Building Your Kitchen Part 2

Earlier in the week, Erin told you about her essential kitchen tools. As someone who works primarily in pastry, mine are a little different. Pastry is precise and finnicky, and it requires a set of tools that make that precision easier.

First, any good pastry cook will tell you how essential a Kitchenaide mixer is. They also cost several hundred dollars, so I don’t own one of those! I use a hand mixer, which is not the wonder that a Kitchenaide is, but it does work!

Also, like any good chef, a pastry cook needs a set of knives and a sharpening block. I would happily show you a picture of what I use, but all my knives are in my bag at my currently closed kitchen! That said, I’ve found the most useful kit for me includes a 6″ cook’s kinfe, a paring knife with a snap-on case that I can carry in my chef’s coat, a bigger butcher-type knife that I rarely use, and a bread knife with a serrated edge. I get my knives from Wusthof. The one I use the most is the 6″ pictured below, because, let’s face it, you don’t need a butcher’s knife to cut apples. It runs about $120 and is worth every penny. I use this knife more than I can tell you for pastry.

My second most-used tool in the kitchen is a high-heat silicone rubber spatula. If you have not bought one (or a dozen!) of these for your kitchen, you don’t know what you’re missing. It is great for pastry because it’s perfect for folding batters and meringues and mousse, but if you cook ANYTHING that’s saucy, you just don’t know how much you’re leaving behind in the pan until you use one of these to scrape it. Below is me looking slightly maniacal with my spautla, in my favorite Cleveland pride shirt from Snakes + Acey’s Print Shop.

Next up, you’ve got a tool that every pastry cook needs. For savory cooking, measuring is often done by site and taste — a dash of this, a splash of that. Not so in pastry cooking! That’s why having an electronic scale that measures in different units (grams, ounces, pounds, etc) is essential!

Just as essential as the scale for pastry cooking is a good, high-heat thermometer. Why? Because for pastry, there are temps that you have to get things to precisely. Sure, with enough experience you can make a creme anglaise right from sight, or know exactly when your sugar has reduced and heated enough to make a perfect Italian meringue just by the look of the bubbles, or even know when your sugar gets to a soft-ball stage for caramel and candy making. But it takes practice to get there, and you’re going to have to measure your temps again and again for precision. And being off by as much as a few degrees for pastry work can ruin your whole dessert.

A good pastry cutter has been another essential for me. It makes making anything that requires cold butter so much easier than messing around with forks or using your hands. That includes pie crusts, biscuits, scones, and more!

Ring molds are another tool I’ve used again and again. They’re great for cutting biscuits, cutting fancy desserts (think a sheet of mousse cut into circles and served with ice cream!), or molding savory things like tartate or even quinoa into a more pleasing presentation.

I never knew how much I needed a silicone baking mat until my best friend bought me one for Christmas a few years ago. If you don’t have a ton of counter space, like me, or if your work space is hard-to-clean, a baking mat makes life so much simpler. It’s easy to clean, easy to roll out dough on on, AND it’s got measurements right there on it for pie crusts and anything you might need to cut into specific measurments. A life-saver!

Lastly, I’ll recommend something I’m just beginning to get into using myself. A few years ago, when I moved to Ohio, I made the delightful mistake of telling my then-8-year-old niece I’d make her any cupcake design she wanted for her school birthday party. We’ve had so much fun designing off-the-wall cupcakes for her over the last few years, and because of it, I’m getting into cake decorating. Pastry tips with reusable bags have been essential to this! Below are one of the cupcake sets we made with them, zombies and bloody brains!

That’s it. And I’m going to leave you with a picture of me working in the kitchen, looking like Al Pacino in Frankie and Johnny. I used to wear chef coats and hats back when I was in Michelin starred restaurants in New York, but heck, I’m in Cleveland now!

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