(Hint: They're Not the Most Expensive)
By Regan Daley author of In the Sweet Kitchen
1. HANDS. They're free, and nothing beats them for combining a chunky cookie dough, mixing together a delicate pastry dough, or forming tart shells. Added bonus: fingers to lick.
2. Good Mixing Bowls: I often hanker for those gorgeous colourful ceramic bowls in shop windows, but I know I'd never use them. Good kitchen bowls need to be three things: lightweight, heat-conductive, and durable. The best are stainless steel, and handily, these are nearly the cheapest, too. Stainless steel is easy to lift, carry, pour from, and clean; it heats quickly, making a stainless steel bowl an instant double boiler when placed over the mouth of a pot of simmering water; and it cools quickly, eliminating the need to continually transfer things from one bowl to another in the course of a recipe. It's virtually indestructible, and comes in bowls of every size imaginable. Many stores sell sets of four, five or six bowls ranging from tiny (great for mis-en-place) to huge, and a set of these is one of the easiest ways to make your baking easier and more fun.
3. Wooden Spoons: Every kitchen should have a few of these: I like one with a very flat, wide bowl for creaming cake and cookie batters, and folding ingredients together. It should feel comfortable in your hand, because it's going to be the workhorse of your tool jar. It's good to have a second spoon reserved for wet and cooked things like stirred custards and melted chocolate. This one can me slimmer, the better to fit into the corners of your pots.
4. Wire Whisk: A couple of these come in handy: I like a really large balloon whisk for whipping egg whites, beating cream, and making meringue. The wires should be very long and thin, and the more the better. For combining dry ingredients, stirring loose batters and other less whippy activities, I like a smaller, narrower whisk, still with thin wires, but not in the exaggerated balloon shape. I use this whisk so much I bring it camping.
5. Rubber Spatula: At least one is necessary, but two, one large and one slightly smaller and very flexible are ideal. I use them for folding batters, scraping down the sides of mixing bowls when adding ingredients to a recipe, scraping out bowls to get every last bit of good stuff before proceeding. Buy for quality, and replace your spatula when it shows signs of cracking, or deteriorating.
6. Parchment Paper: I use it to line baking pans and trays for almost everything I make: cakes, brownies, cookies, meringues, etc. It also makes a great base for hot sticky things like caramel, praline, candied fruits or nuts, and for melted chocolate. It can be used to sandwich pastry discs when rolling, and for wrapping dough for freezing. In short, it's magical, and I couldn't do without it.
7. Measuring Cups: You need two sets: a set of glass measures for liquid ingredients, and metal or plastic nesting cups for dry goods. Buy a familiar brand: novelty versions can sometimes be off by a considerable amount and adversely affect the finished products. Make sure the dry goods cups have flat sharp rims; dry goods should be spooned into the cups (not scooped out with them) and levelled off across the top with a long, straight edge, like the dull side of a knife blade or a palette knife.
8. Measuring Spoons: A simple set of nesting spoons is ideal, but make sure they each have a flat rim, to facilitate levelling off dry ingredients. I have two sets, and am frequently happy I do: I can use one set for wet ingredients like vanilla, and the other for dry, in the course of preparing the same recipe., without having to wash them in the middle. Small expenditure, big convenience.
9. Bakeware: For cake pans, including square and rectangular ones, I prefer lightweight aluminum. It heats quickly and evenly, and has no coatings to get sticky and slough off. For pies, I like deep tempered glass pie dishes for a lovely golden crust all around.
10. Heavy-bottomed Pot (or Two): A 2-quart sauce-pan comes in handy for cooking custards, caramelizing sugar, or making cooked doughs like choux paste. For creating a double-boiler, for melting chocolate and gently cooking egg custards and mousses, a larger pot is useful. Make it large enough that a medium to large stainless steel bowl sits snuggle into the mouth of the pot without overhanging more than a few inches.
Regan Daley worked for several years as a pastry chef in some of Toronto's most prominent restaurants, including the celebrated Avalon (named by Gourmet magazine as one of the best in North America), where her elegant and original dessert creations, such as Valrhona Molten Chocolate Cakes, quickly become household words. She now conducts dessert and pastry-making seminars and is a contributing editor for President's Choice Magazine. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their two sons.This has been a guest special article by one of my baking gurus, Regan Daley, who just happens to be local! If you haven't discovered her yet, her definitive baking book - In the Sweet Kitchen - is now available in paperback.