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As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities -- but we also have to rely on our tools. Which is why we're asking the experts about the essential tools we need to make our favorite foods attainable in our own kitchens.
I always say that when it comes to baking, you need to buy a lot of toys. A dash of this and a pinch of that sounds romantic, but it’s a pastry chef’s nightmare. Real baking relies on precise science and an investment in a few tools that will dramatically improve the quality of your work. The more equipment you invest in, the less intimidating baking becomes. If you’re a passionate cook, don’t be scared to load up your kitchen with a proper baking section. You won’t regret it!
Here what you’ll need to get started:
1. Digital scale
There’s a strange stigma about buying a scale, but if you’re serious about baking, this is perhaps the one tool to invest in. Measurements are so much more accurate with a digital scale, and you don’t have to worry about how densely you packed your measuring cups and spoons. Scales are small, relatively cheap, easy to use, and much more efficient than a collection of cups and spoons.
More: Alice Medrich swears by her kitchen scale, too. Here's why.
2. Stand mixer
I’ve whipped creams and meringues with only a whisk and a sturdy forearm before, but after a while, it gets a bit painful. While you can make cookie batter with a bowl and a spatula, a stand mixer allows you to really dive into more serious recipes (and it saves you from a muscle ache).
3. Probe thermometer
Temperature makes a big difference the minute you start to work with sugar, as its texture changes so much depending on how much you heat it. Can you make a good meringue or caramel without a thermometer? Yes. But to consistently make a great one, this is one piece of equipment that’s worth it.
A few years ago, I started realizing how convenient chopsticks are as tools for finishing desserts with those last few precise touches. They don't look as fancy as a pair of tweezers, but you can also regularly replace them and you can use them while frying.
More: Baking can get messy. Protect your clothes with a snazzy apron.
5. Vegetable peeler
You go through a lot of fruit when you’re baking -- I remember peeling baskets of apples when I was an intern. At a certain point, a peeler is a good investment. For an added trick, you can use a peeler to lightly level off the sides of your tart shells to make them even.
More: Wrap up all of your baked goods in neat little packages. Then give them as gifts.
6. Piping bag and tips
Piping can be intimidating when you're embellishing a cake with fancy calligraphy. But piping isn’t just for decoration -- it's also for filling things. Plus, a piping bag allows you to work with one of my favorite doughs -- pâte à choux -- the eggy and light dough you find in éclairs and cream puffs.
More: You have a pastry bag. Now learn how to use it.
7. Silicon mat
You work with a lot of tricky consistencies in baking. Not only does a silicon mat help sticky marshmallow or fragile mousse to set, but it also makes certain cake batters easier to unmold. It also keeps more delicate doughs moist and prevents them from drying out or over-baking. Of course, silicon mats also make washing the dishes a lot easier.
8. Dough scraper
This tool is for more than just scraping dough off the bottom of your mixing bowl. The curved side can serve as a scoop, and it is also useful for mixing lighter batters and meringues. Flip it over to the straight edge, and it can be used to spread batter evenly on a sheet pan before baking, to ice a cake, or to level off your tart filling so it’s clean and neat.
More: Alice Medrich loves dough scrapers, too.
You never realize how often you could use a microplane until you get one. In pastry, it’s crucial for zesting fruits and grating fresh spices.
In the past, people would assume you only use a torch for making crème brûlée, but a torch can be a very handy tool for adding caramelized crunch to a variety of treats. Sprinkle sugar onto fruits and torch them briefly. Or use a torch to brown meringues and -- my favorite -- to toast up marshmallows. It can also help you quickly heat up the sides of your mold to make unmolding easier.
More: Torch these Salted Pumpkin Crème Brûlées.
Top photo and lemon éclair photo by Yossy Arefi; piping choux photo by Camille Becerra; all others by James Ransom
What was the firsty pastry tool you ever invested in? Share with us in the comments!