People always ask me for gift suggestions for their friends and family who enjoy baking. Have I got ideas! I love shopping for bakers – there are so many great tools, pans, books and toys to enjoy in the kitchen that I scarcely know where to begin. Of course there’s equipment, but baking and decorating classes are also a fun way to improve your skill and share the passion. Plus there’s all the incredible food stuff for bakers. Okay, I’ll just jump right in…
I have two favorite gifts this year…the first is my new book The Art and Soul of Baking (but you knew I was going to say that!). As one of the reviews said, “If you buy only one baking book this season, make it The Art and Soul of Baking.” It doesn’t get much better than that for a writer (or a baker)!
The second is my favorite new piece of equipment – the Beater Blade+, a paddle attachment for the KitchenAid mixer (the same company also makes a comparable attachment for the Cuisinart, Viking, and DeLonghi stand mixers). With a rubber edge that extends beyond the paddle, you’ll rarely have to stop the mixer and scrape down again! Why didn’t someone think of this before? I love it!
Gifts for the beginner:
- An oven thermometer (the glass tube-style oven thermometer by Taylor is the best)
- A digital scale
- Good quality measuring spoons (and dry measuring cups if you don’t think they’ll use a scale) and a 2-cup liquid measuring cup
- A KitchenAid stand mixer makes mixing easy and effortless
- A set of standard-size basic baking pans, including two 9-inch cake pans, a cupcake pan (and cute liners), a 11 x 17-inch baking pan with ½-inch sides, a 9 by 13-inch pan, and a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan – all in sturdy aluminum, plus a 9-inch pie pan (Emile Henry clay pans are the most beautiful by far).
- A set of wide, nesting stainless steel mixing bowls
- Silicone spatulas – one mini, one medium and one large
- Digital timer
- Mini offset spatula
- Parchment paper
- Large, good quality rolling pin
- Cooling rack
- Digital instant-read thermometer
- Citrus zester (also good for grating fresh ginger, chocolate and cheese!)
- Oven mitts
- Clear plastic ruler
For the bread baker:
- A banneton or two (woven reed baskets for proofing bread)
- Baking stone
- Lame (razor blade in a handle for slashing the top of bread)
- Pizza peel
- A flour mill for grinding fresh flour at home
For the cake baker:
- A cast iron heavy-duty decorating turntable
- Gorgeous and fun NordicWare cake molds – I couldn’t resist the giant cupcake mold, and have a whole collection of the beautifully designed bundt pans
- Cake cardboards and decorative presentation cardboards – these make life easier
- Disposable pastry bags, both small and large
- Interesting tips (such as the St. Honoré, which makes a beautiful ridged pattern)
- Fun sprinkles, sparkling sugars, and luster dust colors
- Gold and silver leaf for the ultimate bling for pastries
- A class in cake decorating (or advanced decorating)
- Cake or cupcake boxes for transporting the treats
- Cake or cupcake pedestal – there are so many beautiful and creative ones available. Okay, I admit it, I had to buy 8 individual glass pedestals with matching cloches to hold each guests’ gorgeous cupcake for the finale to a special party – wow, it was stunning!
For the pie and laminated dough baker:
- Large, natural bristle brush (4 to 5-inches) for removing flour easily and efficiently
- Dough docker (or dough prickler) to quickly poke holes in the dough
- Pastry board or slab of marble for keeping doughs cold during rolling
- Metal or ceramic pie weights – enough to fill a deep pie shell to the top
- Large, good-quality rolling pin, at least 15 inches in length
- A pretty pie server, new or antique
For the cookie baker:
- Extra baking sheets and cooling racks
- A stack of parchment paper cut to the size of the baking sheets
- Ice cream scoops (or dishers) in their favorite cookie sizes
- Unusual and fun cookie cutters, mini to giant
- Fun sprinkles and decorating sugars
- An assortment of chocolate chips and candy or flavored chips
For the crème brulée or custard baker:
- A propane torch with automatic ignition (yes, hardware store size), or an extra-powerful small butane torch that won’t run out in the middle of 8 brulées.
- Shallow porcelain crème brulée dishes
- Lovely custard cups or ramekins or ceramic pots de crème (little French pots with lids)
- Chinois (very fine, conical sieve)
For the soufflé baker:
- Tall individual soufflé dishes
- A copper bowl (creates the most beautiful egg whites ever, hands-down)
- Large balloon whisk (to help fluff those egg whites)
Boyajian Flavoring Oils provide a pure, clean burst of flavor, whether it’s citrus or peppermint or more. I always have a stash of these on hand in various favorite flavors.
Chocolate – don’t get me started…how about a whole selection? We all have our favorites, and there are always more to explore.
Amadei dark chocolate bars are to die for – any of them. Guittard makes lovely chocolate (dark, milk and white) for the retail market in small rounds that don’t need chopping - and are great for chips in cookies!
- Michel Cluizel dark chocolate is heavenly – love the 65% Mangaro
New Tree Renew (black currant- flavored) 73% dark chocolate bars – for nibbling
- ScharffenBerger, especially the 70% - I like a piece of it after dinner alongside a few toasted almonds.
Valrhona Manjari (64%) is sublime – look for it in feves – rounds that are perfect for melting, so you don’t have to chop. Their Gianduia (hazelnut chocolate) is addictive.
Valrhona Crunchy Dark Chocolate Pearls – crunchy centers (like a cross between feuilletine and Rice Krispies) with 55% dark chocolate on the outside. For crunch between cake layers, as garnish on top of cakes and tarts, on top of ice cream, or straight into the mouth. Oh yeah.
And don’t forget the cocoa nibs! I eat them by the handful! If they’re around long enough, they make their way into cookies or sensuously delicious cocoa nib whipped cream.
Dulce de Leche: This thick caramel from Latin America is dreamy. Look for La Salmandra brand in specialty stores – and try to keep from eating it by the spoonful.
Preserves: Every baker loves meltingly delicious fruit preserves, even if it’s just on toast! June Taylor marmalades, Katz and Company jams, Frog Hollow Farm meyer lemon marmalade, Casa Giulia sour cherry or quince jam, Stonewall Kitchen wild Maine blueberry jam…I could go on forever.
Maple sugar: This granulated maple syrup is addictive! Use it as you would regular sugar for a burst of pure maple flavor. Or sprinkle it over cookies before baking. Or use it on oatmeal. Or line soufflé molds with it. Or…..
Sea salt: For the top of pretzels, dinner rolls, caramel tarts - heck, wherever you want a burst of clean salt flavor.
Star Kay White’s Pure Chocolate Extract: It’s been around over 100 years and for good reason - it adds a punch of chocolate flavor.
Vanilla Beans : Love them, can’t live without them, feel nervous if there aren’t 4 or 5 in the cupboard. Madagascar or Mexican beans are top quality, Tahitian are slightly different in look and flavor and are exquisitely floral (and quite pricey) – some of both, please.
Vanilla Extract or Paste: Always buy pure vanilla extract for top quality and flavor. Your efforts deserve the best, and we must support the vanilla farmers in third world tropical countries who work so hard to bring us this unique flavoring. Did you know each orchid flower needs to be hand-pollinated to develop a bean? And that’s just the beginning! Nielson Massey brand is excellent. Extract is thin, paste is thicker, sweeter and speckled with tiny vanilla seeds – either is good - they are equal in flavoring strength.
Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.