Having the right equipment on hand can make pastry making a lot easier and thus more enjoyable. This chapter discusses the essential equipment used in making the majority of these recipes as well as great tips for things to look for when buying equipment.
When shopping for equipment, don’t just peruse kitchen gadget stores. Think outside the box and you could get a better (or equally good) product at a lower price. Try pharmaceutical or shipping sites for scales. Thermometers as well have many uses outside the kitchen. Hardware stores can be treasure troves for inexpensive utensils like caulking spatulas and paint scrapers (great for chocolate work) and a crème brûlée torch with gusto. Art stores are a great source for fine brushes and small offset spatulas. There are also recommendations for online sites in the Sources section of the book.
You need a digital scale! And you’re going to love it if you know what to look for when shopping for one. Scales come in many price ranges with or without all the bells and whistles. When choosing a scale consider the follow:
Weighing Units – You will need a scale that measures in metric. It is nice to have a scale that measures in both metric and imperial units. Most scales do and with the push of a button you can convert recipes from one unit to another with accuracy. If you buy 1.2 pounds of apples and want to use them in a metric recipe, simply place them on the scale and it will tell you how many grams you have. No math needed.
Capacity – Look for a scale with a capacity of 3 kilograms (3000g) or more. This will allow you to measure multiple ingredients in the same bowl. If you tend to use heavy vessels for ingredients you should consider a capacity of 6 kilograms, as a large glass bowl empty can weigh 1500g.
Readability – A scale’s readability tells you the increments of measurements. The smaller the increment difference the more precise the scale will be. A scale that measures in 1 gram increments will give you great results. I do not recommend scales with a 5 gram readability, as they are not accurate for measuring small quantities. If you need 8g of cinnamon a scale with a 5 gram readability can only say that its 5g or 10g and nothing in between.
Those are the necessities. Now let’s look at the bells and whistles…
Power Requirements – A scale with a battery is convenient for moving around the kitchen. Some scales come with an internal battery that can be recharged with an AC adapter.
Platform – I recommend buying a scale with a raised platform. Many kitchen scales are small and flat. While that is nice for storage, when you put a large bowl or sheet pan on the platform you can no longer see the readout. Make sure the size of the platform is big enough for your bowls. Platforms that are removable are easy to clean. And glass platforms? No thank you.
Auto Shutoff – Most scales will automatically shut off after varying periods of time to save battery life. This could be a positive feature if you are focused on what you are doing but if you are multitasking or just get sidetracked by the phone, it can be very annoying to come back to your half scaled recipe to see the scale taking a nap. If you want a scale that won’t turn off automatically look for ones that come with adaptors. Otherwise, at least look at the amount of time the scale will say on before shutting off. Anything less than five minutes is probably not what you want.
Readout – The weight should be displayed in numbers large enough for you to read them and a backlight display is a plus if you don’t have a well-lit kitchen.
Precision Pocket Scales – These are very small scales that measure in increments of 0.05 grams or less. They are convenient for measuring spices and powdered dyes with the utmost accuracy. While not a necessity, they can come in handy and don’t take up a lot of storage space.
To execute these recipes with precision you will need to take temperatures and a digital probe thermometer will give you the best results. Digital thermometers are precise and easy to read. Some even have alarms that will alert you when your desired temperature has been reached or is fast approaching. Avoid the folding or short stick probe thermometers. Instead purchase one with a cable extension to the probe. That way if you need to take the temperature of a boiling pan of sugar you won’t burn yourself trying to do so. Be sure your thermometer can measure boiling liquids as well as cold environments. A range of 0° -400°F (-18° - 205°C) will have you covered. For this reason (and many others) you do not want a glass candy thermometer. Recommended brand: ThermoWorks
An oven thermometer is an inexpensive tool that can save you future headaches. The center of most ovens does not match the temperature on the dial simply because the probe in the oven is not in the center! Once you take the temperature of the center of your oven you will know if the dial is off and which way and by how much to adjust it your baking temperatures.
Be sure your timer measures in seconds as well as minutes and that it is loud enough to hear with the mixer going. Some timers can keep track of multiple countdowns at once. I prefer using multiple timers that I can place right next to the item they are timing so there is never confusion of which item is done when the timer beeps. Recommended brands: CDN, ThermoWorks
Believe it or not, a microwave is incredibly practical tool in a pastry kitchen. Use it to melt and temper chocolate, soften or melt butter at a slow, easy temperature, and (gasp!) cook a pastry cream without stirring. C’est pas vrai?! Mais oui! I will share these methods in the technique section. For now, let’s talk about buying a microwave.
There are two important things to consider. First, a low temperature setting is necessary. Second, make sure the inside is large enough to fit a large mixing bowl. And yes, you can put a stainless steel bowl in the microwave. Just don’t let it touch the sides.
