Knowledge and/or some tools not now in the house.
A class or course if there's a cooking school near you.
A top cookbook - e.g., by Rose Levy Beranbaum or Maida Heatter (so?) For sweets or Bernard Clayton for breads.
Wooden cutting board and quality bread knife.
Good suggestions (if by (so?) you meant (sp?), yes)- but it's hard to make concrete suggestions without knowing what's available and what sort of budget- a Kitchenaid mixer would be great , as would a decent cookie sheet (if you can find one) or a roll of parchment or a built in steam oven or a couple of silpats or... Bakers with time tend to accumulate a lot of stuff, but of course there are real basics to look at first.
Purchase a macaron baking set: Macaron cookbook, silicon macaron mats, ingredients to get started, and a cool apron. Photo from Amazon.
I’m a fan of a “theme” gift, so i would probably do two of this sheet pan- which is sturdy and cooks evenly
As well as a good sized silicone spatula, parchment paper, and a few printouts of great classic cookies which are perfect for beginner bakers. I would definitely include the ny times chocolate chip cookie recipe, a classic dorie greenspan sable, quaker oats vanishing oatmeal cookies....
If they’re more into baking cakes and breads a digital scale would be perfect, there are some good ones available now for under $50
+1 for local cooking classes, if there is a sur la table nearby they offer classes that include baking (although check it is a hands on class, the “demonstration” style classes wouldn’t be as interesting for a teen)
Perhaps call around, or visit, bakeries in your/her area and ask if they would be willing to have her as an informal intern for a week or so.
When I owned a bakery-restaurant in Northern California, I did this often for Girl Scouts working on merit badges, as well as for elementary school teachers who needed continuing education hours during the summer. They are some of my fondest memories.
Great idea! ...nice memories.
When my son was a younger teen, I got him Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything, the Basics". It has 1000 pictures. For baking, it has no knead bread and biscuits. It is a great step-by-step start for new cooks.
A subscription to Bake from Scratch magazine. Lots of recipes, techniques, and ideas bi-monthly.
A kitchen scale. It's a good time to teach your teen why weight is so much better than volume in baking :)
Well, I agree that a good scale would make a fine gift (as would a good oven thermometer). This is hardly the place to go into a dissertation- or diatribe- on the relative merits of the two systems, but a couple of things; in the first place, the great majority of baking recipes are written using volume measures. Secondly, our young baker can scarce compare the merits of the two without learning to bake using volume measures- a system by which countless bakers have produced excellent results for centuries- and there's a degree of art to it; it will take some time. Obviously not a reason not to learn to bake with a scale too, but I would hope that it could be gone into with an open mind.
With so many recipes available online, I doubt a 14-or 15-year old would appreciate a paper book. A really terrific gift would be a list of *your* best accumulated tips and tricks - room-temp ingredients really DO make all the difference, parchment paper will save your life when baking cookies, refrigerating cookie dough almost always improves the results, what to look for when whipped cream is just at the right stage - and some recipes from your favorite blogs. Even a list of your favorite sites would be awesome. Sally's Baking Addiction is free and the recipes are easy enough for a teen baker. Averie Cooks is similar, Shutterbean is a fun resource, and Food52 is, of course, a repository for all sorts of recipes. A subscription to a tried-and-true recipe site like Cook's Illustrated teaches both amazing basic recipes and technique. And I'll second what others have said about quality insulated baking sheets, a strong handmixer if you can't afford a Kitchenaid, or even a gift card to a local grocery store. Baking ingredients add up!
As one of the aforementioned "others", I would like to say that it is my belief that insulated baking sheets should be avoided like the plague. Also, I'm not so sure that today's youth is incapable of appreciating a cookbook; they are in many ways to be preferred to online sources.
I agree with Smaug on this—a youth who is interested in baking will be interested in the appropriate tools of the trade, including a time-tested cookbook of basics over potentially iffy online recipes.
I bought my teenaged niece a cookbook that had beautiful photos and she loved it. Yes, she looks up recipes online but there's something special about having the book and seeing photos on how the finished dish should look. She loves cooking/baking magazines. Baking equipment is wonderful but her mom has everything she needs. I still vote for Bake from Scratch.
King Arthur Flour online classes. Stand mixer; pans by Chicago Metallic, stainless measuring cups and spoons, glass measuring cups for liquids, good oven mitts, apron. Madagascar vanilla, Vietnamese cinnamon
The book 12 Recipes by Cal Peternell.
A Kitchen Aid Mixer and a rolling pin and marble board
A Kitchen Aid mixer and rolling pin and a marble board. Or various size springform pans. Or sign up for a good class.
Accurate measuring equipment. This would be either a well-rated scale that weighs in ounces and grams; or top-of-the-line measuring cups and measuring spoons (stainless steel for ease of cleaning).