The One Thing Every Home Baker Needs (Plus Five Things They Don’t)

December 29, 2018

Baking is not exactly a cheap hobby. Apart from the cost of ingredients (butter, real vanilla, cream cheese, fancy chocolate), the equipment required can also cost you quite a sum (and I don’t mean just the KitchenAid mixer). Walk into any baking supply store, and you will be overwhelmed by the dizzying amount of pans, cookie sheets, moulds, icing tips, spatulas, and utensils that you may or may not need but end up buying anyway. If you’re anything like me, the heady aroma of couverture chocolate, the reflective sheen from the fluted tart pans, and the rainbow of rubber spoonulas they have on display make it hard to keep myself under control. Before you know it, I’m going home with four new mini springform pans that I just had to have.

To help save you from additional expenses, wasted storage space, and regret, I’ve listed below the one thing you absolutely cannot live without (on top of the basics, of course) and five that you could easily leave on the shelf.

The One Thing You Need: An Oven Thermometer

Yes, I know your oven manual says that the number four setting is equivalent to 350°F. Maybe your oven has a built-in thermometer. Either way, you still need to buy an oven thermometer to monitor your baking temperatures. Don’t be stubborn, buy one. I insist.

Ovens can become de-calibrated, even when they’re brand new, depending on how long they’ve been sitting in the department store storeroom. Ambient temperature can also impact how hot (or cold) an oven can get. Even if you think you know the exact spot between numbers three and four that corresponds to 325°F, you could still end up ruining whatever it is you’re trying to make. Spending PHP500 on an accurate oven thermometer will save you from the disappointment of your French butter and Belgian chocolate ending up a charred or underbaked mess.

Five Things You Don”t Need

1. A Sifter

If pastry chefs can’t even agree amongst themselves about the need to sift dry ingredients, then you probably shouldn’t be spending your hard-earned money on a specialized contraption to do it. This is doubly true when a simple handheld wire mesh strainer and a spoon can serve the exact same purpose. I’ve owned two types of sifters: the basic kind with one rotating arm for sifting, and one that’s more complicated with three layers of mesh and sifter blades.

If you know a way to clean this easily, let me know. Also, you”re a genius.

They saved me time, sure, but the few minutes I saved were negated by the extra time it took to clean flour from the tiny crevices of the sifters. I’ve used toothpicks, skewers, and old toothbrushes to get at the nook and crannies of my sifters but a teeny tiny bit of flour always gets left behind. Who knows how old the built up flour is in the middle layer of my fancy triple sifter.

Apart from being unnecessary, sifters are also a hotbed for bacterial buildup. If you’re a believer in sifting your ingredients (or simply want to get fancy with your sugar dusting), just buy yourself a large strainer.

2. An Ice Cream Scoop

If you’ve watched one episode of Cupcake Wars, you know how useful a spring ice cream scoop can be. It’ll let you scoop batter into those partitions faster than you can say “Red Velvet.” They also help to make identically sized cookies. However, unless you need to bake a hundred cupcakes in two hours, you don’t need to be scooping batter that fast. Neither will the world end if some of your chocolate chip cookies come out of the oven slightly bigger or smaller than his cookie brothers. Bottom line, you don’t need to spend PHP500 on a spring ice cream scoop. If you’re obsessive compulsive about your cookies being the same size, then just double up your tablespoon measuring spoon and form the full cookie with your hands.

Unless you sell them for a living, you don”t need your cookies to be this uniformly sized.

3. Baking Pans in Every Shape and Size

I insist on following recipes precisely, especially when I’m trying it for the first time. This includes following the specified size for the baking pan. However, if I bought every single pan that each recipe I make requires, my kitchen would resemble the Lestrange vault. I would also be as broke as the Weasleys. Instead, I’ve learned to work with what I’ve got.

There are helpful resources online (like this one) that compare baking pans and their corresponding volume capacities. Going through the comments sections for recipes can also help, as sometimes other readers may already tried to make the cake in a 9 inch pan, instead of the required 10 inches. You can use their experiences to guide you.

Keep in mind that smaller pans mean thicker products, which require more time in the oven. Also, remember to keep a close eye on what you’re baking for the last quarted of the cooking time and you should be fine.

4. A Wire Rack

It is imperative that baked goods are allowed to cool on a rack. Cool air needs to circulate around the pan and under it to evenly cool a cake and stop the cooking process. Leaving a hot pan on a solid surface could end up ruining a product that was perfect when you took it out of the oven. What isn’t necessary is that you use a specialized PHP500 wire rack.

I’ve cooled cakes on the extra wire racks that came with my oven, I’ve rested cookie sheets on upturned coffee cups, and I’ve left brownie pans on empty metal dish drying racks. You just need to be resourceful and creative. Just make sure the surface is heat resistant, sturdy enough to support your cake, and lets air circulate over, under, and around your pan.

