Read an Excerpt
1: Stocking the Larder
Setting up and maintaining a well-stocked larder is the first step to blending baking seamlessly into everyday life. I know many wonderful cooks who don’t bake. They say that it’s too detail oriented or requires too much special equipment, or that they simply don’t have time for it. I don’t buy that. Anyone can incorporate baking into the daily routine. Having certain basic ingredients on hand will help you avoid last-minute trips to the store, so this is a good place to start.
I encourage new home bakers to develop their own thing. You might make muffins every Sunday for a month. Or maybe you’d like to stock your freezer with portioned cookie dough so you can bake cookies on impulse. Become the baker whose pie crust is legendary, or spend the summer mastering crisps and crumbles. You can set yourself up to bake your favorite treats whenever the mood strikes by having key ingredients in your larder and a couple of basic pieces of equipment in your batterie de cuisine. Then start baking regularly. It won’t be long before you develop good instincts and a feel for baking that allows you to whip up pie dough, a breakfast pastry, or a quick dessert without a second thought.
Starting from Scratch
Part of my job as Grand Central’s bakery cuisine manager is to educate the retail staff about our approach to baking. I always begin the discussion by asking if anyone knows what it means to “start from scratch.” It’s one of those figures of speech that everyone knows but many people have trouble putting into words. After a bit of prodding, they tentatively offer suggestions:
“Using only good ingredients?”
“Not using any premade stuff?”
Once they’ve wrestled with the concept, I share the term’s historic origins. “Starting from scratch” is a literal reference to a line scratched in the dirt at the beginning of a race. I always imagine an ancient PE teacher blowing a whistle and yelling, “All of you, line up and start from the scratch!”
Starting from scratch means starting from the beginning. For me, to begin at the beginning when baking means leading off with the most pure yet practical ingredients available. For instance, I don’t advocate using whole vanilla beans or raw cocoa on a regular basis; some ingredients benefit from a certain amount of refinement. Generally speaking, however, using fresh fruit and berries in season, real butter, and local farm-fresh eggs will yield baked goods that taste better.
I grew up eating out of a garden on our farm and making frequent trips to local fruit stands in the Yakima Valley. I didn’t know that you could find a peach in the grocery store in January. Our family’s commitment to seasonality carried over to the bakery and has always been reflected in our menu. We buy from both big and small vendors, and much of the year we’re lucky enough to purchase produce directly from farmers who bring their goods to the bakery’s door. Choosing ingredients produced close to home supports the local economy, preserves farm land, and offers an exciting difference in flavor that will make your baking come alive.
So I encourage you begin at the beginning and bake from scratch. If you can open your cupboard and find a few baking staples, or turn to your refrigerator or freezer for partially prepared items, the idea of baking spontaneously and responding to the seasonal bounty is not only less daunting, but also full of possibility.
Baker’s Larder Basics
In the Cupboard
Unbleached all-purpose flour is probably the only flour a home baker needs for success. If you’re serious about baking bread and yeasted baked goods, you’ll also want to purchase bread flour, which has a higher gluten content.
Keep bread flour in your pantry for pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, and bread. If you think you’ll be making yeasted pastries on a regular basis and don’t want to keep more than one kind of flour on hand, go with bread flour. (Using a gentle hand will ensure that nonyeasted pastries made with bread flour are tender, despite the fact that it contains more gluten.) My mother, who has baked her share of bread, cookies, pies, and pastries, fills her flour drawer with bread flour and uses it for all of her baking.
Whole wheat flour
Whole wheat flour is made by grinding the entire wheat kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Store whole wheat flour in the refrigerator or freezer for up to six months.
At the bakery, we use whole wheat flour in hearty whole grain breads and in cinnamon rolls. Due to the increasing interest in the nutritional value of whole grains, I’m often asked about substituting whole wheat flour for white. To be honest, I haven’t tried baking Grand Central Bakery pastries with whole wheat flour. I’m content to get my fiber and nutrients from other sources.
Once when I was teaching a class in pie baking, one of the women in the class asked about making pie dough with whole wheat flour. Knowing she was eager to give her kids the most wholesome version of everything she made, I wanted to help, yet I couldn’t resist suggesting that she serve them a heaping pile of broccoli with dinner and stick to making pastry with white flour. There is plenty of goodness in homemade pastry, and dessert is not where we should be looking for supplemental nutritional value, anyway.
