Christmas can be really tricky. With only two weekends to go until the big day, and the chance of one-time delivery shrinking with every day that passes, I can’t help but feel like the pressure’s on. I’ll be that person huffing and puffing on public transport on Christmas Eve. I’ll be the one hopping around with one leg in a pair of tights as I hurry to get ready for the evening.
In my family, we’re all medium-snobby about something different, which makes it doubly hard. We’re appreciative of good things. I have one brother who, after several years of chocolate addiction*, has quite a taste for the sweet stuff, and another who’s pretty specific about what wine he’ll drink. My mum’s easy peasy – whereas my dad asks for socks and cheap sweets when he secretly appreciates some fancy fruit and nut. But a love of good kitchenware has been passed down to us all, whether that means super sharp knives (brothers) or excellent bakeware (me).
So for this baker’s dozen, here’s thirteen whatchamajigs that are, in my experience, indispensable to a budding baker, that this little “bakehouse” couldn’t run without.
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One. Be-Ro Home Recipes cookbook. A lot of us food-fans are guilty of having bookshelves groaning with tomes on cake, bread, and cookies. You’ll probably find the odd volume dedicated to perfect pastry hidden down the back of the sofa. But a lot of us have one book that we always come back to – and for me it’s the Be-Ro book, which contains the first recipes I learnt. It’s no frills, and contains all the basics you’ll need – and with regular updates since the first edition was published in 1923, its recipes are definitely tried and tested.
Two. Lakeland tin liners. They’re the best loaf liners I’ve ever used. Simple.
Three. Good quality vanilla extract. Oh sure, you can buy vanilla flavouring, which is wayyy cheaper. It also doesn’t really have a vanilla flavour. Equally, who can afford to use vanilla pods? Vanilla is one of those flavours that’s really a case of go hard or go home, and you can’t beat a good quality vanilla extract in…well…a lot of things. You can buy a litre of Neilsen-Massey vanilla extract at the bargain price of £24.50 here.
Four. Measuring spoons. Because all my mismatched teaspoons don’t seem to have a standard measure.
Five & Six. Edible glitter & sugar paste food colouring. I learnt early on that people are really impressed by these little things that add minimal time to the baking process, just by turning a cake into a rainbow cake, or giving your cupcakes a bit of shimmer. Rainbow cupcakes are a really easy way to make new friends. As for the virtues of sugar paste colours in particular, the fact that they’re so concentrated means they’ll last for ages and won’t make your icing soggy.
Seven. Digital scales. Now, I’m pretty old school about my cooking sometimes. But after all, it is chemistry, and judging scales by eye when your sight is poor is a recipe for disaster. During the first month in my flat we had no scales, just a Tala measuring cone to go by. Some of our creations that month were…interesting.
Eight. Pampered Chef decorating bottles. No piping bag disasters here! This icing bottles can be a little fiddly to wash up but are so worth it for ease of control and the fact that it makes tasks like injecting jam into cupcakes effortless.
Nine. Silicone tartlet mould. You know when you have to make enough desserts to feed about 30 people and you just can’t fathom how a pie or a cake will cut into that many pieces? Problem solved. I’ve used this mould to make feeding a crowd easier – and the results are pretty cute too.
Ten. Joseph Joseph nesting bowls. It’s time for an embarrassing story. When I first started getting into baking, I read a lot of American blogs and couldn’t for the life of me work out how to measure in cups. I went into our drinks cupboard and looked at every cup in there – and they weren’t the same size. Was a “cup” just a rough measurement? It can’t be! I went around absolutely puzzled for ages before I discovered cup measures.
These bowls include cup measures (thank goodness) and are an amazing space saver in my teeny kitchen – leaving more space for more goodies!
Eleven. Good palette knife. Because we’ve all had to hack at the underside of a biscuit with a normal knife when it’s stuck to the worktop and it ain’t pretty.
Twelve. Spatulas. It’s a bit of a simple one, but how else are you meant to
lick out the bowl thoroughly use all your mixture?
Thirteen. Round cookie cutters of varying sizes. I have loads of cookie cutters. A whole jar full. I have bunnies, and houses, and a lobster. Yeah, I’ve made a gingerbread lobster before – he was delicious and not at all snappy. But sometimes you just need a plain cutter, you know? This Tala set is magic – it contains 6 reversible cutters, and only costs about two quid.
And you know the really great thing about buying people baking equipment? The consequential influx of baked goods that just need eating…
*The “addiction” has not been proven, but damn, he got through a lot of Milky Ways.