Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!
Since quarantine and stay-home orders have started, more folks have started getting interested in their kitchens. This is great news, especially as I can see how regularly my educational posts get visited.
For example, a friend of mine has been messaging me recently and asking for advice. Not so much on technique, but on equipment. A messy breakup has left him re-stocking his kitchen:
“Matt, what kind of rolling pin do you use? What material?”
”What do you suggest for bakeware? Any specific brands?”
”If I want to make cheesecake, do I REALLY need a springform pan?”
At first, I answered the questions and referenced my blog here. “I’m pretty sure I had a series called ‘Tools of the Trade’ or something.”
”Well, yeah, but you only got as far as knives, and that was five years ago.”
Oops. Time to solve that I think.
“Crash Course” time.
It’s important to remember that back when I started this series, it was intended to be a list of what I considered essentials, and what I packed in my toolbox and knife roll. Together, with the equipment a professional bakery might have, you’d be able to tackle virtually any recipe.
Since I started, I’ve only added a couple more things to my toolbox (which I’ll include at the end), but what I left out is really any appliances you might need. Remember, this was for the toolbox I bring to a supplied kitchen. It’s only hand tools that may or may not be available. In writing this list, I’m going to assume that you have the following already:
- An oven (or at least a large toaster oven). Because duh.
- Bowls, plates, etc for holding and mixing food. You can get any bowls you like. I try to have an assortment for mixing or for proofing bread, but you might also think of having some heatproof or metal bowls on hand. They come in handy when you need to add anything hot or mix over heat.
- Cutting boards. I like wooden ones, but they take some care. Get good quality plastic ones if you like (they are easier to clean), but for the love of your knives, don’t get glass ones. Glass cutting boards are useless, fragile, damage your knives, and are ONLY good for looking pretty. When it comes to wood, try to get laminated bamboo- they are sturdy, eco friendly, and naturally antimicrobial.
- A Microwave, because if everything fails, at least you can heat up a HotPocket or something.
- A stove with several burners, or at least a couple hot plates.
- A mixer. I love getting my hands dirty as much as anyone, but let’s be honest- sometimes you’ve gotta let a machine handle it for sake of time and productivity. KitchenAid is my favorite and comes with a hell of a pedigree, but at the very least get yourself a hand mixer. It’ll take care of creaming and whipping just fine, but you might wind up handling breads and some doughs by hand.
- Any baking pans– cake pans, sheet pans, cupcake/muffin pans, etc. I recommend well-made, heavy ones that fit in your oven and are easy to clean. NordicWare is solid, as are Farberware, KitchenAid, and several other companies. Different materials will heat up differently in the oven, but that’s a subject for another post.
- Any cookware- pots, pans, etc. Same as the baking pans. I will just say you want at least ONE frying pan and ONE cooking pot/ Dutch Oven that is all metal and can go from range to oven. If you go with cast iron, season it well and look after it, it’ll last generations. Same with enamelware- treat it right, your great-grandchildren will argue over who inherits it.
All clear on the basics? Good- let’s move on to the hand tools.
1. Knives and Sharp Things
I got as far as covering knives five years ago, and all of it still holds up, so I’ll just breeze through it again here. Your kitchen needs:
- A chef’s knife/ French knife– this is your powerhouse and workhorse. Build your knife skills, and you’ll find it stands up to all of them quite well. I love my Shun knife, but you can use any of a number of brands (my wife loves her Henckel.) Don’t cheap out on this one. Buy a good knife, take care of it, and it’ll last years.
- A long serrated knife- perfect for slicing bread, carving meat, and chopping up chocolate.
- Paring Knives- ideal for small work and easily lost/misplaced. Go cheap on these guys, you’ll be fine.
- Microplane grater
- Pastry/pizza wheel
- Razor blades/ box cutter. When you’re handling pie dough or slicing vents in bread, the cleaner the cut (and sharper the blade) the better. Go to a home supply store for this one, or get some safety razor blades from the drug store.
