Saturday, August 18, 2012

Baking Supplies That Make Things Easier

Every serious baker has a few tools that seem indispensable - equipment and supplies that just make things easier. Here's a list of some of my essentials, none of which are exotic or costly in the long run and all of which can easily be found:

The Kitchen Holy Trinity: Stand Mixer, Food Processor, Blender: These three small appliances will make your life in the kitchen easier. I use a 5-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a tilt back. KA mixers are available in 4.5, 5, 6, and 7-Quart models. The 5-Quart Artisan is available in nearly 30 colors - so you can have fun choosing your favorite. I recommend at least a 5-Quart. The 6 and 7-Quart are bowl-lift design. The 7-Quart, at the time of this writing, is a Williams-Sonoma exclusive and comes in four colors. The Viking comes as a 5-Quart or 7-Quart, which, like the KA 7-Quart, has the capacity to handle multi-loaf whole grain bread recipes and triple batches of cookies. Both are tilt-backs and have wheels on the bottom for easy moving across your counter.

Both Cuisinart and Kitchen Aid make excellent food processors. I have a 12-cup Cuisinart and it has served me well. A 14-cup is great if you do a lot of entertaining. There's a 20-cup, too which could put you in the catering business! The Mini-Prep Plus is great for chopping small quantities of nuts, chocolate, cheese or herbs. 

Aside from Emergency Blender Chocolate Cupcakes (recipe on this blog), pureeing fruit, and a few frostings, I don't use my blender as much for baking tasks. It does yeoman's duty for many other jobs, however. I've gone through four or five blenders over the years and they have ranged in price from $40-$125. Price and brand didn't seem to matter - all eventually broke down. I now own a Vita-Mix, which is like a blender on steroids. More than just a blender, the Vita-Mix is a commercial quality utensil that can chop, blend, puree and pulverize. All come with a wet-blade container. A dry-blade container (purchased separately) is designed for grinding grains, cereal, and coffee. It can also be used for kneading bread dough. I have both the 4-cup and 8-cup wet-blade containers (the 4-cup fits nicely on the counter). The first time my daughter saw the 8-cup nestled in its motor base (I call it the "launch-pad"), she said, "Does JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) know about this?" Seriously, the Vita-Mix is one fine machine that can tackle jobs that other blenders can't touch. Available at, Sur la Table, and occasionally at Costco.  

Each of these small appliances will set you back a few dollars but like great cookware and fine knives, they are essentially a lifetime investment (food processor workbowls and Vita-Mix containers will occasionally need to be replaced). All are available at multiple outlets online. 

A Back-up Bowl for Your Stand Mixer: Especially handy for those times when you have to beat egg whites separately or make a buttercream that you want to store in the mixer bowl - and your regular mixer bowl is already in use. Depending on the mixer and model, a bowl can run $25-60, but it's essentially a lifetime investment.

Bench Scraper: (aka "bench knife" or "dough scraper"). This handy tool is essential for bread-making, scrapes work surfaces clean, gathers and divides dough, cuts bar cookies with ease and collects shaved chocolate and chopped vegetables. Some have handy ruler markings (mine is a 6") and others have sides built in, making it a sort of shovel. I have one of those, too. They're inexpensive and can be found just about anywhere cooking gadgets are sold.

Cookie Scoops: These scoops look just like an ice-cream scoop with a release mechanism. They come in three sizes for making uniform cookies. Another bonus is no sticky fingers! They're available from The Baker's Catalogue individually or as a set, but the small and middle sizes can be found anywhere cooking gadgets are sold. Oxo also makes three sizes and they have a soft grip. The small size is nice for forming truffles. (see links)
Magi-Cake Strips or Rose's Heavenly Cake Strips: If you bake layer cakes, you'll love the results with these cake strips. You'll achieve perfectly level cakes with no doming! The strips keep the crust tender and they help prevent over-baking, as well. With Magi-Cake strips, you wet the strips and fasten them outside your cake pans - that's it! The strips can be reused several times. They're available from The Baker's Catalogue, Sur La Table, and Wilton. The ones from The Baker's Catalogue fasten with Velcro, others use a T-pin. Wilton sells longer strips for rectangular or larger pans. A set of two for 8" or 9" cake pans is about $10. Rose's Heavenly Cake Strips are made from silicone so there's no need to moisten them, no fastener required and they stay clean. They can be purchased from LaPrima Shops ( for $10 (one strip). 

