To someone who is unfamiliar with cookery, the sheer amount of information can make ones head swim! There’s always room for tweaking to personal preference, but when I started expanding my knowledge I was utterly befuddled by all the tools and gadgets and the myriad of spices the world has to offer.
There’s a lot of stuff out there; a lot of really cool things and a lot of things you really don’t need. So, for basic cookery I’ve put together lists, divided by sections, on the handy items to have around. If you decide to delve further into specific foods obviously you can expand your kitchen, but for now this’ll do ya just fine.
Since baking’s my big thing, as in, it’s what makes me happy and baked goods are what I make most often, we’ll start here with this post.
If you wish to make cupcakes, cakes, or cookies then these items you will absolutely have to have; Muffin/Cupcake Tin, Cake Pans, Baking Tray, and Cooling Rack. None of these items have to be brand new, but can be purchased second hand (yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores) or inherited; they simply need to be in good condition. The cooling rack’s condition only needs to be “intact”. You can cool things on heat resistant oven mitts or pot holders, but the rack is better because it’s elevated and open.
None of them have to be perfectly sparkly and shiny. If the muffin/cupcake pan looks like mine from this post, then you’re fine, it’s splotchy, but even for muffins, it’s not a big deal. For the cake pans and baking sheet though you’ll want a pretty even colour or I’d skip it and just purchase new. For personal reference we still have the cake pans my mom purchased when she got married. We, however, have been through a lot of cookie sheets (which is what we call baking trays), but it’s less to do with baking than with my dad getting ahold of them for cutting watermelon, overly baking fish in the oven, among other things.
* Baking Tray – 1 (Large)
* Cake Pans – 2 (9″ – for circular layer cakes)
* Muffin Pan – 1 (12 count)
* Cooling Rack – They make different sizes and you should make sure that both of your cake pans will fit on it whether it’s one large one or two separate racks.
These items, while most certainly being used for baking purposes, will also extended to other ways of cooking. Now the first photo (just nix the little bowls), are very much items you will need for various baking jobs (as well as general cooking). You may choose metal or glass, I just prefer glass for these various shaped baking pans.
The square one can make a small, single layer cake or brownies, the oblong (or loaf pan) you’ll bake breads in; savoury breads as well as sweet breads like banana nut or cranberry orange, & the rectangular one can also be used for larger, single layer sheet cakes, cobblers, or a large amount of brownies. Unless it’s cracked or chipped, these can be purchased second hand as well.
The skillet is pretty versatile in all area’s of cooking. I’ve chosen the deep skillet because anything can be made in this, where a more shallow skillet has its limitations. You might not ever use it for baking purposes (caramelizing, cornbread, melting), but if you’re going to have a skillet, this is the work horse right here. This is still in good condition second hand if the handle is tight (or can easily be tightened back up), and generally looks nice and clean, though it might look old.
A saucepan doesn’t seem like it should belong in baking but it will come in quite handy, and like the deep skillet can be used for other types of cookery. The saucepan can melt butter, warm milk, melt other solids, and can be used as a double boiler if you don’t want to spring for a real one. You just add a bit of water in the saucepan and place a metal, heat resistant bowl onto it. One that fits into the top but isn’t too small that it falls in. With a double boiler you can melt chocolates and make candies and other confectionaries. The same requirements for the skillet, second hand, apply to a sauce pan. Try to find one with a lid, or have a lid from some other cookery item that will fit it; they don’t need to match.
Lastly, you’ll be doing a lot of mixing, so you’ll need bowls. I prefer metal, plus if you have metal you have an instant double boiler, but you can choose anything; just make sure they aren’t too flimsy and that they are nesting, meaning they fit into each other, to save cupboard space. You’ll definitely need at least one large, one medium, and one small, though having a few more never hurt. Again, second hand is fine, just make sure there are no cracks or holes.
* Square Baking Pan – 1
* Rectangular Baking Pan – 1
* Loaf Pan – 1
* Sauce Pan – 1 (1.5 qt – 3 qt)
* Deep Skillet – 1 (medium – large)
Measurements are really important and these will extend to any other area of cookery. You’ll need a set of dry measuring cups, a liquid measure cup, and a set of measuring spoons. I also just prefer metal and glass because that’s what I grew up with. You just want to make sure they’re sturdy and in good condition if purchased second hand; also you’ll want to make sure that no measurements are missing (you’d be surprised how often you’ll need the 1/8 teaspoon).
If you plan on making fresh bread (no matter how you make it), you’ll need a bread knife. It just needs to be sturdy and have a serrated edge, and if buying second hand just make sure the handle is in proper order. Too flimsy of a blade and it’ll just bend and end up cutting you instead of the bread.
