Baking Basics 101: Equipment
Let’s state the obvious observation about college students: we HATE spending money. If we have any income at all, most of it inevitably goes towards food. This food can vary from Domino’s to Chinese food to Cook Out (if you’re blessed enough to live in the South and be in the proximity of such a gem). With all this spending on food though, there’s barely any money left for anything else.
This makes it pretty challenging to bake things that require a ton of baking equipment. Most students get by with just a cookie sheet and prepackaged cookie dough, but for excessive bakers like myself, this kind of baking just doesn’t satisfy.
So today, I’m doing something a little bit different. Rather than post a recipe, I’m going to go over all my baking essentials. We’re going to deep dive into my baking bin and go over which equipment you really need, for what kind of recipes and which equipment you can pass on (and buy some pizza instead)!
- Cookie sheets: MUST! These are probably the most essential pieces of baking equipment that I own. Nearly everything that I bake requires a cookie sheet. I have two because I find that my recipes rarely fit on one sheet, but you could get by with just one, you would just have to wait a little while between batches.
- Needed for: cookies, macarons, toffee, caramels, pastries, bark
- Muffin tin: PASS! Unless you are a muffin or cupcake aficionado, you can probably pass on a muffin tin.
- Needed for: muffins, cupcakes, buttertarts
- 8×8 pan: MUST! This pan is my second most used next to the trusty cookie sheet. Though I don’t use this nearly as much as my cookie sheet, it is essential for many delicious treats. If you don’t see yourself making any of the treats below very often, this can probably be a pass for you. There’s always the option to buy a disposable aluminum pan if you find yourself craving some lemon bars one day!
- Needed for: brownies, bars, cakes, cinnamon rolls, fudge
- Loaf pan: PASS! I don’t think I’ve ever used my loaf pan at school. The recipe options for this pan are a lot more limited, so save some money and under-bed space and pass on this one.
- Needed for: loaf breads, i.e. banana bread
- Cooling rack: MUST! Once your cookies or other treats have partially cooled, you can transfer the treats to the cooling rack to cool completely, freeing up your cookie sheet or pan to put another batch in the oven. These are also good to put hot pans on so they don’t melt the countertop in the dorm kitchen.
- Needed for: cookies, macarons, muffins, cupcakes, and many more treats!
- Saucepan: MUST! As useful as saucepans are in baking for caramels and other fantastic treats, they’re just as useful for easy dinners such as mac n’ cheese and ramen.
- Needed for: caramels, toffee, tempering chocolate, simple syrups
- Rubber spatulas: MUST! There’s not a whole lot to say about these other than I use at least one for every single thing that I bake. Now, one may be sufficient and the mini ones may not be necessary, but they sure are adorable!
- Needed for: the list is endless!
- Spatula: PASS! The only justification I can really find for having a flat spatula is to lift up cookies when they are done baking, but at this point, the cookies should be cooled and firm enough to be picked up by hand. Even for macarons, which may require some assistance off of the paper or mat, I much prefer using a straight-edge spatula.
- Needed for: potentially cookies
- Rolling pin: PASS! This is actually the most recent addition to my bin. While it does make crushing cookies or rolling out dough a little bit easier, you could do nearly as much with a wine bottle. I’ve even used my water bottle in the past.
- Needed for: pies, crushing cookies/crackers (in place of a food processor), pastries
- Whisk: Must! While you may think that a spoon or rubber spatula would do just as well, sometimes you need a lighter utensil to mix ingredients. For example, if you sifted ingredients, a whisk may do better to lightly toss the ingredients together rather than fully mixing them.
- Needed for: various recipes
- Sieve: Must! Rather than get a full hand sifter, I use a medium-sized sieve to sift together dry ingredients. Because I make macarons all the time, this is completely essential to me, but if macarons aren’t your thing, feel free to pass on this one!
- Needed for: macarons, cakes, breads
- Wooden spoon: PASS! I know, I know. You’d think that out of all the utensils in the world you would need to bake, a wooden spoon should be #1, but hear me out for a sec. I can’t think of a single thing a wooden spoon can do that a rubber spatula can’t. Whether it’s mixing cookie dough or making caramel, I always choose a rubber spatula over the good ol’ wooden spoon.
- Needed for: same as rubber spatulas
- Dry and liquid measuring cups/spoons: MUST! Even though I’ve officially been converted to using a digital scale to measure my ingredients, many, if not most, recipes still only have the traditional cup/spoon measurements.
- Needed for: nearly everything!
- Straight-edge spatula: MUST! This one is essential for me when it comes to leveling off cups and lifting macarons delicately off the cookie sheet.
- Needed for: leveling ingredients, icing cakes, lifting cookies from sheet
- Cookie scoop: PASS! Now, don’t get me wrong, I use this every single time I make cookies, but if you need to save some dough (see what I did there…?), a regular tablespoon will do just as well!
- Needed for: cookies, cupcakes
- Mixing bowls: MUST! This pretty much goes without saying, but I can’t really think of any recipe that wouldn’t require some sort of bowl in order to mix ingredients. I have small, medium and large bowls and I use them all. I even sometimes feel like I need even more!
- Needed for: pretty much every recipe out there!
- Glass bowl: PASS! The smartest move here probably would have been to invest in glass or metal mixing bowls, but alas, the past is the past. I use a medium glass bowl over my saucepan in place of a double boiler to temper chocolate or make custards, because it’s a lot more space conscious. Just fill the bottom of the saucepan with a bit of water and place the bowl on top. Voila! A make-shift double boiler!
- Needed for: melting and tempering chocolate, custards, mousses, pastry creams
- Parchment paper/silicone baking mats: MUST! Not only does it make for much easier clean up, but having at least one of these is essential for pretty much anything you bake on a cookie sheet.
- Needed for: macarons, cookies, bark, caramels, pastries
- Silicone prep mat: PASS! I pretty much got this mat just because the counters in the communal kitchen are pretty disgusting and this makes things a little more sanitary and a lot easier to clean up. But this one is by no means necessary!
- Needed for: not needed, but helpful for many recipes
- Hand mixer: MUST/PASS! Like the sieve, this one truly depends on if you see yourself baking macarons or making buttercream. I also have the whisk attachment to make whipping egg whites a little easier. For these recipes, a hand mixer is 100% necessary, but if you’re not, no need!
- Needed for: macarons, buttercreams/frostings, helpful for cakes and cookies
- Cutting board + sharp knife: PASS! There aren’t very many situations I find myself in when I need to be cutting/chopping things, but when I do, this comes in handy so I’m not scoring the kitchen counter.
- Needed for: chopping chocolate, slicing dough
- Digital scale: PASS! As much as I am completely in love with my scale and rely on it for nearly all my recipes, if you’re looking to save a little money, you can pass on this one. Most recipes have cup measurements, so there’s not much you can’t do without a scale.
- Needed for: measuring ingredients
- Tupperware/Ziploc bags: MUST! This one is less of a baking necessity, but more of an after-thought. Where are you going to put all those treats after you’re done baking?! (Other than your stomach…?) These are a must for storing your delicious treats.
- Needed for: storing baked goods
- Oven mitts: MUST! How else are you going to take things out of the oven?
- Needed for: gotta protect those hands!
Phew! We did it. I know that this is a very long list, but hopefully I’ve cleared up exactly what you need and don’t to get your college baking career started! Of course, there are many more baking tools that would make my life a thousand times easier, but these are just my essentials (what I’d do for a Kitchenaid stand mixer at school!). So go get yourself a bin and let’s get baking!