I often get asked what tools I use to make and decorate my cakes, so here's a shoppable list.
Note: none of this is sponsored - everything listed here I purchased on my own. I'm very particular about what I use and will only recommend something if I Iike it, so everything you see here is tested by me. You can probably tell because everything will have scratches from constant use.
(There will be Amazon links, from which I earn a small commission but at no extra cost to you. If you don't use Amazon, no feelings hurt, Google the name next to the Amazon link to buy from the retailer of your choice.)
We'll first start with 8 items that I think are essential for the beginning or casual cake baker.
If there's one thing I can suggest to you for the biggest impact on your baking, it's to use a scale. Measuring volumetrically (cups, etc.) has a huge margin of error, and baking is all about precision.
120 grams of flour is 120 grams, no matter where you live, if you use a spoon to put it on the scale or dump it from a bag or consistency when you pour it. It is the best way for me to communicate my recipes to you as this is the way that I bake myself. I always use metric (grams, even for liquids) because it is the most logical unit of mass, and I have no idea why Americans continue to confuse the world with our cups and ounces and pints ...
Anyways. I have used my OXO digital scale for at least 10 years now. I even use it to measure out my coffee beans every morning. (My husband thinks I'm crazy to do this but my coffee tastes better than his.)
I like that is has backlit display that pulls out, weighs in grams and ounces, is easy to clean, and accepts up to 11 pounds.
I use two brands of pans: Nordic Ware and Fat Daddio. Both offer high-quality aluminum baking pans at a reasonable price for the home baker. I have many sizes, but if you're starting out, I suggest two 6" or two 8" pans. Having two is good because you can bake two layers at once.
Now you may see two heights: 2 inches or 3 inches. I buy the 2 inch tall pans because I prefer to bake only one layer of cake at a time vs. baking a super tall cake in a taller pan. Those who bake in taller pans slice the cakes (or "torte" them) into individual layers. I don't like to bake super tall layers in 3 inch pans because I find they have to bake longer, which tends to make the crust darker and the perimeter of the baked cakes tougher than the centers. That's just my experience with my recipes, though.
Sheet pans are flat-bottomed rectangular pans with an edge usually around 1" in height. For cakes, I use exclusively Nordic Ware sheet pans. I use these pans for making sheet cakes, which I can then use for my letter cakes or mini cakes. There are also an all-purpose type of pan you can use for cookies, breads, and any other baked item that goes into the oven.
The naming convention is a little strange if you're not used to it - but everything is relative to a full sheet pan, which is a colossal bakery-sized pan. (These full sheet pans do not typically fit in home ovens, which is why I don't own one.)
For reference here are the sizes of sheet pans:
Full-Size = 18” x 26”
Half Size = 13” x 18”
Quarter Size = 9 1/2” x 13”
Eighth Size = 6 1/2" x 9 1/2”
You can see in the picture below I've nested the pans so it makes sense. The biggest pan is a half sheet pan, which will fit 2 quarters. And the half should fit 4 of the eighth sheet pans. Baking pan Tetris!
I used a cheap no-name hand mixer for years before I upgraded to my current hand mixer. For most purposes, you can get by without an expensive hand mixer and still make the most beautiful desserts.
If you're interested in the hand mixer I use in my videos, it's the Breville Handy Mix, which was the top pick from Wirecutter (a review site). I'm going to preface this by telling you it's expensive ($150). If you're looking for a less expensive option, you can try the Cusinart Power Advantage, which was second place by Wirecutter and is half the price.
I own a couple other Breville items and really appreciate the engineering that goes into their products. You'll see that the attachments (of which there are three sets: paddle, whisk, and dough) are stored in a clear container that snaps onto the actual mixer when not in use.