I lied in the introduction when I said the scale would be your new best friend. That was just to get you to buy a scale. Your new best friend, and longtime acquaintance, will be your freezer. There is not a pâtisserie in France without a large freezer. And as one renowned French pastry chef once said, “If someone says they don’t freeze their macarons, they’re lying.” Touché! Just because food is frozen does not make it of lesser quality. In fact, that is just what a freezers does – protect and preserve quality. If you make a batch of 40 macarons with a shelf life of two days, what are you going to do with them all? I’m sure you can eat 30, but if you stick the other 10 in the freezer you’ll have some for next week. You can also make a batch of individual mousse cakes and pull just a few out of the freezer to decorate for any given night. Dessert for two on the fly. Other benefits of the freezer:
Conserving Ingredients – The freezer is great for storing nuts and seeds that have a high fat content and could go rancid, or spices that can dull in flavor when sitting in a spice rack.
Convenience – If you are going to take the time to make pistachio paste make a double or triple batch and store it in the freezer to save time in the future. To serve an assortment of macarons at a party, versus just one or two flavors, you can make a batch or two a day over several weeks, store them in the freezer, and then defrost as many as you would like the day of the event.
Production – Any mousse type cake you make in a mold must be frozen. That is the only way you will be able to remove it from its mold, as it will be hard and easy to handle.
If you desire more freezer space than the top portion of your refrigerator, chest freezers are relatively inexpensive and fit nicely in a garage or basement.
It is assumed, but not necessarily true, that most readers of this book will have a stand mixer. If you don’t, it is recommended to purchase one. Some recipes require batters or meringues to be mixed or whipped for long periods at a time leaving you stuck babysitting your bowl if you are holding a hand mixer. A stand mixer should have a whisk attachment (for creams and meringues) and a paddle attachment (for general mixing of batters) and a bowl with a minimum capacity of 4 quarts (3.8 liters.) Having multiple mixing bowls is an added convenience.
A blender that’s easy to clean. Just immerse in the liquid and let it work. Immersion blenders are great for making ganache, pastry cream in the microwave and just incorporating ingredients, hot or cold, without having to transfer them to another vessel. They also blend without adding air to the finished product (important for shelf stability in ganache) assuming you keep them immersed. Look for immersion blenders with detachable bottoms that you can put it the dishwasher. Ones with adjustable speeds are also preferred. When using the immersion blender on small quantities, you will need a tall narrow container. Wide bowls will make the ingredients shallower and the blender will not fit under them.
Although an immersion blender can tackle many pastry tasks it cannot blend dry ingredients. A food processor is a necessary tool for making nut pastes and macarons with smooth tops.
Acetate is a firm type of plastic that is used to line the inside of pastry molds so you can remove the contents after freezing. It comes in precut strips and rolls of different heights. Make sure you buy the height that matches your molds. Acetate is also available in sheets. Sheets are mostly used for chocolate decorations and they lend a shine to the chocolate when removed.
Circles, squares, pyramids, domes…there is a mold available in just about every size and shape imaginable and they are constructed out of many different materials. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Make your own with a silicone mold kit. It is possible to mold your cell phone without much difficulty, although I wouldn’t recommend it if you still want to use it.
Silicone molds – So versatile! You can bake in them. You can freeze in them. Their flexibility allows you to easily remove products. You don’t need to line them with acetate. Plus they are easy to clean and don’t take up a lot of space to store. Great for baking and molding petit fours and individual desserts. There are some pretty amazing designer silicone molds on the market and a few are suggested in the recipes. If you get just one shape, I recommend the domes – easy to unmold and glaze. Avoid complex designs with sharp corners as they don’t always unmold perfectly.
Metal Cake Rings – Instead of cake pans French pastry uses cake rings. For making standard 6in or 8in (15in or 20cm) round éntremets you should have a few cake rings on hand. While you can bake in them, they are more often used for assembling components which will be covered with mousse that fills up the ring. After freezing, the ring slides right off and you have a perfectly molded mousse cake which can be glazed or decorated how you wish. When using cake rings place them on a flat pan lined with parchment or a silicone baking sheet and line the inside of the ring with a layer of acetate. If baking, leave off the acetate.
Acrylic and Polycarbonate Molds – These are hard plastic molds used to make individual sizes desserts in shapes such as circles, hearts, ovals and teardrops. Use them like the stainless steel cake rings for making mousse cakes. Don’t forget the acetate or they won’t come out of the mold.
Chocolate Molds – When buying chocolate molds avoid the cheap, flexible plastic molds and invest in a couple durable polycarbonate ones. The polycarbonate molds are easier to handle and they leave a better sheen on the finished chocolates. Also note, chocolate molds with intricate designs or sharp corners are prone to leaving air bubbles in your chocolates. For best results look for molds with simplicity and curvature.
Tart Molds and Rings – Tarts can be made in shallow molds with fluted sides or short stainless steel rings that have no bottoms. Either will work just fine. If you prefer the fluted molds for large tarts, choose ones with removable bottoms to minimize chances of breaking when removing the tart from the mold.
The following molds are readily available on the internet and are used often in the book.
