Archives: Equipment

Give Your Microwave More Love

Give Your Microwave More Love: Maxing Out Your Microwave


sharp microwave


As I work on the article I have re-heated my tea a couple of times in my microwave, which I do everyday. As with many microwave models mine has a “baked potato” function that I use when I need a baked potato fast. Re-heat last night’s leftovers? Check. But I also use it as a serious kitchen appliance.

It’s time for you to examine how you are using your microwave as you might be missing out on all that your microwave has to offer. (See our review of our new Sharp Microwave Model R551ZS, with its really snazzy Softening feature for butter, chocolate, ice cream and cream cheese). In our Test Kitchen we consider it a vital appliance, right up there with our stand mixer, food processor and range oven. Sure, we re-heat beverages, but we use it for so much more. In fact, we use our microwave more than any of these other appliances, putting it into action several times a day. So how come so many people relegate its use to reheating and the occasional batch of popcorn?


What Do You Use Your Microwave For?

We think it is because you have just never thought beyond those tried and true uses, which it does so well. It also melts butter and chocolate, softens winter squash for easier cutting, warms honey for easier pouring and measuring, heats our tortillas, and helps reheat and cook dishes especially on busy food holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. (Our main oven can only hold so much and the stovetop gets crowded so we always plan some dishes around the microwave as well).


Microwave Technology vs. Radiant Heat

Let’s first talk a little about microwave technology versus radiant heat (your standard oven). Microwaves ovens use radio waves that agitate water molecules in food; moisture in the food comes to a boiling point and heats the food from the inside. This inside-out heating is not optimum for every kind of cooking, so it behooves us to understand what it does well so that we can make our microwave ovens work for us, not against us. Radiant heat, which is what you have in your standard oven, is heat that is created via an electrical element or gas, and the heat literally radiates throughout the oven cavity, heating food from the outside.

What this means is that there are certain techniques to employ that will give you your best results from your microwave and you do have to think about it differently from your main oven.


Mug Cakes

If you have access to the Internet and an interest in food (and of course if you are reading this, that’s you!) then you know of the proliferation of mug cakes in the last few years. These are individual servings sized cakes, made in mugs, right in the microwave.

We were in a particularly snacky mood and decided to go for broke with one of our favorite decadent flavor combinations. Behold our Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Mug Cake. Or as we like to call it, Chocolate Crazy Monkey Mug Cake for One.


Toasting Nuts?

We came across a mention of “toasting” nuts in the microwave at and they referenced Harold McGee, whom we love for the explaining science and technical aspects around all things food. We were doubtful, but curious. Could we “toast” nuts in the microwave? The thing about his book, On Food and Cooking, is that every time we read it we pick up new things, such as this concept.

Our tests show that you can, but the results are not quite as good as when done in the oven, however, when we need let’s say just 1/2 cup of nuts to be incorporated into a dish, turning on the oven seems like such a waste of time and energy. Here’s how to do it in the microwave.

Whether you store your nuts at room temperature, in the fridge or in the freezer, spread them out in a single layer, well spaced apart, on a microwave safe tray or flat plate. Microwave on High power for 1-minute intervals and keep checking until nuts smell fragrant and have taken on some color. The timing will depend on the strength of your microwave, the amount of nuts and the temperature they were to begin with (sometimes ours are right out of the freezer). Now, with oven baking we always find that the construction of the pans that we use can greatly affect the heat conductivity and therefore the timing and the toasting results. With the microwave we experienced very even, reliable results every time.

Ripening Bananas

We have written about ripening bananas using a radiant heat oven, but what about the microwave? It can be done and it is fast. One caveat, while the bananas will soften to a good consistency for making banana bread, they do not sweeten very much as the sugars to not have time to convert during this process.

Pierce the unripe bananas, still in the peel, several times all over with a fork. Place bananas on a paper towel in the microwave and heat on High power for 30 seconds. Check bananas for texture. Depending on how green or ripe your bananas were to begin with, this process might have to be repeated 3 or 4 times, always in 30 second intervals, to get to the desired softness. Allow the bananas to cool, then use in a smoothie or baking recipe.

Reheating, Cooking and…Cleaning?

And no article on using your microwave is complete without mentioning the old sponge trick. Okay, it isn’t food, but we use sponges all the time for cleanup and the microwave can sterilize them, extending their lifespan.

Make sure sponges have no metal fibers. Place in microwave and power on High power for 2 minutes. Voila! Also, to clean the microwave itself if it should have some baked on crud, we do the following. Stir together a 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water in a microwave safe bowl and heat on High power for a few minutes or until some steam is created. The steam will soften the grime. Allow bowl to cool briefly in microwave and then wipe down the interior with your newly cleaned sponge.

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The Danger of Weight Charts

How to Use Weight Charts

weighing vs measuring

Did the word “danger” grab your attention? Okay so we are not talking about shark attacks or anything that dramatic, but how about when you take the time to shop for ingredients and make a cake from scratch only to get lackluster or horrible results? This is what I call a dessert tragedy.


weighing vs measuring2


There are many reasons why we might not get great end results – oven not calibrated, you substituted ingredients, batter is over worked – the list goes on and on. But let’s take a look at how a recipe is presented and how it is that you actually go about making it. For instance if the recipe says:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

That is not the same thing as:

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour.

The first is suggesting that you measure the flour, then sift it. The second one, vice versa. These will give you different amounts of flour.

Now let’s say you are following a recipe, like the one’s on Bakepedia, that call for 1 cup all-purpose flour and you decide you want to weigh instead of measure by volume. Maybe you Google a substitution chart or maybe you have one from a baking book. If you use a search engine I assure you that you will find weights telling you that 1 cup of flour is 4 ounces, 4.5 ounces, 5 ounces and even other amounts. How come? Because we measure cups of flour differently. You have to know how the person who developed the recipe measured their flour or you will not have accurate results.

Do not use a chart from one source and apply it to another source.

So, our suggestion is always to make the recipe as described. If the person used weight and tells you their cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, then you are good to go as long as you have a scale. If the baker used a dip and sweep method after aerating the dry ingredient, then follow suit. That’s what we do in the Test Kitchen by the way and you can read more here at How to Measure Dry Ingredients.

Not get into the kitchen and bake!



