For baking equipment, refer to Baking Essentials II: Software
The Bare Necessities / Budget Baking:
One or two wooden spoons– soo important for mixing by hand when you don’t feel like cleaning a stand/hand mixer.
Spatula– a firm yet flexible spatula. As in, if you try to bend it slightly, it should give a little. Silicone is nice. I like to have a large spatula and also a small spatula. The large one I use for scraping the last bits of batter into the pan. Tim uses the small spatula to scrape melted ice cream from the sides of the bowl into his mouth. The small spatula is also great for getting out that last bit of mustard in your jar, or getting into the nooks and crannies of your food processor or mortar and pestle.
Whisks– I have two: one small and one large. I have read that whisking is the new sifting, but I think I would still use my mini strainer to de-clump cocoa powder. If you can only get one, get a large one.
Measuring cups and spoons – this is a given, no? For durability, get measuring tools that have their amounts engraved or etched into them. The Kitchenaid cups are actually printed but the labels are still going strong. After about 6-7 years of going strong, my1-cup measuring cup handle broke, but I still love the remaining cups. I like the cup measures very much because they are wider in diameter and shallower, which makes it easier to scoop things.
Stainless steel bowls– Glass bowls are pretty, but they are heavy! I always salvage as much batter as I can, and glass bowls would make it harder to hold up while scraping the sides. I use these from Ikea quite often- for soaking beans or sticky rice, making half batches of cookies, ice cream, everything!
A Step Above:
Sheet pans. This is all you need- forget cookie sheets! Roast a chicken or turkey by placing a cooling rack on top, then line them with Silpat or parchment paper for baking.
Mesh strainer– Something like these. I use this when it calls for sifting ingredients, instead of using a dedicated sifter. A mesh strainer is most useful if you often use ingredients that have lots of clumps, such as nut flours or and cocoa powder. For some other ingredients, a good whisking will do the job.
Specialty hardware – 9×9, and 9×13 baking pans for brownies and cakes, muffin/cupcake tins, bundt pan, tube pan for sponge/angel cakes, springform pan for cheesecakes and layered mousse cakes, a nice pie dish, tart pans, cake pans (I like Fat Daddio’s because they are thicker/heavier than the generic kind), etc etc.
Kitchen scale– I have an Escali scale, and it works really well! The battery life is very good; I got it in July 2010 and I have yet to change the battery. No need to dirty your measuring cups- just tare away and pour after each addition!
Hand and/or stand mixer– Good for when you need to whip cream or egg whites…Or, you could just get very, very strong forearms. If you can only get one, get the hand mixer. A stand mixer is not very effective for mixing small quantities together, but on the flipside, is great for making lots of dough/batter, and usually has the bread hook attachment that is great for making bread. I wish I had a stand mixer as well! Someday.. I finally caved and got a Breville Scraper Pro! I’m very happy with it, and it’s less expensive than a Kitchenaid mixer. Check it out!
Parchment paper– Macarons, cookies, food en papillote, lining cake and loaf pans, lining the plate with while you frost your cake, sticking under Chinese bao zi (steamed buns) or man tou (denser non-filled steamed buns) when you don’t have napa or other cabbage to line your bamboo steamers with.
Silpat– great for chocolate dipped fruit/pretzels/goodies, cooling chocolate curly Qs / designs that go on cupcakes/cakes, cookies, pavlovas, and…for basically anytime where you need a non-stick surface. I love my silpats. I usually am fine with whatever brand, but I’ve found silpat to be better than at least a generic silicone mat that my friend had. Give Silpats to any baker for a gift, and they will love you!!
Pastry cutter: I finally got both a food processor and a pastry cutter ! Woop woop. I use my pastry cutter to make pie dough and shortbread crusts, as well as mush up berries for muffins/pancakes.
Bench Scraper– great for sectioning off chunks of dough, and for getting pesky bits of dough off the countertop. Can also be used for light chopping on the go, because it is safer to transport than a knife. I have yet to use this for chopping and transporting veggies from the cutting board to the pan, but it can be done!
General notes: Don’t stick with non-stick in most cases. If you missed the pun, get not-non-stick when possible. One scratch, and the coating threatens to come off.