"The great thing about cake is it doesn't feel like work. You forget about work. Kids, adults, they all get the same look in their eye when they're decorating cakes... That's the magic right there." ― Duff Goldman
To some, baking is a hobby, while to others, it's an obsession. Baking is all about following a set of instructions to a tee and making precise measurements. A teaspoon here and there can affect the whole dish negatively! This is why baking is an art that involves a lot of science. When mastered, it can result into great culinary creations.
To some, baking may seem quite intimidating, but if you take one step at a time, you're sure to master the art. However, to begin this journey of baking, you need the help of some baking tools. Without them, you cannot bake. If you take a look at the baking supply section, you will find scores of baking tools, which may be mind-boggling.
Don't go back home feeling dejected because you can't afford to bake! You don't need fancy equipment to start baking. Besides a few essentials, you don't require expensive tools. Manufacturers will keep doling out newer and fancier tools; however, it's our job to stay focused and purchase only the essentials. So, which are the essential tools without which you simply cannot bake flour-based foods? Let's take a look!
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Baking is all about precision, and even a teaspoon less or more can affect the success of your endeavor. Measuring spoons come in different sizes from ⅛, ¼, ½, ¾, to 1 tsp. These spoons help measure baking soda, cinnamon powder, baking powder, etc. Then there are measuring cups that also come in different sizes. These help measure dry ingredients, like flour, sugar, cocoa powder, etc. However, don't purchase the cups with long handles, because they tempt you to dip the cup into the bag of sugar or flour. For accurate measurements, always spoon the ingredient into the cup, and don't forget to level the measured powder using a spatula. Next comes the measuring cup for liquid ingredients. This cup has calibrations for different measurements. For accurate measurements, always place the cup on a leveled surface, and then check the reading.
If you're baking one or two cakes, measuring spoons and cups will do the job; however, if you're baking on a large scale, you will need much more flour, sugar, etc. The measurements made using measuring spoons are approximate, which don't matter so much while baking one cake; however, such small differences per cup will add up to become a major measurement error while baking ten to twenty cakes. So, if you're planning to do a lot of baking, be it bread, cookies, cakes, etc., it's better to go in for a kitchen scale, which will give you foolproof precision. Kitchen scales guarantee good results and take away the unwanted fear of adding extra or less flour. Scaling recipes also becomes easier. If you're a novice in the field of baking and can afford a kitchen scale, go for it. It will help reduce the number of disappointments in the kitchen!
Baking Pans/Muffin and Cake Tins
While baking, you need to pay special attention to the size of the baking pan. If you use a larger pan in place of the one called for in the recipe, your cake batter may end up cooking faster than you expect, may get burnt, or even become too flat. It's important to use the pan size mentioned in the recipe to avoid cake disasters. These days, silicone cake pans and muffin trays are available; however, they aren't firm and affect the shape of the final bread, cake, or muffins. Thus, it's best to stick to the conventional aluminum and non-stick baking pans. The ones with the loose bottoms are convenient, because they help release a baked cake more easily. Purchase graduated cake pans if you're looking to make layered cakes. If you're interested in baking tarts and pies, you'll need their respective tins as well. So, the choice of baking pan will depend on the kind of baking you're interested in.
If you're roasting a chicken in the oven or baking a batch of cookies, you need a baking sheet to hold them. There are different kinds of baking sheets made from different materials. The one with the lip is used to bake anything that releases liquids. For cookies, flat baking sheets are preferred because they hold more number of cookies. It's best to line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat (non-stick, washable mat) to avoid the cookies from sticking to the sheet. If you're a beginner, purchase the sheet with the lip, because it can be used to bake various foods.
Deep mixing bowls made of stainless steel are recommended for baking, simply because they are easy to clean and maintain. Moreover, they are deep enough to prevent the batter from splashing everywhere while using an egg beater. But if you own a mixer, you needn't use the stainless steel ones. Ceramic or glass bowls also make convenient mixing bowls. The size of the bowl will depend on the amount of baking being done. If you're into baking on a large scale, get larger bowls.
