There's nothing better than the smell of a freshly baked treat wafting through the house. From cookies and cupcakes to pies and rolls, a baked good is an easy way to bring family and friends together. But if you've never baked before or don't have much experience, it might seem like a daunting hobby to get into.
Shop TODAY has got you covered. We spoke to two baking professionals to get their expert opinion on all of the tools home bakers at every level need in their kitchen. They also share a range of baking tips, from where to start your journey to how to make baking work in a small kitchen.
Use the links below to browse this guide by category.
What recipes should you start with?
Author and chef Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee calls chocolate chip cookies "the most satisfying" place to start. "Even if you mess it up — and there’s no such thing as a bad recipe in that realm — it’s still going to taste good," she tells us. Plus, since it only takes about 8 to 10 minutes to cook each batch, you can get quick results, Lee explains.
If you decide you want to start out with cupcakes, like founder of Funny Face Bakery Sarah Silverman, you can do that, too! Silverman started out with six core recipes she wanted to perfect, but she wouldn't let herself move on to the next on her list until she perfected the one she was working on. She would Google-search recipes for what she wanted to make and choose the recipe with the best-looking image attached to it.
"You can really tell just by the images if it looks dry [or] if it looks crumbly, so I never do recipes unless they have an image," she notes.
What to know before you start baking
While you'll certainly hone your baking skills by just jumping in and learning by practice, Lee and Silverman share a few things you can do to start the learning process — before you put your first creation in the oven.
- Visit bakeshops. Silverman says that by testing out items from bakeshops, you can get ideas for ingredients you may not have thought to add. This will be an easy task for those with a natural sweet tooth.
- Calibrate your oven. As someone who has been baking at home for almost a decade, I never once thought about calibrating my oven until Lee told me it makes a difference. "Everybody’s oven is different," she says. "If it says 350 [degrees], your oven might run hot, or it might run colder." Her own oven runs a little cooler than the set temperature, so she has to set hers for a little higher than whatever the recipe calls for.
- Notes for nonstick pans. Lee continued to blow my mind with her notes about nonstick baking pans. She says that anything you're cooking in a nonstick pan will brown faster because it retains more heat, so you should reduce the baking time accordingly. Her other advice is to never use nonstick spray on your nonstick pans: Instead of making the surface super nonstick (which is what I thought was happening), it actually has the opposite effect.
- Don't feel pressured to start from scratch. Being a home baker means exactly that: You bake at home. So starting with boxed mixes is completely fine in Lee's book. "There’s no shame in that...You can do everything from scratch, but it’s not 100 percent necessary," she says.
- Be patient. It might be tempting to keep opening your oven door to check on your treats while they're cooking, but Lee says that will let heat out and ultimately increase your bake time. So be patient and let it cook for the full recommended time before checking on it.
- Have fun! Everyone wants their baked goods to be the prettiest things they've ever seen, but that's not always the case — especially for home bakers. And Lee says that's just fine! "It's not a test," she laughs. "It’s still probably going to taste good, because most things with butter and sugar taste great. Be forgiving to yourself, I say. Try it out and don’t give yourself too much pressure," says Lee. Silverman echoes similar sentiments, adding that it takes her about 20 to 30 times to perfect a recipe — so don't give up if your first few tries aren't perfect.
First-time home baker tools
The products we list in this category are affordable yet high-quality examples of the basic tools Lee and Silverman say you'll need if you're a first-time baker. Even for the simplest of recipes, these items are essential.
Lining your baking pan with parchment paper helps keep your cookies or other baked treats from sticking to the pan while you bake. This typically makes clean-up easier; you don't have to use elbow grease to clean your precious pan! This inexpensive roll by Reynolds can also double as a helpful tool to prevent dough from sticking if you're rolling dough.
This parchment paper is 12 inches wide, which means it fits most standard baking sheets, and it's oven-safe up to 425 degrees.
For precise measurements of liquid baking ingredients like melted butter or milk, a high-quality measuring cup like this one from Pyrex can't be beat. Like other Pyrex bakeware, this 1-cup container is made of tempered glassware, so you can pop it in the microwave and melt butter, chocolate or other ingredients right in the vessel. And this measuring tool is useful beyond baking too; use it to measure liquid ingredients like broth and sauces for savory dishes.