As for the mixer's performance, it's got 10 settings, so a wide range that mixes everything from delicate meringues to dense chocolate chip cookie doughs with no problem. Extra nerd features that I love include a light underneath the mixer so you can see inside your bowl, a digital timer to tell you how long you've been mixing, and that handy plug thing they put on all Breville appliances so the cord snaps into place. I can't imagine anything more from a hand mixer.
If you decorate cakes, revolving cake stands are super helpful for getting smooth sides. Smoothing cakes without one is incredibly difficult.
The one I use is from Ateco, and I also love the little grippy mat you put on so the cake board doesn't slide around.
The first cake stand I ever used was a plastic one from Wilton. It served me well, but as you advance in your cake decorating skills, it's a good idea to invest in a turner with metal ball bearings because the turning is seamless. This incredibly smooth turning results in the smoothest sides on your cake.
Scrapers are essential for cake side smoothing. You can sometimes get by using a flat spatula. Still, you'll find that using a cake scraper will be more efficient and more comfortable. They're also cheap, so you could spend the extra few bucks to make your life a little easier.
These scrapers typically come in three types: plastic, acrylic, and metal. I have all three, and here's my opinion.
Plastic: cheap, lightweight, nicks easily.
Acrylic: nicks easily, mid-weight, clear so you can see through, beveled edge (sometimes hard to position)
Metal: sturdy and heavier, you can apply heat to smooth the buttercream.
I use my metal one the most ("C" in the photograph), it's got that slight edge, which is easy for me to control, but it only goes up to about 5 inches. So when I have super tall cakes, I use my acrylic one ("A" in the picture), which is nearly double that size in height.
You'll need some spatulas to apply frosting to cake tops and sides, regardless of shape (sheet cakes or round cakes). The flat one should be long so you can get smooth strokes. The angled one is good for smoothing, but it prevents you from bending your arm in an awkward position to reach areas. Both are essential, and I've used my set for years.
These items are for serious home bakers, cottage bakers, or baking nerds like me.
If you're really into decorating, you'll want to invest in a nice set of standard tips to decorate your cupcakes and cakes. You can go all out here because there are tons of tips, but start small first.
The 80/20 rule (also called Pareto's principle) really applies here. This is where 80% of your outcome is from 20% of your input. Much like 80% of what you wear probably comes from only 20% of the clothes you own, 80% of the cakes you will decorate only require a few good tips (probably only 20% or less of your collection).
In other words, you don't need that many tips to get the biggest result in cake decorating, so start with the ones I've listed above.
(I'm going to list Amazon links here but do shop around. Sales are your friend, as are coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond 😉 )
I own 3 styles of KitchenAid stand mixers - the Classic, Artisan, and Pro. The first one (my KitchenAid Classic) lasted me for over 12 years before I purchased the Artisan and Pro in the past couple years.
A stand mixer would be my first big investment piece of equipment if you are a serious home baker or trying to start a home bakery. Your efficiency will increase tremendously compared to a hand mixer, and there is a consistency between bakes when using a stand mixer; it gets mixed the same way, every time. Plus, they are beautiful pieces of machinery, and if you care for them well, they should last you at least a decade, if not more.
Remember that although the bigger mixers have more power, they sometimes need larger bowls (6 qt or more), take up much more room (very heavy!), and are louder when mixing. If you happen to get a mixer with a large bowl, you sometimes have to scrape continuously if you're making a recipe thats on the smaller side. Or you can just buy a smaller bowl, which sometimes are available depending on the one you choose.
I would say though, since I've retired my Classic, I use my Artisan most of the time.
I use my Thermapen every day. Again, baking is all about precision, and I will always give you the temperature of a finished baked good if I know it. I think it's the most underused measuring tool for baking. Just like I measure a turkey to see if it's done, I measure my cakes and frostings. There's no question as to when something is ready when using a thermometer. Once you hit the temp, it's done.
For baking, I use my thermometer to take the temperature of:
And those are just some of the temps I've memorized, but I know there's more. I love my Thermapen and Thermoworks in general, and own a few items from their line.