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Fall = Pie Season: Our Best Pie Making Tips

Our Best Pie Making Tips

Craftsy using rolling pin to lift pie crust

For some reason fall always brings out the pie baker inside us. Sure, we make pie in the spring and summer with fresh berries but there is something about apple and pumpkin season to get our creative juices going. Pies are a funny thing. You hear of Grandmas throwing them together without recipes and having fabulous success every time and yet making and handling the crust can instill fear in many bakers. Here are some of our best pie making tips and ones gathered from some of our favorite and most trusted sources.

First let’s talk about temperature. Think Cold. Water should be cold (drop a few ice cubes in there), your fingers shouldn’t be overly warm (for when handling) and you can even chill your bowl and/or stick your flour in the freezer for 15 minutes. The fat, of course, should be very cold, too. Heat melts the fat and prevents all those nice air pockets you want to create.

Whether you make by hand with a Hand Blender, by food processor or stand mixer fitted with flat paddle is up to you. Making it by hand allows you to really feel (literally) what you are doing and will help with your understanding of the process. Here is a great video from Epicurious on how to make piecrust by hand.


pie plate comparison



Choosing your pie plate is important as well. Think you are looking at a 9-inch pie plate in your cupboard? You might be, or it might be a 9-insh deep dish or a 9 ½-inch plate, both of which have very different volume amounts than a classic 9-inch and can wreak havoc if they are not the sized intended by the recipe developer. Read more about Choosing Your Pie Plate before embarking on your pie making adventure. Now, let’s say you are taking the pie to a party and don’t want to lug one of your pie plates and you are eyeing those aluminum disposable pie plates from the supermarket. We used to say NEVER to those until a friend told us about a genius tip of hers. She forms and bakes her pie in the disposable but during baking it is nestled inside one of her Pyrex plates. The pie bakes more evenly than if in the disposable alone and for travel, she simply leaves the Pyrex at home. Problem solved!




How about do-ahead tips? We’ve got ‘em! Piecrust freezes very well, but waiting for a large hunk of pie dough to defrost tales forever and it often defrosts unevenly. We like to do the following: roll out your pie crust on parchment, then roll up inside the parchment, slip into a mailer tube and freeze. It’s like having refrigerator dough on hand but it’s homemade! Defrost overnight or simply take out of freezer and let stand until pliable. So handy (as long as you have room in the freezer).




If you missed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s new Pie Kit, you should definitely check it out (seen above). If you don’t have a good surface to roll your crust on, this can solve your problem.


Pie crust crimp with pearls

Bet you have seen plenty of images with crusts with picture perfect decorative edges…well nothing beats this article on Guerrilla Pie Crust Tips. Trust us…now go bake some pie!


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Pie Plates, Tart Pans and Tart Rings

Use the Right Pie Plate for the Best Results

pie plate comparison

Pies are all baked and presented in pie plates, which are typically round with sloping sides, but the actual dimensions are a very important detail to which you must pay attention. It is typical to come across pie plates that measure 9 to 9 ½-inches across and they can vary in depth, often 1 ¼-inches to 1 ½-inches. These seemingly small variations make a huge difference in the final dish. If the recipe is developed for a 9 x 1 ¼-inch pie plate and is made in a 9 1/2 x 1 ½-inch dish, the pie will be too thin and scant and look quite meager. Conversely, if you try to make a recipe made initially developed for the larger dimension in the smaller plate, you will most likely get overflow – and a mess. I use Pyrex pie plates as I find they give the most reliable results in terms of browning the crust evenly. I use two sizes: the larger deep-dish 9 ½ x 1 ½-inches (in the rear of top image) and the smaller 9 x1 ¼-inch size (in the front of top image). Our Bakepedia recipes will clearly tell you in the beginning of the recipe which size pie plate to use and I strongly suggest that you make sure you have the right size. It can make the difference between the pie working flawlessly – and not at all. I am not partial to 10-inch pie plates as I find the edges of these pies overbake by the time the centers are done.


Tarts are made in tart pans, either fluted-edge, loose-bottomed (seen below) or simple rings (seen above), and again, precise dimensions are important. When I call for a 10-inch tart pan I have measured it across the bottom. This is important to note because most fluted edge, loose-bottom pans flare out towards to the top and if measured there, would indicate a different diameter.

fluted tart ring 2

Many imported tart pans do not come is exact inches, as they are metric, so do measure your pans to make sure you have the correct size. Tart rings are exactly what they sound like; they are straight-sided rings, without a bottom of any sort. They must be placed on a pan, such as a jellyroll pan, in order to be used. Coat rings and tart pans well with nonstick spray unless otherwise noted. Take care when forming tart dough in a ring; the ring will be lifted up and off of the tart, so no dough can overhang the top of the ring. The fluted edge, loose-bottomed tart pans that I use are 1-inch high; the rings are 7/8-inch high.

fluted tart ring 1

Images: Dédé Wilson

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How to Prep Shaped Baking Pans

Fancy Pan Shapes Add Beauty to Your Baking


When I started baking as a young child we had round cake pans, square and rectangle pans for brownies and bars and one Bundt pan. There wasn’t much choice for shaped baking pans. I always liked baking with the Bundt pan because the fluted shape instantly made the finished cake “fancy” and decorative. And when you poured a glaze on top of the finished cake I loved watching how it would run down the individual ridges. Okay maybe I was easily amused but as you can see from our images, decorative ring pans now come in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

They tend to be 10-cup to 12-cup in size (although there are exceptions. Consult manufacturer’s info) and if a recipe for a coffee cake or a pound cake calls for a 12-cup decorative ring pan, you can make it in any decorative ring pan of that dimension.

There are pans that look like roses(above) and castles(below); some have simple, symmetrical broad ridges (top image) while others have intricate details. The key is to take advantage of those lovely details – we want to see them in relief in our cakes once they are unmolded!