Some cooks are so skilled that they can judge temperature fluctuations by feel; however, for those of us who are still trying our hand at baking, an oven thermometer makes an essential baking tool. Baking needs precision, which can be achieved with this simple tool. Moreover, ovens often indicate a certain temperature, but the reading may vary. To avoid culinary disasters, it's best you get one oven thermometer, which will tell you the exact temperature. It will also tell you if the oven has been preheated to the right temperature. You can either get the regular oven and grill thermometer or get the digital one.
Rolling Pin and Pastry Board
Different kinds of pastry boards are available today―stainless steel, wood, glass, silicone, and marble. Marble pastry boards are perfect for delicate pastries because their cool surface prevents the dough from sticking to the board. Moreover, these boards require lesser flour while rolling out the pastry dough. Then there are different kinds of rolling pins as well. They come with or without handles. The one without a handle offers more control, but it's all about personal preference. The marble rolling pins don't stick to the dough; thus, they help roll out the dough without adding too much flour. Moreover, it can also be chilled before use, thereby, preventing heat transfer to the dough.
Once your bread, cake, muffins, cookies, etc., have been baked, they need to be cooled off on a cooling rack. If left to cool in the baking pan, the baked item can overcook due to the heat of the pan, or even get too soggy due to condensation. A cooling rack allows air to circulate around the cake or cookies. If you're a beginner, simply buy a 10-inch cooling rack, on which your cake or cookies can rest. If you bake a lot, purchasing those of different sizes would be appropriate. You can also purchase the multilayered cooling rack that allows you to cool several racks of baked food, without taking up counter space.
Fine ingredients like flour, cocoa powder, etc., tend to clump in their storage containers. This is why it is important to sift these dry ingredients before incorporating them into the cake. Sifting ensures all your dry ingredients combine well with each other. Flour sifters are easily available; however, a simple, large sieve will also sift the dry ingredients for you. Kitchen sieves are easier to handle, clean, and sift flour.
While a stand mixer is convenient and efficient, not everybody can invest in one. Hand mixers are also great and help beat eggs to a fluff. They can also be used to beat cream. Hand mixers are less expensive and more practical. Then again, regular balloon whisks also come in handy while baking. These whisks aren't expensive and can be used to incorporate air into egg whites and cream. However, these require manual work. Whether carried out with a hand mixer or whisk, the act of whisking is an important step in baking. The air incorporated into the egg whites and butter is what gives the cake its fluffiness.
Spatula and Pastry Brush
Spatulas are invaluable tools that help scrape and mix batter. The ones with rubber or silicone scraping blades are used to fold ingredients together, and are also used to scrape the sides of the bowl, while mixing the cake or cookie batter. Since its blade is flexible, it helps perform these functions with ease. Offset spatulas are used to spread frosting evenly on cakes. The size will depend on the size of the cake and frosting surface. Then there's the pastry brush, which is another essential tool required for basting foods and oiling or buttering baking sheets and pans. The regular, natural fiber pastry brushes retain odor from previous baking episodes, and may also release a fiber or two. To solve these problems, the silicone pastry brush has been introduced, which is not only very easy to wash, but also does away with the odor problem.
If you're aspiring to bake lovely cookies this holiday season, you will need some cookie cutters. They are available in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and materials. They're available in stainless steel, copper, aluminum, and even plastic. The stainless steel ones are the best to start off with. They're sturdy and sharp, thereby enabling you to cut out cookies from the dough easily. Buy a few shapes initially, and later on, you can build your cookie cutter collection.
These were just the top essential baking tools you will need to begin baking. However, the list may vary a bit depending on what you're planning to bake. You may have a more customized list if you're planning to bake only cookies, breads, etc. Depending on your interest area, decide upon the tools you need.