Home-baking in India not being all that common, until very recently most of us associated it with bakeries or commercially packaged bakes. Few of us have seen our mothers baking, thankfully blogs and the internet provide more than enough inputs for us in this area. Stores which sell a plethora of baking stuff online can confuse a new baker as to what's really essential and useful and what is nice to have but not essential. If you have just stepped into the amazing world of baking and specially if you live in India, this post may be of help. Most of the images below are the from the WWW.
Oven: First and the most important, a good oven. You could use a box-type oven toaster griller (OTG) or a convection microwave for home-baking. Microwaves come in basic models which can be used only for cooking and heating, models with a microwave and grill mode only (no convection) and models with grill, convection and microwave modes. The last one mentioned is the one you will need for baking.
I use a small Morphy Richards OTG and a LG convection (30 liters) microwave both, I find them very good quality wise. If you have the space, go in for an oven with at least 30 liters capacity. I plan to get myself a 45 liter OTG soon. If buying a microwave for baking needs, do check the setting of the temperature in the convection mode as some microwaves set with a difference of 20 degrees, example 160, 180, 200, 220 and so on.
Mine sets with a difference of 10 degrees as in 180, 190, 200 which I think is much better. I would prefer the setting to be digital rather than analog for more precision. I find the baking more or less the same in both the gadgets, but one distinct advantage of the microwave is the quick-pre-heat in under 5 minutes as compared to the 20 minutes in an OTG. Of course, you would also need to consider the after-sales services while choosing a brand.
Nice to have : A built in gas oven, have never used it though!!
Baking tins: To start with, good quality heavy duty aluminum pans - 8'' and 9'' square and 8'' and 9'' round tins should suffice. These can be used for baking brownies, cakes and cookies. Spring-form tins, i.e, tins, with removable bottom and sides which come with a metal clasp are useful for baking sponge cakes and other delicate cakes, setting cheesecakes, baking tortes etc. Bundt pans help in baking cakes in a decorative shape, but we do not get a great variety here.
Get muffin trays which fit in your oven. Muffin liners too. You can get these at IBCA, GA, Adams, Jamals apart from most departmental stores. Do measure the tins before you buy! If you buy dark colored ones, you will need to bake at a temperature 10 degrees C lower than what's given in the recipe. Nice to have : Mini bundt cake tray, mini muffin pan, mini tart pan, donut pan.
A tube pan is a pan with a removable bottom and a tube in the center) is a must for baking chiffon cakes and angel food cakes. Do not buy a non-stick tube pan as chiffon cakes are inverted and cooled and the cake needs to stick to the pan as it cools. But again, these are not available here, so import!
Loaf tins: A 9'' x 5'' X 3'' pan and a 8'' x 4'' X 2 1/2'' pan are useful for baking yeast breads and quick breads, tea loaves and pound cakes. Nice to have : Mini loaf pans, Pullman loaf pan, Dutch oven.
Pizza pans, cookie sheets and sheet pans: You could use your cake tins or the round tin which comes with your microwave for baking pizza. Ditto for baking cookies. You could also use cookie sheets provided you get them in the size suited to your oven. Nice, but not really necessary. Sheet pans for baking Swiss rolls.
And yes, you can use aluminum pans both in the OTG and in the convection mode of microwave for baking.
Cookie cutters : In my opinion, metal ones are better than plastic as they cut better, with the firm sharp edges.
Pie tins : A 10 '' pie tin (with a removable bottom) and a 12'' one if you can find it. You could also use mini pie pans.
Ramekins : These pretty decorative, bake and serve things come in a range of colors and sometimes with lids too. Go for 1/2 cup (120 ml) capacity ones and smaller ones too if you wish. Perfect for baking choco-lava cakes and baked custards.Check at Westside, Lifestyle, Adams and Arihanth Plaza near Commercial Street.
Baking parchment : This is useful to line your cake tins for a really easy and neat release of your bakes. This is not the same as wax paper or butter paper we get in most shops, please do not use it as the wax melts sometimes transferring it on to your cake, which is not desirable. You can get this at IBCA and GA.
Standard measuring cups and spoons : These set of cups and spoons are meant for baking. The volume of 1 cup is 240 ml. The cups come in 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measures. Spoons come in 1 tablespoon, 1/2 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon and 1/2 teaspoon measures. We do not get a set with 1/4 teaspoon measure, though I wish we could.
Weighing scales: Accurate measurements being very important for baking, this is a great tool to invest in. I prefer weighing ingredients to measuring them with cups or spoons - for greater accuracy and speed too. Again a digital one is really helpful and good, avoid analog scales. I use scales of a brand called Belita. Stores to check : GA, IBCA, Adams, Jamals. Some online stores in India too sell these, though I have not purchased.
Spatulas: Good silicon spatulas are very helpful for folding in flour into the batter, scraping every bit of batter from the mixing bowl. Be sure you do not buy rubber spatulas as it gives off that awful rubbery smell and somehow, not a very comfortable thought for me to use one for cooking and baking. Most of the stores here sell rubber spatulas. The silicon part works great when its not too stiff neither too soft and too flexible.