Granulated white sugar
The two most common sources of refined sugar are sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugar beets are widely used in the production of white and light brown sugars because they are cheaper, more prolific, and easier to grow than sugarcane. Cane sugar tastes better in its raw form, which is key to the flavor of less refined sweeteners like dark brown sugar and molasses.
We use superfine granulated cane sugar at the bakery. It has the same composition and sweetness as regular granulated sugar, but it is ground into smaller grains, allowing it to dissolve more quickly. Regular granulated white sugar from the baking aisle in the grocery store can be used for all of the recipes in this book.
There is an unfounded notion that brown sugar is less processed than white and therefore must be healthier. In fact, most of the brown sugar available is fully refined white sugar with molasses added back into it for flavor and texture. Brown sugar’s high moisture content accounts for its distinctive texture; keep it in an airtight container to prevent hardening.
Active dry yeast
Yeast is an essential ingredient in pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, and most breads. Active dry yeast is a form that has been dehydrated to extend its shelf life. Because yeast is a living organism that eventually dies, replace your yeast supply every six months. If you use it only occasionally, buy the 1/4-ounce packages found in the grocery store and be certain that the sell-by date has not passed, and always keep your yeast refrigerated. To ensure that your yeast is still viable, you can proof, or activate, it just prior to use by soaking it in tepid water (about 70¼F). Sometimes this is called ÒbloomingÓ because the yeast opens up as it dissolves.
We tested the recipes in this book with fine-grain sea salt. I don’t recommend kosher salt for baking, as the large grains don’t dissolve easily. If you do use kosher salt, dissolve it in any liquid called for in the recipe rather than mixing it with the other dry ingredients. Also, because kosher salt is less compact than other forms of salt, if measuring by volume use a bit more than the recipe calls for, mounding it in the measure to make a generous teaspoon, for example.
Spices and flavorings
Buy spices in small amounts from the bulk aisle, and don’t get more than you’ll use in about six months. When fresh, spices are vibrant in color and have a potent aroma. Keep dried herbs and spices away from light, heat, and humidity.
Pure vanilla extract
Yes, pure vanilla extract is expensive. But it’s also readily available, consistently good, and worth the extra pennies. A small bottle will last a good long time. If imitation is your only choice, skip it.
Chemical leavening agents
Many of the recipes in this book call for baking soda, baking powder, or both. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which begins producing carbon dioxide as soon as it’s combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient, such as yogurt or buttermilk. Items leavened solely with baking soda should be baked immediately after mixing to take advantage of the full potential lift. Baking powder is partially sodium bicarbonate but also contains starch and cream of tartar, which acts as its acidifying agent. Most baking powder is labeled “double-acting,” meaning that it’s been formulated to release some carbon dioxide when a liquid is added at room temperature, but the majority of its leavening is delayed until the dough is subjected to heat.
Like spices, chemical leavening agents deteriorate with age and should be replaced every six months or so. If you think your leavening is slightly older, add a bit more than the recipe suggests.
In the Refrigerator
Butter is one of the great basic ingredients of baking and plays a key role in the flavor and texture of nearly all baked goods. All butter is not created equal, however, and grocery store brands vary in flavor, butterfat content, and saltiness. The recipes in this book were tested with unsalted butter. If you only have salted butter on hand, reduce the amount of salt called for in the recipe by one-half.
Given the choice, I like to buy European-style butter (Plugrá, Challenge, and Straus Family Creamery are a few nationally available brands), especially for items like puff pastry and pie dough. These butters are enriched with a culture much like cheese and consequently have a more complex and dynamic flavor. In the Northwest, we’re particularly lucky to have locally produced Cremerie Classique from Larsen’s Creamery in Oregon City available in most of our grocery stores.
Even though I enthusiastically endorse unsalted European-style butter, in a pinch I have made delicious pastry from whatever salted table butter I could round up. I’m only emphatic that you use real butter. If it’s fresh, most butter tastes good and will keep in the refrigerator for about seven days. Freeze butter or store it in a resealable bag to preserve its fresh flavor longer.
We’ve always had chickens running free on our family farm. I took the bright yellow yolks and robust flavor of farm-fresh eggs for granted until I left home. Now I realize this was due to a diet high in protein (from bugs) and carotene (from grass). Count yourself lucky if you have access to a good source of farm-fresh eggs and are able to use them in all of your baking. If you don’t, you can use commercial eggs for cookies, cakes, quick breads, and other baked goods that don’t showcase the quality of the eggs they contain. But for intensively eggy items like lemon curd, custard, popovers, and clafouti, using good eggs pays off. The recipes in this book were tested using large eggs.
