What would pastry be without a whisk or a silicone spatula?! What would it be without a kitchen scale or any other modern tool we use nowadays?! Sometime I do wonder how Antoine Careme managed his pastry kitchen without most of these tools or how any other pastry chef around the world during that time made products that were looking amazing and tasted great. Sure, taste and cleanness or work is not necessarily related to utensils used, but they do make everything easier, right?!
Today’s post is part of a series that will focus on the most used pastry tools and the reasons I consider them so important. You will get to see what utensils I have in my tiny pastry lab and what I use them for in the hope that this will help you decide where to better invest your money and waste less time and money eventually on things that you never use after or use once a year.
One big question that I ask myself when buying tools nowadays (after so many bad decisions regarding what to buy) is “will I use this more than once for more than one application or product?”. If the answer it yes, I will buy it, but if the answer is no and it’s something I only need for a certain product that I want to make once and don’t think I will make it again any time soon, then I skip it. When I look at tools, I try to see versatility and more uses than one and it’s something I recommend doing. I prefer investing my money on good quality ingredients, pastry books or classes or simply on good quality tools that will last me a lifetime.
Part 1 of this series includes basic pastry tools and utensils that I find absolutely necessary in any kitchen, tools that get pastry started and ease your work, things that you may already have, but they are so important that they are worth mentioning all over again. Do remember, though, that good quality materials and tools are more important than having five pieces of each tool!
- Kitchen scale
Years ago when I started pastry, measuring recipes with a cup was easy and it yielded results that I was happy with. Little did I know the impact of that on my products and how I was in fact not learning much or understanding all I could from what I was making. Switching to a kitchen scale made the difference! I keep being asked why I don’t post my recipes in cups and spoons, but the answer is very simple – these measurements don’t yield the same results over and over again, especially since all of us have different cups, different spoons. And being consistent is crucial in pastry because it allows you to perfect your technique and taste rather and you can easily notice any mistakes you may be making, you can correct yourself, you can basically have a good learning curve with it.
Apart from the regular kitchen scale, I also like to use a jewelry scale which measures very small quantities that are sometimes required in pastry. With this scale, 0.5g are no problem, while with a regular scale it is pointless even trying.
There are so many types of tools in pastry, but the whisk is one of those that have the purpose of introducing air bubbles into mixes, whether it is whipped cream, eggs or butter. Sure, it may not be as effective at this task as a mixer, but it gets the job done. But where does the whisk come from?
It is said that bundles or twigs have long been used as whisk (check out the matcha whisk to make an idea of this). Even more so, these bundles were used as flavor infuser as well, many recipes calling for a certain wood with a specific flavor. But the wire whisk as we know it today was invented around 1841. Not long after, the cranked rotary egg beaters were patented, so whisk were not that popular. Only in the 20th century, after Julia Child used a whisk in one of her TV shows, wire whisk became a household staple.
Knowing when the sugar syrup is done or when the chocolate is in temper might be tricky without this tool. At least as a beginner. So a thermometer is essential if you don’t miss the key moment of readiness. A pastry chef would use three types of thermometers, each with its own specific uses and advantages:
- probe thermometer – which is considered for general use. You can easily check the temperature of creme anglaise or chocolate. It’s easy to use and pretty straight forward. I tend to prefer the ones that have the probe attached to the electric part with a wire. I find them to me no necessarily more reliable, but lasting more due to the electric part not standing in the heat and steam.
- sugar thermometer – perfect for sugar syrup and other sugar work, this particular thermometer is specific to a certain use, therefore not the one I would buy as a beginner. Its temperature measurements usually start at over 60C, therefore cannot be used for chocolate or other applications under 60C. But it’s great for sugar syrups, jams, marmalades, caramels, marshmallows or other products that require a high cooking temperature.
- infrared thermometer – this is my go-to temperature measuring tool for chocolate. It is quick and reliable, but it can only be used on opaque surfaces, such as chocolate or glazes, especiall products where you mix constantly so the temperature is the same throughout the product. Avoit using this thermometer in sugar syrup or other transparent products, in liquids or products that begin to boil or that don’t have even temperature throughout.
4. Silicone spatulas and pastry brushes
Kids nowadays say that the silicone spatulas are the killer of fun in the kitchen for a reason. Spatulas clean the bowls so well that there’s nothing left to lick. But this is precisely why a pastry chef love its silicone spatulas – no ingredient waste at all!
As for pastry brushes, I prefer the ones that are softer as they are not so harsh on the surface of products, but silicone brushes will work as well, as long as they are not stiff and capable to gently move over your products. They are so handy for applying egg wash or sugar syrup that I keep a few close by all the time!
5. Heat resistant bowls and good quality pots
I know this may go without saying, but ever since I invested in good quality bowls and cooking pots, pastry has become less stresful and frustrating. Needless to say that a good cooktop is essential as well and for this particular purpose I prefer induction. It is easier to control in terms of heat and temperature so it becomes more reliable on the long run.
6. Angled /offset spatulas
My best friend in the pastry lab has got to be my angled spatula. I prefer having two sizes on hand – a teeny tiny one for glazing, applying decor, moving petit gateaux or fixing buttercream and a larger angled spatula for moving cakes around, glazing, smoothening buttercream and the list can go on and on. The pink spatula in the picture below is about 4 years old and definitely something I could never go without!
7. Round cookie cutters
Perhaps you would think you don’t need round cookie cutters as you don’t make cookies that often, but actually I use these for a couple of things in the pastry lab, from chocolate decorations to cutting out craquelin, as well as cutting out the sponges for my petit gateaux. I prefer having a set of different sizes on hand, it’s so much easier to store and use! To be fair, I rarely use any other cookie cutter. Round seems to be the norm in pastry.
8. Pastry bags and nozzles
I feel like pastry bags and nozzles are getting a little underrated these days, but they are still a pastry chef’s best friends. I recommend buying those single use pastry bags to avoid having to sanitize them after use and in terms of nozzles, definitely buy a set of at least 3 different sizes, both plain and star nozzles. As with round cookie cutters, I rarely use any other nozzles so for a beginner it’s not even worth considering petal nozzles, grass nozzles etc.
Knives are so underrated in the pastry kitchen! But a good quality, sharp knife will save you a lot of time when you most need it. The knife is so handy for cutting sponges, fruits and even for making chocolate decorations. A chef’s knife and a small knife are good starting options!
10. Spoons and scissors
This listing may be a surprise, but spoons are so useful! I have a ton in my lab because I use them for taking out of the box and scaling certain ingredients, for tasting products, for leveling certain creams, for keeping a weight down on products and the list can go on. Both spoons and teaspoons are a must in any kitchen!
Scissors are part of the same category of tools that are seen as something we just have laying around, but we rarely think of their importance anymore. I have found that a good quality scissors is essential, especially when you use it to cut out pastry bags, acetate film, plastic wrap and other similar things.
Stay tuned for the second part of this article – basic pastry tools and utensils – where I will continue writing about a new set of basic pastry tools and utensils that I consider useful in a pastry kitchen!