Whisk: A wire whisk (often called as an egg beater here) is very helpful for whisking liquids, eggs and sometimes for simple recipes which do not need a lot of beating of eggs etc. Even if you have a hand mixer, this is something you must have. Again we also get the spiral kind of egg beaters which I do not prefer to use. A very large balloon whisk (imagine a giant version of the above whisk) is supposed to be great for folding in flour in chiffon cakes and other foam cakes where its important to mix flour without losing volume of whipped eggs. Nope, we don't get this here either!
Hand Mixer : Not to be confused with an immersion blender, a good hand mixer makes whipping eggs, egg whites and cream a breeze. You can't achieve the same volume of eggs, whites or cream with a wire whisk or immersion blender. My Morphy Richards 300 watt hand mixer is indispensable to me. Some brands like Black & Decker come with a bowl and a stand for hands free operation. Its more expensive, but definitely worth checking out!
Stand alone mixer - This is the cool tool we see on Master Chef and Nigella Lawson's show. Even better whipping, more volume to eggs and yes, better bakes too! Also used for kneading bread dough. Expensive, heavy and space occupying (yeah, the classic case of sour grapes!) this is suitable for baking in large quantities, parties, entertaining or even the kids' birthday or class party. One gadget I hope to own one someday!
Cooling rack: A metal rack with meshy open spaces to deposit your hot cake or bread tin on, cool your cookies and other bakes. Air circulation from the underside helps in even cooling of all the layers of the bakes. Your grill rack can be your make-do cooling rack if you don't have one.
Instant read thermometer: My indispensable tool for baking breads. The temperature of the bread (irrespective of the color) is an indication of whether its fully baked. Make a loaf as rolls or vice -versa, and hey how about a chocolate bread?
Bench scraper : To scrape sticky bread, pizza or puff pastry dough from the kitchen counter. A giant version is supposed to be best for lifting rolled puff pastry dough and the kind.
Cake tester : You could use a toothpick of course to test the done-ness, but taller cakes (say a chiffon cake or 10 cup bundt) and your small tooth-pick may decide to get greedy and disappear into the cake! Use thin wooden skewers (meant for grilling purposes). Even better, a thin metal one, someone coming down from the US? I got these wooden ones from Adams, Shivajinagar, but do check out other stores too, ask for wooden grilling sticks.
Slotted skimmer : The kind of thing used for deep-frying, but a largish one. For folding in flour in a lot of whipped egg with minimum air loss. I loved the result when I baked this chiffon cake!
Serrated knife: Useful for slicing bread, cutting layers of cakes. Get a good quality, long one.
Cookie scoops : Similar to an ice-cream scoop, this helps scoop out cookie batter / muffin batter evenly for even sized cookies / muffins without getting your hands messy. Available in different sizes.
Pastry cutter / blender : Helpful to mix pie / cookie dough kinds where chilled butter needs to be cut into the flour.
Silpat : Something you can roll cookie dough on, cut on the same thing, put in the oven too! Very thin crackers , cut out cookies will be much easier. Again buy according to the size of your oven..
Cake Carrier : Refrigerate your decorated cake neatly or carry the finished cake to a party intact. Get ones with high domes and tight clasps.
Silicon Brushes : These are easy to wash and clean, dry easily and do not clump. No unappealing bristles on your bakes as in the regular brushes. Use them for egg washing your bakes, brushing cakes with simple syrup, brushing breads with melted butter.
Bread machine: Aaah! The wonder gadget which I just can't wait to get! Mixes, kneads and bakes your bread with no effort, home-made bread made so very easy! The ones available here are quite expensive I find, so I hope to get mine in sometime from the US. You can expect to hear me gloat about it no end ;)
Blow torch : The cool tool helpful for making creme brulee and other things.
For details and map to locate the stores mentioned above, check this post
For beginners : The above mentioned are a few tools and gadgets, some you will need when you get started and some later on as you bake.
To get started, the below will suffice.
Baking tins - 8 and 9'' round and square tins
Muffin trays and liners
Cookie cutters ( 2 sizes in round ones, one heart shaped)
Standard measuring cups and spoons (2 sets)
Liquid measuring cup
Silicon brush (2)
Silicon spatulas (2 at least)
Wire whisk ( get 2, great for cooking too)
A hand mixer
Digital Kitchen scales
Cookie scoops (2-3 sizes)
A good zester
Wooden skewers and toothpicks
A sieve - if you don't have one
A sturdy ruler with the inch and centimeters numbered
Mixing bowls - Any in your kitchen will work!
A visit to a baking supplies store or an online one makes me feel like a kid in a toy store! The variety of tools and gadgets is mind boggling. The little list above is enough for now. Build on this as you go, the others I have mentioned are just for you to know and dream about - you will be using them soon!
Did someone say I am being irregular with posts here? Did this read like I am over-doing the making up for delayed posts? Pardon me!!