In the Freezer
I grew up in a baking household, but I didn’t fully understand the importance of a freezer until I became a professional baker. In a busy, high-volume bakery, freezers are used to hold raw ingredients, partially prepared items, and finished products. Because we are a commercial bakery with multiple outlets, our aim at Grand Central is to produce an assortment of seasonal, made-from-scratch baked goods daily, as efficiently as possible.
Controlling labor costs is one of the biggest challenges that a production bakery faces. A larger chunk of time than you’d imagine is spent gathering ingredients, setting up to bake, and cleaning up. In that light, it makes sense to prepare, say, a week’s worth of a product once you’re in the groove, and freeze it. That way, when you run out, there’s more waiting in the freezer, ready to bake. For the home baker, having partially and fully prepared items in the freezer is the key to including baked goods as a quick, easy side note while preparing a meal.
Most of these ingredients can be found in my freezer at any given time, although I don’t necessarily have a specific plan for how or when I’ll use them.
In the Northwest, we’re blessed with an abundance of local fruits and berries but the season is never long enough. I use the freezer to extend my baking calendar by packing it with produce as it comes into season. Nothing cheers up a dark winter night quite like a warm peach cobbler or a juicy berry crumble baked from fruit that was frozen at its peak.
I like to buy organic berries. It’s crucial that they be dry when they’re frozen. Since I know I’m going to cook them before they’re eaten, I don’t wash them. Put the entire container, basket and all, in the freezer for several hours before transferring the frozen berries to a heavyweight resealable bag. When properly stored, frozen berries taste remarkably good right up until the next season rolls around.
Canned peaches are one of my favorite winter treats, straight from the jar or spooned over vanilla ice cream. When it comes to satisfying a wintertime craving for peach pie or coffee cake, however, I use frozen sliced fruit.
Wait until one of the freestone varieties like Red Haven or Elberta is available to make splitting and slicing a breeze. Toss the sliced peaches with lemon juice and sugar–about 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of sugar for every 4 pounds of fruit–before scooping them into heavy freezer bags. This formula preserves their color and flavor and will work for any stone fruit.
I adore rhubarb and find its season much too short to fit in all of the baking I want to do with it. I especially like to combine rhubarb with other fruits, like apples and raspberries. Happily, rhubarb freezes like a dream. Wash and dry the stalks, slice them crosswise, then pack the pieces in a freezer bag.
When butter’s on sale, I stock up and keep the extra in my freezer. The coated cardboard box that it comes in protects it adequately, but if you are putting a stick that has been cut in the freezer, make sure to wrap it well.
Because nuts have a high natural oil content, they can turn rancid quickly. Freezing nuts (either raw or toasted) slows down the rate at which they spoil. Store them in an airtight container with a lid that makes them easy to get to.
Egg yolks and egg whites
Making curd or custard will leave you with leftover egg whites, while a batch of meringue or macaroons means extra yolks. If you can’t make use of those leftovers right away, store them in the freezer in airtight containers, where they’ll keep for up to six months.
When freezing yolks, add a little bit of sugar to prevent them from becoming lumpy and grainy when thawed. Whisk in 1 teaspoon of sugar per each 3 yolks until blended, then transfer the mixture to a small freezer container.
A baker’s basic building blocks don’t vary wildly from one recipe to the next. Keeping some of the following items in your freezer is the real secret to becoming an everyday baker. With ready-to-use pie dough, streusel, or shortbread dough in the freezer, a home baker is poised to transform delicious fruit from the market (or the freezer) into a delicious dessert at a moment’s notice.
Having a stash of frozen dough takes the most time-consuming step out of the pie-baking process. Open any serious pie baker’s freezer and you’re likely to find disks of dough, wrapped in plastic and ready to go. Those in the know will tell you that pie dough loves to be frozen. In fact, I think it makes the dough flakier by causing excess moisture to evaporate, leaving butter alone to hydrate the dough. Once the dough is made, you can easily put together a rustic tart, fruit pie, or batch of hand pies. Just be sure to defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator or for an hour on the counter, until it’s pliable enough to roll without cracking.