The measuring cup has clear measurement marks in red, and features a comfortable handle and spout for easy pouring. The cup is dishwasher-safe, too!
Measuring spoon sets, like this one from Target's Made by Design home brand, are one of the most useful tools for measuring both dry and liquid ingredients that you can have in your kitchen, whether you're baking, cooking or making coffee. These five spoons are made from stainless steel, making them sturdier than plastic, and they have measurement markings engraved on their handles.
Measurements range from 1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, and the spoons are bound with a ring so you won't have to dig for specific ones in your kitchen drawer.
Pair the above set of measuring spoons with this four-piece set of stainless steel cups, also from Made by Design, for measuring larger quantities of dry ingredients. This dishwasher-safe set includes measurements from 1/4 cup to 1 cup.
A food scale might stand out among the rest as something that should fall into a more advanced category, but Silverman says it'll be useful when you stumble upon recipes that use a measuring convention that's different from the traditional cups, teaspoons or tablespoons that you're used to (for example, if it's a recipe from a British publication or website). It's also helpful if you want to measure by weight instead of volume (which is how measuring cups or spoons work). Read: Fewer tools to wash!
This sleek-looking scale by Ozeri, which rings up at just under $10, has an average rating of 4.7 stars from over 85,000 reviews. A common refrain is how easy the tool is to use, with only two buttons: a Power/Tare button and a Unit button that allows you to easily toggle between unit conversions.
There's a reason you often see Nordic Ware's name on a lot of products used by both home and professional bakers alike: The brand is known for making professional-grade bakeware that's meant to last a lifetime, like this 12- x 17-inch half sheet. It's made of natural aluminum, which is one of the best materials for heat conductivity and even browning. We like this sheet for its versatility — you'll be able to use it for baking pastries, roasting vegetables, cooking sheet pan dinners and more.
The sheet is oven-safe up to 400 degrees, and the encapsulated rolled rims help prevent warping or food from sliding off the pan.
Of course, no baking setup would be complete without anything to mix ingredients in. We recommend this affordably priced five-piece stainless steel set from Finedine, which come complete with BPA-free lids. That means you can also use these versatile vessels for storing leftover batter, or simply leftovers. (And yes, they're fridge- and freezer-safe.) Small kitchen space? These bowls also nest and stack for easy storage.
The bowls range from 3/4 to 1 quart.
Intermediate home baker tools
As you continue your at-home baking journey and start to bake more frequently or bake more intricate dishes, you'll probably need the following expert-recommend tools to upgrade your experience. Brands like OXO, Silpat, Pyrex and Cuisinart were explicitly called out by Lee.
This spatula by GIR is another versatile tool you'll find in many a kitchen of both novice and pro bakers and chefs. The silicone spatula is a workhorse: You can use it to mix cake ingredients, fold eggs into your batter, scrape your finished scrambled eggs from the pan to your plate and so much more. Plus, because it's made of BPA-free silicone, it won't scratch any of your non-nonstick cookware.
The Ultimate model, 11 inches long, comes in 22 colors.
Even if you only bake once a year, you likely have a whisk like this one, or at least seen one in your friends' kitchens. That's likely because it's a tool that has a lot of uses, from aerating egg whites for merengues to whisking eggs for scramble to emulsifying salad dressing ingredients. OXO's version of the balloon whisk features wires made of polished stainless steel and has an ergonomically shaped nonstick handle (this whisk does, in fact, have an average rating of 4.8 stars in the "Easy to Hold" category on Amazon).
Customers also report that the whisk is sturdy and easy to clean, thanks to its removable handle.
"If you want a cake pan, I like springform [pans], because you can bake cakes and cheesecakes, so it’s versatile for both. I like springforms versus a cake pan because it’s easier to get [the cake] out," Lee explains. "You want to have parchment paper and all of that stuff around, too. And whisks," she adds.
This 9-inch one by Nordic Ware holds 10 cups and is made of nonstick-coated steel for easy clean-up.
Make baking breakfast muffins great again — with this 6-cup nonstick jumbo muffin pan by household name Cuisinart. The heavy-gauge steel construction (which helps with even cooking) is nonstick-coated, and the pan’s edges are rolled to help mitigate warping. Plus, the pan is dishwasher-safe and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Bake your bread pudding and lasagna and go, thanks to this two-piece bakeware set from Pyrex. The set comes with 2- and 3-quart baking pans made of non-porous glass, meaning they're designed to be odor- and stain-resistant, and won't hang onto flavors after you clean them. The large handles make toting dishes to a potluck or removing the dishes from a hot oven easy (though please still use oven mitts!).
