Essential Tools

A Baker's Go-To, Keep-It-in-Her-Pocket Tool for—Well, Everything

July 19, 2016

The offset spatula has no shortage of fans. Every food stylist, baker, moderately serious home cook, and cake decorator I know has at least one. At last count, I had seven mostly small ones, which fit perfectly into the pen slot of my aprons. Their perfectly angled blades can do everything from frost a perfect cupcake to flip a piece of roasted cauliflower on a sheet pan. It is one of the tools that I use so often, for so many different purposes, I don’t even know how I ever functioned in the kitchen without it.

Swooooooosh! Photo by Bobbi Lin

I learned to love the offset spatula when I worked at a little bakery/teahouse/restaurant (I never knew quite what to call it) on the Upper East Side. It was my first real New York kitchen job, one that I'd kind of fudged my way into while I was a receptionist at the same restaurant by bringing cookies to work to show my boss that I could bake. I was in a little over my head, but I made it through, thanks to my coworkers.

My supervisor was a truly gifted cake decorator and artist. She was an alum of Magnolia Bakery, and worked there before Sex and the City, and the cupcake bouncer, and the bus tours that followed. She could also decorate the most perfect cupcakes I’d ever seen.

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She taught me how to hold the spatula and mound cupcakes with an unreasonable amount of frosting, how to turn and lift the spatula and swirl the cupcake all in one motion, and to do it really, really fast. She showed me how much easier (and neater!) it was to fill and frost a cake with an offset spatula, and it seriously changed my baking game. Before that, frosting cakes and cupcakes had seemed impossibly and unfairly hard. These applications alone were enough to convince me that I needed my own arsenal of offsets.

Swoops and swirls courtesy of... Photo by Mark Weinberg

The angled blade smoothed the frosting on the outside of the cake, while ensuring that I didn’t accidentally ruin the smooth finish with my clumsy fingers. It also helped protect my wrists during long days of repetitive cake-frosting motions.

I use my offsets to create swoops and swirls of frosting or whipped cream on sheet cakes, and peaks of meringue on pies and bars. I also use them to spread thin, even layers of jam, pastry cream, or ganache in between cake layers or into a tart shell—without accidentally sticking my fingers or the heel of my hand into whatever I am spreading around. (Same goes for smoothing batter into the corners of any size baking pan and leveling the top.) Their thin blades and slight angle also makes them perfect for lifting and moving a cake to a serving platter or stacking a multi-tiered cake, then sliding the spatula(s) out from underneath with minimal damage. They are also perfect for sliding under delicate lacy cookies and removing them from a sheet pan without disturbing any of the neighboring cookies.

Your offset spatula is the best cake lifter you've got. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Before working in the bakery, I would notice that all of my favorite bakers on the cooking shows I watched used offset spatulas to ice their cakes and smooth cake batter in a pan—and for some reason, I thought the tool was expensive and beyond me. Turns out offsets aren’t either of those things, and they are truly indispensable in both the sweet and savory kitchen: I grab my small offsets to spread mayo and mustard on sandwiches, spread a hearty layer of avocado on my toast in the morning, and flip pancakes or vegetables or fritters in a frying pan or roasted veg on a baking sheet. I especially like to flip oven fries with an offset spatula: That thin-flexible blade slides right under potato wedges like a dream, without disturbing their golden brown crust.

I have a preference for the spatulas made by Ateco; I think the design of their handles and blades are the best available. I have a variety of sizes, but the smallest ones (4 1/2 inches) get the most action in my kitchen, and I keep one in the pocket of my apron at pretty much all times, right next to the Sharpie. The 7 3/4-inch spatula is a close second, and it's what I usually reach for when I am working with a layer cake that’s bigger than about 5 inches across. The wooden handled spatulas are a bit more aesthetically pleasing, but if I am being honest, I find the plastic handled ones a bit more comfortable to hold for long periods of time (say, if I'm frosting 100 cupcakes).

You probably don’t need seven offset spatulas, but the minimal investment in one or a couple of them will change the way you smooth, swoop, swirl, and flip your way through your kitchen.

Yossy Arefi is a writer, baker, and cookbook author—and former Food52 contributor! You can read more of her work (and swoon over her pies) on her blog and in her new cookbook, Sweeter Off the Vine.

What's your equivalent of Yossy's offset spatula—the tool you have on you whenever you're in the kitchen? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Yossy Arefi
    Yossy Arefi
Yossy Arefi is a photographer and stylist with a passion for food. During her stint working in restaurant kitchens, Yossy started the blog Apt. 2B Baking Co. where, with her trusty Pentax film camera, she photographs and writes about seasonal desserts and preserves. She currently lives in Brooklyn but will always love her native city of Seattle. Follow her work at &


foofaraw July 19, 2016
Speaking of Ateco, I also love their bowl scraper It is amazing for scraping pie crust, work area after finish, bowl, buttercream, and many other things.
Two T. July 19, 2016
Lol I use it for everything too! I laugh because it is probably the cheapest thing I have and I use it everyday, multiple times! Like loosening muffins from their cups, and frittatas from their pans and spreading butter on...everything. Also, frosting stuff : )
Yossy A. July 19, 2016
Oh yes! It is perfect for lifting muffins from their cups, can't believe I forgot to add that in :)