a set of 3-4. I don’t have a reference on where to buy them because they are out of season. I like to dip the cutter in flour before placing it on the pie dough for cutting, this will help so the dough doesn’t stick to your cutter.
19. Pastry Mats – Pastry mats are so useful to help prevent dough from sticking. The mat on the left I use specifically for pie dough. It provides a smooth surface for rolling out the dough, as well as a nice measurement guide to help you roll out to your desired size of pie. The middle mat is called a Silpat. It provides a great non-stick base on your cookie sheet to prevent sticking. It comes in a range of sizes for different sized pans. The one on the right is a macaron mat. I want to just give a big hug to the brilliant person who came up with the idea for this mat. Bless you for making my macaron-making life so much easier. This mat is also a non-stick surface with pre-marked circles to use as a guide for your macarons to ensure the same size. I love it. Anything that makes making macarons easier, I’m all for.
20. Parchment Paper – Though I’m sure everyone knows what parchment paper is, I had to include it because it’s a baking staple for me. I use it to line cookie sheets and cake pans for easy release of your baked goods. It can also be used for cooling candy or chocolates.
21. Cupcake Liners – I personally only like to use grease proof brown or white cupcake liners. I’m a minimalist when it comes to anything that holds food. I only have all white dishes, both in my dinnerware and serveware. I like the food to be the focus of the presentation. White is so classic for that. For my cupcakes, I follow the same rule. I mostly use brown because I just like the look of it. Whenever I have used a decorative liner with a pattern, the grease seems to seep through and the pattern or decoration on the liner is no longer seen. Most decorative liners are not grease proof. I don’t have a specific link for these but you can find brown at most craft or party stores.
22. Pastry Bags – Pastry bags are used for filling with frosting to pipe and decorate cupcakes or cakes. I am partial to these because they are made of a stronger plastic than others I have tried and are easy to use. I like to use a 16″ bag. I find that it isn’t too big or too small for me to use.
23. Frosting/Pastry Tips – I am only including the 5 that I use most. I am not yet well trained in cake decorating, but I can pipe pretty frosting on cupcakes. I don’t care for anything elaborate so I use these basic tips. I have three different sizes of the three on the left, which is a round tip: a smaller one for filling cupcakes, a medium sized one and a larger one. The other two are in a star shape, one is called a closed star and the other an open star. The brand I prefer is Ateco. I find it much more durable than others I have used. This set is a great essential set to have.
24. Cake Testers – It’s great to have cake testers for testing the doneness of cakes, quick breads and other baked goods. I like the one on the left for my baked goods, I use the wooden ones on the right for poking holes into cakes that require pouring a liquid over that seeps into the cake.
And there you have it, the baking tools I feel are some of the most essential ones to stock in your kitchen. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post!
All products recommended are my personal opinions, I am not being paid for any of these recommendations.
Information in regards to use of the products have been gathered from various sources including the Williams-Sonoma “Tools and Techniques” cookbook.