In professional kitchens, storage space is at a premium and conditions are harsh, which means that anything extraneous, fussy, or fragile gets the boot—a mentality that carries over to our home kitchens. While my own kitchen is a small and spartan place, you'll still find in it some highly specialized tools that I cannot do without. If you do much baking at home, I think you'll find these one-hit wonders will earn their keep.
A Docking Tool
What it's for: Providing steam vents so doughs lie flat.
Why I love it: Sure, you could stab your raw pizza dough a thousand times with a fork. Or you could just give it a quick pass with a docking tool, perforating the whole thing quickly, evenly, and perfectly.
The docking tool is also my favorite way to dress up cookie and cracker doughs, as the uniformly spaced polka dots add an undeniably professional touch to treats like chocolate-filled shortbread cookies, DIY Wheat Thins, chocolate digestive biscuits, and the homemade graham crackers in my cookbook.
What else it's good for: Therapeutic back massage.
A Fluted Pastry Wheel
What it's for: Cutting dough into pretty shapes.
Why I love it: Whether I'm making a lattice-top pie, a batch of homemade Biscoff (see the video below for a demo), or fresh ravioli, it's amazing how much a fluted pastry wheel can spruce up simple strips of dough.
What else it's good for: Making miniature tire tracks in a diorama.
A Cake Stand
What it's for: Giving your cakes the royal treatment.
Why I love it: You can get a fancy glass and marble cake stand like mine, or pick up some vintage number at the thrift store, but whichever you choose, a rad cake stand will make any layer cake look like a work of art (and make any occasion feel special).
What else it's good for: Presenting an extra-fancy cheese plate.
A 1/2-Inch Piping Tip
What it's for: Piping stuff.
Why I love it: Forget trying to wrangle a zip-top bag with the corner snipped off. Even if you don't do a ton of fancy baking, a half-inch piping tip and a disposable pastry bag will seriously step up your pastry game and improve life in the kitchen tremendously when you're making filled cookies, profiteroles, birthday cakes, and more.
What else it's good for: Cutting out the world's tiniest cookies.
A #40 Cookie Scoop
What it's for: Scoopin' stuff.
Why I love it: For portioning out cookies and muffins, I'm all about a good scoop—individually scaling several dozen blobs of dough is not my idea of a good time. You can make the case for having an assortment of sizes, but if I could have only one, it would be the #40 cookie scoop.
It's the perfect size for most drop cookies, and a natural for ice cream, too. I also reach for it whenever I make Daniel's stupendously juicy meatballs, as I like the slightly smaller portion size.
What else it's good for: Dishin' out cafeteria-style balls of mashed potatoes.
An Oven Thermometer
What it's for: Keeping your oven honest.
Why I love it: If you've ever noticed that a recipe's suggested bake time never quite applies to you, chances are your oven's out of whack. It's a matter of not just timing, but consistency, too. When ovens run too hot, cookies burn, cakes turn gummy along the bottom, and flaky pastries melt too fast, losing their delicate layers. In cool ovens, cookies turn out thin and pale, cakes develop a wet crumb, and flaky pastries melt too slowly, producing a mealy crust. With a reliable oven thermometer, you can rule out these problems from the start.
What else it's good for: Looking like a total pro in the kitchen.
The Perfect Ruler
What it's for: Measuring stuff.
Why I love it: I've been baking professionally my entire adult life, but I still use a ruler whenever I pick up a rolling pin. Of course, not just any ruler will do, and those designed for drafting often start with a small gap that renders them useless for baking. My favorite ruler has measurements that start from the very edge, so it can be stood upright to measure the thickness of any dough.
What else it's good for: Measuring contests.
A Stainless Steel Sieve
What it's for: Sifting and straining.
Why I love it: A sieve is an essential kitchen tool, so it's not truly fair to call it a unitasker. A good sieve makes it to my list if only because it utterly slaughters the one unitasker I really can't stand: hand-cranked flour sifters. They're bulky, slow, tricky to clean, inefficient at their assigned job, and useless for anything else.
Meanwhile, a nonreactive stainless steel sieve can strain custards, fruit syrups, and other liquid-y projects that a stupid hand-crank sifter could never manage, while making short work of clumpy ingredients, like flour, cocoa, and powdered sugar. Plus, it can be cleaned with a quick rinse—no nooks and crannies or moving parts to contend with.
What else it's good for: Decorating tiramisu.
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