You’ll also need something to sift flours with. You can go traditional or super old school. The traditional is the standard flour sifter, either what is pictured above or with a manual crank handle in the middle. Or you can kick it old school, like 18th century old school and just purchase a large wire mesh. The wire mesh with sift your flours, meals, powder or soda as well as dust baked goods with confectioners sugar. The flour sifter isn’t so good for that last bit. Second hand is good for these, just make sure there are no holes in the mesh of either item, and if there’s rust on the meshes or the interior I’d leave it.
* Measuring Cups (1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 3/4, & 1 Cup) – 1 set
* Measuring Spoons (Teaspoons: 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 tsp | Tablespoons: 1/2, 1 Tbs) – 1 set
* Liquid Measure – 1 (4 Cup)
* Bread Knife – 1 (sturdy with serrated edge)
* Flour Sifter OR Wire Mesh strainer/sifter – 1 (large for wire mesh)
Rainbows! I gave y’all some colour finally.
Muffins don’t need baking cups, but if you plan on making cupcakes you’ll need these. I’ve tried the silicon baking cups and didn’t like them as they didn’t turn the cupcakes out easily. They are a bit pricey from the get-go, but if you like them they’ll save you money in the long run. Otherwise just have some cupcake papers in stock.
You don’t have to purchase a large amount or anything pretty (though you can find pretty ones inexpensively), the white one’s with aluminum outer shells work really well and are quite cheap. You also don’t need multiple types of papers or cups if you’re looking to make fancy things like flower shapes or hearts or clovers. Bits of wadded up tin foil placed between the cup and the pan will give you desired cake shapes. If you find these at a yard sale or estate sale go head and buy them, unless the papers are flattened.
It kind of goes without saying, but if you’ll be making any cupcakes or cakes and want to frost them, then you’ll need something to frost them with. It doesn’t have to be professional, but a metal spatula similar to the one shown is fine. I have a small one about that size with a flat side and serrated side (I don’t know why, but we have it). I find this works easier than the super long official cake frosting spatula. Second hand is perfectly OK, just make sure the handle is in proper order.
You’ll need a spatula/turner to get those cookies off the trays. I have a second hand one that looks similar to the one pictured and it’s my favourite. It can be silicon or plastic, but make sure it’s not too flimsy. My dad went out and purchased some cheap 98 cent spatulas that aren’t even worth the 98 cents. I feel like they’ll just flop over if I look at them wrong. I can’t flip and egg with them nor transfer cookies. Spend the extra two dollars for something sturdier and it’ll last longer and actually work when you try to use it. Second hand is perfectly OK, just make sure it’s not stained or in bad shape with silicon or plastic and if it’s metal then make sure the handle is in proper order.
Rubber/silicon tipped spatulas are really important in baking. Besides using them to “gently fold in” or to “scrape down the sides of the bowl” with an electric mixer, you’ll need it to scrape any mix out of any bowl into whatever you’ll be baking said mix in. The one’s pictured are sturdier in the center with some give around the edges. That’s fine. I wish we still had some like this. We have completely sturdy ones now with are great too. Skip out on the super flimsy, whimpy spatulas or the small, thick ones with odd shapes. Again, nothing wrong with second hand, but I’d forgo the item if it’s stained, if it’s brittle, or if the rubber/silicon has large cracks or gashes in it.
I did say that whisks aren’t important for whipping up eggs and it’s true, however whisks are important for other functions, like certain baking recipes call for whisking the ingredients (and when a recipe says to do that, you should do that) and it’s needed for whipping cream by hand (if you go that route) and several other baking functions, as well as for basis in soups and general cooking. Forgo second hand if there is rust or if the rubber/silicon is coming away or missing in places.
Spoons. You don’t have to purchase wood, though I find they’re really nice, but you’ll need spoons to be able to stir things whether it’s cake mix, melting chocolate, muffin mix or other needs like a soup. Second hand spoons are great. I have an avocado green melamine one that I love. We also inherited quite a few wooden spoons, just pass up wood if it’s splintered or chipped.
* Cupcake Papers – at least a 30 pack
* OR Silicon Baking Cups – at least a 12 count (normal circle)
* Cake Frosting Spatula – 1
* Spatula/Turner – 1
* Rubber/Silicon tipped Spatula – 1
* Whisk – 2 (1 small-medium and 1 medium-large)
* Spoons – 2
There are certain staple ingredients that you should keep stocked if you do a lot of baking.
