Cooking Up Romance Gift Guide for Serious Bakers

One of the things I worry about when I post baking projects is that people might not have all the right equipment. I’ve got a pretty well-stocked tool cabinet, but I’m also a pretty serious baker. I’ve been through several iterations of bowls, measuring cups, thermometers and all sorts of ingredients to find just what I like. Now, that’s not necessarily what everyone will like. But if you’ve got a serious baker to buy gifts for (or you’re looking to do some holiday baking yourself), here’s a little gift guide to get you started!

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thermometerThermometer, $25-50

Anyone doing candy-making, custards or cooked frostings needs a thermometer. I’ve been through dozens. Some have had unfortunate accidents. Some are horribly inaccurate or slow. Some just wore out. Here’s the one I’ve settled on in recent months. It’s fast, it’s accurate and the probe is easy to clean. Just don’t immerse it in water!

rolling pin with cinnamon rollsVermont Rolling Pin, $75

Some people are lucky to have family members who baked lots. And those people might have heavy old rolling pins that have been passed down from generation to generation. I didn’t. So I bought my own! These rolling pins are heavy, have no moving parts and if you oil them every few months, will last forever. I have the Shaker style in Maple and I love it because it’s heavy enough to roll stiff doughs and there’s no metal bar running through it to get dough caught in, which I always thought was super disgusting when I had a cheap-ass rolling pin. Of everything on this list, this is my favorite and would be a really lovely gift for someone you’re pretty sure won’t try to whack you with it.

measuring tools copyMagnetic Measuring Cups & Spoons, $8-10

Have I ever mentioned that I got super lucky in the in-law department? My husband’s parents, in addition to being really nice people, give spectacularly thoughtful gifts. A few years ago my mother-in-law gave me a set of these magnetic measuring cups and spoons and they’ve been awesome. Those cups and spoons on rings are fine for casual bakers who bake a batch of cookies, throw the whole ring in the dishwasher and then don’t bake again for several months, but for those of us who bake several things in a day, having them separated is wonderfully convenient because we’re not washing everything all the time. Plus the magnets keep each set together in the drawer. I love these enough that I’d like a second set of each so I can get rid of all my others.

pyrex cinderella butterprint by gumdropvintage
Photo by GumdropVintage on Etsy

Vintage Pyrex Cinderella Bowls, $5-180 (prices vary based on pattern & number of bowls)

Sometimes old things are best. If you don’t mind giving used gifts, vintage Pyrex bowls are the best gift ever. The ones I like are usually referred to as “Cinderella bowls” though I don’t really know why. These are ubiquitous in thrift stores and antique stores (though it might take a few trips to find a matching set) and you can find them on Etsy. They’re durable, you can put them in the dishwasher, they have a pour spout and each set comes with four bowls in varying sizes. I buy them whenever I see them in thrifts and have collected four mismatched sets, all of which get constant use. Even better, get a couple extra of the two middle sizes since those are the most useful ones, especially if your loved one already has a set, which nearly every parent and grandparent in the United States does.

digital kitchen scaleDigital Kitchen Scale, $20-30

Baking by weight is by far the best way to bake. The problem is that people measure ingredients differently so it’s possible to completely mess up a fussy recipe just by measuring the ingredients wrong. Using a kitchen scale eliminates all the guesswork. Unfortunately, a lot of American recipes are still in cups rather than ounces or grams (I do it myself on Cooking Up Romance), but smart, savvy bakers will often look for recipes with weights instead, especially for complicated projects. I seem to have found a sweet spot with digital kitchen scales around the $25 mark. Kind of like this one, but I got mine at Target. Basically all you need is the ability to change between ounces and grams and a tare function to take into account the weight of your bowls. Less expensive ones seem to break and why spend more if you can get away with less?

7-quart kitchenaid mixer7-quart Pro Line KitchenAid Stand Mixer, $549

This is a reach-for-the-moon type gift. Frankly, you can get a stand mixer for a lot less than this one, but I’m going to make a quick argument for the 7-quart KitchenAid Stand Mixer. Yes, the 7 versus 5-quart capacity (of the base model KitchenAid) is nice, but the reason I upgraded is the horsepower, which is essential for things like bread dough. My old 6-quart mixer struggled with stiff dough even with the dough hook attached, but my 7-quart handles it with no problem. It’s also really, really quiet compared to the 6-quart. So if you’re thinking about upgrading your beloved baker from the 5 to the 6-quart, make the extra jump? Oh, and all the 5 & 6-quart attachments will still fit! Sometimes you have to get a converter from KitchenAid, but they will mail it to you quickly and free of charge. If your budget doesn’t extend to a new mixer, you could also get an extra bowl for an existing one. It’s incredibly handy when you have to make a cake with butter and egg yolks and then make frosting with the whites not to have to wash the bowl in the middle!

fancy ingredients copyFancy Ingredients, $12-22

Every baker has fancy ingredients they like to use for special projects. While Trader Joe’s chocolate and grocery store brand vanilla extract are fine for every day, when you’re making a Dobos torte with milk chocolate chantilly and vanilla salt for Christmas, sometimes it’s fun to go all-out. Vanilla bean paste is a convenient way to get vanilla flavor without having to slice and scrape the pods yourself, but you could also go with vanilla powder (nice for white frostings) or vanilla extract from Neilsen-Massey. Scharffen Berger Chocolate is a luxury that my grocery store happens to carry, but I really only use it when the chocolate is going to take center stage. Americolor Gel Paste Food Coloring in a range of colors is great to have around. Any color you don’t have, you can mix with this set and it takes much less paste to get good saturation than it does with water-based grocery store brands. A Maldon Sea Salt Gift Pack is actually a good gift for any foodie. Maldon is flaked sea salt so it’s perfect for accents on cookies, cakes and truffles. This set has a smoked sea salt too, which is one of my favorite weird ingredients. Black cocoa powder is what bakers use for homemade Oreos, among other things. It’s too intense on its own, but I often replace a couple tablespoons of normal cocoa powder with it in brownies, chocolate cookies and cakes just to deepen the intensity of chocolate flavor. And it’s nearly impossible to find in stores!

Hope this gives you some ideas for that fabulous baker in your life! I also put together a Pinboard for this gift guide so it’s easy to pin anything you might want yourself to a wish list of your own! Happy baking!

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