I'm a firm believer that less is more when it comes to tools. If you go to a show like Cake International, there are hundreds of thousands of moulds, cutters, tools and gadgets available, and it's easy to be persuaded that you need them all. I tend to think if you can make it yourself without a tool, then go for it - it keeps costs down, it's more creative, and it keeps your bakes unique. However, there are some basics that I couldn't do without, and more than pay for themselves in time saved and results gained.
This particular spatula is from IKEA for 80p and it's one of the best I've found. It's extremely flexible meaning you can scrape every last drop of mixture from that bowl. It's also ideal for applying ganache to the side of a cake. And it's great for "macaronage", the technique of folding meringue into ground almonds and icing sugar to make macarons. The only down side of this one is it's not that long so you'll find it falls short when you're trying to fold huge amounts of batter.
In Britain we've traditionally stuck to weighing scales and then flown into a flap when we read a recipe in cups, reaching for the nearest mug and wondering if it's the right size. You need to have a proper set of cups to use a recipe written in cups. Some of the best recipes I've ever made are American and therefore written in cups and I highly recommend trying some out. They're easier than scales too although less precise, so for anything particularly scientific, like macarons, it's best to stick to the trusty scales!
3) Flexi Smoothers
These are magic. Honestly. I don't know what they put in them but it must be magic. They smooth out lumps and bumps, if you have a tear or hole (which doesn't happen with Massa Ticino fondant but that's another story), you can apply another small piece of fondant and use these to smooth it over and you won't even be able to see the line. I use them to make sharp edges even sharper too. A couple of quid off eBay and they're worth a lot more than that!
Again, you can spend hundreds on these but you don't have to - this one's from Home Bargains and cost £2.49. They don't seem to have them in stock at the moment, but there are some on eBay. It doesn't tilt but it turns fine and I like the surface because you can cut away fondant without worrying about marking a softer material. Essential for ganaching, buttercreaming, covering a cake with fondant or any kind of decorating so you can just stay in one position and move the cake.
5) Stand mixer
If you're a home cook who occasionally bakes, I wouldn't say you need one of these. I was a keen home cook and baker for years and managed just with my electric whisk and the usual kitchen paraphernalia (and I had a teeny tiny kitchen for the first 6 years of married life, so I didn't have that much stuff!). However, if you're batch baking on a regular basis or want to start a business, a Kitchenaid or equivalent (I hear the K-Mix is very good) is an essential. You save a lot of time because you can leave it working while you prep the next step, it can do a lot of things quicker and better (like whipping up meringue), and you can fit greater quantities in the bigger bowl. I have two bowls for mine; the smaller one is pictured here. You can also get glass bowls, and bowls with covers, which sound useful too. I got mine for £200 second hand and they are often for sale on for sale or swap sites for even less.
What are your favourite baking tools? Any you couldn't live without?
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