Always keep All Purpose Flour on hand as this is what’s called for in most ingredients of general baking recipes. If you plan to bake a lot of cakes from scratch, you’ll need cake flour and if you plan to bake a lot of bread, then you’ll need bread flour. Some recipes call for Self-Rising, but if you’re just starting out you probably won’t be keeping these types of flours stocked.
If you’re southern or Latin American you’ll keep cornmeal well stocked. You, personally, might wish to skip out on saving room on the counter for this one.
Granulated Sugar is certainly the top sugar to be keeping on hand. I like to delve into other sweeteners like Agave, Honey, Molasses, Maple Syrup, Cane Sugar, etc., but my blog won’t heavily focus on these, so I won’t tell you to keep them in stock. If you just want normal baking, you won’t need large quantities of these (extra “sugar”) items (or perhaps you won’t need them at all). But granulated sugar you’ll need at least a normal size bag of it.
Confectioners Sugar. You’ll need this for making whipped cream or frostings or icings from scratch. It also goes into certain recipes or tops finished products. You do not need to purchase it if you don’t wish to. If you have a blender you can make it. You just pulse granulated sugar into a powder. Not a lot of American recipes call for Super Fine/Fine Sugar, but a lot of European recipes do. This is just sugar in between Granulated and Powdered. You can make this in the blender as well, just don’t pulse into a powder. You might not even be able to find it for sale in your area (I know I can’t) and you might not want to buy it online.
Brown Sugar is good to keep on hand, but it’s not as prevalent as the other two types of sugars in varied recipes. There are in fact two kinds; Light Brown Sugar and Dark Brown Sugar. You can simply buy light and use it for any recipe that calls for any shade of brown sugar, if you don’t want to be picky about your brown sugar like me. I love to make chocolate chip cookies so I always have a lot of this on hand, you may wish to buy a smaller quantity. If you live in a moist/humid climate (as I do), you’ll run into brown sugar becoming rock hard. Just stick some white bread in there and it will draw the moisture out of the sugar leaving the sugar soft again, and the piece of bread rock hard. Once the bread is hard, you’ll have to replace it with another piece.
Salt perhaps seems like the last thing you want in a baked good, unless you were making salted caramel something or another, but salt goes into loads of baked goods, including regular, non fancy chocolate chip cookies. Plus, you’ll need this for any other type of cookery you wish to do, not just for baking.
Baking Soda is found in a lot of baked goods. Also called Sodium bicarbonate, it acts as a leavening agent in baked goods, which means that it expands the batter by reacting with the acidic components and releasing carbon dioxide, and thus gives you lovely texture like that of cake interiors.
Baking Powder is also found in a lot of baked goods. If you don’t need both Baking Soda and Baking Powder, then 9 times out of 10, you’ll need one or the other in most recipes. Baking Powder is similar to Soda in that they are both leavening agents, but where Soda just gives you lovely texture, Powder makes things light and airy. Soda reacts to an acid in your batter, while Powder has an acid in it already, and is a mixture of a carbonate and bicarbonate. Both produce carbon dioxide in their batters.
Your spice cabinet might need more things that this, but these are items that you’ll use over and over again. Perhaps you live in America and bake pumpkin pies or other autumny baked goods then you’ll need ground ginger and allspice or also pumpkin pie spice. So again, you can tweak the spices, but these are pretty well rounded and will go into quite a few things (unlike Pumpkin Pie Spice or Ground Ginger).
Vegetable Oil is used in a lot of baking recipes either from scratch or from a box. Brownies made from scratch need oil, just like their box counterparts do. You don’t need a gallon of oil, but you’ll probably need some small to medium container of oil; Vegetable is just the most preferable, but I think Canola can be used well in baked goods. Other oils can give flavours that might not mix well with baked goods like olive. So you might not want olive for a cake, but olive is just fine for a bread that calls for oil, especially if it’ll have rosemary or other fresh herbs in it.
Vanilla is one of the top things you’ll need on hand as it goes into a number of recipes. I for one prefer plain whipped cream (just heavy whipping cream and confectioners sugar), however a lot of people prefer to add a bit of vanilla to it. If you decide to make marshmallows by hand, you’ll need vanilla. Vanilla goes into all sorts of cakes, brownies, and cookies, especially chocolate chip. Can you tell I’m a fan of chocolate chip?
I will always recommend real vanilla extract over imitation. I have used both and if you’re strapped for cash and really, really want to bake, then I’ll always choose imitation over you not baking. And if you can make your own vanilla I suggest doing that. Besides being easy and fun, you’ll have so much vanilla and you can keep topping it off.