5. Fancy Silicone Mats

You see these a lot on television. They’re the fancy orange-trimmed mats that Jacques Torres spreads his chocolate over, and Ina Garten makes Parmesan crisps on. The mats are non-stick (even for caramel and melted sugar for candies), easy to clean, and eliminate the need to grease your pan or use parchment paper. The manufacturer’s site even positions it as an environment-friendly alternative to disposable baking paper (although, I must point out, baking paper is reusable as well).

I don”t need these. I don”t need these. Repeat.

What they don’t mention is that you can buy about sixteen rolls of baking paper for the price of one silicone mat. If you want to line two cookie sheets, you’ll need to shell out about PHP2,500. That’s the equivalent of going through ten rolls of parchment a year, for three straight years. I bake several times a week and consume nowhere near that amount. I think we’d all be better off spending that money on butter. We can find other cheaper ways to be environment friendly.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I could go on and on and talk about how inessential egg separators, fancy cake testers, and churro makers can be. The bottom line is, if it’s too specialized a gadget, then it’s probably best to keep you wallet in your purse,

Have you ever bought a cooking and baking gadget that you thought you needed but really didn’t? Ever splurged on something that turned out to be worth every centavo? Let us know in the comments!

Image Sources: Discount Outdoor Grills, Wikimedia Commons, Cook With Susan, Bake Happy, One Healthy Munchkin,

Katrina Iriberri Katrina Iriberri

Katrina is a finance worker bee who would never say no to anything flavored salted caramel. When she’s not baking something with chocolate or cream cheese in it, she’s either reading Austen, or Googling the best places to eat in NYC or Paris. She dreams of watching the El Classico at the Bernabéu one day (with Real Madrid winning, of course) and of being adopted by Ina and Jeffrey Garten, if only to inherit Ina’s barn and kitchen.

14 comments in this post SHOW

14 responses to “The One Thing Every Home Baker Needs (Plus Five Things They Don’t)”

  1. Clarissa says:

    Katz! I’m not sure if you will recognize me from my username 😛 hahaha. I bought silicon mats from Costco in the US. I never bought them here because they are insanely expensive. They are not the Silpat brand but the ones I bought came in a set of threes for only…. P300!!! So I bought two sets. They had two of the cookie sheet sized ones, and one, half the size of that (maybe for toasting marshmallow in the toaster oven?).

  2. Being resourceful is key. I agree with Kat, baking is a very expensive hobby. My mom is an avid baker and she only splurges on heavy duty mixers and dough rollers. Everything else is salvaged from the kitchen shelves. You don’t need specialized single-purpose tools because they are not worth your money (unless you bake professionally) and because they will just take up your shelving space. You can repurpose old tools from around your house. Also, take advantage of cheap finds from stores such as Japan Home Center or Daiso.

  3. marge888 says:

    I agree with regards to the silicon mat. They’re very expensive better to use parchment paper and butter. for the sifter I use the 1 layer sifter

  4. Dorothy Hernandez says:

    This is only applicable to those who do not enjoy having pretty food. Those who go for flavor regardless of how food looks like. There are just some recipes you cannot do without the necessary equipment.. Ie. silpat.

    • Katrina says:

      Oh dear, I hope you don’t think I bake unattractive things just because I don’t own a sifter or a Silpat! Hahaha. 🙂 And yes, it’s true that certain recipes do require very specialized equipment for sure. In the case of Silpat, it definitely makes life easier, especially if you’re dealing with cooked sugar and other sticky concoctions, but I don’t think it’s a necessity still. After all, generations of French pastry chefs have been baking the most gorgeous pastries without them. 🙂

  5. R says:

    Hi. This is a good article. Thanks for putting it together.

  6. tin says:

    i have a sifter lol

    i don’t have pans in every sizes but i recommend to have at least two cake/cupcake pans in case you need to bake in batches.

    and the rest i don’t have.

  7. cusinera says:

    Yes, oven thermometer is a must =) same goes with my portable timer with magnet clinging to my fridge door…. 2 most important “must” in my kitchen. I got a separate large strainer for just sifting flour and they’re so easy to clean compare to a sifter ( I never bought one). I got silpats but never used it yet…honestly love using baking paper as you just throw them in the bin after use.

  8. wysgal says:

    Another thing you need are willing guinea pigs to eat everything you back! Better for the waistline. 😉

  9. wysgal says:

    Woops meant *guinea pigs to eat everything you BAKE* of course … haha

  10. Igie Soriano says:

    This was really helpful!

  11. Xine says:

    Despite the admonition of not needing baking pans of every shape and size, just looking at the pic of shelves upon shelves of baking pans made me go “oooh shiny, me likey… Where’s that store?”

  12. Denise Nery says:

    I totally agree especially on the Silpat. Really very expensive and what you all should try is Chocolate Lover’s version of it. It’s a non-stick baking mat, you can cut it in two which could fit 2 half sheet pans and would only cost you P99. Score! 🙂

  13. banana says:

    eh sa palengke 50 pesos lang ang ice cream scoop. sakto pa sa laki kasi pang mamang sorbetero

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