A Baker’s Essentials – Essential Baking Tools that Even a Novice Baker Should Have
When I started baking a few years ago I only had a few basic things and although I got to stock up on baking equipment and ingredients quite a lot ever since, I still keep those basic around and if I had to work it out without any extra equipment, I would manage with only these essential baking tools. I find these to be a “must have” in the kitchen and to be totally honest with you, lacking certain pieces of equipment forces you to get creative and improvise – you have no idea how many things you can come up with to ease your job in the kitchen if you have to!
Whisk and spatulas – no doubt most of you have these in your kitchen. A whisk is great for mixing batters or creams quick and even and a spatula comes in handy when you have to fold in whipped cream, meringue or flour. I recommend a silicone spatula which not only can stand a higher heat, but it can also clean the bowl properly (don’t you hate struggling to get all that batter off the bowl with a spoon?!)
Cake pans – this section would deserve a post of its own because there are so many pan options out there! But I recommend springform pans in various sizes, the most common ones being 18cm, 20cm, 22cm, 24cm and 26cm. I love these pans not only because the removable sides make transfering cakes or cheesecakes on platters incredibly easy but also because the sides (without the bottom) can be used as cake rings – for assembling cakes straight on a platter. I started out with 3 springform pans of different sizes and I now have around 8 round cake pans, two of them having the same size for those cases when I need to bake the cake layers separately. In addition to a few cake pans, also buy 1 large baking sheet for those times when you are baking cookies and 1 small square pan for making brownies or sheet cakes. Later on I also bought a muffin pan (12 muffin cups to fit most recipes).
Hand mixer – during my first years of baking and even now, a hand mixer was my best friend! Of course it’s fun whisking things by hand, but when you have to whip up a meringue for 7 minutes, believe me, the fun is gone! I have a very simple, white, plain, cheap hand mixer and despite being over 4 years old, it still works which is quite surprising as I’ve been using it quite a lot. My mixer also came with a bowl so I can either hold it in my hand or use it as a stand mixer (in a cheap, simpler version which gets the job done though). My mixer also came with a hand blender which is helpful to have around as well.
Baking paper – this is a life saver! Do not confuse this with aluminum foil! Baking paper is also known as parchment paper and it prevents the cake, cookies, rolls etc from sticking to the pan, but you can also use it to make chocolate decorations on. It’s cheap and incredibly useful. Lining a baking pan with this paper means that the baked goodies won’t stick and you won’t have to wash the pan either, just replace the paper with a new sheet and your’re good to go! And since we’re at it, I should mention here the muffin/cupcake papers, although you can also improvise some out of baking paper, like here.
Mixing bowls – 2-3 mixing bowls of different sizes are more than enough, even for a specialized baker later on. I recommend the plastic ones as long as you replace them from time to time because they tend to retain smells and fat, but they are cheap so that shouldn’t be a problem. A heatproof glass or ceramic bowl is great for those cases when you have to cook something over a hot water bath or melt chocolate.
Kitchen scale – I’m not going to lie to you – when I started out baking, I didn’t have a kitchen scale and I relied on some approximate measurements using a tea cup and some spoons I had on hand (I told you that lacking equipment forces you to get creative), but buying a kitchen scale was a great improvement and investment so I do recommend it as a must have in the kitchen. Although I do not believe that a few grams more or less in a every recipe affects the final result much, in some recipes is important to have a precise measurement and there are ingredients that surely need a scale, like gelatin for instance. When buying a kitchen scale, make sure it can weight even 1g and it can reach at least 3kgs.
Measuring cups and spoons – although my recipes are weighted out with a kitchen scale, you will find many recipes measured in cups and spoons so having a set of each is helpful. Plus, they come in so many shapes and colors that it is fun to buy them. However, as a novice in the pastry kitchen, a regular tea cup of 250ml and a regular tablespoon and teaspoon will do the job just as good!
Pastry brushes – I have two pastry brushes – I use one to brush egg wash over my baked yeasted dough or puff pastry and one is reserved only to brush sponges with sugar syrup. A brush allows me to control the amount of syrup so much better and it’s easier to use as well. Pastry brushed are cheap and easy to find, colorful and come in many shapes and materials. Just pick a favorite and go with it!
Fine sieve – a sieve is helpful not only for sifting the flour, cocoa powder or icing sugar, but also to smoothen up fruit sauces.
Zester – many baking recipes require lemon zest as flavoring so a zester or fine grater is incredibly helpful. Nothing compares to freshly zested lemon rind in terms of aroma!
Extra equipment (optional)
Stand mixer – Kitchen Aid or Kenwood are the two most known brands of stand mixers. Needless to say that they are amazing if you can afford any of them. Mixing batters or creams becomes so much easier, although even if you do have one, I still recommend having a hand mixer as well – it’s better for small quantities or certain delicate batters.
Piping bag and pastry nozzles – when I started out baking, I used to decorate my cakes with a regular bag (zip lock style) so intricate piped details were avoided. But a proper piping/pastry bag and a few basic nozzles (closed star, open star and round) are cheap and handy, especially for decorating cakes and cupcakes, but also for piping eclaires for instance.
Cooling rack – this is certainly not a must have in the kitchen because it takes quite a lot of space, but if you do have the space, a cooling rack makes chilling cakes so much easier.
Rolling pin – although for some this may sound like a must have, it is not for me. I rarely made cookies when I first started baking and when I did, a glass bottle did the trick of rolling out the dough just as well. But if you love making cookies or yeasted dough, do get a good rolling pin!
Cookie cutters – although now I have an entire collection of cookie cutters (I rarely use them, but they were fun to buy), a round cookie cutter is enough as a starter. And if you don’t have that one either, cutting the dough with a knife in various shapes is just as good, believe me as I’ve done it!