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essentials?

i'm a new-ish baker and i'm limited on kitchen storage space. i bake cookies (drop, shaped/molded, rolled out), small cakes, quick breads, and cupcakes. i have a really cheap hand mixer, frosting tips, cake strips, a 1.5" circle cookie cutter, and a few good cake pans.

i like my baked goods to look very well put together and not so rustic if that makes sense. but i end up buying gadgets that i don't need. can you help me narrow down my shopping list?

1) standing mixer (kitchenaid, 5 qt artisan model) - is this necessary for the items i'm baking since a lot of them require folding/mixing after the creaming butter/sugar stage? do i just need to upgrade my hand mixer?
2) french rolling pin or regular with handles and pin rings? wood or silicone?
3) cookie scoop - 1T size for small cookies
4) mixing bowl - stainless, glass, plastic or ceramic?

thanks.

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  1. finished good appearance has nothing to do with equipment, and everything to do with technique. Equipment makes things easier, and there are things that no one would do if they didn't have the specialized equipment for it. A stand mixer will certainly make you life easier, and save time. rolling pins are a matter of preference. I've got a silicone on with ball bearings. it's fine for everything, but there are things that I like a french pin for. I don't see the point of a cookie scoop, but if you want one, don't buy one sold as that. Buy a suitably sized "disher" from a commercial supplier. Much cheaper, and exactly the same thing. Mixing bowls are a matter of preference. I'm a big fan of stainless steel. Buy several, the same size. Four or five stainless bowls the same size nest nicely, and don't take up much more space on the shelf than one does. You need ones with a flat bottom.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dscheidt

      "You need ones with a flat bottom."

      Or, at least, one with a nonslip bottom:
      http://www.webstaurantstore.com/5-qt-...

      1. re: Politeness

        that looks great. thanks for the above comments

        the disher look good and i'll look into them. it seems cookie scoops are available in smaller sizes than the dishers and it's not a great cost savings.

        1. re: superfinespot

          Most of the things sold as "cookie scoops" are, in fact, dishers. With 100% mark up. Vollrath make dishers down to size 100. That's two teaspons. I've used smaller, but I don't know who made them.

          (US dishers are numberd. smaller number is bigger. it's some truly bizarre system, based on the number of scoops of that size you'd get out of one pound of ground beef. )

          1. re: dscheidt

            http://fantes.com/ice-cream.html#scoop sells them. They describe the numbering system as the number of scoops in a quart.
            The #100 is 1 teaspoon and there are 100 portions in a quart. The #8 is 4 ounces and there are 8 in a quart.
            I've paid less than the Fantes price at my local restaurant supply house. They're a lot more at fancy kitchen stores.

            These are really worth the money. They make perfectly even cookies that bake perfectly evenly and look great. And you save a LOT of time. You can really rock through a batch of cookie dough with the scoop and release.

    2. Getting baked goods to look good is all a matter of technique and taking your time. Gadgets can help a little, but won't do it for you.

      1) Stand mixer is strictly a matter of convenience. It will do a bang up job with things like beating egg whites and creaming butter and sugar. I find that things like folding are better done by hand -- mixer is a little too energetic.
      2) I use a wood rolling pin with the pin handles. This is strictly a matter of comfort . The French rolling pin -- which seems to have a sort of snob appeal -- for some reason just doesn't suit me. Every material under the sun (wood, glass, marble, stainless steel, plastics) has been used. Rolling pins aren't so expensive that you can't try different ones out (check out garage sales if on a budget). Don't let anyone psyche you out -- use what works for you.

      3) We have a variety of "dishers" (ice cream scoops) -- cookie dough pops right out and helpful for managing consistent portions.

      4) I prefer stainless for beating cream and egg whites (easy to keep cold, can be heated when melting chocolate, and no worries using with metal mixers and utensils), and ceramic and glass for hand mixing with plastic and wood utensils. Plastic bowls pick up colors, flavors and smells that just don't wash out very easily. I don't mind having lots of bowls -- it seems I always find myself one short.

      1. 1) I find I bake a lot more often since I got a Kitchen Aid mixer a few years ago. It's not necessary, but it is a real time saver.

        2) I have a couple of rolling pins--one straight French rolling pin, and one maple rolling pin with wooden handles. Use what feels comfortable to you.

        3) Cookie scoop? You mean there's something other than an ordinary tablespoon for this purpose? Okay, I know there are these things like little ice cream scoops, but they strike me as totally unnecessary and harder to clean than an ordinary spoon. If you don't want to push the dough out of the spoon onto the pan with your finger, you can get the hang of pushing it out with a rubber spatula.

        4) Gotta have mixing bowls. I like nested stainless bowls in different sizes, maybe with a few of the smallest size for prepping ingredients. Make sure you've got at least one really big one--at least 12 cups--because sometimes you need an oversized bowl for tossing ingredients. I think they use glass bowls on TV cooking shows, because they make better television, but stainless is more practical.