Vanilla beans are quite dear, but I was able to find some on super sale at T J Maxx once. $5 for 3 vanilla beans and a bottle with a close pop lid, which was a kit for making your own extract. It took me awhile but before Christmas this past year I purchased a cheap bottle of vodka and on Christmas day, I made and put up my very own extract. It’s in our dark pantry and has a month or two until it’s finished curing. So, it takes awhile, but at $5 for quite a big bottle (that I can always top off with the remaining unused vodka), I’ll have bottles and bottles and bottles worth of real extract that would cost me at least $40 from the grocery store.
You’ll want Nutmeg and Cloves for spice cookies or sweet breads. I find these to be delicious recipes so always need these on hand (though small containers are fine). If you purchase whole cloves, they can be used in general cookery as well as to simmer on the stove with other things like orange peels, and cinnamon to make your home smell nice, which I do like to do.
Cinnamon is pretty high up there on the baking list as quite a few recipes call for this whether it’s a cookie or cake, streusels, pie fillings, cinnamon rolls/buns, and even something as simple as cinnamon toast or French toast.
Unsweetened Cocoa is absolutely a necessity in my book. You can choose regular or dark, just make sure it’s unsweetened 100% cacao. You can make hot cocoas from scratch and oh there are so many different kinds including Mexican hot chocolate with chili powder which is superb! Also brownies and chocolate glazes, cremes, cakes and cupcakes, frostings, and whipped cream. On a side note, it’s excellent to add a bit to your chili. If you can swing it, keep one box of regular and one of the dark and use them both in a recipe like dark for the cupcake and regular for the chocolate butter cream frosting. It’s nice to pair the opposites instead of having both dark or both regular for the same creation.
These things are not necessary to bake delicious goods, but if you would like to expand or steps things up a notch, these might be good investments for you.
Frosting tips and bags are essential if you wish to pipe out your frosting in different designs or lettering onto cakes and cupcakes (initial picture in this blog), or to even create entire flowers for embellishment. I don’t pipe a lot, but I do on occasion, but I also inherited my set from my grandmother. It also takes a bit of practice, so if you want to do this, don’t give up on the first go if it’s all wonky. Also, if you want to pipe out whipped cream or even make duchess potatoes (though that one’s not baking), a piping bag and tips are good for this.
Cookie Scoop‘s are definitely not a need to have item, but having one has really step up my cookie game a lot. I use it every time that I make cookies (unless the recipe calls for rolling into a log, refrigerating, to cut into perfect circles; or when I’ll be using cookie cutters). They’re actually kind of expensive, but my grandmother had one that I’m not even sure she ever used and I inherited it.
Parchment Paper is not always called for in a recipe, but I always have a roll on hand so that if I need it, it’s there. A Silicon Baking Mat would take the place of Parchment Paper in a recipe (if it’s just needed to line a baking tray); however a Baking Mat can be used all the time to line your tray and bake your cookies on, to dehydrate strawberries for use in homemade ice cream, and I’m sure other baking tray things. Your Baking mat will last and last and last, though it will need to be replaced eventually. Parchment Paper isn’t cheap, but it’s easier to scrape together $3 or $4 for it than $20 for a Baking Mat, which is why I don’t have one… yet!
A thermometer isn’t really needed for baking unless you plan on melting chocolate, making candies (or other confectionaries) or making homemade cheese; or if you wish to deep fry things like donuts, funnel cakes, or beignets. But, it’s nice to have in a kitchen because you might pursue one of these baking activities and it can always be used to test the doneness of meats or to test if your oil is hot enough for frying. Besides being used in various ways in the kitchen, you can purchase a non-digital one pretty inexpensively; they also don’t need batteries and can easily be reset if their readings become askew. If you plan to also use it for testing fry oil, I’d suggest getting one that has a long stem as opposed to a short one.
A cast iron skillet is my go-to skillet for lots of things, general cookery wise. But, being a southerner, I always use one for making cornbread. But, I make grilled cheese sandwiches in them, toast hamburger buns or other breads, make gravies and rouxs, cook hamburger meat or sausage, etc. I get a lot of use out of it. They’re really heavy and they heat up quickly and retain heat longer than stainless or aluminum or other metals, but I still love it. However, it might not be for you or your kitchen. They are also a bit expensive. We replaced one that broke recently (don’t end up slamming it onto a concrete road… don’t ask…), and I’m not as fond of it, because it’s rather gritty. They do still sell smoother ones like what I’ve pictured, or if someone was willing to let it go (very unlikely here in the south), then you can find older one’s at yard and estate sales.
If you’re not big into baking, then you do not need to have one of these. I mean you can if you want to, I just mean that you can get by with out either. If you do a lot of baking, I’d suggest investing in one of these.
