TOP 10 MANUAL BAKING ESSENTIALS
When it comes to baking I sort of compare it to photography. You can make beautiful images with the cheapest phone or camera, and you don’t have to spend a fortune on equipment. That being said, having the right gear can help refine the learning process. I own kitchen tools that don’t necessarily make me a better baker, however, they improve my level of consistency, which in turn develops my baking experience. Here are my top 10 manual baking essentials I use the most!
An oven thermometer
Did you know most ovens heat to inaccurate temperatures? My own oven is off by 15ºF (almost 10ºC). When I set my oven to bake at 350ºF (175ºC) the actual temperature inside my oven is 365ºF (185ºC). I know this because I keep an oven thermometer hooked on the inside of my oven at all times. 15ºF may not seem like much, but a discrepancy such as this can be the difference between a perfectly smooth or cracked cheesecake! Super inexpensive, I highly recommend using an oven thermometer, as any recipe from a trusted source will have been tested using accurate temperatures.
A digital kitchen scale
These days I bake almost exclusively using a digital kitchen scale. It takes a while to get used to, however, once you begin to think in grams, rather than cups, a whole new world awaits. Try it for yourself! If you own a kitchen scale, measure 1 cup of flour in a dry measuring cup then weigh it. Repeat the process a few times. I promise, the number will almost always be different! For my own test, measuring 1 cup of flour three times varied between 130 and 160 grams. Weighing by grams on a kitchen scale offers a consistency that traditional volume measurements do not.
A solid mixing bowl
Though heavy to handle (and wash), a sturdy glass or ceramic mixing bowl trumps metal or plastic in my kitchen. I love my Size 12 Mason Cash stoneware bowl. With its rich creamy colour, and pretty pattern around the outside, this beauty is a workhorse! It’s large enough for any whisking or mixing I do, and has a non-slip bottom that stays secure despite vigorous movement. Chip resistant, it’s also dishwasher and microwave-safe. A winner in my kitchen for sure.
Rubber spatulas in all sizes
An arsenal of rubber spatulas in varying sizes is fundamental. Of course, our grandmothers used their trusted wooden spoons, and though, terrific in their own way, they simply can’t beat the versatility of rubber spatulas. Rubber spatulas can be used to stir, mix, whip, spread, flatten lumps, fold, scrape down the sides of a mixing bowl, and more. They’re a crucial tool in my kitchen.
A bench scraper
You’ve probably seen these small rectangular metal tools which sometimes have handles made of wood. Sourdough bakers know and love bench scrapers for lifting and rotating sticky balls of dough from a work surface, or scraping clingy bits of dough from the counter. I use bench scrapers for bread-making, and also to slice pie, biscuit, or scone dough. I use them to shape dough, pressing the flat metal against the edges to create a perfectly round disc, or create a large rectangle to be rolled with cinnamon and sugar. Bench scrapers come in handy for many kitchen tasks and I use mine often.
A French-style rolling pin
I first learned how to roll pie and pastry dough using my Mum’s roller-style pin with wooden handles on the end. I can still remember the smooth, almost automatic feel of that pin in my hands, pushing forward and rolling the dough. I’ve since gravitated to a French-style rolling pin. French pins are basically thick wooden dowels without handles; I prefer pins with tapered ends. Using my Mum’s rolling pin I’d find myself really pushing down hard on the handles as I rolled. With a French-style pin, I find myself using a lighter touch, allowing the heels of my hands to gently guide the pin across the surface of the dough. This is purely a personal preference, however, I find a French-style rolling pin more suited to my style of baking.
A small offset spatula
If you’ve ever spread frosting on a cake or cupcake with a butter knife, then this is the tool for you! A small offset spatula is a superior spreading tool! There’s just something about the angle and shape of the spatula blade that makes perfect swoops and swirls a butter knife can only dream of.
Wire cooling racks
This one may seem like a no-brainer, however, I’d argue it’s not so much the racks themselves, but the number of racks you own! Because I bake often I seem to have a constant rotation of wire racks going through my kitchen — racks on the table ready for cooling, dirty racks near the sink to be washed, and clean racks in the pantry ready to be used. In my opinion, one rack is not enough, two is ok, three is better, and four (or more — at least for me!) are essential.
I don’t think it matters much whether you choose a brush with silicone or natural brush strands; Pastry brushes just come in handy for so many things! I use them to grease baking tins with melted butter, brush cream on top of unbaked biscuits or scones, and apply soaks to cake layers. They’re great for brushing away crumbs before applying frosting to cakes, painting egg wash on pie dough before baking, or sweeping melted butter over a loaf of fresh baked bread. Pastry brushes are a simple tool with many uses!
Whether manual or electric, I believe there is no other tool on the market as valuable as your own two hands. You can use them to do almost any job in the kitchen! They can mix, knead, sift, and fold. In a pinch you can use them to stir, spread, and flatten. And nothing, simply nothing, will ever compare to the tangible touch of smooth kneaded dough, the satisfying hollow tap on a loaf of baked bread, or pulling apart a flaky biscuit to release a puff of steam. You can own all of the kitchen gadgets in the world, and nothing will ever come close to the versatility of your hands.
Text and photos by Kelly Neil
Kelly Neil is a food photographer and blog publisher living and working in her hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. See more of her work at kellyneil.com.