        1. Just in terms of rolling pins...

          One thing that is rarely mentioned is the diameter of a rolling pin. The thinner it is the easier it is to 'squash' but the more difficult it is to flatten. I personally never use one with handles. Just a waste of drawer space to me. The simplest RP is just a piece of broom handle. A piece of wooden curtain pole makes a somewhat thicker one.

          In the UK I had a stainless steel one that you could fill with ice water. Not seen them in NA so far.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Paulustrious

            i'd be using it for flattening and not squashing (for rolled cookies)
            do you ever use rolling pin rings to get the same level of thickness?

          2. I was never much of a baker until I got my KA stand mixer and then slowly I started to bake more and more. Still not the Queen of the Oven but I can turn out really good stuff without a second thought. That was a stellar purchase that I would make again in a heartbeat. It lives on the countertop and I know that I bake more because of it than I ever would have without it.
            It does a much better job than my hand mixer. Well worth the cost and the space.
            Don't ditch your cheap hand mixer. It's nice to have in those rare cases when you have to beat something in a bowl over hot water on the stove.

            If the appearance of your cookies is important, buy a "disher" type scoop at a restaurant supply house. Heck, buy several sizes. They make perfect, consistently sized cookies, something that you can't easily get with a spoon and your finger.
            I use them for scooping batter for cupcakes, etc. too. Easier than trying to keep portions even by estimating. Stuff just comes out more consistent.
            Not to sound too OCD but I like when things look nice.

            I really like broad stainless steel bowls. They stack well and take up little space. You can also place them over a pot of warm water for an ad hoc double boiler. I think that they're the most versatile.
            Plastic often holds oils, off-flavors, and stains. Boo.
            A glass bowl is nice to have if you like to melt butter or chocolate in the microwave but you may already have something that you can dual-purpose in your kitchen.

            2 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              yes! finally a fan of the scoop. i know people said above that it's about technique more than the tool itself but the scoop gives me equal amounts of batter which does help my end product look much better.

              i wonder if i shouldn't just upgrade my hand mixer to a KA hand mixer and not get the standing?

              i have a very wide stainless steel bowl and that's it. the sides aren't high enough and when i'm creaming butter + sugar it lands everywhere.

              1. re: superfinespot

                This is the type of scoops I use. http://www.surlatable.com/product/kit...
                Except that at the restaurant supply house, they cost about $10 instead of the $17 to $18 at Sur La Table. No contest.

                BIte the bullet and get the stand mixer. You'll never look back. The power difference is amazing. And you have both hands free to add ingredients or to do other stuff.
                The KA lets you work fast while the butter is still chilled.

                Try the restaurant supply store for SS bowls. You'll use them less for baking once you get that KA stand mixer, but you gotta have some.
                I have a very useful nesting set of about 6 graduated sizes that I use for everything in my kitchen - not just baking. Sort of the Alton Brown theory of avoiding single use equipment. That's important if you don't have a lot of storage space. The more use you can get from the same stuff, the better..

            2. 1. Kitchenaid mixer: Go for it! Mine is 30 years old, still going strong, and unlike people, you cannot get a clue on its age by simply looking. Love it! Great investment, and if you break an arm (God forbid!) you can still knead bread!

              2. Rolling pins: Personal preference. My preference is wood and marble. I have both. If you plan on doing things where keeping the dough/pastry cold while working it, such as puff pastry from scratch, a chilled marble rolling pin is glorious. My only comment is that with limited storage space should you only have room for one, then go for a long straight pin and not the French type that is fat in the middle and tapered toward the ends. Some cookies and/or fondant techniques require you to place the dough between "spacers," usually strips of wood, before rolling with a pin to give you absolutely equal depth of the dough. You cannot do this with a shaped "French" type rolling pin.

              3. Cookie scoop: You don't have any soup spoons with your flatware? Practice makes perfect. And a spoon is easier to wash. Try the technique that chefs use with two tablespoons to shape a quenelle. On the other hand, if you're into institution portioning, go for it. You can do mini-ice cream cones, diet portions of mashed potatoes, all sorts of things. But you already have spoons, and they won't require more storage space.

              4: Mixing bowls. Stainless, absolutely! And if you can possibly find the storage space, one set of nested round bottoms and one nested set of flat bottoms. And with limitations on storage space, just plain stainless with no extras. The great utility of stainless cooking bowls is that not only can you mix in them and serve in them, you can also cook in them. On occasion, I have been known to use one of my flat bottomed stainless mixing bowls to boil pasta. And the round bottomed ones make a great top section for a double boiler. Just place over a pan of boiling water and you're good to go.

              Happy baking. And cooking too! '-)

              2 Replies
              1. re: Caroline1

                Caroline1: "Kitchenaid mixer: Go for it! Mine is 30 years old, still going strong, and unlike people, you cannot get a clue on its age by simply looking."

                The reason that your KitchenAid mixer is still going strong is that it is 30 years old, which means that it was made by the Hobart Company. A new KitchenAid mixer that you buy today is made by Whirlpool Corporation, and, although cosmetically the same as yours, as you note, the guts inside are nothing like yours.

                1. re: Politeness

                  I'm no dummy! Time travel: Earn now, shop then! Sign me up! '-)