Five Essential Baking Tools: Prep

What do I need to get started in baking? If you are a novice baker you may have asked that question. The market is overflowing with tools, gadgets, and clever accessories for baking. Some of these are helpful, and others are worse than useless, but in the end all you really need are a few simple things to start baking.

Here is exactly what you need to bake a cake, cookies, or a loaf of quick bread from scratch. This is the prep list; we'll cover pans and other accessories throughout the week.

First up, measuring spoons...

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1. Measuring spoons - Measuring spoons are for the small quantities: cinnamon, baking powder, salt. We prefer stainless steel spoons. They hold up longer. Look for spoons with clear markings; you don't want to spend a minute or two puzzling over whether this is a teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon.

These RSVP Spice Measuring Spoons ($10.95, Amazon) have the advantage of narrow bowls so they can easily fit into small spice bottles.

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2. Dry ingredient measuring cups - Dry ingredients should be measured using standard-sized cups. They usually come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 and 1 cup sizes. Look for measuring cups that have long handles and wide, shallow bodies that can be easily dipped into deep flour and sugar sacks and canisters.

These All-Clad measuring cups are expensive ($49.95, Cooks.com) but are sure to be heavy-duty and long-lasting. Also check out this Miu Stainless Steel Set ($25.99, Amazon).

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3. Liquid measuring cup - Liquid measuring cups are calibrated for liquids as opposed to dry ingredients, and for accurate measuring it's important to use a separate cup for liquids.

This Pyrex 1-Quart Glass Measuring Cup ($4.99, Amazon) is a kitchen classic. Glass is better than plastic, we feel, since it stays clearer and doesn't scratch. This 1-quart size is also just right.

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4. Three bowls - You need two or three mixing bowls: One very large one for big batches of cookies and general mixing, and a slightly smaller one for mixing dry ingredients when a recipe calls for mixing dry and wet separately. A smaller bowl is also handy for beating eggs, although a soup bowl will also do.

We like deep metal bowls and we really wish we had this set with lids: Revere 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set with Covers ($13.99, Amazon).

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5. Spoon and fork - You need something to mix doughs and batters, and to beat eggs. While a whisk is ideal, a fork works just fine for beating eggs and thin batters. For spoons, a variety of long-handled (for leverage) wooden spoons are terrific. We find some of the bigger silicone-handled mixing spoons too unwieldy. Soup spoons are a little small for mixing dough, but they can also do in a pinch.

This Wooden Spoon Set is $2.32 at Amazon.

What are your baking prep essentials?