There’s always room in my stomach for dessert. Food goes into your stomach, but dessert? Dessert goes into your heart.
The EHD team doesn’t, in my opinion, have a healthy history of ordering dessert when we go out as a group. These morally upstanding people, who I’m incredibly lucky to call my teammates, have willpowers of steel. But every now and then I decide enough is enough and demand that the waiter bring over the dessert menu before anyone else can say “I think we’re good, thanks!” WE ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT GOOD. There might be bread pudding with salted caramel sauce to try. Or rose water and fruit pavlovas with tangy raspberry puree. And what about the house-made gelatos featuring fresh summer fruit?!
But there is something I love even more than eating warm ginger cakes soaked in coffee and molasses syrup. Baking them. Baking is complete therapy for me. There are few things better than putting on one of my favorite quiet Spotify playlists (This Is Chad Lawson, Lute Music For Alchemists, or Coffee Table Jazz being my usual go-tos), opening up a cookbook, and emerging from my hot kitchen a little while later, red-cheeked and flour-covered, holding a plate of something new to force-feed my friends and coworkers. During the winter, I LOVE to wake up early and bake before work with a hot cup of tea while it’s still dark. And in the summer, I’ll spend weekend mornings deciding what fruit-inspired dessert I’m going to try, head to the farmers market, and then spending the rest of the afternoon making lunch and baking. I’m sure it all feeds into my Great British Baking Show tent fantasies paired with a heavy dose or Jane Austen-inspired romanticism.
I hungrily devour my Bon Appétit magazine every month, visit Food52’s site almost daily, and try my hardest to avoid Pinterest and instead resort to my small but loved collection of cookbooks (until I’ve tried every recipe at least). You don’t need to be a pastry chef to bake well, you just need a desire to try, some simple ingredients, and a few essential tools.
About two weeks ago, Arlyn published a post on her everyday kitchen cooking tools and there was a request from readers to go further on the subject but with a focus on baking-specific products, so here I am today, the “resident” baker on staff, walking you through what I personally love and couldn’t turn on my oven without.
1. Parchment Paper: Every good baker needs a roll of parchment paper in their drawer. Bake cookies on it so they don’t stick to your tray, use it to sandwich and roll out some pie dough, wrap up loaves of bread in it with some pretty twine to give at gifts. It’s an essential.
2. Pyrex 8 cup Measuring Cup with Lid: All you really need is one, big, glass measuring cup (Arlyn said this in her post, too). Not only does it measure liquids (duh), but it’s the perfect size for melting drizzly sauces or butter in, whipping cream in, or even making small batches of batter in (with an easy to pour spout). I received an extra-large measuring cup once as a gift YEARS ago, and it’s still one of my favorite kitchen tools. It also serves as a great plant waterer.
3. Microplane: Citrus rinds, nutmeg, cinnamon, cheese, fingers—what can’t this little tool grate? You don’t need a four-sided grater, lemon zester, AND a nutmeg shaver. Just one microplane to rule them all.
4. Stainless Steel Pastry Scraper, Dough Blender & Biscuit Cutter Set: All three of these tools are essentials in a bakers drawer. A pastry scraper not only helps you scrape sticky doughs off counters, but it also helps you cut thick doughs into sections, and move unwilling cookies onto trays. Dough blenders keep your extra short doughs (extra buttery, think shortbreads) cold and crumbly when your fingers would otherwise turn them into melty mush. And a solid set of varied size circular cookie cutters will get you far in the cookie, pie decorating, and pasta making world.
5. Fine Mesh Sieve: Who needs a flour sifter or a sugar duster when you probably already have a sieve sitting in your cabinet? I use this to get lumps out of my sugar and flours, to juice citrus without having to pick out seeds (no need for a juicer), to dust cakes and cookies with powdered sugar, and to wash berries for fruit desserts (plus draining canned goods and pasta).
6. Set of 3 Glass Covered Mixing Bowls: You really only need three mixing bowls in your life. Often times when it comes to baking, you’ll need one for the dry ingredients, one for the wet, and one for making your frosting or dressing. And with lids, you can use these bowls to store leftovers or make frostings/glazes/drizzles in advance. Glass bowls can also be microwaved, or used as a double boiler (unlike plastic bowls).
7. Whisk: Some of you might be adverse to a hand mixer, and I get that. And sometimes what you gotta mix just isn’t worth the effort of pulling it out and plugging it in. I feel that in my bones. What you are going to need is an easy to clean, unmangled, never gonna break down whisk. And some beefy forearms to wield it with (just like our grandmothers before us).
8. 3pc Non-Stick Aluminized Steel Cookie Sheet Set: You gotta get your cookies in the oven somehow. Or maybe you’re making some granola bars. In that case, you’re going to want cookie trays with a little bit of depth and a lip (like these). Making pavlova? You’re a risk-taker, and I like it. No matter what, this set of baking trays is going to get you where you need to go (and won’t warp on you).