Don't have a nonstick baking sheet but want to avoid the hassle of clean-up that involves elbow grease? You won't need to keep buying parchment paper if you use this silicone baking mat from Silpat, which is available in multiple sizes, from quarter sheet to three-quarter sheet. You can also use it for rolling out dough.
Bonus: It's dishwasher-safe.
Sometimes there will be batter that's too thick or challenging to mix by hand. Hand mixers are a nice gadget to have that fall somewhere between a spatula or whisk and a pricey stand mixer (and it's more compact than the latter, too).
This 220-watt hand mixer by Cuisinart features five speeds, though many reviewers say the lowest speed is ample enough for most mixing tasks. The beaters don't have a center wire, and they're removable and dishwasher-safe, which all make them easier to clean than regular whisks. Plus, the mixer comes with a spatula and a recipe booklet.
Advanced home baker tools
If you've been baking for a few years and have made your way onto more advanced bakes, this is when Lee and Silverman say you can get into the really specialty items. Whether you're making pan-specific dishes like Madeleines or baking multiple large batches of cookies, below are some of the items our experts say you might find yourself needing at this level.
(If you're looking for a more in-depth guide on how to operate your stand mixer, we consulted experts about that, too!)
Sometimes you want to make cookies that are extra-special for a certain holiday or festive occasion. These fun stainless steel ones from Wondershop are rife with holiday-inspired shapes, like stars and candy canes, and a set comes with six pieces. These cutters make it easier to recreate fun recipes like these chocolate star cookies that Lidia Bastianich has been making for decades.
If you want uniformly sized cookies or you’re baking dozens of them for a cookie swap or bake sale, this cookie scoop from Wilton (another bakeware household name) will be a godsend. Much like an ice cream scooper, the tool, which can hold 4 teaspoons of dough, allows you to scoop the same amount of cookie dough each time, and the easy-to-squeeze handle makes releasing the dough to the pan easy. Just make sure to hand-wash these instead of adding to the dishwasher.
Mesh strainers are great for more basic baking tasks, like sifting flour, and for more complex ones, like pouring cream through a strainer to catch scraped vanilla bean. And you'll likely find uses for this 6-inch stainless steel strainer beyond baking — reviewers say it does just as well catching seeds when making homemade cranberry sauce or draining water from freshly boiled pasta (its frame has two hooks to fit onto rims!).
This is dishwasher-safe.
If you're working on recipes that require egg or milk washes (perhaps homemade toaster strudels or raspberry turnovers), this 11-inch silicone pastry brush, which is heat-resistant up to 450 degrees, will come in very handy. And like many other tools in this roundup, it serves other non-baking purposes too, like glazing marinade or oil onto meat, for instance.
Moving onto more challenging cake recipes? You'll very likely need an offset spatula, like the stainless steel 9-inch one from Wilton, to work on making your icing look more professional; it also helps with adding that frosting between layers if you're working on tiered cakes and then smoothing the sides of that layer cake for a polished look. And, perhaps, you'll need piping bags with various tip styles, like the Plateau Elk set above, for more detail-oriented frosting designs, not just on cakes, but cupcakes, cookies and more.
And if you're feeling even more ambitious, we recommend adding a high-quality rotating cake stand to the mix to make decorating even easier, like Wilton's Tilt 'n Turn Turntable.
With this egg separator from OXO, gone will be the days of cracking several eggs on the side of your mixing bowl, goo dripping on its sides and cracked shell pieces covering your hand. This handy, dishwasher-safe plastic tool has a raised edge to make cracking eggs with one hand easy, and it'll catch any stray shells from dropping into your batter along with the yolk.
If you're an advanced home baker, you've likely heard of or even used one of these interesting-looking whisks. If you have, then you'll know why this tool from Zulay has garnered a 4.8-star rating average from almost 2,000 Amazon reviewers. The wooden handle has an ergonomic shape and is quite a bit thicker and sturdier than typical wooden spoons, and that, combined with the one-of-a-kind design of the heavy-duty stainless steel "ring," make handling more challenging bread doughs a lot easier.
