Happy 2016, friends! This post is the first in a short series I’ll be doing this month on the blog called “A Baker’s Dozen.” Each week, I’ll share a post with 13 (get it?) tips, tricks and/or tools to help you become a better baker (though I think you’re pretty great already). Today’s post: My top 13 essential baking tools. Enjoy!
There have been — ahem — moments in my life as a baker when I have come to realize one of the following: a) I am using the absolute wrong tool (apologies to the challah that was burned alive by me baking it with wax paper), b) I don’t own the tool I need (apologies to the countless cookies and truffles that I’ve tried to shape and instead assaulted with unwieldy spoons and c) I have so many tools I never use (I’m looking at you, cupcake batter separator). It’s been a long and winding road of crimes committed to my baked goods by the wrong tools, the missing tools, the unnecessary tools, and I wish I could say I’ve left that life behind completely and am now in a state of complete kitchen optimization — but alas, I still have that batter separator stored away somewhere.
But I digress. Because maybe you’ve made the resolution that 2016 is your year to bake the perfect loaf of bread. Or maybe you made out like a gift card bandit at Christmas and you’re looking to invest in quality baking tools to step up your cake-baking game. Or maybe you’re just really tired of having your drawers and cabinets filled with things like batter separators and you’re finally ready to be a grownup and clean out all the clutter, all of it, the entire house, and you won’t rest until it’s all cleared and only stocked with the necessities! ← My husband is reading this and shaking his head at my crazy right now.
That’s why I’ve made this list for you. Because if in my years of baking there are any tools that I hath discovered and deemed necessary, it is these 13 tools. Whether you’re an aspiring hobby baker or a professional pastry chef, I’m sure you’ll find a few gadgets on this list you can’t live without.
The stand mixer. If you’ve read any of my recipes, you know how oft I use this workhorse of a small appliance. It’s my baby. It kneads dough like a dream. It whips up whipped cream and marshmallow fluff. It beats cake and brownie batter and even shreds chicken like a boss. I love to use mine on the daily for all of the above and more because it’s hands-free, it cuts down on time, it’s easy to use and clean and it delivers consistent results. There are many many variations of stand mixers out there, too (Artisan, bowl-lift, Professional, glass-bowl, etc.), but mine is the basic KitchenAid Classic tilt-head style and it works great for me.
I own exactly two of these bad boys but I kind of sort of wish I had space for eleventy billion and a half of them, I love them so. Mine used to look this nice and shiny but now they look a little bit like they’ve been dragged under a truck for a mile or two, with all their scratches and stains. Still, they work amazingly well for baking anything from cookies to breads, pizzas to sheet cakes, roasted vegetables to meats, etc. The larger size is perfect for holding at least a dozen cookies and full loaves of bread, and the rimmed edge keeps ingredients from sliding or dripping off the sheet. I highly recommend getting at least two (or eleventy billion?) of these for your kitchen.
I feel like this may be one of those things that everyone has in their kitchens, and so apologies if this is a “duh” moment for you, but a wire cooling rack is essential for any baker. A wire rack, especially one with cross-grid wires, holds baked goods well and allows air to circulate around the baked goods for quicker, more even cooling. I recommend having at least two so you can cool that full batch of cookies or both of those cakes all at once.
I got two of these nonstick mats for Christmas a few years ago and I have used them with extreme heart-eyes emoji love ever since. They have helped me avoid so many instances of forgetting to grease the bottom of my baking sheets before I put the bread or pizza dough or biscuits on top. I love to use them for almost any recipe that calls for lining a baking sheet because they fit the bottom of the baking sheet so well, are easy to clean and are reusable.
This was one of those gadgets I didn’t own for the longest time because, um, why? It does one thing and I didn’t think that thing was important enough. How wrong I was. Because that thing that a pastry blender does is blend butter beautifully into pie and biscuit doughs and streusel toppings and now I use it all. the. time. Nothing does its job better, truly.