When you have a chunk of classic shortbread dough in the freezer, you’re halfway to a fruit tart or crumble tart or cute, decorated cookies.
Making puff pastry is a big project requiring a serious time commitment. If you’re going to the trouble, I highly recommend that you make a big batch of our Rough Puff Pastry (page 178) and store what you don’t use right away in the freezer.
Streusel and crumble topping
I like to mix up large batches of the caramely streusel included in the coffee cake recipe (page 30) and store it in my freezer. The same streusel that is delicious on a coffee cake transforms fresh or frozen fruit into a crisp, one of my favorite desserts. When I’m cooking for two, I like to make individual crisps in small, ceramic ramekins.
A cache of pie dough or bag of streusel in the freezer is one thing–and a wonderful thing at that–but full liberation for the home baker comes from knowing that the freezer is filled with a few ready-to-bake items. We use this trick at the bakery for a number of the items we produce regularly. None of the following baked goods suffer from spending a period of time in the freezer before baking.
We used to freeze whole, baked cakes, pulling them from the freezer daily to glaze and serve at the bakery. This was an okay solution for maximizing efficiency, but the frozen cakes didn’t hold the same appeal as one fresh from the oven.
Then, one of the many ace bakers who have passed through Grand Central Bakery’s doors shared this secret: Don’t freeze the cake, freeze the batter. What a revelation! We began mixing large batches of batter that we portioned into individual cakes and froze. This allowed us to defrost the batter for an individual cake overnight and bake it fresh the next day. When you’re mixing up a batch of cake batter, double the recipe or bake half and freeze half. You can also freeze already-baked cake layers, just like we used to at Grand Central.
Use a scoop or spoon to shape cookie dough into balls, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and then chill or freeze them. Once they’re firmly set up, transfer the balls of dough to resealable bags and store them in the freezer for baking in small batches. Logs of dough for the shortbread tea cookies freeze well too. You’ll find the technique fully outlined on page 65.
If you’re gearing up to bake a fruit pie, make two. Bake one immediately and freeze the other. I put the whole pie on a baking sheet in my chest freezer and wrap it in plastic wrap once it’s frozen solid. When I have a hankering for pie, I take it straight from the freezer to a preheated oven. A frozen pie takes a little bit longer to bake, but the bottom crust never gets soggy since it’s closer to the pan and begins to bake before the fruit begins to defrost.
Savory hand pies and rustic tarts
Handheld pastries and individual rustic tarts are perfect candidates for the freezer. In fact, it’s easier to make these recipes in batches. Finished hand pies don’t take much freezer space, and the convenience of baking a few at a time combines the ease of fast food with the nutrition and deliciousness of home cooking.
Fully baked banana, pumpkin, and cranberry orange pecan quick breads all keep remarkably well when wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to three months.
Nothing beats a cookie warm from the oven, but if you have baked cookies you want to keep fresh for more than a few days, freeze them in a resealable bag. I’d be surprised if anyone turned one down.
What you plan to bake will determine what equipment will be essential to your batterie de cuisine. The list that follows is not all-inclusive, but it does cover the equipment required for the recipes in this book. More specific or specialized tools are discussed in the recipes requiring them.
In addition to a couple of baking sheets, it’s handy to have a modest collection of baking pans in a few basic sizes. If you don’t have the exact size called for in a recipe, be certain to choose a pan that holds an equivalent volume. As a general rule of thumb, a round cake pan is three-quarters the volume of a square cake pan of the same size. The list below gives the volume of various sizes of pans.
Standard 12-cup muffin pan, 23/4 by 13/8 inches (scant 1/2 cup each, or a bit less than 6 cups total)
8 by 8 by 2-inch square baking pan (8 cups)
9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan (8 cups)
9 by 13 by 2-inch rectangular baking pan (13 cups)
10 by 31/2-inch original Bundt pan (10 to 15 cups)
10 by 4-inch tube pan (16 cups)
9 by 3-inch springform pan (10 cups)
9 by 11/2-inch pie pan (4 cups)
A wide variety of round cake pans:
6 by 2 inches (33/4 cups)
8 by 2 inches (7 cups)
9 by 2 inches (82/3 cups)
10 by 2 inches (103/4 cups)
12 by 2 inches (151/2 cups)
Once I’d baked with commercial baking sheets, I knew I could never go back to the flimsy, light-gauge metal pans sold for cookie baking. A 12 by 18-inch pan with 1-inch sides (also called a half sheet pan) is slightly larger than a conventional cookie or jelly roll pan, but not so much that it won’t fit in your oven. I recommend it to the home baker for its size (large enough to maximize baking surface and oven space, small enough to slip in the freezer) and weight, which is sturdy enough for pizza. Chicago Metallic makes half sheet pans in nonstick and traditional aluminum. I prefer the traditional finish. I’m not sure it’s possible to have too many of these; between two and four is ideal, so that you can have a couple in the oven while the others are cooling or being loaded with new items to bake.
