You don't need fancy equipment for good quality baked goods, but some tools and techniques will definitely make your life easier. Here is a quick inventory of the items I almost always use when baking some of the goodies you see in this blog:
- KitchenAid Artisan Series 5-Quart Stand Mixer
- KitchenAid Flex Edge Beater
- Hamilton Beach Power Deluxe Hand Mixer
- Sur La Table Platinum Professional Standard Muffin Pan
- Endurance 5-Piece Measuring Spoon Set
- Pyrex Glass Measuring Bowl
- OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup
- Ozeri Touch Digital Kitchen Scale
- Good Cook Bamboo Rubber Spatulas
- Norpro Stainless Steel 1-Tablespoon Cookie Scoop
- Crate&Barrel Cooling Rack
- Kuhn Rikon Icing Spatula
- Mrs. Anderson's Stainless Steel Crank Flour Sifter
- Progressive International Collapsible Cupcake Carrier
Please note that I am not being sponsored by any of these brands or stores that I mention! All opinions, thoughts, and recommendations are exclusively my own.
>KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Stand Mixer
The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook recipes almost always instruct the baker to use a "freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment" when mixing their batters. They might as well just use KitchenAid's name, because this is one of the most obvious references to their mixer that I've ever seen. I recently bought one of these after moving to Colorado, and, although the mixer is not without flaws, I will say that it's made my life in the kitchen a lot easier.
I own the KitchenAid Artisan series because I was seduced by all the pretty colors available, but really, any freestanding KitchenAid mixer model will do. I've heard from other bakers that their Professional series is actually far superior to the one I own, so that might be worth checking out. Amazon has a great guide explaining the differences between all the mixers, as well as offering the lowest retail prices I've seen for the mixers.
KitchenAid Flex Edge Beater
I waste my money on a lot of things I really don't need, but I can honestly say that the Kitchen Aid Flex Edge Beater is not one of these money wastes. The KitchenAid Flex Edge Beater has a spatula at one side of the flat beater, which scrapes down the side of the bowl as it mixes and eliminates the need for you to do so. It's saved me a lot of time and effort and, most importantly, prevents me from unevenly my batters.
There's a non KitchenAid version of this beater that's well reviewed on Amazon and significantly cheaper, but I shied away from this one because KitchenAid does not honor defects caused by non-KitchenAid attachments. Considering that my mixer is brand new, I didn't want to take any risks. But by all means, if you're willing to do so and save a significant amount of money, I recommend getting the New Metro beater. A tool like this -- whether it's by KitchenAid or New Metro -- really makes a big difference in the baking process.
Hamilton Beach Power Deluxe Hand Mixer
I didn't own a KitchenAid stand mixer for a really long time. I mean, come on -- it's a $300 mixer! It took me a good four years of lusting before I caved and shelled out the monies for one. So prior to the KitchenAid, I was using the rather unsexy but highly dependable Hamilton Beach hand mixer you see above. I bought it my sophomore year of college, but it's still got full power and has never failed me yet. It works well, is cheap, comes with 3 different types of beaters, and most importantly, it's lasted.
Sur La Table Platinum Professional Standard Muffin Pan
(exclusively available at Sur La Table)
This muffin tin is another one of those items that took me a long time to buy. Mostly, I was unconvinced by the advertising. According to Sur La Table, this pan's "thick aluminized steel offers superior heat transfer, corrosion, rust resistance, and excellent durability." The pan's fluted design apparently "allows airflow under baking food for beautifully even overall results and easy release every time."
Sounds like a load of BS, right? But I purchased one during Sur La Table's annual massive sale (where all bakeware was 30-40% off) and got it at a pretty decent price. At first, I was unconvinced, until II simultaneously used this pan along with my old, nondescript Chefmate muffin pan. I was amazed at the difference in results between the two pans. Although I had used the same batter and had stuck them in the oven at the same time, the cupcakes in the Sur La Table pan came out fuller, more domed, and generally more picturesque than the cupcakes in the Chefmate pan. I was sold.
Endurance 5-Piece Measuring Spoon Set
I much prefer metal measuring spoons and cups to plastic ones simply because they're far more durable. I had a garbage disposal in my old apartment in San Francisco, and my plastic measuring spoons would sometimes fall in the disposal and come out completely shredded by the machine. Yikes.
