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If you asked me to share something interesting about myself I’d probably tell you that I went to pastry school in Florence, Italy. It was a transformative experience; I learned so, so much about baking and pastry, and was truly fascinated by the science behind it all.
Because, when you think about it, baking’s almost like alchemy. (How cool is it that egg whites and sugar combine to make meringue — something totally new and unlike its initial components?) One of the biggest lessons I learned in pastry school is that having the right gear is massively important when accuracy, precision, and finesse are on the line.
Upon returning home, I took inventory of the baking essentials I had and those I needed to get immediately. Here are 12 of the things I bought after graduating from pastry school.
The best offset spatulas have long, narrow (somewhat flexible!) blades and angled handles that offer control, but keep your hands away from whatever you’re working on. Why do you need one? They’re ideal for scooping and spreading. I use mine all the time for frosting cakes (cupcakes, too!), spreading fillings, and ensuring batters are even before baking. I recommend having a large and a small offset spatula on hand for all of your needs.
2. A Revolving Cake Stand
A revolving cake stand (aka one that turns on its base) is super helpful for frosting cakes. Instead of you having to move around the cake stand, the stand itself rotates, allowing you to evenly and quickly apply frosting.
Cake boards are exactly what they sound like: a circle of cardboard that’s placed under a cake. I’ve learned to put the cake board onto the cake stand, add a dollop of frosting onto the board to secure the first cake layer, then place the layer on and begin building my cake. Cake boards make it much easier to transport the cake from the cake stand to a serving platter or just to the table for cutting and slicing! They’re also pretty cheap, too (these are about $6 for 12), so they’re worth having on hand.
4. An Instant-Read Thermometer
An accurate instant-read thermometer is essential when tempering chocolate, ensuring loaves of bread are perfectly baked, and making Swiss meringue and Italian meringue buttercreams, among other uses. I love my Thermapen; however, if that’s not in your budget, the ThermoPop is also a fantastic option at less than half the price.
5. A Thermometer for Candy and Caramel
Candies and caramels require precise temperatures for success. While it’s not the cheapest, I love this ChefAlarm, which hooks onto the sides of your pot and has a clear digital display that shows you the current temperature of the pot’s contents. It also allows you to set an alarm that will sound when the desired programmed temperature is reached.
A bench scraper is super helpful for portioning dough, scooping up chopped ingredients off your cutting board, cleaning up your work station, and even getting perfectly smooth frosting on the sides of a cake. I have three bench scrapers and use at least one every day.
You want a bowl scraper for turning out sticky and dense bread and cookie doughs onto your countertop. They also make cleanup easier, because they can get every last bit of batter or dough out of a bowl — and they’re typically inexpensive. This set of two is about $8!
I really love the look of clean lines, so when squaring off rolled-out dough, I reach for my pastry cutter. (It also helps to make your creations look a little more professional.) And yes, it does look a bit like a mini pizza wheel! I also use mine for cutting lattices for pies and tarts.
When it comes to baking, you’ve gotta be accurate. That means you need great digital scale in order to measure ingredients down to the gram. I also use mine for things like portioning cookie dough and rolls, making sure each one is the same size, and dividing the right amount of batter between cake pans. This scale by OXO is my favorite. It’s super accurate and has a display that pulls out, ensuring you can always easily read the measurements.
For sifting powdered sugar, flour, and other dry ingredients, you need a drum sieve. Its wide surface allows you to sift large amounts quickly and get on with the rest of your prep tasks!
An accurate oven is essential for making sure baked goods (and anything, really!) emerge properly cooked and according to recipe timelines. An oven thermometer is an easy way to tell what temperature your oven’s really running at. You might be surprised! My apartment’s oven is often 30 to 50 degrees off.
12. Really Comfortable Shoes
Okay, these aren’t really for my kitchen, but if you’re going to be standing on your feet for hours and hours cooking, you need the right footwear. And that footwear should also be closed-toed, to safeguard your toes from potential kitchen hazards like a dropped knife (eep!). I wore Dansko clogs for years, but I recently bought these from Calzuro. I love that they’re actually stylish-looking (I have the pink tie-dye ones), and incredibly comfortable.