Speaking of bread dough, this stainless steel scraper from OXO is another example of a customer-loved baking product, with an average rating of 4.8 stars from about 13,000 reviewers on Amazon. The 6-inch long chopper has a nonslip grip, and the stainless steel blade, great for sectioning dough (and even sliding chopped veggies off the chopping board, if you're resourceful!), has helpful half-inch measurement markings engraved right onto it. And, our favorite: It's dishwasher-safe!
Want to move on from traditional cakes and onto recipes like Bundt cake, monkey bread — and even, according to Wilton, baked mac and cheese or roasted chicken? Go for this nonstick ring cake pan made from alloy steel. The nonstick coating will make it easy to slide your latest creation from the pan to the stand, and it also comes with convenient handles to make removing it from the oven simpler (a positive called out by several Amazon reviewers).
Skip the French patisserie (or Starbucks, don't judge us) and make your own decadent Madeleines using Wilton's double-nonstick steel pan that's dedicated to the pastry. Plus, the pan is made of carbon steel, a material that helps distribute heat evenly (preventing some of your desserts from being under- or overdone!).
If you've perfected pie baking like nobody's business, or if you've been popping out fruit tarts like you do have a pastry business, then you're going to need this handy tool from KitchenAid (if you don't already use one). The multifunctional tool, with its unique curved shape and sturdy stainless steel construction, is particularly helpful with the task of cutting cold butter into flour, which, done right, are the key to perfectly flaky baked goods.
You can't zest a lemon well, and therefore you can't bake great lemon bars well, without a good zester. (Well, at least in our opinion.) Enter: the crowd-favorite Microplane. The secret is in its rust-resistant surgical-grade stainless steel blade — which, combined with the ergonomically shaped handle, make zesting and grating (lemon, cheese, ginger or otherwise) a breeze, and dare we say, fun. Plus, this zester includes a plastic cover for storage and is top-rack dishwasher-safe.
Pastry is a little more of an exact craft than other types of cooking, but not as much as bread baking, in particular, which requires a specific temperature to bake properly. Instant-read thermometers are an easy way to test whether the water for the yeast is not too hot or too cold, and whether your bread is done baking, for example.
In the research for Shop TODAY's story on how to shop for stand mixers, the experts we talked to pointed to the KitchenAid as one of the most durable, with some saying they've owned theirs for multiple decades. This bowl-lift style mixer has a 5-quart stainless steel bowl, and the beater attachment is said to touch 67 points around the bowl, so you know it'll be thorough.
This bestselling stand mixer boasts 10 speeds, a dough hook in addition to a flat beater, and a wire whip. This may easily become your one-stop-shop (there are dozens of attachments in addition to the ones included here that you can purchase separately).
Frequently asked questions about baking tools, answered
Where can you buy tools for home bakers?
Aside from scouring various online retailers like the ones above, Silverman says you can also buy high-quality baking tools from the same stores that restaurants get their tools from. Some stores might even allow you to purchase single units instead of buying in bulk, she adds.
Are there any tips for home bakers who have a small kitchen?
If you have a small kitchen, you may feel restricted when trying out new recipes. But while baking is known for being a notoriously messy and space-consuming hobby, both Lee and Silverman assure that there are things you can do to make it work for your space:
- Get smaller versions of tools, or get tools that are multi-functional, Lee suggests. One example of this is opting for a set of nesting bowls like the ones listed above.
- Clean as you go. Silverman says that when she was in culinary school, the chef-instructors would remind students to clean as they go. She sings a fun little song using the mantra while baking so she's reminded to tidy as she goes along instead of being inundated with dishes at the end.
- Use one bowl. Some recipes call for mixing dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another, but Lee says she likes to do everything in one bowl, if possible, because it leaves her with fewer dishes to do at the end.
Meet our baking experts
- Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee is a chef and author of several cookbooks, including, "Eating Korean: From Barbecue to Kimchi, Recipes from My Home," "Quick and Easy Korean Cooking: More Than 70 Everyday Recipes" and "Quick and Easy Mexican Cooking: More Than 80 Everyday Recipes."
- Sarah Silverman is the founder of New York City-based Funny Face Bakery, a bakery that specializes in decorated and custom cookies.