To do this the cake must unmold flawlessly and this means it must be prepped very well and thoroughly. Here is our preferred method, which Rose Levy Beranbaum swears by:


  • Buy Baker’s Joy. This is a nonstick spray coating that combines grease and flour in one. There are other brands that take the same approach, but there is a reason so many bakers love this particular product. It works!
  • Thoroughly wash and dry your pan.
  • Lightly coat the inside of the pan with Baker’s Joy. It might look a little foamy. That’s okay.
  • Take a clean, soft pastry brush (we like silicone) and use the brush to go over all the surfaces inside the pan. This will ensure that any details are coated and will also remove any excess – brushing creates an even layer, which is what you want.
  • Pour batter into pan and bake and cool as directed.
  • In general, you will be cooling the cake in the pan for several minutes until just warm, then unmold the cake directly onto a cooling rack. The cake should unmold cleanly.
  • If it doesn’t unmold cleanly you will be able to see where the cake stuck. Make a mental note for next time that those areas need special attention. Some pans with very fine detail can be more persnickety but this is your best approach to success.
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Grilling Your Desserts in 5 Easy Steps

The Grill is Going Anyway: Make Dessert!

grill dome 1

Have you ever heard of a kamado style grill? Perhaps not, but I bet you have seen one. They are the rounded or oval, often egg-shaped ceramic grills that some folks just go crazy for. In fact, this style of grill is the largest growing sector of the market. The have grate surfaces like all grills, but what distinguishes them is their thick ceramic bodies and rounded shape. Both of these factors create an oven-like environment and indeed they boast that they can grill, smoke and bake. Having never baked much outside, I thought it was high time that I did. Summer is still here, the kitchen is hot and I am grilling and making dinner outside. Why not keep the indoor oven off and take advantage of the coals and outdoor baking and dessert making potential? Grilling your desserts is easy

grill dome 2

I was set up with a large sized Infinity Grill Dome. This thing is sexy! Unpacking it and assembling it was exciting; this is a serious piece of equipment. The parts are heavy and it takes two people, but the quality of the workmanship was making me eager to bake! These grills allow you to cook anywhere from 200°F to over 750°F. The thick ceramic walls are built to hold heat, which allows more reliable temperature control while also using far less fuel, which by the way is hardwood charcoal. The charcoal and the smoke will give your desserts a unique campfire flavor that gas grilling cannot. There is a temperature gauge in the dome that will help you regulate and monitor the temperature, which is vital with baking; this is a very helpful design aspect. Also, the way the Grill Dome is built gives you three potential levels of heat: direct (down near the coals), standard (halfway within the done) and indirect (way up inside the dome). Not only does this increase your cooking and baking area, but it also offers a lot of versatility in terms of temperature regulation. Imagine potatoes baking down below, chicken in the middle and a cobbler baking up above, all at the same time! Below you can see a sweet pizza baking away.

grill dome 3

I have learned a lot since I began baking and dessert making with my Grill Dome, so here is a primer to get you started. The first thing I learned is that this style grill fires up really quickly. In less than 10 minutes they are ready to go, similar to the time it would take to pre-heat your indoor oven. I found myself baking more and more outside because of the ease.

Our recipes will work with any covered grill, although the baking times and temperature regulation will vary, possibly hugely. If you have a Grill Dome or other kamado style grill, the recipes should work very well as written. Once you have read this primer, check out the recipes: Grilled Skillet Peach and Blueberry Cobbler; S’more Banana Boat Sundaes; Grilled Pound Cake with Maple Caramelized Pineapple; Sugar Glazed Challah with Nectarines and Crème Fraiche; Nutella Fondue with Grilled Fruit and Cake Kebobs; Grilled Baked Apples; Grilled Berry Tart; Grilled Chocolate Chip Cookies; Salted Caramel S’more Pizza; Grilled Nectarine Pizza with Dulce de Leche and Pecans; Grilled Cornbread and a Grilled S’mores Dip.

Rule Number 1Your ceramic covered grill is an oven

Most baking recipes call for a 350°F oven. Your ceramic covered grill can be regulated for that temperature, which means pretty much anything that calls for baking in a 350°F oven (or higher or lower) can be baked inside. It will just taste better because of the hardwood charcoal and smoke! Like with all ceramic covered grillcooking, you just have to familiarize yourself with temperature regulation and understand indirect heat cooking – or in this case, indirect baking. Use that thermometer to help gauge temperature, which of course varies depending on where you place the item to be baked – closer to the heat source, or farther up in the dome. Many baked items can withstand a little variation and you will learn from experience. A cobbler is forgiving. Meringues are not. Chocolate chip cookies bake perfectly. Check out our Grilled Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.


Rule Number 2 – Make the Most of Indirect Heat

The Indirect Cooking Rack is your best friend as is a Pizza Stone. The indirect rack allows you to modulate the amount of heat reaching your baked good. The pizza stone can be used for tarts, galettes and sweet pizzas right on the stone, but it can also be used as a heat tamer. You can place cast iron pans on top of it for an extra layer of heat cushioning, such as with our Grilled S’mores Dip.


Rule Number 3 – Use What You Have

If you own a ceramic covered grill you are a serious cook and that means you probably already have some tools that you can use to help you make dessert in your grill. Cast-iron works wonderfully. I find my 9-inch cast-iron skillet to be the most useful for cobblers and tarts and cornbread, etc. It is the right size for the recipes and it fits, handle and all, on the surface of my large Grill Dome. Tongs and spatulas are a must for grabbing fruit and flipping any items that need to be moved. Wooden spoons are other wooden implements work well, also. If you don’t have the right cookware on hand, try disposable aluminum foil pans. For instance you could make our Grilled Skillet Peach and Blueberry Cobbler in a 9-inch round disposable pan, but know that these conduct heat very differently from high quality, heavy pans and the baking time might be different. Brushes some in handy for applying melted butter and glazes to desserts, just make sure they don’t taste and smell like BBQ sauce! Silicone pastry brushes clean up beautifully and don’t leave bristles behind stuck to your desserts!


Rule Number 4 – Plan Ahead

Let’s say you know you are going to have your ceramic covered grill going for a while with the main meal. With the extra racks you can increase your cooking surface and either bake at the same time – if the temperatures coincide – or, plan on using the ceramic covered grill to make dessert once you have taken the main dish off the grill. The idea is that you have the grill going, you are using fuel, why not take advantage and make dessert or a baked good, too? Note I said baked goods. Maybe you don’t want something sweet, but a cornbread could be baked alongside your meat as a side dish.


Rule Number 5 – Be Creative. Be Daring. Think Outside the Box

You own a ceramic covered grill so you fit this personality profile. Just as you like to play and experiment with your meats, marinades, sauces, poultry, game and fish, be as adventurous with desserts and baking. Check out our recipes for inspiration. The cornbread is basic; add some bacon. The tart features berries; why not try some other fruit? You get the idea. Use the recipes as guides to develop your own. You know how easy it is to fire up your ceramic covered grill, so Get Baking! Here is more information about ceramic covered grills, like Grill Domes.