· One 20cm (8in) metal cake ring; 5cm (2in) in height
· One 15cm (6in) metal cake ring; 5cm (2in) in height
· Twenty four 6.5cm (2.5in) cake rings or polycarbonate molds; 5cm (2in) in height
· Twelve 8cm (3.2in) individual tart rings
· Two 4cm (1.5in) silicone demi-sphere molds with 15 cavities per mold
· Three 7.5cm (3in) silicone demi-sphere molds with six cavities per mold
· Two 15cm (6in) silicone disk mold
· Two 6cm (2.4in) diameter silicone disk molds with eight cavities per mold
· Acetate; 5cm (2in) in height
Silicone Baking Mats
Just like the silicone molds, these can be used in the oven or in the freezer. They provide a great nonstick surface that won’t blow around in the oven or wrinkle up when in contact with wet ingredients like parchment paper will. Plus, they are reusable. These mats come in a variety of sizes to fit both American and European baking sheets so be sure to get the size that matches your pan. Never cut anything while it’s on a silicone mat.
If you do not have a spare silicone mat parchment paper can be substituted in most recipes. It is more convenient to purchase precut half sheets that fit your sheet pans than to buy it by the roll. Parchment is also great for making small piping cones out of and for sifting ingredients onto.
Piping Bags & Tips
Have at least one small, medium and large size piping bag on hand. Polyurethane bags are the most durable. Avoid canvas bags that sometimes leak through the sides with fatty products such as butter cream.
When buying pastry tips it is recommended to buy a collection containing various sizes of one form versus a couple single tips. A collection of round tips and open star (prongs are pointed straight and not curved toward the center) tips will have you covered.
Temperature plays such an important role in French pastry, especially when combining ingredients. In many cases the closer they are in temperature the better they will combine. Having a simple propane torch from the local hardware store will come in handy if you need to soften butter or create an emulsion when your ingredients are too cold. By holding the lit torch under the mixing bowl you can gently warm your mixture while beating at the same time. Also good for caramelizing sugar on a crème brûlée. No need to bother with the low power, over-priced tiny torches sold in cooking stores.
A small electric paint sprayer can be used to spray a dessert with chocolate and give it a velvet look. There are sprayers made especially for chocolate but they tend to be more expensive. A simple model from the hardware store should suffice.
Half Sheet Pans – The recipes in this book use the American sized half sheet pan which is 46cm x 33cm (18in x 13in,) made of aluminum and has short sides. It is important that this exact size pan be used, which is widely available. Do not use cookie sheets, other sized pans or pans without sides when a recipe cans for a “half sheet pan.” Also make sure your sheet pans are flat, without any bulges in the center. If they are not, get yourself a couple new ones.
Other Small Utensils
Flat Wire Mesh Rack – For cooling and glazing.
Round Pastry Cutters – For cutting doughs and cakes. Get a complete set, not just one or two, which ranges from about 2.5 to 15cm (1in to 6in.) Known as emporte-pièce in French.
Offset Spatulas – These are used for spreading batters and lifting and moving desserts and their components. I recommend one large offset spatula of about 20cm (8in) in length and another smaller one, about 10cm (4in) in length.
Wooden Spoon - Perfect for stirring caramels as they won’t melt and you can use them to break up unmelted chunks of sugar if necessary.
Rubber Spatulas – For scraping bowls clean so there is no waste and you get everything into the recipe that is supposed to be there. A heat safe rubber spatula is ideal for making crème anglaise so you can scrape the bottom and corners of the pan while stirring.
Plastic Bowl Scraper – Also great for scraping bowls clean but more importantly, for folding batters together such as mousses and macarons. Because there is no handle you get a better feel for the batter and know when to stop or keep folding.
Pots and Pans – Make sure to have a wide variety of sizes, from a very small saucepan to cook sugar for an Italian meringue to a deep pot you can make liquid caramel in without it foaming up and over the sides.
Mixing Bowls – Make sure to have a wide variety of sizes, from a small deep bowl to use with an immersion blender to a large wide bowl for folding mousses and macarons. Metal bowls are preferred as they are lightweight, easy to clean and are microwave safe if you don’t let them touch the sides. Avoid plastic bowls as, grease likes to cling to them, and glass bowls that are heavy and can chip.
Pastry Brush – Pastry brush or paint brush, both will work but avoid brushes with bristles of silicone or nylon which don’t pick up and brush the medium as well. Also watch out for cheap brushes that tend to lose their bristles easily. A brush with natural boar bristles is recommended.
Copper Pan – If you can afford one, great for making small quantities of dry caramel because its conductivity, but not a necessity.
Bench Scraper – A metal scraper used to cut dough instead of kneading it and for working with chocolate.
Strainer / Sifter - A simple handled mesh strainer or tami can be used twofold – to strain and to sift. You can also use the mesh to rub the skins off of toasted nuts. Look for strainers with a fine mesh so that small particles like citrus zest can’t pass through them. Hand held crank flour sifters are impractical.
Rolling Pin – No need for handles. A simple wooden dowel with a 3.8cm (1.5in) diameter will get the job done.
Double Handled Cheese Knife – Great for trimming cake sides evenly with one cut. Look for one with a 35cm (14in) blade or longer.