When it comes to baking, better tools really do produce better results (hello, KitchenAid stand mixer). This rings especially true for professional bakers and pastry chefs, who after years of honing their craft have found the very best tools for just about every step of the process.
We asked notable bakers from across the country to tell us which tools they always have on hand. Here’s what they had to say:
Elisabeth Prueitt, co-founder and pastry chef of Tartine Bakery,handles all things pastry at the legendary bakery’s San Francisco’s Mission District location. Prueitt’s tool of choice is a classic: a cast-iron skillet, which only gets better with age.
“Besides using these pans to stovetop cook in, I constantly bake in them,” Prueitt told HuffPost. “Fruit crisps and cobblers, cornbread, sticky buns, frittatas.”
She added that they are also great to bring on camping trips. “[Cast iron pans] are so nonstick they just wipe clean,” Prueitt said. “The last time I went camping I baked an upside-down cake in one.”
A former investment banker, Candace Nelson is the founder of Sprinkles cupcakes. Her favorite tool makes sifting powdered sugar a breeze, a necessity when making frosting.
“I’m obsessed with my drum sieve, which makes the arduous task of sifting powdered sugar go by quickly and effortlessly with minimal mess,” Nelson told HuffPost.
Infrared Thermometer, Propane Torch, Heat Gun And Hand Blender
Jacques Torres, pastry chef and founder of Jacques Torres Chocolate, has served as the dean of pastry arts at the International Culinary Center in New York City since 1993. As the founder of his namesake chocolate company (which has seven retail locations in New York City), Torres does his fair share of hand tempering chocolate and uses a core set of tools, including “a laser thermometer to help make sure the tempered chocolate is at the exact temperature to use, a propane torch and heat gun to help keep tempered chocolate from setting inside the bowl as I continue to work with it, as well as a hand immersion blender to help smooth the consistency of the chocolate when I’m tempering it,” Torres told HuffPost. “This helps incorporate all the chunks of chocolate into a silky texture.”
Kelly Fields, chef and owner of Willa Jean, is this year’s recently crowned James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Her favorite kitchen tool is one many of the other bakers polled for this story also chose, so you know it’s a baker’s essential.
“The most important and often overlooked tool I use is a bench knife or dough scraper,” Fields told HuffPost. “It’s useful in almost any task, from scooping up ingredients you’ve chopped, icing cakes with perfectly straight sides, and even useful in cleaning flat surfaces once I’ve finished making a mess. It’s a minimal investment with a huge return.”
Fields detailed that she has a personal bench knife handmade by MKS Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but for a home cook, “you just want to find the one that fits best in your hand and is comfortable to use.”
Ever since she was a kid, Kristen Tomlan, owner and founder of DŌ, has been the resident baker in her family, sneaking bites of raw cookie dough that would become the inspiration for her New York City-based company. Her kitchen staple is versatile and can be used for both sweet and savory dishes.
“The ultimate kitchen tool for me is my Microplane grater,” Tomlan told HuffPost. “You can get the most delicate citrus zest, the perfect chocolate shavings, the freshest cinnamon dust and the fluffiest Parmesan sprinkles. Sweet, savory or spicy – it’s the most versatile tool I own. If you need it, it’s likely in my dishwasher.”
Bread Lame And Dough Whisk
Nominated for four James Beard awards for Best Baker (and a finalist for the category this year), Zachary Golper, chef and owner of Bien Cuit, is an accomplished baker who has his go-tos for working dough.
First, a lame: a baker’s tool for slashing patterns into dough before baking. “Every artisan baker needs their own lame, no matter what their level of experience, and there’s nothing wrong with having one that is beautiful,” Golper told HuffPost.
Second, a dough whisk: Golper’s favorite is made by Zatoba. “This dough whisk is especially excellent because it is durable, easy to clean and incorporates the components of the dough faster than a wooden spoon without over-agitating the protein,” Golper said.
Dominique Ansel, an award-winning pastry chef, has made his mark by dreaming up desserts that are both beautiful and delicious. He knows that consistency is key when crafting his signature creations (including the Cronut, DKA and Frozen S’mores), hence his must-have tool is simple: a scale.
“The most important tool for a pastry chef is to have a good scale in the kitchen,” Ansel told HuffPost. “What intrigued me most about pastry and baking early on in my training was that it’s a science. I learned that everything must be measured, precise and exact, and measuring your ingredients down to the gram is sometimes the most important step. When it comes to savory cooking, if you give me a steak, it’s still a steak once I’m done cooking it. But if you give me flour, butter, sugar and eggs, I can build you a castle.”
Ansel noted that there are a lot of different kitchen scales on the market, but for the home cook, measuring to the nearest gram will work for most recipes.
Bowl Scraper And Spray Bottle
Camille Cogswell, pastry chef of Zahav and executive chef of K’Far, is the winner of last year’s James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Her favorite kitchen tools are inexpensive and multi-functional.
“My Matfer bowl scraper is one of my favorite and most used tools in the kitchen,” Cogswell told HuffPost. “I prefer a stiff scraper as opposed to a softer, more flexible one, and this Matfer brand is ideal. It’s strong enough to handle bread doughs but equally as handy for softer batters. The rounded end can clear the contents of a bowl in one swoop and the flat end makes table cleanup a breeze.”
Her second pick, a simple spray bottle, can be useful in both a professional bakeshop and a home baker’s kitchen. “From creating steam in an oven without steam capability to evenly and quickly applying a mist of egg wash to pastries, a spray bottle is super handy to have,” Cogswell said. “Nothing specialty necessary, just grab one from your local hardware store.”
Natalie Saben, pastry chef of Pacific Standard Time, a Chicago restaurant serving California-inspired food, crafts wood-fired, fruit-forward desserts like a cardamom beignet with cherry compote and pineapple tres leches. Her favorite tool is for cheese, but she uses it for something else.
“One of my favorite kitchen tools is the Zyliss cheese grater,” Saben told HuffPost. “While it’s actually meant for cheese, I love putting candied nuts through it. The grater creates this perfect nut powder that is great for sprinkling on desserts. It is also super easy to clean!”
Offset Spatula, Bowl Scraper and Quenelle Spoon
As the chef in charge of curating and tweaking dessert menus at several restaurants within Denver-based TAG Restaurant Group (TAG, bubu and more), efficiency is paramount for Joy Williams. She keeps certain staples on hand: a small offset spatula, a bench scraper and a bowl scraper. “These tools lend efficiency and are crucial to executing well-thought-out menus,” Williams told HuffPost.
In terms of specialty tools, Williams’ go-tos are a “perfectly sharpened petty knife [a small, Japanese utility knife] and a quenelle spoon with just the right curve. A sharp and agile knife on a pastry station is a tool necessity that can often end up being overlooked but will make all the difference in performance.”
Quenelle spoons, according to Williams, are “more often found than [they are] purchased at a traditional cookware store. They can pop up at the thrift store or antique shop, [or] even [at] a local BBQ joint in the baked beans. When you value the sleek and elegant shape of a quenelle on a plated dessert, you will find your eye drawn to the curve of any spoon that finds its way into your hand.”