I don’t have solid research data to back me up on this, but I’ve always thought that when the holidays roll around even people who haven’t seen the inside of their ovens all year pull down the flour bin and bake. It’s part of what makes the holidays so jollyand so surprising.
If you’re looking to surprise a baker on your list, here are a few gift suggestions. This isn’t a complete build-your-baking-batterie-de-cuisine list; it’s not just for beginners; and it’s not in any special order. Mostly it’s a sampling of some things I really like and think you and yours might like, too.
Because Raphael has already posted a great list of basics, I’m not going to repeat the wonderful KitchenAid stand mixer, the Cuisinart food processor, which is so good for making pie and tart doughs, or the nifty Silpat silicone baking mats, which I never want to live withoutall of my baking sheets are stored with Silpats on them, so I’m always ready for the next batch of cookies. But any of these would be terrific to give or to get.
So, here’s my list of stuff to make the holidays sweeter. (Prices do not include shipping unless otherwise noted.)
A Powerful Handheld Mixer
Even if you have a stand mixer, it’s nice to have a handheld mixer for the extra jobs: How many times have you needed to whip egg whites and been stymied because your stand mixer was busy? If you’re not up to a stand mixer, this mixer can handle just about any recipe you want to tackle with the exception of something that beats forever, like brioche. KitchenAid 7-Speed Ultra Power Plus Hand Mixer, $70
A Fanciful Nonstick Bundt Pan
Invented in the 1950s by NordicWare, still the leading brand, Bundt pans take a simple sturdy cake and make it look like it was bought from the best bakeryit’s all in the pan’s curves. Originally, just a tube pan with a few swirls and flourishes, today you can get a Bundt shaped like a medieval castle or a football stadium. I’m kind of partial to the chrysanthemum pan, mostly because I love the way a cake from this pan looks when it’s dusted with powdered sugar. Cast Aluminum Chrysanthemum Bundt, $30
A Digital Kitchen Scale
Even though most American recipes are written for volume measures (i.e., cups and spoons), it’s always good to have a scale around when you’re measuring chocolate, nuts or fruit, or when you’re faced with a metric recipe you’re dying to try. Choose a scale with a read-out in both grams and pounds and look for one that allows you to go to zero while you’ve got stuff on it and then to continue adding and weighing ingredients. This scale has an automatic shut-off, which, for absent-minded people like moi, is a mini blessing. Salter 11-Pound Stainless-Steel Digital Kitchen Scale, $45
A Good French Rolling Pin, The Kind Without Handles
Use this for rolling delicate tart and pie dough. (Because there are no handles, you control the pressure on the dough and the direction of the pressureit’s like driving a well-tuned sports car.) Vic Firth Rolling Pin, $12.95
A Rolling Pin for Bread and Other Doughs That Need to Be Pushed Around
A rolling pin for bread and other doughs that need to be pushed around. When you’ve got heavy doughs, particularly yeast doughs that push back at you, you need a rolling pin with a little heft, handles and some ball-bearings that give you mechanical advantage. The fact that the new pins are silicone and come in bright colors makes them fun, but no less serious as tools. $40, from Cooking.com
A Piecrust Bag
It looks like a slipcover for a pillow, but it helps you roll dough out to the perfect thickness and diameter. You put your disk of dough in this zippered plastic bag (I flour the bag) and roll, roll, roll. Even if you’ve never rolled out pie dough before, you can look like an ace with this gadget. A friend gave me one a couple of years agoI’d never seen them beforeand I’ve been using it (and giving it as gifts) ever since. $6, from King Arthur Flour
Tart Pans with Removable Bottoms and Fluted Sides
These classic European panswell, almost classic, these are nonstickare what you need to make beautiful tarts and quiches. They’re expensive, but you’re only going to buy them once in your life. Twice, actually, because it’s good to have both a 9-1/2 inch and an 11-inch pan. 9 1/2-inch pan, $16; 11-inch pan, $28
An Offset SpatulaOr Three
I love having a wardrobe of offset, or angled, spatulas for frosting cakes, getting a perfect glaze on tortes or just loosening just-baked cookies from a baking sheet. Start with a longish spatula (this one’s almost 10 inches long), then work your way downyou’ll find uses for all the sizes. Ateco Medium-Size Offset Spatula, $10
Pure Vanilla Extract
It must be pure (imitation vanilla will ruin whatever you’re making) and the fragrance must make you dizzy. I continue to be a fan of Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract, but I’ve recently fallen hard for this mix of Tahitian and Bourbon vanilla extracts with vanilla-bean pulp. It’s a fabulous blend. $19 each
Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate
Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Security comes in many forms. For me, it’s knowing that I’ve got a generous supply of my favorite chocolate at hand. While you can buy Valrhona chocolates in just about any quantity, I think that giving (or getting) pounds and pounds of it makes the special chocolate even more special. My go-to variety is Manjari, a bittersweet chocolate with a winey spiciness and I always buy it in "feve" form. Feves, like lozenges, melt faster and more evenly, can be chopped quickly and make a great snack. $66 for a 3-kilogram bag