Bakepedia was provided with a Grill Dome. All opinions are our own.

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Cast Iron Cookware

Cast Iron is Very Versatile

Lodge pancakes

The very first piece of cookware I ever used was a cast iron skillet, learning to make omelets when I was 4. The pan has been passed down and is still going strong. You might think of cast-iron when it comes to pan frying chicken or making eggs but I use mine all the time when baking and making desserts.

cast iron

My Dutch oven gets a workout as a deep fryer for doughnuts and fritters, my griddle gets used almost every weekend for pancakes but it’s my skillets that get the most attention.

Whether I am roasting fruit in the oven, sautéing on top of the stove, making cornbread or upside down cakes, I reach for my cast-iron pans before any others. You can also start something on the stove and transfer to the oven with ease. For the Caramelized Vidalia Onion Bacon Cornbread below I fried the bacon in the pan, went on to caramelize the onions stovetop, then transferred the pan to the oven to bake the cornbread.

Lodge cornbread

When making pizza, we like to preheat the pans in the oven first,

Lodge skillet


whether we are using a skillet as seen above or the flat side of the double-sided grill/griddle, below.

Lodge griddle

Most of my pans are seasoned from years of use, but you can buy amazing pre-seasoned cast-iron from Lodge Manufacturing Company as seen in these images.

This 100-year plus company has operated a foundry in South Pittsburg, TN for generations surviving two World Wars and the Great Depression and is still producing amazing cast iron bakeware and cookware. They coat their seasoned products in vegetable oil and bake them at a very high temperature, which creates a natural nonstick surface. Mine worked great right out of the box after a quick hot water hand rinse and dry.

Lodge 2

If you need to season or re-season a cast-iron pan, follow these directions:

  • If you are buying new un-treated cast iron simply hand wash with water and dry. Then coat with a very thin layer of vegetable oil on all surfaces, inside and out. Some manufacturers recommend solid vegetable shortening (we prefer oil). Set pan upside down on top rack of oven preheat to 375°F. “Bake” the pan for at least an hour, turn oven off and allow pan to cool in oven. Store in dry place once cooled.
  • If you have a piece of cast-iron that has rusted, food is sticking or it has somehow otherwise lost its seasoning, follow above directions with the following exception: any rust must first be removed with a heavy-duty sponge or scrubber. Wash pan in hot soapy water and dry before seasoning with oil as described above.
  • We use hot water to wash out well-seasoned pans and don’t use soap. (Many manufacturers claim there is no need for soap). Never place in dishwasher or use metal scouring pads, which will remove seasoning. Coating with a thin layer of oil after every use will help reserve the seasoning.

With care cast-iron pans will last many lifetimes and are possibly the most versatile cooking pots and pans you can own. They heat very evenly and you can even use less fuel as they heat up quickly and then retain heat, allowing lower cooking temperatures. A good place to start is with a 9 or 10-inch skillet and then expand from there.

Images: Dédé Wilson

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Birthday Candles Make It a Celebration

The Tao of Birthday Candles

candles lit

Birthday candles are not to be overlooked – they are really a must as they signify the birthday celebration and they can be as exciting, personal and varied as the cakes themselves. Beyond the classic, short, spiral ones found in supermarkets, there are tall, slender elegant candles, ones that glow in the dark, trick candles that relight when blown out, candles shaped like numbers, letters, and themed candles such as soccer players, dinosaurs, flowers or rubber duckies, to name a few. Wilton has an enormous selection and I also always check dollar stores and gift shops. You can find hundreds of options online, from candles that look like trout, sea horses, ballerinas, and vegetables to monarch butterflies and pansies.

Rainbow candles

Candles can be put directly on the cake or in decorative candleholders. Simple plastic ones can be found in supermarkets. Reusable silver, pewter, or ceramic sets of birthday cake candleholders can be purchased new, or vintage sets are available from online auctions. They usually come in sets of six in themes ranging from Peter Rabbit, Teddy bears, and more. These candleholders make a unique baby shower gift, and can be passed down to the next generation.

Cake Candelabra Candle

We love this elegant candelabra from Fancy Flours, seen above.


gold moose candle holder

Etsy has much to choose from including the gold moose above (they have a unicorn, too) from the GnomeSweetGnome shop and the personalized silver ones you can order from neatlydoesitsilver seen below

silver candle holder

Alicesvintagewonder has a set unlike any we have ever seen – it is comprised of three wooden rings. Use one ring, two or all 3 as seen below!

wooden candle holder


MotherandSonVintage has adorable wooden holders, farmer, farmer’s wife and animals in a set.

wooden farmer candles

Other creative ideas include using LifeSavers candies to hold candles, choosing a candy flavor to complement the cake, of course, or caramels, gumdrops, and peppermint patties work, too. Check out our instructions for making Gumdrop Candleholders. Take a walk down the candy aisle and look for new ideas.

 Top 2 Images: Peter Muka

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Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake Decorating Supplies

Top Cake decorating Tools

Cake Decorating Supplies

Our Bakepedia community is made up of avid home bakers, both beginners and advanced, and sometimes these bakers need different sorts of recipes and information. When it comes to decorating cakes, my top cake decorating supplies work for everyone. You can frost and decorate a cake with a cereal spoon or a butter knife . Sometimes that casual look is all you want or need. However, if you want to take your cake decorating up a few notches there are some cake decorating supplies that will help you get the job done.

The first one is the only pricey investment decorating tool and mine is going strong after 30 years! I highly recommend that you have all of these in your kitchen if you find yourself decorating even a few birthday cakes a year. If you are a Bakepedia fan you know that I love tools and equipment that help make the task easier and help produce better results.

Ateco cake decorating turntable

Cake Decorating Turntable (Ateco)

Cake Turntable–Many resources will tell you that you can use any old lazy Susan, and you can, but sometimes they prove themselves and obstacle. The Ateco, (as seen in picture), has stood the test of time. A heavy iron bottom means that it stays put as you apply frosting so that you can concentrate on your cake decorating. The 12-inch diameter top is large enough to support even large wedding cake tiers ! It is also made from heavy metal that won’t warp. It’s two-part design means easy cleaning. They aren’t cheap but they are well worth it.


