Essential Baking Tools and Organization
Do you hate baking? Do things never come out like they do in the recipe picture? Chances are you do not have the proper tools to make baking easy, efficient and fun! When I first started training as a professional baker the best tip the instructor gave was "It is all about the tools", this is true in most trades that you need to have the proper tools to do the job. This list will cover all the essentials you need to have you baking like a pro in no time!
One of the worst parts of baking is measuring the ingredients. We have all been there you are trying to scoop flour out of that tiny bag you cant get your fingers all the way in then you try to level off the measuring cup and.... flour everywhere. I have four of these in my kitchen, one each for all purpose flour, bread flour, sugar and corn meal purchased in bulk. The 6 quart size are perfect for storing ingredients and giving you more than enough room to access you ingredients without making a mess. They also work great for rising bread or pizza dough!
Pre Cut Parchment Sheets
These are a lifesaver for so many uses in cooing and baking, These come pre cut to the pan size that you have laying flat in a box. You all know how annoying it is trying to use the rolled up parchment from the grocery store. These have many other uses other than pan liners, you can put one down on your kitchen scale before measuring ingredients, make a piping bag by rolling it in a cone then tape it shut with a piece of scotch tape. I recommend buying these from a restaurant supply store you should be able to find a case of 1000 for about $20.
Heavy Duty Baking Sheets
Do yourself a favor and toss the all of the cheap tin baking pans you have in your cabinet right into the recycle bin. These heavy-duty pans do not twist or warp and stop your baked goods from over browning or burning. The half sheet pan size is perfect for most home cooks and bakers, they are large enough to bake a few dozen cookies on or roast enough vegetables for a crowd. I recommend having 5-6 of these so you can be portioning out the next batch while one bakes in the oven. The brands that seem to be the most durable are Volrath and King Arthur Flour.
Heavy Duty Mixer
This is a must have for mixing and stirring all of you fabulous doughs not to mention kneading bread dough. I prefer the bowl lift type as opposed the tilt head models, I find the bowl lift models to be much more sturdy for heavy duty mixing. These come in a wide variety of colors and styles to match any kitchen decor so there is no reason not to leave it out right on your counter, you will find you will be using it all the time! I also have the pasta dough sheeter and cutter attachment, which gives this machine even more counter space value.
Any professional baker will tell you that the best way to make sure that your recipes come out as intended weigh as opposed to using volume measurements due to how compacted your flour is and the humidity level of your kitchen. There are either traditional or digital versions available and some have a removable bowl on top for holding ingredients. Which ever model you chose make sure it has a tare option so you can use what ever mixing bowls or vessels you happen to be using.
Home ovens vary greatly by manufacturer and fuel type. Until you get to know the nuances of your oven a thermometer is vital to make sure that your recipes come out perfect. Before baking I would use this to see where the oven is leveling out in temperature, if your oven is set at 350* but the thermometer is reading 375* then you will need to lower the temperature setting until you get the desired oven temperature. Since you have to preheat for 15-20 minutes anyway for optimal baking results I find that this step does not add any additional time or effort.
I do not know how I managed before I discovered these. I use them for portioning out cookie dough as well as muffins and cupcakes (no more batter dripping everywhere!) They come in different sizes, which should be indicated on the scoop handle, the number means how many scoops you would get out of one quart. My favorites are a number 24 for standard size muffins and cupcakes and a number 40 for cookies. Make sure you purchase ones that have metal mechanisms, the plastic ones tend to get brittle and break.
Plunger Measuring Cup
One of my least favorite baking steps is measuring out sticky ingredients like molasses, honey, and peanut butter. When using traditional measuring cups you have to scoop the ingredient into the measuring cup then try to get it all back out again, it never works well and you generally just end up making a mess. A plunger measuring cup allows you to scoop the ingredient just once into the measuring cup after selecting the desired measurement then pushing on the end of the plunger easily pushes all of the ingredients right into the bowl making clean up a breeze.
Pastry brushes are essential for baking tasks such as spreading egg wash on breads, rolls and pies as well as assisting with cleanup by brushing flour off the counter and out of crevices. You can also use the pastry brushes to grease baking pans quickly and effectively. There a different bristle options available including silicone, plastic or nylon or natural bristles, I recommend using the natural bristle brushes for baking and keep a separate silicone brush for the BBQ. (Tip: to clean the natural bristle brush stick them in a cup of boiling water and all of the grease will melt and rise to the top.)
A large flour sifter is important to get the best results from your ingredients. Flour clumps in storage and sifting it before measuring will ensure you get the proper amount as well as a nice texture in the final baked good. I recommend the style that has a handle that turns as opposed to a handle squeeze type as they are much easier to operate. The sifters can also be used for topping desserts with powder sugar. DO NOT put your sifter in the dishwasher as they will rust. Just a quick rinse is sufficient to clean then let it air dry before putting it away.
With these items you will be baking like a pro in no time!