A Hand Mixer (Turquoise) will run you less money and I think is better suited to quick mixings, under 5 minutes, unless you want to stand there and hold the mixer for longer than that. This would be easily suitable for whipping up some cake batter or cookie dough. Perhaps whipped cream or homemade butter (but those are five minutes, and longer). It is versatile though, as there have been a few occasions where I needed to mix things in different bowls, but my stand mixer only has the one. So you can mix in this bowl and move to another bowl easily.
A Stand Mixer is much more of a work horse. This is what we’ve always had; either my mom or my grandmother, and now me. Theirs had a few glass bowls to interchange where mine only has the one metal bowl, so I do like that about theirs. However, my bowl is more conducive for making whipped cream or butter, because the bowl must be chilled and metal chills better than glass.
I also can just turn it on and let it do it’s thing and not have to stand there and hold it for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 7, 10, 12, 15 minutes, etc.; as it all depends on what I’m whipping up. I have used it to make homemade whipped cream and butter, like I mentioned. Also all of my cookie doughs and cake/cupcake batters, which actually has stepped my cookies and cakes up because it froths them better than I ever could by hand. I’ve used it to whip up homemade frostings and make meringues (which meringue, as well as whipped cream are difficult to do by hand). I’ve even used it to start my bread dough and kneed it (which takes time).
Honestly the amount of time I spend using it, I’m surprised it’s still running, because I use the hell out of it. Now, a Kitchen Aid, Cuisinart, or Sencor will run you some serious dough (Oh, I’m so punny!), but there are other options out there and you don’t have to purchase high end. I’d just make sure with a stand mixer that you get a flat beater attachment (which looks like a leaf). The stand mixer with either come with a whisk or double beaters, so no need to worry about that. The flat beater is actually what I use for bread doughs and not a dough hook, but that’s also because mine didn’t come with that attachment.
I did go ahead and price a few for y’all at various retailers. I chose the low – medium price range, so this list does not include the most expensive items in these categories (a pricey stand mixer starts between $250 – $300).
* Target: $15 – $30
* Walmart: $15 – $30
* Bed, Bath, & Beyond: $18 – $60
* Amazon: $11 – $40
* Target: $35 – $100
* Walmart $24 – $70
* Bed, Bath, & Beyond: $40
* Amazon: $24 – $70
Overall just remember, that you’re baking for the joy of it, and not to have a kitchen full of useless items that you’ll never use. This is just a basic list and you may not need everything that is on it; either because you already have it, or simply do not want it. That’s OK. You think about it and decide if this or that item would be worth it to you.
Start out small if you’d like; like just baking cookies, or just focusing on cakes, or just choose brownies, if that’s better for you. I just happen to have a lot of things because my parents don’t let go of things and still acquire new things, or we inherited items because my grandmother just bought high end fancy tools because people told her to, which was good for me in the end, but not really for her, as she didn’t use them. I have cheesecake pans, a double boiler, that cookie scoop and numerous other things because of her, which are things I wouldn’t have necessarily gone out and purchased.
But, I’ve had time over these years to whip up various types of baked goods and have realized what’s specialty and what’s every day. To do all the bakings will cost one a lot of money, and you’ll need a lot of money to invest in special items for specialty things like confectionaries and candies and serious cake decorating, or even bread baking on a frequent scale. So, those are all extras and are not needed for general baking really.
Also, the spices and ingredients which I have listed will not really go bad. I’ve used 20 year old baking cocoa and it’s perfectly safe and fine. And some of the spices we have are from when my parents first got married and people gave them a spice set, or they purchased something they used one time. If they’re kept air tight, 90 – 95% of spices are good for a very, very long time. That cooking oil will keep, cinnamon never goes bad, and if your Baking Powder gets lumpy, just push it through a mesh sieve.
Baking Soda can get old & lose its potency if not stored in an air tight container, and even then does not have the shelf life of baking cocoa. We do buy a large size and divide it because I’ll use it for cleaning and my tooth powder as well as for baking; but if you do not do this, a small container will be fine.
For general baking I wouldn’t buy the other ingredients in bulk numbers, as flours and meals can get bugs in them over time, and sugar can attract ants. I generally make sure that I have two normal size bags of everything. One to fill the containers on the counter (which do close), and one to keep as a reserve. Because I live in the south where ants and bugs are more prevalent, I will either keep the reserve in the freezer or in a ziplock bag in the pantry.
So, I hope you enjoyed this very informative (possibly boring) blog post run-down of basic baking needs to stock in your kitchen. I have three more to go; General Cooking, Frying, and Soups, but those are much smaller. So, be sure to check back for those in the coming week.