Tools are important. Whether you’re a carpenter, scientist, farmer or engineer, success depends on having the right gear for the job.
Baking is no different.
We’re not talking about a kitchen full of complicated equipment, or the need to take out a bank loan. But like reaching for a screwdriver and knowing that you have both a standard and a Phillips in your toolbox, specific tools help ensure success.
We’ve compiled a list of the tools we find essential to having a happy and successful baking experience, whether you’re buying for yourself, need a wedding or shower gift for a budding baker or are helping someone start out on her own with kitchen essentials.
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We’re highlighting the basics, given that some cooking stores and websites either can inspire that “kid in a candy store” impulse — or simply are intimidating.
For those who have been baking for a while, we’ve also drawn up a list of tools that will raise your game. Snipping the corner from a plastic bag full of frosting will work, but using an actual pastry bag gives you more control. Plus, you feel like a pro.
Once you’ve assembled a solid toolbox, building your skills will be … wait for it … a piece of cake.
We have included a recipe for Strawberry Shortcake that will put some of those tools to work.
For novice bakers
Measuring cups for dry ingredients: Enable you to level off ingredients at the rim for accurate amounts. Remember to never pack down your flour; spoon it in and level it off.
Measuring cup for liquid ingredients: The lowered measuring marks let you measure without sloshing. Set cup on a flat surface and stoop so you can see the line at eye level.
Measuring spoons: Never underestimate the value of accuracy. Leave your soup spoons for soup.
Bench knife/scraper: A real workhorse for scooping up ingredients, dividing dough, scraping up scraps; you'll find more uses.
Whisk: Great for thoroughly mixing by hand, and doubles as a sifter when fluffing and combining dry ingredients.
Metal nesting bowls: Can’t break them, and they also conduct heat and cold more efficiently.
Spoon-shaped heatproof spatula: Great for stirring hot mixtures, and the spoon shape comes in handy for filling muffin tins.
9-by-13-inch pan: The classic pan for brownies, cakes, bars, egg stratas.
Wire cooling rack: Lets air circulate beneath your baked goods as they cool to keep them from becoming soggy.
Heavy-gauge metal sheet pan: Thin pans heighten the risk of burned cookies; sturdy pans conduct heat more evenly.
Parchment paper: Takes the place of greasing pans with shortening or spray oil, and also helps keep cleanup to a minimum.
Hand mixer: Elbow grease only goes so far; essential for whipping cream, egg whites and more.
Cookie/biscuit cutters: They’re easy to use and you can collect a variety of shapes and sizes. A standard set of biscuit cutters comes in 2- and 3-inch diameters.
For advanced bakers
Kitchen scale: Pros swear by measuring ingredients by weight (not volume) for accuracy and also consistency.
Stand mixer: It’s an investment, but various attachments save time and energy; enables you to use both hands for tasks such as adding hot syrup to a mixture.
Rolling pin/rolling mat: If pies are your passion, you’d want these on the basic list. But they’re great for rolled and cut cookies and more.
Pie tins: If pies are your passion.
Springform pan: A necessity for a classic cheesecake.
Pastry blender: Easier than using two knives for cutting butter into flour. Treat yourself.
Infrared or insta-read thermometer: Easier than the clip-on thermometers to gauge the temps of oil or sugar syrup. Helps ensure breads are baked through. A guideline: basic loaves to 190 degrees; enriched with eggs or butter, 200 degrees; no-knead bread recipes, 210 degrees.
Silicone pastry brush: Handy for brushing doughs with milk or beaten egg, and silicone eliminates the chance of a stray bristle.
Microplane zester: Super-sharp grates are perfect for zesting citrus, or hard cheeses.
Pastry bag and tips: Gives you more consistent results and the different tips are great for decorative frosting or other uses.
Offset spatula: That bend in the blade makes frosting layer cakes so much easier.
Tube pan with removable bottom: The only thing for a classic angel-food cake, but also for coffee cakes or pull-apart monkey breads.
8 cups strawberries, hulled
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup half-and-half, plus extra for brushing
Sparkling sugar (granulated will work, too)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar, to taste
To prepare berries: Slice the berries and sprinkle with 6 tablespoons granulated sugar. Let berries sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and berries are juicy, about 30 minutes.
To make shortcake: Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place rack in middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add cold butter pieces, working them into the flour with a pastry cutter, or your fingers, until the mixture resembles cornmeal and no large lumps of butter remain.
In a small bowl, whisk together half-and-half and egg. Stir into flour mixture until dough comes together in a sticky mass.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead lightly until it comes together, about 30 seconds. Dust the counter with a bit more flour, then pat dough into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut 6 rounds with a floured 3-inch biscuit cutter, pressing straight down — twisting can seal the layers, leading to a dense shortcake — then place them upside-down on a baking sheet (helps ensure the highest rise).
No biscuit cutter? You also can cut squares with a knife.
Gather the scraps, knead briefly, and cut out 2 more shortcakes.
Brush each round with some half-and-half, then sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until just golden. Let cool on wire rack.
To assemble: Combine cream with powdered sugar and whip until stiff. With a serrated knife, slice each shortcake in half and lay the bottom on individual serving plates. Spoon a portion of fruit over each bottom, top with a dollop of whipped cream, then cap with the shortcake tops. Serve immediately.
Note: Extra shortcakes may be frozen; to reheat, place frozen on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes.
Makes 8 (with no whipped cream), each has 329 calories, 12 grams fat, 167 mg sodium, 51 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 54 mg cholesterol, 4 grams fiber. Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 fruit, 2 bread/starch, 1/2 other carb, 2 1/2 fat.
Adapted slightly from “The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book”