9. Measuring Spoon and Cup Set: This is America, where we measure things with varying degrees of accuracy and “just kinda wing it” whenever possible. That’s essentially how I feel about using measuring spoons and cups: it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to get you pretty close. This set compacts nicely together and they all have the measurements etched into them, that way 12 years from now you’re not struggling to differentiate your 1/2 teaspoon from your 1/3 tablespoon because the paint has worn off the handles.
10. Set of 3 Non-Stick Round Cake Pans: If you’re going to be making cakes, you’re going to need cake tins. Get a good, simple set and they’ll last you a lifetime. There’s really no reason to get a donut pan, a mini bundt pan, or a Christmas tree mini cake pan unless you’re practicing to enter the GBBS.
11. Silicone Baking Mat: I love me some parchment paper, but a silicone baking mat is the modern baker’s choice of tray liner. Nothing sticks to silicone baking mat. NOTHING. (I know that at least one of you is going to tell me in the comments that, actually, yes you’ve managed to get something stuck on one of these bad boys. I’ll need all the messy details.)
12. Adjustable Rolling Pin with Removable Rings: The handles of a traditional rolling pin always got in my way. Once I went handle-less, I never went back. And this rolling pin has removable rings that can help you gauge the thickness of your doughs. No more measuring what 1/4 of an inch looks like (or guessing, if you’re me). I’ve also used a bottle of wine as a rolling pin and it worked fine, so decide how much you’ll actually be rolling out dough and how much you’d rather invest in wine.
13. Silicone Spatula: Do I even need to explain why you need this? You obviously need something with a good flexible edge to scoop out every drop of extra chocolate cake batter from your bowl and promptly transport it into your mouth hole. That is this tool’s one and only purpose.
14. 2-Piece Measuring Conversion Magnet Set: Realizing that I need to figure out how many teaspoons are in a cup, and trying to look it up on my phone with dough covered fingers is one of my all-time favorite activities, but in case you don’t feel the same, these magnets are for you. Especially helpful if you’re trying to either double or half a recipe.
11. 9″ x 13″ Nonstick Baking Pan with Cover: This is what you’re gonna make sheet cakes, crumbles, brownies, and cobblers in. And the lid makes for extra easy transport to wherever it’s headed (if it can make it out of the kitchen without being devoured).
1. Bundt Pan: Okay, you like to bake. You’ve moved beyond round and rectangle cakes. Maybe the holidays are coming up. You, my friend, are ready to upgrade to a bundt pan. A lot of the same cakes, but in a new special shape that’s sure to impress with lots of nooks and crannies for glazes to settle into.
2. Cuisinart Power Advantage Plus 9 Speed Hand Mixer: Listen, those 10 digits of yours will get you pretty far when it comes to baking. But at a certain point, hand whipping cream for 30 minutes just isn’t worth it. A hand mixer, that’s all self-contained, can get you perfectly mixed cake batters, easily creamed sugar and butter, and nice stiff peaks in 1/4 of the time a hand whisk would take.
3. Non-Stick Cooling Rack: It’s totally fine most of the time to let your baked goods cool right on the tray. MOST OF THE TIME. If you want to better control the finish of your baked goods (those cookies keep cooking on that hot tray until the tray itself cools down), then get a cooling rack to carefully transfer your finished goods to after they come out of the oven. Also, doubles as a good glazing rack and makes great oven bacon.
4. KitchenAid Professional 5qt Mixer: Now if you’re really feeling moved by the baking spirit there’s nothing more exciting than a KitchenAid stand mixer. I cried when I opened mine on Christmas day five years ago. REAL. TEARS. It’s fast, it can make double batches without breaking a sweat, it can knead bread for days, and it leaves your hands free to slowly add your dry ingredients, or get a head start on spilling the vanilla all over the counter. Big thanks to my cousin, who was working at Williams Sonoma at the time, and got my parents that sweet discount.
5. Kitchen and Food Scale: Okay, here’s the solution to my measuring cup/spoon issue from above. While we Americans are still struggling to properly measure out exactly two cups of flour, our more civilized world neighbors are just weighing their ingredients. And now so am I. You get your kitchen scale, you pop your bowl on there, and hit “tare” (which means the scale subtracts the weight of the bowl leaving you with a 0 weight). Then you can add as many ingredients as you need, hitting tare after each one. 150 grams flours, *tare*, 90 grams sugar, *tare*, 200ml milk. You can measure it all without dirtying a single measuring cup or spoon. And it’s going to be wildly more accurate, which generally matters when it comes to baking.
6. Ceramic Oval Baking Dish: Yes, you can make cobblers, crisps, crumbles, and slumps in a cake tray. But they really want to be made in a baking dish for more even baking and better heat retention. Plus, presentation-wise, these are ready to go oven to table without any sort of fuss.
7. Icing Knife Set: Can you use an everyday knife to ice your cupcakes? Sure, no ones going to stop you. But that slightly serrated knife gets a little trickier when you’re trying to frost a cake. It’s too narrow, and the tapered, serrated edges can leave an uneven and unwanted pattern. Icing knives give you more surface area to work with, thin, flexible control, and even flat sides to use for smoothing. Plus they work great for peeling cookies off counters and trays, too.
