Baking 101: Tools & a Lemon Nut Sugar Cookie Recipe
Tools. Every profession, avocation, simple task, and Rube Goldberg machine has them. Great men and women will tell you, without the right tool getting the job done properly can be impossible. In cooking there are certain tools you have to have–a knife, a spoon, a whisk–and there are others–a sharp chef’s knife, a stand mixer, a sous chef–that make certain kitchen tasks much easier.
Oh and there is one thing you should know about me. I am not a single function tool fan–I just don’t see the point of spending $20 on a tool you’ll use once a year for one simple task. If you’re looking for shortcuts or specials tools for how to core an apple, slice a mango, get juice from a lemon, finely chop nuts, or remove the pit from a cherry then this is not your blog post. Each can be done with your hands and a sharp knife. Why buy anything else?
I’ve broken the tools into three categories. First there are The Must Have Tools; these tools form the foundation of baking and will let you bake essentially anything. Second there are The Helpful Tools which are not required to make most things but will make your baking much easier and much more precise. Third are The Unnecessary but Fun Tools which aren’t necessary in baking but give you some extra options that are both fun and at times very functional; my all time favorite kitchen tool is in this category–can you guess what it is?
You might notice the very important baking sheets and pans missing. Since there are so many beautiful options, I am going to save this for another post. Besides those are almost more so vessels than tools.
The Must Have Tools
Sharp Chef’s Knife & Sharp Paring Knife – This is one that is on top of the list for cooking 101 and baking 101. You don’t need a peeler, dicer, fancy chopping tools, a mandolin, etc. You just need a couple sharp knives. One small one for the small tasks and one big one for the big tasks. Brand: I use Wusthof and am very pleased with them.
Glass or Stainless Steel Bowls – Neither of these materials react with food and both can be heated or chilled with no problem–making them great for bain-marie applications and recipes where they are shuffled from heat to the cold. Why not plastic? Take it from a guy who’s dad was CFO for a chemical and plastics corporation, you pretty much want to avoid plastics and you absolutely do not want plastics around heat or hot foods–they tend to leach chemicals into the food when they are heated. I avoid plastics in my kitchen at all cost.
Wooden Spoons – Wood does not react with ingredients, nor does it conduct heat or scratch pans. Some wooden spoons can absorb strong odors (like onion) so you may want to look into treating your spoon with a safe, edible mineral oil.
Heavy Duty, Low Gauge Metal Whisk – Have you ever tried to whip something with a plastic or thin metal whisk? It’s like trying to cool yourself down by fanning a tissue.
Heavy Bottomed Pots and Pans - Getting good heavy bottom pots pans will not only cook foods more evenly but they will help ensure nothing will burn on the bottom–of course only constant stirring can truly ensure this. Avoid nonstick pots and pans and pots and pans with plastic on them–you want pots and pans you can safely put in the oven.
Kitchen Scale – You should be baking by weight, not volume. The kitchen scale is the only tool that let’s you do this.
Measuring Cups – You should have a few glass quart measuring cups at least to measure liquids. As for dry ingredients, you should be weighing those. What about the small stuff? Ok, fine you can use little measuring spoons but you should memorize what a teaspoon and a tablespoon of dry ingredients looks like in your hand and how long wet ingredients take to pour so you can avoid the laborious step of searching for and fumbling with a tiny spoon–more on that in the tips and tricks post.
Spatulas – If you’re like me, or an executive chef, wasting is not an option–call it cost control or OCD. Spatulas make this possible. They also make folding, mixing, scraping, smoothing and numerous other tasks a simple process.
Graters – Graters can be used for numerous tasks including zesting citrus, grating chocolate and shaving spices. Buy a few sizes so you can control the size of what you are grating–small works for spices and zest, large works for chocolate and cheese.
The Helpful Tools
Cookie Cutters – These guys are not just for cutting cookies. They can be used to shape pie dough, tart dough, ravioli, pasta, and even for making pancakes. I have assorted sizes of circles, ridged circles and ridged squares, and I have various flower shapes and a plethora of holiday shapes–can you guess which holiday I have the most shapes for?
Icing Spatulas and Piping Tips – While you can ice a cake with a normal spatula or knife, having an icing spatula makes the task much, much easier. Piping tips are the fun part as they let you customize your cake with nearly endless shapes and designs. They take practice, but the practice is fun.
Silicon Baking Mats or Parchment Paper – Both of these do the same job. They keep baked goods from sticking to the pan and make clean up a simple task. Either spend $30 for each silicon mat up front or $2 every couple weeks for parchment paper. I own a couple silicon mats and still keep parchment paper on hand in case.
French Rolling Pin – There is one piece to a french rolling pin: a big piece of cylindrical wood. There are not multiple parts to break. It is not over thought. It is simple and does the job.
The Unnecessary but Super Fun Tools
Unfortunately these two tools are quite expensive but they make certain tasks much easier. Have you tried to whip eggs whites or cream with out an electric tool? It takes a long time and chances are your arm might fall off afterwards. It can be done, but there is a tool that can do both in the blink of an eye all while remaining painless.
Stand Mixer – This is my all time favorite kitchen tool. I use it every time I bake something. While a hand mixer will let you whip with ease, a stand mixer will let you knead, whip and mix all while leaving you to walk away and tend to other tasks–this may be my favorite part about a stand mixer. Seriously, there is no better tool than this! Brand: I use a Kitchenaid Professional 600. (If you are going to spend a few hundred bucks on one I say go for top of the line. The Professional 600 is Kitchenaid’s only all metal unit now–smaller units use plastic motors, drive shafts and gears which can wear out easily. If you are looking at another company take the time to research the motor, motor housing, drive shaft and gears. All metal construction will last years and years–there’s a reason people still have their mother’s 30 year old stand mixer)
Food Processor – When you want to create nut butter, fruit purees, pesto, or even certain doughs, you have to have a food processor. A blender can do some of these tasks but no where near as well as a food processor.
Now on to the cookies! If you need a conversion from weight to volume you can visit my conversion page. This recipe will yield 2 to 3 dozen cookies.
Lemon Nut Sugar Cookies
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
6 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest from 1 lemon
7 ounces cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces chopped almonds
4 ounces chopped walnuts
1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
3. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon zest and mix in well.
4. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix in well.
5. Add the nuts and mix until evenly distributed.
6. Spoon the cookie dough onto the baking sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the bottoms and sides are golden.
I hope you found this post somewhat helpful. If you have questions please feel free to ask! What are your favorite tools or tools you just can’t live without in the kitchen?