It’s the most wonderful time of the year… yes, Christmas is just round the corner. Just as quickly as Christmas lights have been put up to adorn the facade of shopping malls, stores within have also stocked their shelves equally quickly to appease eager shoppers thronging the malls. A brief walk through the kitchen department of Tangs confirmed this. Everywhere I turned, there were cute gadgets, stylish kitchenware, colorful utensils… all very appealing to the eye. But… are they necessary? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a gizmo-girl. I love smart gadgets that make life easier and look good to boot. But as I gaze upon that next cupcake-making kit and macaron-piper complete with indented silicon mat, I can’t help but think how unnecessary they are. So, to save you money and clutter, I have decided to share with you the top 5 quintessential kitchen tools that every baker’s kitchen should have.
1. Digital weighing scale
I used to think owning a digital weighing scale was a luxury. Not anymore. In fact, it is the single piece of equipment I use most in my kitchen. Measuring ingredients by their weight is the most accurate way to scale out a recipe. Using cup measures is not wrong, it just isn’t as accurate. Which is why professional pastry kitchens scale recipes out by weight, and not volume.
When purchasing a digital weighing scale, it is best to get one that can hold a maximum capacity of at least 5 kg. To scale an ingredient, make sure you tare (reset to zero) the scale before adding the ingredient so you don’t take into account the weight of the container and its existing contents.
Scraping, stirring, folding, scooping… the spatula is a simple yet multi-purpose tool. There are many different shapes, sizes, colors, and materials you can choose from. Choosing between rubber vs silicon, rigid vs flexible, wood handle vs plastic handle boils down to preference. But there are two things I will never compromise on when buying a spatula.
Firstly, I will never buy a spatula where the handle can be separated easily from its head. It is an absolute pain when you find the handle in your hand without the head because it’s been buried somewhere in the batter. Secondly, unless you want to eat melted plastic, choose a heat resistant spatula that can withstand up to 200oC. I once made a caramel infused with melted spatula, and it obviously got tossed out.
A whisk is used for stirring, whisking, and whipping. Smaller stiff whisks are great for stirring and combining liquid ingredients. Whereas a flexible wire whisk is best for whipping cream or whisking eggs as it introduces air into the ingredient. Choosing the right size and type of whisk for the task is crucial. You might as well be using a fork to make a meringue if you aren’t using the right kind of whisk.
When selecting a whisk, you want it to feel comfortable in your hands. Pretend to start whipping something to make sure the length you picked out is suitable for you. A super long whisk is not necessarily the best if you have to stand on a stool to whisk eggs comfortably on your counter.
4. Flour sifter
When I was in pastry school, one of my chef instructors liked to say: “When in doubt, SIFT!” I can’t agree more. The devil is in the details, and overlooking a seemingly minor step like sifting your cake flour or icing sugar can bring your cake from wow to amateurish. Sifting gets rid of lumps, impurities like weevils (yuck!), and aerates your dry ingredients. As a rule of thumb, I always sift icing sugar, flours, baking soda, baking powder and cocoa powder. But whenever you’re in doubt, SIFT!!!
5. Parchment paper
Whoever invented non-stick parchment paper is genius! To some, it may be optional and an additional expense. But I’ve included it in my list of must-haves because it is indispensable in my kitchen. Using it protects your bakeware and trays and increases their lifespan. It also ensures you won’t ruin your cake while lifting it out of the pan and saves you from chiseling cookies off a sheet tray. And who needs a special silicon mat for macarons when there’s parchment paper? To ensure your macaron shells are a consistent size, place a template of printed circles under your parchment paper and pipe away! Parchment paper can also be used as to contain the rice/beans while blind baking, folded into a coronet for piping chocolate, and used as a pouch when making fish en papillote (in paper).
An easy way to make a cartouche (paper circle) is demonstrated below.
I can already think of the numerous things I can make if I had nothing else but these five quintessential tools. If you don’t have one of these yet, it’s not too late to put it on your Xmas wish list!