Even if you’re only a casual baker, chances are you have a cupcake tin stashed somewhere in your kitchen. Maybe a loaf pan for banana bread. A sheet tray for chocolate chip cookies.
But if you’re the kind of person who’s spent any amount of time debating the merits of two different zucchini bread recipes, or has a go-to carrot cake recipe, you’ve got more than the basics in your cupboard. You’ve got hacks. You’ve got opinions. And you may not be a baking expert, but you’re getting better all the time and don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
With that in mind, we queried three top pastry chefs on the less obvious tools that are nonetheless essential for next-level home baking. Tools, perhaps, that you wouldn’t normally associate with the genre. Because if you want to rock the next bake sale, you’ve got to think outside the box.
The Kuhn Rikon peeler
Thanks to their speed, efficiency, and ease of use, Kuhn Rikon’s Swiss peelers are the go-to of many professional kitchens — and Flour Bakery in Boston is no exception. That’s because the gadget is ergonomically designed and the blade is ultra sharp. “I can peel a case of apples in 10 minutes with one of these,” says owner Joanne Chang, which is useful since Chang and her staff go through a prodigious amount of apples on the regular for the bakery’s apple snacking spice cake.
A mini offset spatula
“We have dozens of them,” says Genevieve Gergis, pastry chef of LA hotspots Bestia and Bavel. But they’re not only used to ice cakes, the task most commonly associated with offset spatulas. Gergis treats the miniature version, by Ateco, as a multipurpose tool, perfect for lifting dough stuck to a counter (“you can just run it underneath to loosen it”), moving around delicate items (“like when you want to lift out a thin sliver of a tart”), plating a fiddly showstopper (“we use it instead of tweezers”), and endless other tasks. Because this inexpensive go-to is so small and thin, Gergis explains, it’s easy to maneuver and lends a boosted sense of control. “It’s like having a really flat finger,” she says.
The Thermapen Mk4 thermometer
This ultra-fancy thermometer is a bit pricey, but Gergis swears it’s worth every penny. Before she broke down and bought one, she’d tried to make do with dinky $5 thermometers, only to find they weren’t accurate. “They might be a degree or two off, and I learned that one or two degrees off can make a big difference,” she says, especially with finicky dishes like caramel. A Thermapen, on the other hand, is deadly accurate. “I’m able to change something so minutely and get it just a hair chewier, and achieve that degree of perfection without having to be a genius.” Plus, you’ll get your money’s worth out of this baby — it can literally do it all, whether you’re ensuring that the inside of your ribeye is a cool ruby red or making sure that your creme brulee is perfectly set and runny.
Buy ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 Thermometer, $99
A food scale
“Home bakers have to have a scale — it changes everything,” swears Justin Burke-Samson, the pastry chef at Hello, Sailor in Cornelius, North Carolina (one of the best new restaurants in America). Baking is a science, and precisely portioning out ingredients is key for a good result. Measuring cups can make this tricky, because ingredients have a tendency to expand and contract when exposed to different temperatures and humidity levels. Using a scale ensures that you’re using the exact right amounts.
If you’ve been holding off on buying one, don’t feel too bad: Burke-Samson was already baking professionally when he made the switch, which happened in the middle of a doughnut and Pop-Tart pop-up event. “I was like, ‘I don’t understand why this isn't working. I’m leveling out the [measuring] cups,’” he says. “Then I used the scale, and it was like love at first sight.”
Buy My Weigh KD8000 Kitchen Scale, $41.03
An immersion blender
Hand-held blenders aren’t just for blitzing soups. Gergis has endless pastry applications for hers, using it to blend ice cream bases (“the fat [can] separate, so we immersion-blend it so it’s really smooth”) and even temper chocolate (“you’re finely chopping the chocolate into melted chocolate, and that agitation helps crystalize everything really nicely”). Also great? Not having to deal with the mess that comes with using a regular blender.
Buy KitchenAid 2-Speed Hand Blender, $39.99
There is certainly a time and a place for regular free-standing blenders, though. And there’s no way around the fact that high-end versions are a major financial investment. “It’s one of those things that if you’re getting married, you put it on your registry and hope some relative gets it for you,” Burke-Samson says. But even without a wedding on the horizon, you should still go for it: The difference between a dinky blender and a fantastic one is remarkably vast, for baking especially. The latter has a heavy-duty motor powerful enough to whip up an extra-airy custard or crush the tiny seeds on berries. “Just things that a food processor can’t [do],” Burke-Samson explains.
Buy Vitamix Standard Programs Blender, $379
If you’re still using a grater to zest your lemons, stop what you’re doing and get thee to the beloved microplane. “This changed the way we zest citrus and use grated ginger,” says Chang. The tiny holes grate ingredients superfine, so they can be more easily distributed throughout whatever you’re baking. “You can get fancy ones with handles and such, but I go for the basic long blade with no handle.”
Buy Microplane Classic Series Zester Grater, $9.72
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.