Whether baking at home or testing recipes at the shop, there are a few tools that I cannot live without. I turn to these tools EVERY time I make a recipe, and these are the things I miss the most when I am baking away from home. Baking without the proper tools can really make it a burden, something which it certainly SHOULD NOT BE. I want baking to be everyone’s favorite pastime, as it is mine, and I figure sharing the proper tools will help. These items are readily available at cookware stores, and NONE of them are expensive, in fact, most are under $10! Have a look at this list, and fill in your own supplies where needed- it will definitely make your baking less of a chore, and more like , well, a piece of cake!

TOP 10 TOOLS FOR 2014

1. Lightweight Stainless Steel Bowls

Lets start with the right bowls. There is nothing worse than trying to make a recipe whilst wielding a massively heavy crock of a bowl. Even the glass bowls, which are essential for photo shoots and tv work, are not my choice for baking happily at home. Get yourself a nice inexpensive set of lightweight stainless steel bowls. You can effortlessly lift them to pour a cake batter into pans with one hand, stack the dirty ones carelessly in the sink, and set them on the stove top while the oven is preheating if you need to quickly soften some butter or cream cheese. I like to use the largest ones for mixing doughs and batters, and the smaller ones for placing eggs under running hot water to get them to room temp, as well as mis en placing my other ingredients.

2. Microplane

No surprise here. A great microplane is essential for getting the prized zest from your oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits. The fine grate on the best planes eliminates the need for finely chopping the zest after zesting. I also use my microplane for grinding cinnamon sticks and nutmeg right into my recipe. The often used poor substitute,the box grater, is useless for zesting and I would opt not to make a recipe than to attempt to zest without a microplane.

3.Pastry Blender

Many people already know that this is the tool I push the most. There is no better way to cut butter into flour and there is no better tool to teach you to make proper pie dough. As I wrote in my cookbook, “The Sweet Melissa Baking Book” ( Viking Studio 2008), “My favorite method for making pie dough is by hand, using a metal pastry blender. If you don’t have one, get one. It is not expensive, and you’ll use it every time you make (pie) dough. As an added bonus, kids LOVE using the pastry blender- and it keeps their hot little fingers out of the flour!…When you use the pastry blender, you have a more intimate relationship with the dough. You can watch it as it changes, gain an understanding of how it works, and learn to tell when it is just right.” If you want to make pies, and of course you do, get a pastry blender STAT.

4. Rubber Heat Proof Spatula

In my humble opinion, rigid plastic spatulas are garbage. The rubber heatproof spatulas are the way to go. The “blade” is flexible, so it can really scrape the bowl- as it should- when blending ingredients or folding melted butter or beaten egg whites into a batter. I always get heatproof spatulas, as they are also the best thing for making and flipping omelettes, and stirring cream or chocolate as it heats on the stove. I hate that non heatproof spatulas are limited in this way, and are sometimes used accidentally for these “hot” tasks by the husbandly member of the house, resulting in melted plastic in our food.

5. Metal Bench Scraper

I just used this yesterday. And the day before that. And actually, the day before that. It is HANDS DOWN the BEST way to clean flour and bits of dough off your counter. I had misplaced mine for a while and I was in a bread baking phase. I had flour everywhere. To make things worse, I decided to clean up my floury mess with kitchen towels. Every day I’d use a different kitchen towel to wipe up all the flour and then throw the dirty towel in the laundry. What was I thinking?! Come laundry day I had multiple flour covered, stuck together, dough hardened towels in my hamper. And who wants that in their washing machine? Can’t be good… Soo, clean up the flour with a bench scraper! Just take the lid off the garbage pail, hold it under the counter and scrape all the excess flour and dough bits into the garbage. It leaves your oounter practically SPOTLESS, you hardly even need to follow it up with a sponge. Ahhhhhh, easy :).

6. Offset Metal Spatula

I really don’t know how people frost a cake without it. Truly. I mean, ONCE I TRIED to frost a cake with a butter knife, and it was a disaster. I was embarrassed. Never again will I frost with a butter knife, actually,I just decided. If I am ever in that predicament again, I will make a ganache and pour it over the cake rather than attempt to use a butter knife. Wait, I need an offset for smoothing the ganache along the sides. Note to self: don’t leave home without the offset. Also good for spreading fillings evenly atop a cake layer, lifting cookies from parchment, and a must have for flipping crepes.

7. Parchment Paper

And, unfortunately, not the kind they sell at the grocery store. It’s the wrong size for a standard cookie sheet and it keeps rolling up on itself while you try to work. Annoying. Try to sweet talk your local bakery owner into parting with a few sheets. Offer to pay for them. They will say “Don’t be silly” and give you a small stack. These will be in large sheets, so just store them folded in half, between 2 cookie sheets, and cut them in half when you need them. Here’s a quick list of what I use parchment paper for:
– I line cookie sheets with it.
– I sift dry ingredients onto it
– I cut it into a round with a vent on top to cover veggies when caramelizing them
– I cut it into a round to line cake pans
– I cut cake stencils from it
– I use it as a funnel when adding dry ingredients to a batter
– I line a sheet pan with it and then place a pie on top before baking so clean up is a breeze
– I make a “coronet” or paper piping bag with it for decorating or writing with chocolate

8. Balloon Whisk

Rarely do I sift my dry ingredients together any more, but I ALWAYS blend and aerate them with a balloon whisk. The balloon whisk, as it’s intended, is fantastic for whipping cream or egg whites in mere minutes, no need for expensive stand mixers. It is also great for the initial partial blending, or “lightening” of a batter with egg whites or meringue, just to kinda “get it in there”, before folding the rest of the meringue in just so…

9.Cookie/Muffin Scoop

Actually, I have 3 of these in different sizes. A 2 oz. scoop, perfect for scooping cupcake batter, muffins, jumbo cookies and ice cream; a 1 1/2 Tablespoon scoop, which I use for most 2-3 bite cookies; and a 1 1/2 teaspoon scoop which I use for truffles and small melty cookies like gingersnaps. Cannot imagine doing this “traying up” with tablespoons instead, uggh.

10. Pastry Brush

I have 2 of these. One is for keeping dry, for brushing excess flour from rolled cookie and pie doughs. You must remember to brush off the excess flour from rolling, or you will ruin your finished product as there is nothing worse than getting a mouth full of pasty white flour instead of the luscious crust or crumb intended. The second is for the wet jobs, usually brushing a crust with egg wash, but also for brushing warm apricot jam on a fresh fruit tart, or spreading softened butter into the nooks and crannies of a madeleine mold. Yup, 2 brushes are necessary.

So this is my MUST HAVE for baking list. Of course, you will need other things, but I assume you have them already: Wet and dry measuring cups, a good set of measuring spoons, a solid chefs knife, an OXO fruit/ veggie peeler, rimmed cookie sheets….. well if there are any beginners out there that need the complete list, give me a shout. And for all of you, let me know if you have any baking questions, I’d love to help!!! Happy New Year!!!!

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