Bamboo skewers–the same ones used for kebabs–make the best cake testers.
Also called a bench scraper or dough scraper, this short metal sheet attached to a heavy, rounded wooden handle is my favorite kitchen tool. Use a bench knife any time you are tempted to use a knife blade to scrape or pry. It is indispensable for keeping sticky dough from adhering to your work surface. I also use it divide dough, chop nuts, and scrape my worktable during cleanup.
A round, plastic bowl scraper is an inexpensive, handy tool. It’s useful for getting the last bit of dough or batter out of a bowl or scraping down the sides of a mixing bowl when creaming butter and sugar or incorporating eggs.
Electric stand mixer
I didn’t get a fancy watch, a piece of luggage, or a fat check when I graduated from college. I got a heavy-duty, white, five-quart Classic KitchenAid stand mixer, and I still have it. For me, an electric stand mixer, with its beating, whipping, and kneading abilities, is a must-have for the home baker, even if it’s a bit extravagant. A handheld mixer is an acceptable substitute when whipping egg whites or cream or mixing very soft butter, but most handheld mixers aren’t up to the task of mixing stiff batters or large volumes properly. If a handheld mixer is the only mixer you have, be sure to use a mixing bowl with high sides to contain the ingredients when you mix. Use it to cream the butter and sugar, then rely on a strong arm and proceed by hand.
Sieves and sifters come in all sizes, but it’s most important to have one with a fine mesh in your collection, for sifting dry ingredients. Go ahead and invest in one with a stainless steel mesh, as other metals rust easily.
Ellen and I both have chest freezers. They’re efficient and economical, and we keep them packed to the gills. My dream freezer would probably be an upright model. A freezer with shelves allows you to store baking sheets, which is especially handy when chilling berries or cookies before transferring them to freezer bags. The downside of upright freezers is that they are more expensive and less efficient. A side-by-side configuration is, in my opinion, the least useful of the three, as its shelves don’t accommodate regular-size baking pans and they tend to be inefficient in the same way that upright freezers are.
Graduated mixing bowls with high sides
Having bowls of at least three different sizes is essential to the home baker. I find bowls with a deep profile most useful, since the high sides help contain the ingredients when mixing. It’s especially convenient to have extra-large and extra-small options. You can find inexpensive nested bowls made from many different materials; they usually come in sets of three, five, or seven bowls. A hodgepodge of bowls works too.
For a serious baker, there is no more accurate way to measure ingredients than to weigh them. I never used a scale before I began baking professionally. After using one daily in the bakery, I purchased a scale for my home kitchen and prefer to use it for all of my measuring. Once you’re accustomed to working with one, not only is a scale more efficient and easy to use, you’ll have fewer dishes to wash. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, consider treating yourself. It’s an inexpensive luxury, and soon you won’t know how you lived without it.
We have provided weight equivalencies for volume measures for many of the ingredients in the recipes in this book because certain ingredients are most accurately measured by weight.
It takes just three knives to accomplish most of a baker’s tasks: a paring knife, for peeling and cutting small fruits; a 6- or 8-inch chef’s knife, for chopping nuts and chocolate and slicing and dicing fruit; and a long, gently serrated knife for cutting cakes into layers.
When measuring by volume, it’s important to use the correct container and the same method every time. For liquids, use a glass liquid measuring cup with clear markings. Rest the measuring cup on a flat surface and allow the liquid to settle before gauging the level. Choose the smallest measure suited to the job for the greatest accuracy; if you’re measuring 1/4 cup of liquid or less in a 4-cup measure, it’s less likely to be accurate.
Dry measuring cups usually come in nested sets that include 1/4-cup, 1/3-cup, 1/2-cup, and 1-cup measures. Choose cups with flat tops and straight rims, which allow you to sweep a level edge across the top for the most accurate measure.