I specifically recommend this Endurance measuring spoon set because it's got the pretty elusive and hard-to-find measuring spoon measure of 1/8 teaspoon. I use that measurement for quite a few of my recipes, and it's not a measurement that comes with most sets. The disadvantage to this measuring spoon set is that it's missing a 1/2 tablespoon measure, which sometimes comes up in Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook recipes. I've found another alternative -- the CIA Masters Collection Measuring Spoon Set -- that has both. It's currently on my Amazon wish list.
Pyrex Glass Measuring Bowl
In the 'Tips & Addendums' section of each of my recipes, I always stress that liquid and dry measuring cups are different and that the appropriate measuring cup should be used for each ingredient. Specifically, liquid measuring cups have a handle and a lip -- like the Pyrex ones above! They must be set flat and level on a counter before filling to the desired mark; bring your eyes down to the cup level to see that it is properly filled. Pyrex makes cheap, durable measuring bowls that come in a variety of sizes and is available at places like Target or your local supermarket. I recommend getting the midsized one.
OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup
Same deal as above, but this little baby is for those pesky tablespoon measurements that the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook instructs you to do. This guy is only 3 inches tall and has measurements available in cup, tablespoon, ounce, and mililiter markings.
Ozeri Touch Digital Kitchen Scale
Serious bakers use scales, not measuring cups, to measure out their ingredients when baking. According to Michael Ruhlman's Ratio, a cup of flour can weight anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces, depending on various factors such as how tightly you packed in your ingredients, how much humidity there is in the air, etc. Weighing your ingredients is the best and most consistent form of measuring.
Unfortunately for me, I'm a lazy person who hates creating big messes -- that's why almost all my ingredients are in cup format. However, the scale is handy for instances where I have to measure out tablespoons of specific ingredients that are hard to measure in cups (butter, for example). I bought the Ozeri Touch Digital Scale primarily because of its sleek design (it looks like an iPad!) and rave reviews on Amazon. Truthfully, I haven't been happy with it -- it's been finnicky and sometimes there's a delay in its reading of the weight. My old roommate in San Francisco has an Escali Digital Scale which I much prefer.
Good Cook Bamboo Rubber Spatulas
(available at Target)
A heatproof, rubber spatula is an essential tool in any baker's kitchen. Don't settle for plastic spatulas -- they will not work as well as rubber ones. Any rubber spatula will do, but I recommend getting a set because I often times will use more than one spatula during the baking process. I recommend Good Cook's set from Target because they're cheap, durable, and work well as props for food photos.
Norpro Stainless Steel 1-Tablespoon Cookie Scoop
Of all the tools I've listed so far, this is the one I most ardently recommend. I cannot tell you how much this scoop has made my life easier! Even though it's supposed to be used to measure out cookie balls, I use this tool to scoop batter into my cupcake tin, making sure that each cupcake space gets the right amount of batter.
Before I bought this scoop, I was just winging it, using two spoons to scrape batter from my mixing bowl, dripping it everywhere while putting inconsistent amounts of batter in each case (resulting in even, oddly baked cupcakes). This cookie scoop changes that. It's seriously a game changer. I also use it to measure out frosting onto each cupcake.
Crate&Barrel Cooling Rack
(exclusively available at Crate&Barrel)
A cooling rack is one of those tools that I never thought was necessary until I got one myself -- they allow for quick cooling, and really help in preventing baked goods from overcooking in their tin or becoming soggy. I highly recommend this Crate&Barrel rack because, not only is it relatively cheap, it's also one of the most sturdily constructed cooling racks I've ever come across. Most other cooling racks that have round wiring, this cooling rack's slats lay flat on top, providing a better surface for your baked goods to rest on.
Kuhn Rikon Icing Spatula
I use this tiny spatula to decorate all my cupcakes. Prior to this, I used a regular kitchen butter knife, but found that the knife always left weird ridges in my frosting. Admittedly, this isn't that essential of a tool, but they're cheap and come in a multitude of fun colors to match the rest of your baking accessories.
Mrs. Anderson's Stainless Steel Crank Flour Sifter
Although I'm not a big believer in sifting flour (Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar agrees with me!), I am an ardent advocate of sifting confectioner's sugar before using it in frosting. Failing to do so results in clumpy frostings and icings -- and nobody wants that. You can use a simple wire mesh sifter, but I like the old-fashioned sifters with a hand crank. Adds an extra element of fun to the baking process.
Progressive International Collapsible Cupcake Courier
My boyfriend got me one of these for my birthday last year, and it is a GAME CHANGER. It allows you to store and transport your cupcakes without any hassle or mess. Best of all, it collapses into itself, allowing for easy storage. I cannot recommend this enough. Seriously.