Cake Decorating Cardboard Rounds

Cardboard Rounds–These are my only single-use cake decorating supplies recommendation but you will be amazed at how helpful a piece of cardboard is! The key is that you want one in the exact diameter as the cake pan you are using: an 8-inch cardboard round for cakes baked in 8-inch cake pans. It is also preferable, you purchase them and not try to cut your own. The commercially produced ones will be exact. You need the smooth sides of the cardboard because they will be helping you guide your icing spatula to create smooth sides to your cakes, decorated with buttercream and frosting.


Icing Spatulas

Icing Spatulas–These come in straight and offset, typically ranging from 4-inches to 12-inches or more. My fairly flexible, straight 8-inch is my go-to (white handle, center of image). Then a small offset and a larger offset come into play most often. You will learn through experience what works for you. Clean and store your icing spatulas very carefully. Any kind of ding or ripple on the blade will show up in your frosting. For instance, never use them to pry open a can.

Pastry Bags–I use Wilton Featherweight bags in 14 and 16-inch sizes often for cake decorating. I like the soft flexibility that these bags offer and these lengths allow me to fill them with a good quantity of frosting, without being too large and unwieldy. Insert your tips carefully as sharp points can tear the bags.

Coupler–This is a small plastic device that “joins”your pastry bag and smaller tips and allows for quick changing of tips. For smaller shells and rosettes I am partial to the Wilton #18 tip. A Wilton #3 plain round tip is a good one to have on hand for writing when decorating your cake.

Wilton 1M Tip–The 1M is the mother of all star tips. This tip makes the best rosettes and swirls of any of the larger star tips. It is my desert island tip and can create those extra large whirls and swirls on cupcakes that look like giant servings of soft-serve ice cream! you can decorate and create rosettes like on our ombré cake!

Top Two Images: Peter Muka

Other Images: Dédé Wilson

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Choosing the Right Scoop

types of scoops

Years ago at my first pastry chef restaurant job I was introduced to the glorious use of scoops. I was self taught and had been using the typical tools and gadgets one would have at home. Being in a professional kitchen for the first time was a revelation and there were rules and regulations for everything. At times I found it stifling, but I also learned a lot. The right tool for the job saves time, hones technique, and can even help with portion control, all of which save money and often make your creations look the best they can be.

Scoops became part of my daily routine. They helped me get dozens of perfectly formed and sized muffins made in no time flat. Cookies were now all the exact same size. Same for truffles – all exactly 1-inch across thanks to the right sized tool.

Here are the scoops we regularly use with suggestions for their best application. What works with one doesn’t necessarily for another.


Ice Cream Scoop/Food Disher

(top in image)– this is the classic scoop and the one you probably have in your drawer. Some are spring loaded while some have a gear mechanism but they both work the same way. You press a lever that rotates a thin blade that hugs the concave bowl of the scoop, thereby pushing out and releasing whatever is in the scoop. If you over-fill the bowl, then level it off to the brim with cookie dough, sorbet or truffle ganache – whatever you are scooping – then each and every scoop will be the exact same size every time. Great for portion and yield control! And this is how bakeries made sure their cookies are all the same size. They look more professional and they bake more evenly.

Zeroll Ice Cream Scoop

(center in image and below in action)– you look at this scoop and you think, how good can it be? The bowl isn’t completely round and there is no release mechanism, but then you use it and experience the most effortless ice cream scooping. The image does not do this tool justice – you have to try one. The aluminum scoop is designed to create large looking scoops by preventing compression of the frozen dessert. The handle is filled with an FDA approved oil-based heat conductive fluid. Zeroll will not disclose exactly what it is. Your hand heats the liquid; that heat transfers to the handle, which in turn travels down to the scoop. These features make the scoop unique and facilitate easy release of the ice cream.

Zeroll Ice cream scoop

Indeed, with a regular scooping motion, the shape of this scoop forms a wave of ice cream that crests over itself and begins to form a “ball” shape. Except that this ball is like a spiral of ice cream. The company says that it gives the ice cream vendor 20% more ice cream scoops per gallon. What it means to you at home is easy scooping and nice looking scoops of ice cream, gelato or sorbet.


Paddle or Spade

(bottom of image) – these are a scoop of sort and are included here because ice cream is a common denominator. If you have ever gone into an ice cream shop that specializes in custom mix-ins, they are probably using something like this tool. They dig into half gallons of extra hard ice cream easily and then use this same gadget to mash in a custom combo of Heath Bar pieces and crushed Oreos or whatever you desire. Do what the pros do: chill a slab of marble or even a baking sheet pan. Scoop out an amount of ice cream onto the pre-chilled surface, sprinkle on your mix-ins, then use the spade to slap them together to create your own custom flavors of ice cream with candy/cookies mixed in.

Images: Peter Muka

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Caring for Nonstick Bakeware

caring for nonstick bakeware

There are many types of nonstick coatings for your bakeware – most companies claim to have proprietary technology – but they are all light years beyond what they were two decades ago and even five years ago. Nonstick technology gets better and better as time goes on, resulting in bakeware that lives up to its name and is more durable than ever. With good-quality equipment in your kitchen, it’s important to make sure you’re caring for your nonstick bakeware in the right way. Here are a few tips to keep your pans in tip-top shape for years to come:

  • To some degree, you get what you pay for. Nonstick from the supermarket is most likely going to be cheap and thus cheaply made. On the other hand, you don’t have to go to the super-fancy gourmet chain stores either. Look for commercial-weight bakeware; heavy is good! It means the pan won’t warp and heat will be more evenly conducted. Read reviews online to learn about other bakers’ experiences.
  • Many of today’s nonstick surfaces claim that they can withstand use with metal utensils, but do so with care. Using a metal spatula to lift a brownie is fine, but digging down into those brownies to cut them in the pan with a sharp knife is not.
  • Some nonstick pans might develop surface marks after hard use that do not affect their efficacy. My rule of thumb is if I can feel it with my fingernail, the scratch is deep and the pan should be replaced. Very often, the mark is primarily visual and does not negatively affect the pan.
  • When cutting brownies and bars, consider using the technique shown below. While still barely warm, use a plastic bench scraper to cut straight down to create your bars. This technique eliminates the need to use a sharp implement. You can see our technique in the image below.