Offset Spatulas: These spatulas make frosting cakes and cupcakes a breeze. Buy two - a standard size for layer cakes and a little one for cupcakes. Available from Wilton, Sur La Table, The Baker's Catalogue and most places where kitchen gadgets are sold. 

Pre-cut Parchment Rounds/Baking Liners: Sure, you can cut your own parchment rounds but these very inexpensive liners streamline the process of cake baking - one less step to worry about and they save time. They come in 8" and 9" (and sometimes 10") rounds and half-sheets. They can be found at Sur La Table, Wilton, and other outlets. Sur La Table also sells them pre-cut for tube pans - great for chiffon cakes! 

Reynolds Release Nonstick Aluminum Foil: This stuff is fantastic for effortless cookie removal and hundreds of other tasks. Widely available at grocery stores.

Kitchen Scale: Many recipes now specify the weight of flour - as opposed to or in addition to - cup measurements. Measuring by volume, even when sifting, can be off by as much as a half-cup! Weighing ingredients is a more accurate method of determining amounts than measuring by volume. A scale is great for weighing yeast doughs, chocolate purchased in bulk, and many other ingredients, as well. The most accurate is an electronic/digital scale. A really fine quality model can be had for $30-65 - a wise investment. Most are attractive and have a small enough footprint to reside permanently on your kitchen counter. Some are slim enough to slip into a kitchen drawer. They can be found at The Bakers Catalogue, Williams-Sonoma, and other outlets.

Silicone Pastry Brushes: Great for brushing on glazes and essential for coating decorative Bundt® pans with shortening or butter (the brush can get inside all the intricate patterns). A plus is that silicone brushes clean faster and more effectively than old fashioned bristles. Inexpensive and available wherever kitchen gadgets are sold.

Digital Instant-Read Thermometer: The best way to test if bread is done is with an instant-read thermometer. It's also essential for assuring that warm liquids added to yeast doughs are below 138° and that eggs for buttercreams and ice cream bases reach a safe temperature of 160°. Some double as a candy thermometer, although the clip-on type is a better option for candy and fudge making. Digital thermometers run $10-100 and are widely available at kitchen supply outlets. The Baker's Catalogue offers several in a wide price range.

Microplane Grater: A Microplane rasp grater very effectively removes the zest from oranges, lemons, and limes without taking the bitter white pith underneath. It's much easier to use than a box grater for this task and yields more zest to boot. The tiny shreds of the zest are just the right size to incorporate into recipes. Microplanes now come in different sizes for different tasks with comfortable handles. They can also be used for grating whole nutmeg (so much better than preground nutmeg!), chocolate, and some cheeses as well as almond paste and marzipan. These handy tools can be found at as well as Sur La Table and virtually all kitchen supply outlets.

Whisks: Whisks are indispensable in the kitchen as they are used for so many tasks. A whisk can be used to effectively blend dry ingredients and can even aerate flour in the absence of a sifter. They are frequently used to beat eggs as they incorporate air and are the right tool for blending and stirring hundreds of mixtures on and off the stove. It's good to have several whisks (mine range from 8" to 12") along with a balloon whisk for whipping eggs. Some whisks are coated with silicone so they're safe for non-stick pans. They can be found at Sur La Table, The Baker's Catalogue (King Arthur Flour) and kitchen supply stores. 

Revolving Cake Stand/Turntable: For frosting layer cakes, a revolving cake stand can't be beat. Combined with an offset spatula, you'll be able to turn out professional looking cakes without much effort. The best ones are metal (I like Ateco brand available from as well as many other baking supply outlets) as they are studier, provide more control and will last a long time. The better ones run about $55 but you can get them for as as little as $12.   

Oven Mitts:
I know this seems ridiculously obvious, but a couple of bargain-brand pot-holders just won't suffice. You need high-quality insulated heat-safe mitts - and they should be at least 13" long. Most quilted terrycloth mitts are 11". While adequate for some tasks, they're not ideal. OXO makes a great fabric lined silicone mitt (available at and, as well as many retail outlets) that costs about $15. Features and benefits include:
  • Heat-safe to 600°F
  • Flame, stain and heat resistant silicone grip
  • Insulated fabic liner
  • Non-slip silicone rib design for improved dexterity and grip
  • Convenient storage with embedded magnet and silicone hanging loop
  • Easy to clean with a damp cloth
  • Machine washable
  • 13" length for added protection
  • Comes in several colors including cherry, key lime, blueberry, licorice, and lemon