Amounts of ingredients requiring measurement in spoons are small by nature, so precision is the key. A complete set of graduated measuring spoons includes 1/8 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon. The rims should be straight, as with dry measuring cups, so you can level the ingredients.
Microplane grater or citrus zester
Microplane graters and citrus zesters are handheld tools designed to delicately remove the outer, colored skin of citrus fruits. The microplane resembles a woodworker’s rasp and is perfect for everything from zesting citrus to shaving chocolate. It removes the zest in short, thin pieces, while a zester removes it in long threads, which usually need to be finely chopped.
Nonstick pan liners
Silicone pan liners do the same job as parchment paper but can be washed and reused, over and over. They are expensive, but last a long time. I have a few Silpat brand pan liners, but I seem to use parchment paper more often.
The recipes in this book were tested in conventional 30-inch-wide gas, electric, and dual-fuel ovens. Technically, an electric convection oven yields the most consistent results, but I’ve baked extensively in ovens of all kinds and find that once you get to know your own, you’ll be able to achieve success no matter what sort of oven you have. When it comes to the recipes in this book, you can use any standard oven, but it’s a good idea to make use of an oven thermometer. Check it the first few times you bake something, paying close attention to the time and temperature suggested in the recipe and how closely those conform to your experience. A thermometer will help you figure out if your oven runs hot or cold (I’ve found most do one or the other), and identify the spots where the temperature tends to vary.
The problem with any oven is that the minute you open the door, the temperature can drop by at least 25¼F and as much as 50¼F. You can avoid this sudden dip by preheating your oven 25¼F to 50¼F above the desired temperature, but be sure to turn it down to the proper temperature as soon as the item is in the oven and the door is closed.
Avoid opening the oven during the first half of the total baking time; after that it’s fine to open the door quickly to turn the pan around. This promotes even browning and is especially important if you bake in a still oven (as opposed to a convection oven). Convection ovens have a fan that circulates the hot air into every little nook and cranny of the oven, creating an even baking temperature. In theory, you can load up every shelf of a convection oven without worrying that anything will end up over- or underbaked. In reality, it’s best to rotate the pans halfway through the baking time and not to overload your oven–even if it’s a professional model. The rule of thumb when using a convection oven is to reduce the suggested oven temperature by 25¼F and, sometimes, reduce the baking time by 10 to 15 percent.
The trick is to know your oven and make it work for you, whether you have a high-end dual-fuel oven or a standard model. If you have a gas oven or one with less insulation, preheating may take longer. Bake on the middle rack of a hot, clean (and therefore efficient) oven and rotate the pans at least once, and you’ll be successful in your baking endeavors.
One of the countless secrets I’ve picked up while working in a commercial bakery is that parchment paper is a baker’s best friend. It’s functional and convenient and has seemingly endless uses, from lining the bottoms of pans so that cakes release beautifully to keeping baking sheets clean and preventing baked goods from burning and sticking. You can even shape it into a cone for use as a disposable pastry bag. Parchment can be purchased in sheets or in a roll, both of which can be cut to fit any pan.
I have several natural-bristle brushes in different sizes. They’re inexpensive and easy to find, so replace them when they begin to get ratty.
Having a rolling pin you feel comfortable using is critical. My favorite is a big, heavy, solid maple pin that I’ve had for years. I know many bakers who like the straight French pins that are 16 to 18 inches long and 2 or 21/2 inches in diameter. Ellen likes another type of French pin, which is very long, with tapered ends and a diameter of no more than 11/2 to 2 inches. Again, the body should be about 16 inches long. The conventional wisdom is that French pins are gentler on the dough. Stainless steel, marble, and nonstick pins are good for really sticky dough.
You’ll want at least one medium and one large heat-resistant spatula. Get spatulas with durable handles, and don’t be tempted by those cheap spatulas you see everywhere; the rubber melts on contact with heat, and they tend to chip off and flake into your baked goods.
Generally speaking, handheld beaters and stand mixers do the same job as a whisk, but much more quickly and easily. Still, I find that the right whisk also does a good job when paired with a strong, steady arm. A stiff, narrow sauce whisk blends mixtures without incorporating too much air, while a balloon whisk, which is made with finer, more flexible wires, is used to aerate whipped cream and mixtures like eggs and sugar. Having one of each type of whisk is nice.