Chef Pazmiño offers excellent suggestions for tools that go beyond the basic requirements for a pastry tool kit from a book to customized wire whisk for drizzling glazes.
By Chef David Pazmiño of Newbury College
We have a combined tool kit for both our culinary and baking and pastry degree students. After taking their introductory classes, I inevitably get questions from the stronger students about what tools they can add to their pastry toolkit. What I have listed below are my suggested answers to these questions:
- “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee: Students are often perplexed by this one. It’s a book and not something I would expect them to carry with them. But, what I do tell students is that in order to become a better chef you have to be the best cook. Understanding the theory behind our practice is the best way to achieve that. One of the most prevalent trends that has come into the whole food industry over the last 25 years is molecular gastronomy. While many of the thickening and gelling ingredients are making their way out of savory food, they are firmly planted in the pastry world. This book, while a big read for many of my students, encourages them to become better tacticians of the products they use. What better tool to add to a kit than a well-engaged mind.
- Digital Scale: I tell every pastry student that having a lightweight, portable digital scale is one of the items they should add to their toolbox immediately. I don’t think I could live without my scale. Pastry work is precision work and exact weights take the guessing game out of getting a formula right. Plus, most pastry chefs speak in the language of weights, particularly metric. The sooner pastry students start speaking that language the better.
- Pocket Notebook: Culinary instructors have been telling students to carry one around in their pockets for years. However, I am not talking about the $.59 cent wide ruled, flimsy drugstore notebooks. I am talking about the nicely bound Moleskin ones. Pastry chefs always need to write down notes, adjust formulas and sketch ideas for platings or conceptual pieces. These notebooks weather the storm of getting wet and being thrown around in chef coats, pants and pastry tool bags. Yes, they are a bit more money. But, can you really put a price on the information the notebooks contain?
- Digital Thermometer: I know I can’t live without my thermometers. Pocket and hand-held versions both have their place. I tell students to check out Thermoworks and to start off with the Thermapen before graduating to one of the hand-held models that have different thermocouples for different types of measuring.
- Plating Spoons: Every pastry chef has their opinions about the best spoons to use. Some shop for cheap oversized spoons from thrift shops or Chinese restaurant supply stores while others opt for the perfectly balanced Gray Kunz spoons. Some even dabble with the sauce spoons used for advanced plate design work. In the end, a comfortable pair for plating and making quenelles is key.
- Butane Torch: Back in the day, one of my first hardware-to-pastry-kitchen buys was a plumber’s propane torch with the separate spark ignitor. Talk about dangerous. Nowadays, there are several brands of butane torches that attach to the same butane canisters that fit in the portable gas burners already in many kitchens. While it has certainly been used for caramelizing creme brulee and meringue, it gets the bulk of its workout warming up buttercream or egg whites in a stand mixer.
- Cutters: Students often see my collection of cutters and want to know where to start. I tell them to buy good quality heat resistant or exoglass cutters. Since they aren’t cheap, I tell them to start with a good round set and then a fluted set. They can do so many things with just these two sets. I tell them to avoid the tin or metal cutters. While cheap, they often bend, rust, and don’t cut well.
- Spatulas: Pastry chefs love their spatulas -- silicone, exoglass or wood. There are advantages to each. The key is to find something that works for you. Of all the possibilities, the first that I tell students to get are at least 2 mini-offset spatulas. These are often cheap, but like spoons, they are used for not only icing but more often for plating, garnishing, or assembling different pastry items.
- Modelling Tools: With more and more students coming to culinary school wanting to do cake decorating, one of the first items I recommend they purchase is a set of modelling tools. This can be bought at any good art supply store and while designed for clay, they work just as well on fondant, marzipan, bread, and other pastry doughs.
- Bench Scraper: I think pastry chefs use their bench scrapers more than they use a knife. I recommend students have at least two. One that I am particularly fond of is the oversized plastic trapezoid style often used for dividing bread. I use them for lifting up mise en place from a cutting board or transferring other items from one container to another. I recommend students keep one tucked under their cutting board. When students use it, their workspaces are more organized and cleaner compared to those that don’t use one.
- Small Fine Mesh Strainer: Finding useable chinois in a working pastry kitchen can be hard. I recommend that they carry a small fine mesh strainer in their took kits. They can be used to not only strain small amounts of sauce but they can also be used to dust flour, 10x sugar or cocoa powder. I use my mini-strainer more than most any other tool.
- Various Tools: Years ago I saw one of my mentors with this odd tool. He had taken a whisk and cut each wire with a cutter. I use this tool to drizzle glaze over breads, pastries, or cookies as well as with sugar work to make sugar threads. Throw in this mix a cake tester (much less messy than dirty skewers by the oven and table tops), apple corer, kitchen scissors that can come apart to be cleaned, a channel knife (great for removing zest before juicing citrus), a citrus zester, an if not already included a micro-plane grater.
- Hardware Store Run: Pastry chefs have long pursued hardware stores for all sorts of tools: large spackling spatulas for chocolate work, wooden dowels, and PVC tubes used for forms. I cut wooden dowels to 12- to 16-inches to use as mini-rolling pins to do design work with bread or for rolling out small amounts of fondant or gum paste. One of my all-time useful hardware store finds is the painters five-way tools. I use this for opening plastic buckets of jam, breaking down boxes, and for scraping burnt food from pots and sheet pans. And no toolbox would be complete without a screwdriver with multiple flat head, phillips, torque, and square drive tips. There is no dearth of things to tighten or loosen in a pastry kitchen.
- Office Supply Store: Most well-supplied tool kits contain supplies like an Exacto knife, plastic or metal rulers, Sharpies in various colors and masking tape. It also doesn’t hurt to have a roll or two of colored electrical or duct tape to mark tools and personal items. I also recommend students to carry at least 10 pairs of disposable gloves in case they need them. I prefer all black nitrile gloves for such an occasion.