  • Some nonstick pans are dishwasher-safe, but do not use the solid detergent pellets, which often prove too harsh. Best-case scenario is to hand wash in warm, sudsy water with a sponge or approved “scrub” sponge that is safe for nonstick surfaces.
  • Some nonstick surfaces discolor over time, but this does not usually impact their effectiveness.
  • Take care when storing. Stacking is fine, but be careful not to scratch the nonstick surfaces with other pots and pans.

Of course, the most important thing to do is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper care, as they might vary slightly from one brand to the next.

The pans in our images are the Avanti line from Wilton (who provided the pans). For the last couple of decades, I have used Wilton’s nonstick muffin/cupcake pans exclusively. When I was writing my Baker’s Field Guide to Cupcakes, I knew I was going to be baking hundreds of cupcakes for several months, and through trial and error I discovered their nonstick muffin/cupcake pan and was sold on the superior performance.  Every few years, Wilton redevelops their technology and they have never steered me wrong. By the way, if I am baking muffins directly in the pans, without paper liners, I do coat the wells with nonstick spray for extra insurance from sticking. With regular pans, you have to prep; there is no option. With nonstick it isn’t necessary, but I choose to use nonstick spray just to be safe. I find that an extra spritz on the tops of the pans where batter might cling is especially helpful.

Images: Peter Muka

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What Are Ramekins?


Many recipes call for ramekins, from crème brûlée to hot and cold soufflés, molten chocolate cakes, individual flans or panna cottas; the list goes on. They are used to prepare, bake, store and serve desserts (as well as savory dishes), making them a very useful piece of equipment.

Ramekins are usually ceramic and, while their volume can vary, they are typically ½ cup (4 ounces), and can be easily found as small as 1 ounce and up to 1 cup (8 ounces) in size. The standard issue is white, usually with a ribbed pattern along the outside, but you can find them in a variety of colors and designs. The interior, however, is always super smooth. This way if you are unmolding that crème caramel, the ramekin will facilitate the process.

Above, you can see the very basic 4-ounce ribbed white style in the rear right of the picture. The oval ones rear left and front center are our choice for crème brûlée as, they offer more surface area for the caramelized sugar topping. The tiny oval ones stacked in front are great for small individual crème brûlée portions, or whatever you would like to present in that amount.

One very important thing to note is that the ones in the rear right and the rear left are the same volume, but are obviously very different proportions and will give you very different results in your desserts. Unfortunately, most recipes will call for a 4-ounce ramekin, but won’t address whether it is a wide, shallow 4-ounce ramekin or a narrower, deeper ramekin. Look at any accompanying images that there might be and read the recipe. Try to deduce what the recipe is calling for. If you have to guess, the deep, classic style in the right rear of the image are standard and are what most recipes mean when they say “4-ounce ramekin”.

Image: Dédé Wilson

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The Benefits of a Stand Mixer


I bought my first KitchenAid in the early 1980s when I was hired to make my first wedding cake. I knew I needed a stand mixer to accomplish the job and used the down payment from the wedding cake to buy a shiny 5-quart lift model, and the machine is still going strong. Lauren uses the one she received as a wedding gift years ago and this stand mixer is what we use in the Bakepedia Test Kitchen.

Image: KitchenAid

For many avid bakers, the stand mixer is something they have come to rely on and we have to admit, we do take them for granted. For those of you who haven’t yet taken the plunge and are still wondering if its worth it, here are our top reasons for using these babies, I mean mixers, although they are as dear to our hearts as many family members.

  • Hands-free baking, more power, less mess and faster results. These might be apparent but time after time, they prove to be really helpful reasons.
  • Most stand mixers come with varied attachments, which make them much more versatile than a hand-held mixer.


Image: Dédé Wilson

  • The balloon-whisk will beat a hot Italian meringue buttercream into chilled submission, which can often take up to 10 minutes, freeing you to wash the pot from the sugar syrup or prep other recipes. A huge time saver.


Image: Dédé Wilson

  • They knead heavy yeast dough effortlessly with a super-effective dough hook so that we still have use of our biceps to pick up our kids at the end of the day.


Image: Dédé Wilson

  • This flat beater creams butter and sugar for fluffy layer cakes in much less time – and more effectively – than a hand-held mixer.
  • Have you tried to whip a large batch of egg whites by hand? Even with a classic copper egg-white bowl, this is a lengthy, laborious experience at best.
  • That said, depending on the mixer that you have, some do not whip one or two egg whites very well as the contact between the beater and the bowl isn’t as efficient as it could be. Some mixers, however, allow you to adjust the levels of contact. See How to Adjust Your Stand Mixer.
  • Many mixers come with stainless steel bowls that we find handy for all sorts of uses – even when not being used as a mixer. The bowls are great for makeshift double boilers and the narrow deep-bowl styles are great for ice-cream molds or for molded cakes with mousse fillings.
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Adjusting Your KitchenAid Mixer

kitchenaid mixers

We love our stand mixers and we work them hard, but even with proper care, sometimes they need an adjustment. With a KitchenAid mixer, it’s all about the contact between the bowl and the attachment, be it the flat beater, balloon whisk or dough hook.

We find the first sign of a possible misalignment appears two different ways. After creaming butter and sugar with the flat beater and proceeding to make the rest of a batter, we find that some unmixed portions are left on the very bottom of the bowl. When beating just 2 or 3 egg whites with a balloon whisk, the attachment may be barely contacting the egg whites in the bottom of the bowl as well. All of this can be addressed. All you need is a dime and a screwdriver.

The dime test can help you determine the adjustment because a its 1/16-inch thickness is the amount of clearance that is proper for the bowl and attachment. And if this sounds crazy, have no fear, this is a KitchenAid-approved approach, so you will not damage your mixer. We offer you directions for both tilt-head and bowl-lift models.