- Scissors. Cutting the tip of a pastry bag, harvesting herbs, opening packages… you don’t want to be running from your kitchen to your desk, so just get some kitchen shears and call it good.
2. Mixers and Movers
These are tools I use for manipulating product- mixing it, then moving or distributing it. I don’t have any particular brand loyalty on these tools, so pick whatever ones are within your budget and make you happy.
- Mixing Spoons– I like having plenty of wooden spoons around, simply because they are cheap, reliable, and feel good in my hand. There’s absolutely a place for metal spoons too, but I wouldn’t break the bank on anything fancy. Get spoons that work- that’s all.
- Rubber Scrapers– You want strong, heat-resistant, and flexible. This is going to be your main tool for scraping down bowls, moving doughs, and mixing chocolate. Keep an eye on them for discoloration, cracks, chipping. You don’t want weird rubbery bits in your food.
- Hand Whisks. I like a good, reliable piano-wire whip. Get a large one for big recipes and a smaller one for whipping up small batches of sauces or egg whites. One of my teachers gave me the tiny, “mini-whip” for making salad dressings and slurries. Think cheap, strong, and easy to clean.
- Off-set Spatulas. These are really just for decorating cakes. If that’s not something you want to do, get a sturdy pancake flipper instead. These guys you can get at a kitchen supply store or craft store.
- Brushes– Get them from a home improvement store and go cheap. I prefer natural bristles for brushing egg wash or melted butter on pie crusts. If you’re worried about not cleaning them right, though, silicone bristled basting brushes can be ok too. You just won’t get nearly as smooth coverage.
- Bench and Bowl Scrapers- whether it’s scraping sticky bread dough out of the mixing bowl, cubing up butter for pie dough, or cleaning down the bench at the end of the day, I keep these on me at all times. Fortunately, bowl scrapers are dirt cheap. Bench scrapers CAN be, but you want it to feel good in your hand.
In this section, I would also include rolling pins:
My favorite style is the French, dowel style of rolling pin. It’s thinner, better for pastry, and doesn’t have any moving parts to catch or break. It IS more difficult to use that the rolling, American style because you let it roll against your palms rather than holding a handle, but that’s your call.
I have several pins, some made of wood, other’s metal for chilling and working with pie crust, but I find wood the best all around.
4. Measuring and Weighing
Baking is precise. It’s chemistry. You gotta be able to measure and weigh ingredients, or recipes are going to get VERY confusing.
- A kitchen scale. No excuses, you need one. Get an electric one (ideally that you can store safely.) It should have several units, a max capacity of at least 11 lbs (or 5 Kg), and be easy to use. Don’t mishandle it. These can be money, but they are worth it for a number of reasons. (Serving sizes are often given in weights, for example.)
- Measuring cups and spoons. The ones I keep in my box are collapsible for space reason, but you can get decent ones for cheap. Yes, baking ideally is done entirely by weight, in which case your scale should be enough- but most home recipes still use volume measures for everything, so just be ready.
- Ice Cream Scoops– Not just for ice cream, I use these to perfectly measure out muffin batter, cupcake batter, and cookie dough.
- A Ruler and Measuring Tape– Mostly for precise cutting and decorating use.
- Thermometers- Get an electric probe one and keep it clean. Most electric thermometers have a sensitivity and range that will let them work for meat, chocolate, candy, everything. You might want to get one with a longer, wired probe for bread and roasts, but that’s it. In the picture, I have a chocolate thermometer and an IR thermometer- those are just kinda fun to use. The IR in particular is great for finding the “hot spots” in your oven.
5. Odds and Ends
This section is for decorating stuff and other tools that really don’t have a section. Beyond decorating tools (since that may or may not be your thing) I recommend for everyday baking:
- A spray bottle for spritzing bread with water before baking.
- A plastic sheet for covering bread while it’s out on the bench (You can just use plastic wrap too)
- A Can opener and bottle opener, because DUH.
- A Swiss Army Knife, for nearly EVERYTHING ELSE.
There’s the list of tools I recommend! Anything you think I missed? Need clarification on anything? Drop it in the comments and let’s chat!