As a professional pastry chef, I like to believe that I am a wealth of baking knowledge. While I don't claim to know everything (you can never stop learning! That's why I like Serious Eats), I do encourage the students in my classes to ask me any/all baking related questions that they may have so that I may try to help them. One of the questions that I almost always get isn't so much about baking, but about the tools that I use in my kitchen when I bake. People will ask, “What is your can't-live-without baking tool?” or “For someone who is just starting out on their own and building a kitchen, what are some basic tools I need?” And while the obvious answer would be my Kitchenaid stand mixer (I have 3!), there are a handful of basic, inexpensive hand tools that I absolutely cannot bake without.
First up, an offset spatula. I'm obsessed with my mini offset! I have several different styles (one even has a polka dot pattern!), and I use them constantly. I always get funny looks when I tell my students that it is my favorite kitchen tool. I use it for spreading fillings/batters/jams/butter, scooping and scraping, stirring, and countless other things. I even had a chef who used to carry his around in his back pocket and use them for tasting. When it comes to offset spatulas, there are a variety of sizes, though the mini is definitely my favorite. If I'm in the kitchen, my mini offset is not far from my reach.
My next must have is a good kitchen scale. It doesn't have to be something super fancy and high tech, but it should have the option to weigh in grams and ounces up to 11 pounds and be accurate! Remember, baking is a science, and so accuracy is very important. Most of the recipes I use are in weight measurements, not volume. Volume measurements can vary from person to person, ie the cup of flour that I measure is likely to weigh differently than the cup of flour that you measure. But 1 ounce is 1 ounce is 1 ounce. Again, we like the Joseph Joseph brand scale because it folds up so nice and tiny that it will fit anywhere in your crowded kitchen.
Next, a bench and/or bowl scraper. The bench scraper is a glorious tool that serves many purposes. It is great for scooping, especially anything that you've chopped on your cutting board. No more using the flat side of your knife for scooping (it's bad for your blade and you can cut yourself!). It's also great for cutting any soft items (like dough and butter), keeping your work surface clean, and, if you buy one that has a ruler on it, it is a great measuring tool. The bowl scraper is like a bench scraper, but instead of metal it is usually a pliable silicone or plastic. It can be used in many of the same ways as a bench scraper, but because it is pliable, it is an amazing no-waste tool when it comes to scraping batters/doughs/liquids out of bowls and pans! It beats a regular old rubber spatula any day. At Give Me Some Sugar, we love the Joseph Joseph combo bowl and bench scraper!
If you've never seen or used a Microplane before, prepare to have your mind blown. Like the offset spatula, it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the standard one works well for many different uses. I first got one to zest my citrus. It was only much later that I realized that I can use it to grate fresh nutmeg, hard cheeses like parmesan, cured egg yolks, roots like ginger or horseradish, and, most recently, I discovered from The Food Lab that I can use it to grate garlic instead of using a stupid, unitasker garlic press!
Another great item to have is a reliable candy thermometer. Making candies, caramels, and certain buttercreams require sugar to be cooked to very specific temperatures. There can be no guessing, otherwise you'll end up with something that is way too soft or break-some-teeth hard. A candy thermometer can also be used if you're doing any deep frying on your stove (like for doughnuts!) to ensure that the oil stays the proper temperature. The one we like even has a clip so you can clip it to your pot!
A good ice cream scoop in a few different sizes is also a must have for me. I use them for making cookies (the perfect size for every single cookie), scooping ganache for truffles, dividing cupcake or muffin batter into pans, heck, you can even use them to portion out mashed potatoes! Oh, and I guess you can use them for serving ice cream, too.
And lastly, I really love a good silcone baking mat. I never bake anything directly on my sheet pans, so my options are either parchment paper or Silpats. Don't get me wrong, I love using parchment paper for super easy clean up (just toss in the trash/compost!), but, I love Silpats because they are reusable forever (as long as you take proper care of them) and nothing sticks!! They are great for anything from cookies to candies to vegetables. I love baking my cookies on them, and when my trays come out of the oven I am able to lift the mat off of the tray and place it on my counter to allow my cookies to cool quickly.
While I could probably go on for hours about kitchen tools, I'm going to stop there. There are so many cool gadgets out there to spend money on and fill your already over-flowing cabinets, but these 7 items are a great starting point for building a good supply. Happy baking!