The Baking Rules #2: Desirables

I recently wrote about what I consider to be essential baking equipment to get you started. This post on the other hand will focus on those desirables. You all know exactly what I’m talking about. The gorgeous equipment we see in glossy magazine articles, in immaculate and impossibly tidy TV chefs kitchens and those which become the sole reason I venture into the John Lewis home department for.

Desirable baking equipment is of course not necessary. You can kick off your baking with minimal equipment & without having to spend a fortune. Once you become more of a dab hand at baking then what better way to toast your success than splurging investing in a few luxurious pieces of kitchen paraphernalia?

My formula for baking success may be: Practice + The Rules = Confidence + Better Results but pretty equipment does make the job a little more fun. So seeing as the January sales are now in full swing this post couldn’t be better timed.

  • Free-standing Mixers – Free-standing mixers are the bee’s knees of the baking world and generally coveted by many but there are a couple things to consider before splashing the cash.
  1. Free-standing mixers are large & heavy. Unless you have space on the counter, an easy access cupboard or empty shelf perhaps hold off until you have the space for it. As with many kitchen toys unless I have easy access to it I tend not to use it.
  2. Ask yourself “will I actually use it?” While you can shop around with different brands it is worth investing in something which will last a long time. This comes with a price. If you are going to invest in an expensive piece of kitchen equipment it only makes sense to consider how much use you will get out of it.
  3. Consider buying or making a wipe clean cover for your mixer. These mixers may look beautiful sitting out on the kitchen counter but unless you are fastidiously clean the mixer and the bowl will inevitably get covered in dust and all manner of kitchen splashes.

This chic cream number from Next is a steal and is a good starter although I couldn’t be certain over its reliability or longevity as a brand. I was lucky enough to be given the Kenwood Classic Chef several years ago after I had been baking for a while. I love it, use it regularly and the blender attachment means I had 1 less kitchen toy to buy. However if I was to upgrade I would go for the kMix Barcelona Mixer. Its bright, streamlined, the handle on the bowl would be VERY handy and being the British brand it’s patriotic! The KitchenAid is of course the most coveted out of the free-standing mixer family due to the selection of bright colours and retro design.

 

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  • Cake Stand – If you have gone to all that effort of baking a cake then having something pretty to serve it upon is the cherry on top. I like the cake stands with glass domes, they’re not airtight so of course the cake wont keep for long but it will stop it drying out quickly. Plus if you’re dining al fresco it keeps the bugs at bay.

I recommend buying a cake stand which doesn’t have a high edge or lip (like this one) purely because serving becomes more difficult. Imagine trying to slide a cake slice under a delicate cake when you have a high lip around the stand. It is also worthwhile remembering that cake stands are multi-functional. This beautiful slate tiered stand could be used to serve cupcakes but equally it could be a good way to serve cheese after dinner.

The problem of course with additional serving equipment is having somewhere to store it. So if you are low on space a tiered or domed cake stand may be not be possible. In which case invest in one (or several) basic stands, like this red one from House of Fraser, in different colours or sizes. You could always stack 1 on top of the other if you wish.

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  •  Piping Bag – I have played around with various piping  bags over the years and my favourites are the disposable ones. This is in part because I HATE (and I mean this with a deep passion) cleaning out a piping bag but I also find disposable bags to be significantly larger. Small piping bags just end up needing to be filled constantly or the contents ooze out of the top & down my arm.

Lakeland sell a roll of 50 disposable bags for approx 18p per bag. Although if you ice regularly or if you want to use several different colours of icing in 1 session this option can get expensive. In which case I recommend large silicone or nylon icing bags, although I would invest in both to be honest. The disposable bags could be used for piping mashed potato, biscuit dough, whipped cream & egg whites and your silicone bag would be solely for icing.

If you buy a large tin of nozzles in different shapes & sizes then there is nothing to hold you back (decorating wise). When it comes to these syringe style sets I am on the fence. They look too fiddly for me and perhaps over complicate matters although I can imagine they are a lot less messy and easy to fill. As always, go with your instinct and your preferences.

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  •  Cake Box – You could be forgiven for questioning my classification of a cake box as a splurge item. I assure you, once you check out the relative price of a cake box designed for transportation compared to a cake tin (or in my case, a jumbo Jacobs Cream Crackers box) you may understand my ruling here.

Cake boxes designed for transportation in mind ensure the cake arrives at its destination in 1 piece. So far I have found Lakeland to be the home of the best selection of cake boxes although keep an eye open in your Supermarket. I managed to scavenge mine reduced from £20 to £5.

Most boxes will come with a clear lid and are designed so the cake doesn’t have to be lowered into it. This Cake Box & Lifter has a separate base for the cake to be assembled onto which can be then lowered into the box. This also ensures the cake is much easier to cut & serve. I personally covet the Keep Cool Cake Box which has a slot in the base for cool packs so if you are transporting Pavlova’s, Cheesecakes etc you can be certain they will be kept at the optimum temperature. Then of course for all you cupcake aficionados who can resist a cupcake carousel? If you are transporting more cupcakes than cakes then its best investing in something like this Cupcake Carousel Caddy so you can rest assured your cupcakes wont slide all over the base of the box.

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  • Palette knife – Never underestimate the power a good palette knife has when icing. They say an artist is only as good as his tools. Well in the cake icing field I learned this the hard way folks. I thought I could get away with a butter knife to spread the icing around a cake but when I tried the same job with a palette knife I swear the heavens opened & rays of sunshine beamed down on me. Ladies, imagine the difference between putting your mascara on with a mascara wand and applying the mascara with a paintbrush.

I find palette knives vary dramatically in price but not so much in performance so I wouldn’t suggest spending a fortune. This Farringdon one from Tesco makes decorating larger cakes easier & faster because its angled. I also like the idea of a flexible silicone knife, like this red one from John Lewis, which could moonlight as a spatula. The Queen of Cakes herself Mary Berry has a range of knives via Lakeland which includes a ‘smaller than your average’ palette knife which I reckon could be handy & much less bulky for cupcakes. I reckon buy a few in different sizes and materials and you will reap the rewards in pretty cake decoration later.

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  • Selection of bakeware & cookie cutters – Now to the fun part, the baking tins. There is no doubt that once you have begun baking you will want to expand your selection of bakeware if for no other reason than the fun of creating & decorating a variety of cakes.

With space at a premium in my weegie kitchen I lean more towards cookie cutters than cake tins. Cookie cutters have the added advantage of being considerably cheaper. Look out for cheap supermarket offers, seasonal cutters, vintage metal ones at car boot sales and have a cutter for every occasion.

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  • Aprons – And last but not least the apron. No matter how hard I try I always end up covered in flour when baking.  I am hard wired to wipe my hands on my legs and I cant tell you the number of times this has happened when wearing fancy togs. Save yourself the drama and invest in an apron (or several because 1 will inevitably end up in the washing machine when you need it). You can be assured there is always one to suit your style.

Go classic with the Cath Kidston ditsy print, splurge on a retro Orla Kiely number, indulge the Weegie inside with Not On The High Street or for when a spot of kitsch is required make your very own 50’s style pinny and go wild with the fabric possibilities!

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