Sunday, February 18, 2007

My "Top Ten" Baking Essentials

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Chow just printed a list of top ten baking essentials that they suggest - you can see it here.

Looking at it though, I see several items that even experienced bakers don't often use (the blowtorch comes to mind) and I noticed several items missing that really are essential for basic home and professional baking. Some of these I learned about in culinary school and some I already used at home. The best part is that most of them are very inexpensive!

1. A Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (they got this one right.) The bigger the better - especially if you like to make bread. An extra bowl is also very helpful.

2. A plastic dough scraper/cutter - great for scraping out the mixer bowl, scooping ingredients off of a cutting board, dividing dough, folding batter, leveling measuring cups, you name it. A metal bench scraper is also handy for dividing dough when baking bread and scraping work surfaces.

3. A mesh strainer - for sifting flour and dry ingredients together, straining fruit juices and sieving custards and cooked fillings - lemon curd, chocolate mousse, etc.

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4. A large, flat cool smooth surface for rolling out buttery doughs and pie crust (such as the puff pastry dough Chef Foran is schooling in this photo) and for kneading and shaping bread dough. A granite or marble countertop is ideal, but if you don't have that a large cutting board can work. (I have been meaning to go to a countertop place and ask for a "sink cut out" - supposedly they will give them to you for free!)

5. A small offset spatula for spreading batter in pans and spreading frostings and fillings - also handy for picking up or loosening things like cookies and crepes, and for cleaning up edges.

6. A digital probe thermometer for cooking sugar syrups and for heating eggs and sugar for meringues or sponge cake.

7. Shallow metal bowls - for whisking dry ingredients together, folding delicate batters, using on the stove as a double boiler for melting chocolate or making custards and curds, and for chilling down ice cream custards, pastry cream, mousse or buttercream in the refrigerator or freezer or in an ice bath (large ones can also be used to make an ice bath.)

8. A cake turntable - indispensable for cutting and decorating layer cakes

9. Sheets of parchment paper (better than a roll) - great for keeping work surfaces clean (collecting scooped and leveled flour/sugar, etc.) and of course for lining pans. I also put them on the counter under cooling racks to collect crumbs, etc.

10. A smallish (half cup or so) metal scoop - for scooping dry ingredients out of bags and into measuring cups, and for adding sifted dry ingredients to the mixer while running.

Other things I find very helpful: deep stacking bowls, for separating eggs, storing measured ingredients, melting butter and blending wet ingredients; a tupperware-style cake dome - for storing and transporting the goodies to willing co-workers; some of the items they mention, such as the microplane zester, the scale and a pastry bag (if you know how to use it and don't mind having to clean it); a silicone coated whisk - for us non-stick cookware users; a good flexible spatula; tongs - probably the most used tool in our entire kitchen; and a few decent knives - a 8-10" chef's knife, a 3 1/2 inch paring knife and a serrated bread/cake knife are the most useful.

I think it is fairly easy to get along without a blow torch (though it is fun!) Silpats are only really helpful for baking cookies, and parchment does the job almost as well. The one thing silpats are essential for is making tuiles - because you have to peel them off while they are warm and flexible. I don't have the necessary molds for making tuiles (nor do I own any silpats) so I haven't been able to demonstrate that yet. Soon, I hope!


  1. wow, you left out the number 1 important tool in my kitchen: A digital scale. Most of my recipes are weight based (since it's more accurate). I would be totally lost if I had to go back to cups and teaspoons again...ick :)

    I'm a big fan of silpats, too. I made lots of pastries to silpats are indispensable for me.

    I'd throw in a pastry bag and some plain tips, too. I use them all the time.

  2. I thought about the scale (I use one too for my school recipes) but most cookbooks use volume rather than weight - so I just didn't think most people would find one all that helpful. My main point in making the list was to show how useful some of these common items are that people might not think about. Most of them are inexpensive and useful no matter what you are making - even if it's just a cake from a mix. :-)

  3. Maybe it's just my cookbooks, but they're all weight based :) I shun the volume based cookbooks I guess.

    As for the silpats, I also use them for making cakes (joconde sponges), for sugar work, and for cookies other than tuiles (like financiers).

    They're well worth the $12 or so they cost these days.

  4. I do need to get some, especially when I take the sugar and chocolate classes coming up. I am sure when I do start using them I'll find they are helpful. Where is the best place to buy them?

  5. You can get silpats just about anywhere these days. I saw a big stack of them at Bed Bath and Beyond. Great News usually has them, too. Amazon usually has them in stock if you don't mind waiting :)

    Are you sure you don't need a blowtorch? I use mine more than I'd like to mention :)

  6. I have one! I actually got it last night at Ace Hardware in Hillcrest for about thirty bucks. I used it to torch the cake I made last night. It was a big hit at work today. The blood orange mousse filling was really good - I still have a bowl of it in the fridge.

  7. I think silicone gets a bad rap sometimes as being overrated. My silpats are my best friend in my kitchen because they are better than parchment for a lot of things and they keep my awful tile counters clean.

    Could you let me know if you do end up getting a marble sink cutout (and if it's free)? Also, do you have a digital thermometer you could recommend? I've been eyeballing it for custards and syrups for a while now and I'm sure one day that will backfire. Thanks! Great post.

  8. PS. You can get silpats at Marshalls or TJ Maxx sometimes. It's also a great place to find expensive cookware like Le Creuset, etc. Oh, and I agree that it's not neccessary to buy a scale. I know baking is supposed to be an exact science but I've never had a problem using cup measurements. Maybe that's because I rarely follow recipes.

  9. I actually got some at BBB, but they were no cheaper than anywhere else. I haven't used them yet - I need to get that granite slab! If and when I get that figured out, I will let you know!