  1. Place a dime in the bottom of a clean bowl attached to your mixer. Situate it in the concave areas, not on the bump in the middle.
  2. Attach your flat beater. Do not use any other attachment.
  3. Turn your mixer on halfway to the “stir” speed – level 5. What you want to see is the beater contacting the dime and moving it around the bowl about ¼ to ½ inch every time it contacts the dime. If it doesn’t touch the dime, then you know your bowl and beater are too far apart from one another. This is usually the adjustment that is needed. If the beater pushes the dime more than ½ inch each time it passes over the coin or pushes the dime up the side of the bowl instead of nudging it forward, then the clearance is too low.
  4. Locate the adjustment screw, which can be turned to raise or lower the beater or bowl.
  5. Unplug your mixer! Very important for safety.
  6. For tilt-head models, remove the flat beater, tilt the head back and you will see a screw right where the top and body of the mixer meet, as seen in image above. Take only quarter turns at a time – right for increasing contact, left for creating more space. Perform the dime test and re-adjust as needed. Watch this video for tilt-head models.
  7. For bowl-lift models, remove the flat beater and bowl. Lay the mixer down backwards on a towel so it doesn’t slip. Locate the screw right where the top and body of the mixer meet. Again, take only quarter turns at a time – right for increasing contact, left for creating more space. Perform the dime test and re-adjust as needed. Watch this video for bowl-lift models.
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Our Best Cake Cutting Tips

best cake cutting tips - knives

Layer cakes, cheesecakes, dacquoise and angel food cakes all require different cake cutting techniques, but the end result we strive for is always the same – we want even, clean cuts so that our desserts are presented to their best advantage.

In most cases: It really helps if the knife is wiped clean in between cuts with a warm, damp cloth. In general, frosted cakes cut cleaner when cold. If they are to be served at room temperature, you have two options: You can present the whole cake at room temperature to the guests, and maybe experience crumbly pieces as you slice, or you can slice the cake ahead of time while cold and present individual slices already plated. In the latter case, cover the slices with plastic wrap during storage and as they come to room temperature so that they don’t dry out.

  • Dacquoise and meringue-based cakes: The crunchy texture of a meringue or dacquoise, often layered with a buttercream or whipped cream, is best cut with a serrated knife, such as the one in the top of the picture. The dacquoise/meringue is crunchy and hard and needs an aggressive knife. A gentle sawing motion works well.
  • Cheesecakes: We recommend using a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife or a hollow-edged knife, which reduces drag (second from top in picture) and to make sure to wipe the blade between each and every cut with a warm, damp cloth. Fill a tall pitcher or vase with hot tap water, dip the blade in the water and dry with a clean cloth between cuts. Remove and discard any of the cheesecake that has stuck to the blade from the previous cut. Every time you cut a slice, you want your knife blade to be clean.
  • Layer cakes, pound cakes and cakes with a soft crumb: These cut best with a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife (third in image). A chef’s knife can work, but a slicing knife usually has a thinner blade and works its way into your cake more delicately. We want to make as clean of a cut as possible, and in this case that means reducing crumbs. A heavy, thick-bladed chef’s knife or a serrated knife will dredge up crumbs in this instance.
  • Angel food cakes: These cakes are very light and many knives will compress them upon cutting. The tool on the bottom if our main picture (and seen below) is an angel food cake cutter and does the job easily and well, preserving the cake’s height and texture. You insert it like a giant fork and gently wiggle it. The tines enter the cake easily and more or less break it apart, rather than cut it, but you will get somewhat of a straight line, albeit a bit textured.

using an angel food cake cutter

  • Dental floss technique: While we prefer using a knife, here it is in detail for you to try: Start with unflavored dental floss; you can use regular floss or the wider “tape” style. Cut a long piece, at least three times the diameter of the cake. Wrap the ends around your fingers or hands to get a nice firm grip. The length of floss between your hands should be several inches greater than the diameter of the cake. Hold the floss taut, hovering above the cheesecake, then cut down into the cake all at once, holding the floss level. When you get to the crust, you might have to apply extra pressure. Lift the floss up and out, still holding taut, then re-position for subsequent cuts. Cut the cake in half then quarters and so on until you have cut the desired number of portions. Use a triangular/wedge shaped spatula to remove the slices from the pan bottom and to transfer to your serving plate.

Images: Peter Muka

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Microwave Baking Tips


Image by Peter Muka

We use our microwave all the time and have come to appreciate and rely on it as a time-saver. The key is to get familiar with your particular make and model.

It is hard to standardize a recipe’s directions for the microwave because high power on a 1500-watt unit is different from the same power on a 900-watt unit. For instance, it is handy to know how long it takes to soften ice-cold butter, readying it for creaming. You will also want to know how to melt butter completely without it exploding in your microwave and coating the inside (yes, this has happened to us).

Most How-to-Use booklets do not address the things we want to do in the bakery kitchen, so our suggestion is to start slowly at first and experiment. When in doubt, use a lower percentage power and go in 10-second bursts. Your practice will pay off; we liken it to riding a bike. Once you get it down, it becomes easier and easier and you will use it more often. After you get comfortable with your machine, consider using it for the following:

  • Softening butter for creaming – Starting with cold butter, begin with 10-second bursts on High power. You want the butter to be pliable, but not at all melted
  • Melting butter – Unwrap sticks and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover loosely with flattened (non-foil) butter wrappers to prevent a mess, or use a piece of microwave-safe plastic wrap.
  • Melting chocolate – Always have chocolate finely chopped and start with 10-second bursts at 50% power for dark chocolate and 30% power for milk or white chocolate.
  • Melting butter and chocolate together – Chocolate should be chopped finely and butter should be in small pieces. Try 10-second bursts at 50% power.
  • Softening blocks of chocolate for making curls – Try 10 seconds at High power. This largely depends on the chocolate and will require some experimentation.
  • Softening citrus so that it yields more juice – Microwave for 10-15 seconds at High power.
  • Warming milk so that is room-temperature – Start with 10 seconds at 50% power.
  • Cooking a potato for “potato” breads – Poke holes in a medium-sized potato to allow steam to escape, then microwave for 5 minutes on high power, turn over, and heat for another 5 minutes.
  • Gently warming cookies so they taste like they just emerged from the oven – Zap on High power for 10 seconds.
  • Defrosting various ingredients – For this, we suggest following manufacturer’s instructions, as each unit is quite different.
  • Slightly liquefying honey for pouring – Begin wth 10 seconds at High power.
  • Softening peanut butter or Nutella for easier measuring – Begin with 10 seconds at High power
  • Sterilizing sponges – Make sure sponges have no metal fibers. Microwave on High power for 2 minutes.
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Top 10 Baking Tools and Their Uses

If you want to create the very best baked goods, there are some important items you should consider purchasing that will greatly improve the outcome of your recipes. We were thinking of listing these baking tools and their uses in order of importance, but it really depends on what you are making, so consider this a randomly ordered list – except for #1. Accurate measuring tools are really important, no matter what you are baking or cooking.


