BAKING PANS AND SHEETS: Choose shiny, light-colored (dark metal causes excess browning), heavy-gauge aluminum (or aluminized steel) baking pans in the following sizes: 8-inch square, 9-inch square, 9 × 13 × 2-inch rectangle, and 10½ × 15½ × 1-inch jelly roll pan. Baking sheets come in all different sizes and have four short sides, about ½ to 1 inch high, to prevent foods from sliding off. These are useful for toasting nuts and baking some cookies such as biscotti. Otherwise, cookies should be baked on cookie sheets. (See below.)
BENCH SCRAPER: This tool, also called a pastry or dough scraper, is a small, rectangular piece of steel with a thick handle along the top. It’s practical for scraping or lifting dough off a work surface and perfect for cutting bar cookies. I found one with an added benefit: it’s marked in inches along the bottom and up one side to facilitate measuring the thickness and /or diameter of dough and unbaked cookies.
BOWLS: Cookie bakers need lots of bowls in various sizes. Stainless steel is best for most uses; choose those that are deeper rather than shallow and wide in order to prevent ingredients from flying out during beating. Also have a few glass bowls for microwave heating.
COOKIE CUTTERS: Holiday cookie bakers should have cutters in all kinds of holiday shapes as well as stars, hearts, diamonds, and scalloped (or fluted) rounds of different sizes. Cleaning and drying them well before storing will help preserve them. Dip cutters in flour before stamping if the dough sticks to them.
COOKIE SHEETS: Don’t be tempted to buy thin, flimsy cookie sheets just because they cost less. You’ll find that slightly more expensive, commercialquality sheets will be worth their weight in perfectly baked cookies. Cookie sheets should be shiny, light-colored, heavy-gauge aluminum (or aluminized steel) pans that are hefty for their size so they won’t buckle or warp over time. The standard size of approximately 13 × 15 inches fits in most ovens and allows heat to circulate all around it. Depending on the type of cookie, 9 to 12 (or up to 16 if they don’t spread) will fit per sheet. Cookie sheets have one or two slightly raised or lipped sides that make it easy to grip the pan, while the rimless sides allow you to slide cookies, and parchment paper loaded with cookies, off and on. Don’t use insulated or air-cushioned sheets, because they bake more slowly and prevent cookies from browning properly.
COOLING RACKS: Have at least two or three large wire racks to put cookies on to cool after they come out of the oven. Choose those with a small, square grid pattern and feet that raise the rack at least ¾ inch above a counter surface.
ELECTRIC MIXERS: Either a stand mixer or a handheld mixer will get the job done, and home bakers usually swear by one or the other. I use both, but I am particularly devoted to my good old hand mixer. I find it simpler and less cumbersome to use and I don’t have to spend as much time scraping down the bowl. For batter or dough requiring a few minutes’ beating or if the dough is particularly thick or heavy, a stand mixer with its paddle attachment will certainly give your arm a rest.
FOOD PROCESSOR: An indispensable tool in the baker’s kitchen, a processor is perfect for grinding nuts, pureeing fruit sauces, combining dry and wet mixtures, and making vanilla sugar.
GRATER/ZESTER: A metal grater with small, sharp-edged holes is critical for grating fine zest from citrus fruits and for grating nutmeg. I think the classic Microplane grater produces the finest, most tender zest.
MEASURING CUPS AND SPOONS: Dry ingredients should be measured in sturdy, stainless-steel cups with straight rims. (Metal or hard plastic will hold its shape best and won’t warp over the years.) The flat rim makes it easy to level off ingredients such as flour and sugar. Purchase one or two sets in the following sizes: 1 cup, ½ cup, 1⁄3 cup, and ¼ cup. Liquids should be measured in glass cups with spouts that are clearly marked in ¼-cup increments, ounces, and metric measurements. They should be heat resistant and microwave safe. Purchase 1-cup, 2-cup (1-pint), and 4-cup (1-quart) sizes. A mini 4-tablespoon (¼-cup) measure is perfect for small amounts of liquids such as milk and maple syrup. Have two sets of sturdy, stainless-steel measuring spoons in sizes from 1⁄8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.
PARCHMENT PAPER AND SILICONE BAKING MATS: Lining cookie sheets with parchment paper eliminates the need for greasing the sheets and saves you cleanup time. It also allows you to transfer a whole batch of baked cookies off a hot sheet and onto a rack to cool, and slide on a paper full of unbaked rounds. The paper can be reused for a few batches ( just wipe off crumbs with a damp sponge) until either it gets too browned or stuck-on bits start to burn. Silicone mats are more expensive, but they are reusable for what might be years of baking. I favor parchment paper for its “sliding” benefits and because, in some cases, the mats hamper browning.
SCALE: Ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, dried fruits, and coconut are often specified in ounces rather than cup measures because one baker’s chopped sizes or definition of “packed” or “heaping” may differ from another’s. A reliable kitchen scale, either digital or spring-based, is therefore a necessity to accurately weigh these (and other) ingredients.
SPATULAS: You can never have too many spatulas. You’ll need medium and large rubber (or silicone) spatulas for mixing, folding, and scraping dough from the sides of a bowl and the small, narrow kind for scraping foods from the inside of jars and measuring cups. Wide metal spatulas are essential for lifting cookies off cookie sheets and placing unbaked shapes on; and thin, narrow metal spatulas are useful for removing bar cookies from their pans. An offset spatula can be used for frosting bar cookies.
MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS Saucepans of various sizes are a must for jobs such as melting butter, making caramel, and heating cream. A kitchen timer (or two) is essential for timing cookies in the oven. A rolling pin that’s comfortable in your hands is necessary for producing rolled cookies. Keep a ruler or metal measuring tape handy for measuring the thickness, length, and width of rolled dough and the height of some cookies. You’ll need a wire whisk for blending dry ingredients and beating eggs, a pastry brush for brushing egg wash on dough before baking, and mini paintbrushes for spreading icing on cookies. Pastry bags and decorator tips are used by professionals to pipe and decorate cookies, but to be honest they’re not essential for any cookie in this book. If you like to use them, go ahead, but there are other, easier options for drizzling and piping icing, such as squeeze bottles (buy the ones with the smallest holes in the tops you can find) and small plastic bags (with a tiny hole snipped at one corner). A coffee grinder is perfect for grinding whole spices such as cloves, allspice, and pepper. A few sharp knives are essential for chopping nuts, chocolate, and other ingredients, as well as for slicing logs of dough and cutting bar cookies. A pizza wheel (or pizza cutter) also works well for cutting bar cookies and shortbread. Other useful items are a sifter or a small fine-mesh sieve for dusting confectioners’ sugar over cookies and sifting out the lumps in cocoa powder; a cookie scoop for portioning dough (these mini ice-cream scoops come in various sizes and are fun to use); and a demitasse spoon for teeny-weeny jobs such as filling wells in cookies with caramel or powdered candy. Last, but not least, you’ll need plastic wrap, aluminum foil, wax paper, small (sandwich-size) and large (1-gallon) sealable plastic bags, and plenty of airtight plastic containers or metal tins for keeping all your goodies fresh!