So. You want to replicate those delicious treats that emerge from your favourite bakery? It is going to be difficult if you lack a few essential tools. Without these, the finished product is unlikely to look or taste as good as it could or should.
The best place to find these kitchen tools is a reputable, established owner-operated kitchen equipment supplier with which you can build a relationship over your baking years. They will usually have a range of qualities and prices to match. They will share care instructions with you, which should prolong the life of your purchase. Charity shops can also be a good place to pick up a few things. Often the old stuff is more durable and, let's face it, if it has made it as far as an op shop it must be of reasonable quality.
If you already have most of the basic kitchen equipment – citrus juicer, grater, tea strainer (icing sugar duster), apple corer, wooden spoon, chopping board, measuring jug (preferably stainless steel), a good apron, heatproof oven mitts, a good long-bladed serrated bread knife, various cake tins) – the top 10 essential tools to get you started on baking are listed here.
Electric hand-held beaters
A good set of beaters is used for creaming, whisking and blending. They allow you to make mayonnaise, pavlova, cake and whip cream. You can use it until you can afford a free-standing mixer. The beater attachment gives it a rather fast mixing action so you may need to reduce the mixing time of the batter if following, for example, an all-in-one cake recipe that assumes the use of a paddle beater attachment in a free-standing mixer.
Phillippa Grogan with her plastic dough scrapers. Photo: Anu Kumar
Dough scraper, plastic, wide blade, wedge shaped
My favourite utensil is used to collect bits of pastry, bread and pizza dough, cookie dough and crumbs with a brisk sweep of the hand across the bench. Ideal also to use for cleaning the benchtop because it saves on messy bench cloths.
Australian metric cup measure
Australian recipe books use Australian metric measures. Other countries such as Britain and the US have different-sized "cups". If you have recipe books from various countries you may need a range of measuring cups.
Australian stainless-steel measuring spoon set
Beware. All other cookbooks from every other country, including New Zealand, use a different-sized tablespoon measure, which is 15 millilitres instead of our 20 millilitres. Both tablespoon sizes are essential if you have a range of international recipe books.
Bristle pastry brush
Natural bristles have the advantage over silicon of being able to hold the butter or liquid that you need to brush over a dish, cake tin or tart. Silicon withstands the high temperatures that you will find on a barbecue plate or in a roasting pan but the silicon is designed to repel so it will not hold much liquid. Although it is easy to throw in the dishwasher for cleaning, it is not ideal as a baking tool. The bristle brush will withstand higher temperatures than a cheap, nasty nylon brush. But beware! The bristles should be cleaned well with warm, soapy water, turned upside down and rinsed under a running tap, tapped on the bench, then dried with a cloth while pushing the bristles back together to remove any excess water. The hole that should be at the top of the handle is not for decoration. It is to encourage us to hang it up to dry.
Old technology but still highly revered, this wooden-handled implement has been around since at least the '60s and is hard to improve on, which is why it is found throughout European baking kitchens. Its rubber blade gives the greatest amount of flexibility, making it the most effective implement to scrape every last teaspoon of batter from a bowl. The more recently designed silicon spatula with the stainless steel handle is less flexible and more expensive but able to withstand high temperatures such as in a hot frypan, is dishwasher safe and has a longer life.
Accurate electronic scales
Recipes using weights are more accurate than volume measures. As previously mentioned with the complexity of varying "cup" and "tablespoon" measures throughout the world, the safest measure for the international baker is by weight. Look for scales that will weigh from one gram to five kilograms and you will be covered. Using the tare button after the addition of each ingredient, allows you to weigh everything into one bowl. Keep a spare battery handy.
Wooden rolling pin
Traditionally made with European beech, a plantation, eco-friendly timber that has a smooth surface due to its fine grain and absence of knots. Being wood it is antibacterial. It should be lightly hand washed and rubbed occasionally with a non-toxic timber oil that will not go rancid. A single solid piece about 50 centimetres long, designed without moving parts, is ideal. Marble rolling pins look good and work well for confectionery but are heavy and can chip. They are also more likely to stick to your pastry.
Palette knife or offset spatula
This is a metal flat-bladed implement with a handle, essential in obtaining a very smooth surface on a cake covered with buttercream or ganache in which case it is usually dipped in hot water and dried before use. Its narrow edge makes it handy for lifting delicate items off a flat surface including whole cakes and slices. Interestingly, according to Susie Hawes at Scullerymade in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, women usually prefer the flatter-designed palette knife while the boys opt for the offset version with the raised handle.
If you regularly use a particular tin and find that you are constantly using baking parchment paper only to throw it out after a few uses, Teflon sheet is the permanent version. Unlike a silicone mat, Teflon sheet can be cut to fit any cake or lamington tin or cookie sheet. It can be washed in warm, soapy water and reused over and over for the perfect non-stick surface.
These are superior to using beans, rice or chickpeas (which, being non-conductive, insulate the pastry from the oven heat). Pastry weights are like little metal beans that not only weigh the pastry down to prevent air bubbles forming, thus creating a flat, even surface, but being metal they conduct the heat very effectively, which assists in baking the pastry. Old coins will also do the trick.