1. High Quality Measuring Tools – Precisely made dry and liquid measuring cups are some of the best investments you will ever make that will positively affect your baking. We recommend dry measuring cups and spoons from Cuisipro or King Arthur Flour, as well as both Anchor Hocking and classic Pyrex liquid measuring cups. You should note that in 2011, Pyrex came out with some “read-from-above” liquid measuring cups, but in an independent test, they were not as accurate as their older models. It appears that they are again producing their classic styles. Go with those.

2. Commercial Half-Sheet Pans – Heavy-duty aluminum pans, typically 18 x 13 inches, used for cookie sheets, large-batch brownies and sponge cakes; for protecting the oven from dripping pies; as a tray to catch ingredients you are sprinkling on cakes or cookies; for carrying ingredients from here to there, etc. There are so many uses! We buy ours at a commercial kitchen supply store but you can find them online and at better kitchen and houseware stores. When we call for a baking sheet in Bakepedia recipes, this is the item we are referring to.

3. Parchment Paper – Cut parchment paper to fit cake pans, make parchment cones and, of course, to line cookie sheet pans (half-sheet pans), making for easy clean up. It is also handy to sift dry ingredients onto it; you can then pick up the paper and pour ingredients right into a bowl or measuring cup.

4. Oven Thermometer – Without an independent oven thermometer, you do not really know what temperature your oven is heating to. Poorly calibrated ovens are pretty common and can wreak havoc with your baked goods. CDN makes several reliable ones; their MOT1 Multi-Mount Oven Thermometer is very highly recommended. It can hang from or be perched on a rack and also has a magnet.


5. Shot-glass Measuring Cup – This looks like a shot glass, but it has measurements printed on the outside ranging from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons, with milliliters measurements as well. It is very practical when measuring small amounts of liquid. Crate & Barrel carries a great one called the Mini Measure.


6. Rubber or Silicone Spatula – Okay, in the old days we called these rubber spatulas (and many people still do) but nowadays most are made of silicone. Either way, these flexible spatulas scrape the last bits out of bowls and bottles, they fold delicate ingredients together and gently stir items in pots on top of the stove. The best baking tools are multi-purpose and these are some of our favorite. We like having an array of sizes from extra small (gets into small bottles), to standard size (great for everything) and extra large, too (perfect for folding egg whites and handling large quantities of food).


7. Icing Spatulas (offset and straight) – The “other” spatula for the baking kitchen. They are inexpensive and it pays to have short, long, straight and offset versions if you do a lot of baking. We use them to apply frosting on tiny cupcakes as well as giant wedding cakes, to smooth thick batter in pans for a leveled layer that allows the dessert to bake evenly, and to loosen a cake’s sides from its pan for easier unmolding.


8. Whisks – Whisks come in several different shapes, and they all serve their own purpose, so we recommend having a variety at your disposal in the kitchen. A balloon whisk with a large, bulbous end is best for large amounts of ingredients. We like to use this shape to help start the folding process when making angel food cakes, for instance, or when folding large amounts of whipped cream into mousses, then we finish off with a silicone spatula. Whisks with a more narrow profile are great for using in pots and pans. Their slender shape makes them a more agile choice when whisking lemon curd or pastry cream on top of the stove. We use an assortment of metal whisks, as well as whisks with silicone-coated wire that scrapes the sides of a bowl like a spatula.


9. Silicone Pastry Brush – Silicone transformed the pastry brush. The old-fashioned type with natural or nylon bristles not only shed but also held onto flavors and colors. If you used one for BBQ sauce or a strong curry, forget using it for a delicate apricot glaze the next day, even after thorough washing. Silicone brushes clean up perfectly in the dishwasher with no residual trace of flavors or pigment and they don’t shed! They come in various sizes, but for the pastry kitchen, look for ones with delicate “bristles” such as the one shown.


10. Bench Scraper – Ah, we love a simple baking tool that has multiple uses and simply gets the job done! Bench scrapers scoop up ingredients to transfer to bowls, aid in cutting brownies and bars and make for easy clean up. After you have dusted your work surface with flour to roll out pastry, the bench scraper gets every last bit of flour and dough up off of the surface at the end. Especially if dough sticks to the surface, it is excellent at getting that up, too. When we chop nuts, the bench scraper scoops them and transfers them to batters and doughs and then easily scrapes up all the little powdery bits left on the table. These are one of those items where once you have one handy, you will use it again and again.

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The Best Star Tip Ever – The Wilton 1M

using the Wilton 1m Star tipPastry bags and tips are standard for any cake decorator or home cook who likes to make the occasional swirl or rosette on top of their cupcakes or tortes. There are dozens of star tips from which to choose, in both types small and large sizes but if we had to pick a desert-island (should that be dessert island?) star tip, the Wilton 1M would win, hands down. Why? After decades of decorating and using pretty much every tip out there, this is the one that not only makes the prettiest swirls and rosettes, but does so effortlessly. When you see cupcakes in a bakery window with those perfect swirly mounds of icing, many times a 1M was at the helm.

The funny thing about star tips is that they all look fairly similar, and maybe that’s why home bakers haven’t branched out once they’ve tried one or two. A good analogy might be how you think you might have two pieces of clothing that are the same red, but when you put then side by side, you can see that they are not the same color – subtly so, but still different. So it is with tips.

star tip comparison for cake decoratingIn the image you can see, left to right, an Ateco 9885, Ateco 844, Wilton 1M, Ateco 842 and Ateco 824. The variations are not so subtle (like the #9885) to very subtle, but if you look closely at the 1M, you will see that the opening is very clearly defined, with straight lines and an opening that is neither too open nor too closed. Perfect.

wilton 1m star tip

Another thing to remember is that pastry tips are cheap, less than $2 in most instances and if cared for well, they will last a lifetime.


The 1M can make straight lines (top), simple kisses, small rosettes, big swirls and s-curves (left to right, middle row) and shells (bottom left). With a 1M loaded in your pastry bag, you will have some of the prettiest cakes ever coming out of your kitchen.

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