Put down that wine bottle. A good rolling pin is as essential to a home baker as a first-rate bat is to a ballplayer. Not just any rolling pin will do, however. Don’t go for the cheap ones, explains Dusti Meeks, founder of Wicked Pies. "Choose a tapered one. A good finish will keep dough from sticking and will keep you from using too much flour, which will make your crust tough." In addition to rolling out dough, a rolling pin is great for softening dough that is too cold or beating cold butter.
This may come as a surprise, but a good chefs knife is just as important to a baker as it is to a cook. Collucci emphasizes this point: "I feel that often bakers tend to overlook the necessity of a good, sharp knife, which can really be an important factor in pastry production." Slicing fruit for pies or chopping chocolate is a struggle with a cheap knife, and a quality chefs knife also makes it easier to trim dough or cut fruit garnishes. "A sharp knife makes lines look cleaner and won't smash your fruit or doughs!" stresses Jessica Entzel, executive pastry chef at Morimoto Napa.
According to professional pastry chefs, a scale is a simple way to improve the quality of the baked goods you make at home. "If you like baking, get a scale and you will see how much better recipes come out when you weigh ingredients instead of using measuring cups," says Gallo. There’s no need to go for an expensive model; Entzel recommends something cheap that is small enough to fit in a corner of your cupboard. "It also streamlines things," she says, "Put your bowl on the scale, zero it out, and begin scooping!"
Though using two knives to cut butter into flour is a suitable method for making pastry dough, spending the extra few dollars on a pastry cutter makes creating piecrust from scratch a cinch. Home pie bakers often make the mistake of overworking the dough and letting the butter get too warm, which prevents the crust from baking up to a perfect flakiness. A pastry cutter speeds things up and keeps the butter in that Zen state of frigidness.
Having a couple flat sheet or jellyroll pans streamlines the baking process and prevents uneven cooking. Keep at least two on hand and you’ll be able to easily swap out cookie batches from the oven. "I like a sturdy stainless steel pan, similar to the ones in a professional kitchen because they are versatile in use. You could bake sheet cakes, cookies, brownies, and bacon with the same pan," advises Entzel.
Wondering how bakers achieve that shiny golden pie crust? They used a pastry brush to brush on an egg wash before the raw dough went into the oven. Entzel offers her pointers for selecting one: "Pastry brushes are super important for egg-washing, glazing, brushing butter, and melted chocolate. The silicones are cute and easy to clean, but dont really get a nice, even result. A cheap, good nylon one will do the trick as long as the bristles arent too tough. Tough bristles can tear delicate pastry."
All of the professional bakers we spoke to emphasized the importance of a good, sturdy spatula. Jennie Muoio, chocolatier at Nunu Chocolates, explains, "That spatula is going to be an extension of your arm for so many things when you fold, mix, scrape, etc., so having a good one really helps. I like using the firmer ones that come in one plastic piece. I love the aesthetic of wood in the kitchen, but it's 'craptacular' when you're folding something and the head of your spatula comes off in the batter, or when the wood splits and rots."
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Though a dough scraper isn’t the first thing you need when setting up your baking toolbox, it definitely makes things run smoother. "It should feel like an extension of your hand, like using the side of your hand to get every last bit of dough," Dorina Yuen of Oro Bakery and Bar in New York City recommends. "Look for something that is somewhat stiff but can still bend a little when you apply pressure. This way, the scraper can handle scraping out a heavy dough, but is flexible enough to mold against the bowl or vessel you are scraping from."
Theres a lot of focus in recipes on stand mixers and food processers, but dont underestimate the power of a good whisk. Pastry chefs we asked said that a whisk was one of their most reached-for tools in the kitchen. Whether youre beating egg whites into feathery peaks or whipping cream, your whisk is what youll depend on to bring enough air into your batter. It should be substantial enough to withstand a lot of activity and yet flexible enough for when you need a lighter touch. Like other baking tools, invest in a good-quality, durable whisk and youll have a tool to pass down to the grandkids.
Meeks shares an invaluable trick for the home pie baker: "A really good tool for home bakers is a box grater. I like to freeze my butter sticks and then use the grater to get the perfect size butter. It will save you time and keep you from overworking the dough and melting the butter." Investing in a sturdy, sharp box grater also makes the step of grating carrots for carrot cakes, or cheese for quiche, less tedious and time-consuming.