8. Food52 Baking Cookbook: I have a lot of well-loved cookbooks, but if you’re interested in getting into some baking-specific activities then this is a great book to start with. Food52 recipes have never failed me, they are very clear on the instructions, include both cup and weight measurements, and there’s a beautiful photo for EVERY recipe. I really appreciate this last detail, because sometimes you just need to know if you’re cookie is supposed to look that flat, or if you’ve done something horribly wrong.
9. Silicone Pastry Basting Brush: Slowly basting your clementine almond cake with the citrus syrup you made is going to be much harder with your fingers than it would be with a basting brush. Syrups, sauces and drizzles get a helping hand for the myriad of little fingers this brush provides you with. Also great for basting meats and veggies. I prefer a silicone brush to a bristled brush because it’s far easier to clean (and you won’t ever find yourself pulling bristles out of your month mid-bite).
10. 5″ x 9″ Non-Stick Loaf Pan: Small batch batters like banana bread or pound cakes fair far better in loaf pans (and often the recipe only leaves you with enough batter to fill one of these narrow pans).
11. Cherry and Olive Pitter: Have you every tried to pit an entire bags of cherries by knife and hand? It’s tedious and leaves your counter and hands looking like a murder scene. If you’re working with cherries enough during cherry season (like me—cherry pie, cherry crumble, cherry tarts), then it’s worth investing in this handy little tool. For your sanity.
12. Non-Stick Muffin Tin: MAYBE YOU NEED A MUFFIN TIN. Who knows. Some people love making muffins and cupcakes, some people don’t. This only really depends on how much you like making muffins and cupcakes. Personally, I just don’t make that many, and my muffin tin sits unloved. But maybe twice a year I pull this out to throw together some breakfast muffins or divide up my favorite cake batter and make mini versions (cakes the size of cups, perhaps). If you’re gonna make muffins or cupcakes, you’re gonna need one of these. But I personally stick to my loaves, rounds and tins.
And here are a few honorable mentions (things that are NOT necessary, or even nice to have, but just really fun):
- Ninja Professional Blender – I bought this on sale at Target two years ago, and I use it every single day. It has small cup attachments to make smoothies, a blender, and a food processor attachment. One system for three different uses. And it’s holding up great.
- Removable Bottom Tart Pan – One reader commented below that they love theirs, which reminded me that I also love mine!
- Ceramic Pie Dish – One beautiful pie dish is going to get you far, if you’re interested in pie making. I have an heirloom piece handed down from my great grandmother that I use, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
- 9″ Spring Form Cake Pan – Using a spring form cake pan can take a little practice (you gotta make sure it’s lined properly, and that you’ve sealed the bottom in correctly), but once you know how to use it it’s hands down my favorite way to bake heartier cakes (softer, mushier cakes tend to do better in traditional cake pans).
- Crimped Biscuit Cutter – I listed a set of circular cookie cutters above because they’re more versatile, but I usually use a set of crimped edged cutters myself. It’s an easy way to give your cookies and biscuits an immediate fancy finish.
Now some of you may have come over from Instastories, curious about those cookies I was making (and the ones photographed here). This is a wildly easy Italian Cornmeal Cookie recipe by Emiko Davies, from the Food52 Baking book I have on the list up there. I made these on a Tuesday afternoon in Velinda’s kitchen while we were shooting her house (stay tuned for that). My attention was divided and they still turned out great. Here’s how you’re gonna make them:
What You Need
- 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (30g) fine cornmeal (if you can’t find “fine” go with regular and just blitz it in a blender or processor)
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 2/3 cups (150g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 egg yolks
- zest of 1 lemon
What You Do
- In your largest bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal and sugar. Then add the butter pieces. Use your quick fingers or a pastry cutter to work the ingredients together until the mixture is the consistency of almost dry sand (grainy, but holds together).
- Add the egg yolks and zest, and keep mixing with your fingers until blended. Then bring the dough together into a smooth ball.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (this allows the butter to harden up a bit, so it doesn’t get too sticky when you roll it out).
- Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface to about 1/2 inch thick. Use your circular cookie cutter to cut out cookies. You can place them fairly close together on your tray because these cookies don’t spread very much when baking. If you find your cookies are getting too warm and sticking, feel free to pop it back in the fridge or freezer for a few more minutes. Note: I actually like to flour a sheet of parchment paper, put down my dough, throw a little flower on top, and sandwich it between another sheet of parchment paper. I then roll out the dough between the two sheets. After I have a flat parchment paper and dough sandwich, I pop that baby in the fridge and let it firm up before cutting out my cookies. This makes for some super easy cookie to tray movement.
- Once your cookies are all laid out on a baking tray (either on some parchment or a silicone baking mat), put the whole tray into your freezer for 30 minutes. Again, this allows the butter to really firm up before it bakes. Otherwise, your cookies are just going to melt in the oven, spread, and turn into crips rather than cookies. During this time, you can preheat your oven to 350F (175C).
- Bake for 13-15 minutes, until the edges are just looking golden and the cookies have puffed up a bit. Let cool right on the tray!
Happy baking. xx
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD