Entire sections of kitchen stores are devoted to baking tools. How can you get started baking without breaking the bank? Focus on the basics. Some items, such as Madeleine pans and lamb-shaped cake pans, are useful for one specific task, so only buy those when you have the special occasion to use them.
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Bowls -- You probably need bowls in different sizes. Large ones work for rising bread dough and mixing batter for large cakes. Some recipes ask you to mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, so make sure the larger bowl is big enough to hold both. You may want to choose bowls made out of non-reactive materials if you think you will ever bake anything involving vinegar (such as red velvet cake).
Standing mixer -- These electric mixers often come with a variety of blades that allow you to process different kinds of dough. They are easy to use, and especially helpful when pouring liquid into something you're mixing. Look for one with a large bowl.
Hand-held electric mixer -- Hand-helds are a much more economical choice than standing mixers, and are perfect for the occasional baker. You need some sort of electric mixer to get a smooth texture in cake batters and to whip creamy ingredients, as these are difficult tasks to execute by hand.
Whisk -- Use a whisk to fold ingredients into batters that need to retain lightness and fluffiness. Typically, these batters are too delicate for electric mixers. Sometimes mixers are used until the last step.
Wooden spoon -- Use a spoon to add chunky ingredients, such as nuts and fruit, to batters. Spoons with long handles are also useful for stirring simmering pie fillings and for combining box mixes.
Food processor -- The key to pie dough is to keep the ingredients cold while mixing, which makes cutting fats into flour using the speed of a food processor (and not adding heat from your hands) ideal.
Pastry mat -- Protect your food from the bacteria often found on kitchen counters by using a pastry mat when you roll out dough. If you make pies, look for one with printed circles to tell you when you've rolled the dough out to the right size.
Rolling pin -- Rolling pins can be made out of a variety of materials, so purchase one suited to your most frequent tasks. Marble helps keep butter in pie dough and croissants cool. Silicone is less likely to stick to cookie dough. Unfinished wood has a traditional feel, and over time will absorb flour, making it easier to use.
Cookie/biscuit cutters -- Cookie cutters come in hundreds of shapes, and can be used to create canvases for all sorts of frosting art. Round cutters can also be used to cut out rolled biscuits. In a pinch, you can turn a drinking glass upside down and use it as a round cutter.
Pastry scraper -- Scrapers are great for getting under bread dough that is still sticky from not having enough flour worked into it.
Pastry brush -- This is used for brushing butter or egg onto the tops of breads or between layers of pastry. Look for a well-made brush that won't leave bristles on your food, or disintegrate when you try to clean it. Most silicone versions are dishwasher-safe.
Cake pans -- Cakes can be made in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. Start with a pair of basic 20 or 22.5 cm (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans, then let your collection build from there.
Bread pans -- Generally a 20 or 22.5 cm (8 or 9 inch) pan that is about half as wide as it is long.
Sheet pan -- Use this for biscuits, rolls and free-form breads.
Tube/bundt pans -- These are large, deep pans that create the shapes for angel cakes and bundt cakes. Bundt pans, especially, need to be greased well to prevent the cake from sticking in the creases of the pans.
Muffin pans -- Cupcakes and muffins can be baked in muffin tins. Either grease each cup, or use a paper liner.
Pie plates -- Some recipes call for a deep-dish pie plate, so make sure you're using the right size.
Springform pan -- This is a deep pan that comes apart to release delicate baked goods, such as cheesecakes. The pan has a latch that can be opened, allowing the side walls to pull away, leaving the baked good sitting on the separate bottom piece.
Baking paper -- Line everything from springform pans to baking trays with baking (or parchment) paper to prevent baked goods from sticking. This will also help with clean-up. For particularly sticky batters, grease the pan and then line it with the paper.
Silicone baking mat -- A silicone baking mat is a high-tech take on baking paper. Buy a size that fits just inside the edges of a baking tray, and you won't need to grease the surface. It can be reused indefinitely. The down side is that it can't be cut to fit or bent to cover the inside walls of a pan.
Cooling rack -- Use a vented cooling rack with a non-stick coating instead of cooling baked goods in their pans.
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