Yule Blog



5 handy gifts for the home baker

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The right tools make a baker's job easier. The right tools make a baker's job easier.

The Yule Blog, Dec. 19:

6 days until Christmas

I started baking when I was very young with my mother and my grandmother. Both always made delicious treats and taught me the how-tos along the way.

When I was old enough to be trusted with the oven alone, I started experimenting with baking on my own. I would make cakes from scratch, homemade icing and even dabbled in creating my own cookie recipes.

I now have a kitchen of my own, and I love to try making new things. Of course, I still make cakes and cupcakes and cookies galore, especially this time of year.

While I don’t have the skills or the tools of a professional pastry chef, I have found there are few items that have become essential in the kitchen. All of these tools I didn’t know I needed until I had them, because I was getting by with whatever I had to use.

If there is a baker in your life and you are searching for a few good gift ideas, here are my suggestions. However, if you’re planning to do a lot of baking in the next few days, you might just want to pick them up for yourself.


Pastry bags can be used to pipe just about anything./Claire Lowe Pastry bags can be used to pipe just about anything./Claire Lowe

Pastry bags

These are essential. You think that you can get by with Ziploc bags until you have used these. They come in a variety of sizes and often include various tip options, making decorating almost anything a breeze.

A huge advantage of pastry bags is using them to ice cakes. Using a large-size bags without the tip allows you evenly distribute the icing onto the cake, especially on the sides, before spreading. My personal favorite are the Wilton disposable decorating bags because they make cleanup easy. Wilton also offers a variety pack of decorating tips.

Pastry bags can be used for piping almost anything: putting ricotta neatly onto the top of halved figs, filling homemade doughnuts and cupcakes, topping ice cream with ganache or placing softened cream cheese into cored mini tomatoes.


Icing spatulas come in a number of sizes./Claire Lowe Icing spatulas come in a number of sizes./Claire Lowe

Icing spatula

I have two icing spatulas that I use every time I bake a cake or cupcakes. These handy tools are perfectly designed to do the job you thought your rubber spatula, knife or (insert other flat kitchen utensil here) was OK for. Discovering them was another aha moment in baking for me.

The icing spatula is a long, but thin metal spatula that usually has a rounded tip. They come in different sizes. The 12-inch one is great for cakes, and the 4 or 6 inch size can be used for cupcakes and cookies. The tool allows you to evenly spread the icing over a surface, and to create different textures: smooth, fluffy, ribbed, etc. It, too, has multiple uses; I have used it to flip crepes and serve pies as well.


A cookie dough scoop turns out cookies of uniform shape and size./Claire Lowe A cookie dough scoop turns out cookies of uniform shape and size./Claire Lowe

Cookie scoop

I have been using two teaspoons to scoop cookies onto my baking sheets since I learned how to bake, basically because that is what my mother did. Then my sister started using a cookie scoop, and her perfect, uniformly-sized drop cookies made me super jealous.

So I asked her, and she recommended a medium-size cookie scoop, which looks like a small ice cream scoop or a large melon baller. The technique is the same as scooping ice cream, and the results are flawless.

They come in a variety of sizes; I use a smaller scoop for peanut butter kiss cookies and a larger size for chocolate chip. You can find them at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target and cooking stores and online. I don’t have a favorite brand, but I favor the stainless steel variety to the plastic kind with a rubber button, which requires you to press out the scoop onto the baking sheet.


A carrier gets your cakes and cupcakes to their destination with icing intact./Claire Lowe A carrier gets your cakes and cupcakes to their destination with icing intact./Claire Lowe

Cake carrier

My world became infinitely less stressful the day I got a cake carrier. There are so many options, from round to square to rectangle, collapsible, dual-use for cupcakes, plastic, metal, and a combination of both. I opted for a round, plastic collapsible version made by Progressive International that can hold a cake or cupcakes because I decided I would get the most use out of it, and I already have. Taking treats to the office or to a party has transformed from a nightmare of “How am I going to do this without smashing this whole cake?” to totally easy, although transporting it by vehicle it still requires a flat surface.


For fancy-looking tarts, cakes and quiches, a tart pan with a removable bottom is essential./Claire Lowe For fancy-looking tarts, cakes and quiches, a tart pan with a removable bottom is essential./Claire Lowe

Tart pan with removable bottom

This one little pan has gotten more use than I would have ever imagined the day my sister gave me the hand-me-down from her grandmother-in-law. When she asked if I would care for a tart pan, I had never made a tart before. This pan has quickly replaced my 9-inch spring-form pan as the go-to for single-layer baked goods. I have created flourless chocolate cakes, fruit tarts, clafouti, quiche and various pies in this little pan, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of its uses. The pan has fluted edges, which makes almost everything look extra fancy. There are three inserts for the bottom – flat, textured and raised. I usually place the tart pan on a baking sheet before placing it in the oven to catch any leaks.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are.

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets.

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a White Christmas in 2013?

Dec. 9: Don't risk a home fire this winter

Dec. 10: In the kitchen with grandma: How to make 6-layer Neapolitan cookies

Dec. 11: 12 (relatively) new songs for Christmas

Dec. 12: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 1

Dec. 13: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 2

Dec. 14: How to make Razzleberry Dressing

Dec. 15: Last-minute make-it gift: Peppermint Patty Martini

Dec. 16: Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present

Dec. 17: Snow day survival guide

Dec. 18: Best all-time Christmas songs

Dec. 19: 5 handy gifts for the home baker

Dec. 20: Cookie swaps sweeten the holidays if you can avoid the jams

Dec. 21: When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

DEc. 22: Presents for pets - and pet lovers

Dec. 23: Best children's books get to the heart of Christmas

Dec. 24: Feast of the 7 Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition for many Italians

Dec. 25: People all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus


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