Again with the “I-thought-this-gadget-was-stupid-but-OMG-I-need-it-and-love-it-forever-now” moment. I have had a bench scraper since the dawn of this blog and in those six years it has served to scrape up bits of dough from my work surfaces, cut dough (like scones and biscuits) into pieces, even to quick-chop vegetables (kind of a fun party trick). Mine has a ruler on the edge, too, which I like to use to measure the height of rolled-out pie dough, cookie dough, etc.
Are you rolling your eyes at me again because you’re like, “Steph, I own mixing bowls. UH-DOY.” I’m sure you do! But did you know you should probably have a full set with a 1 1/2-quart bowl, 2 1/2 to 3-quart bowl and 4 to 5-quart bowl all with curved rims for ease of pouring? And that mixing bowls are great for everything from beating cake batter to tossing salads to melting chocolate over a double-boiler? Maybe you did, you smart cookie. But in case you didn’t… now you do.
Measuring cups and spoons are my frands because without them I would have not a clue how much is 1 cup of flour or how much is 1 tablespoon of honey. I have a set of both dry ingredient measuring cups (graduated metal cups, like what is pictured above) as well as a set of liquid ingredient glass cups with pour spouts. I’d recommend getting a set of each in 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measurements. For spoons, make sure to get a set that measures 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon.
Oh dear ramekins, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: for holding small amounts of ingredients like chocolate chips, chopped nuts and sprinkles; for beating small measurements of ingredients like egg washes and glazes; for housing pot pies, pots de creme, custards, mousses, souffles, etc. I’d recommend getting a set of 6-ounce ramekins for maximum versatility!
Where would a baker be without a whisk? In a pretty sad state of affairs, that’s where. Whisks are an extension of your hands, only they do everything your hands can’t (unless you’re Edward Scissorhands). A large whisk helps blend big batches of wet ingredients or to sift dry ingredients, and a small whisk is handy for beating eggs or emulsifying dressings.
Cookie scoops! Not just for cookies. I have a large scoop and a small scoop and use both for so many different purposes: The large one is great for scooping perfect scoops of ice cream, cupcakes, large cookies and even pancake/waffle batter; and the small one is great for shaping truffles, smaller cookies, balls o’ melon (for those fancy summer fruit salads, obviously), the list goes on. In the Kitchens at General Mills, there’s literally an entire drawer dedicated to cookie scoops of all sizes because we use them so much. #GOALS
I could go on and on (and on and on) about my love for the 13-by-9-inch pan, so much so that you might think me crazy (it’s OK. I probably am). But here’s the thing: I use this pan for EVERYTHING. I use it for savory casseroles. I use it for party-size cakes. I use it for baked oatmeal and granola bars. I use it for brownies. I use it to roast veggies and meats. It is a baking workhorse. I own both ceramic and glass pans, and both work great for all uses.
I semi-recently went through a major purge of spatulas in my kitchen that I’d owned since college (which was, like, a long time ago now and I grieve) but in the long run it has made my little baker heart SO HAPPY because now whenever I reach for a spatula, I know it’s a good one. I have a set of GIR spatulas (exactly like the ones shown above) and I honestly don’t think I could use any other brand ever again. GIR spatulas are heavy-duty, silicone-based and made in a variety of sizes that make them great for flipping, mixing, scooping, scraping and folding in any size pan or jar or container.
Bonus tool tip! Get an offset spatula and a cookie spatula, for the love of Pete. The former will save your life when frosting cakes or cookies; the latter will save your life when you’re trying to get those bars out of the pan without breaking them into a million pieces. I speak from experience.
Now tell me tell me: What are the baking tools you can’t live without? Share them in the comments while I fervently look for that cupcake batter separator hiding somewhere in my kitchen. I KNOW IT’S IN THERE.
P.S. Want more of this series? Check out my post on my top 13 baking tips and tricks.
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