A stand mixer
I just cannot explain how dramatically a stand mixer changed my baking. I was suddenly experiencing results that I just never got by hand-mixing; and when you start seeing wonderful results, it becomes an addiction. A stand mixer also makes life easier – a lot of the time you can just let it crack on with the job while you clear things away, wash dishes, or sit patiently with a cup of tea. I am the proud owner of an empire red Kitchen Aid. It is my pride and joy; a thing of beauty, a focal point of the kitchen and, more to the point, it is a real heavy duty workhorse. There’s nothing this mixer cannot cope with. I have used mine intensively for five years and it is still like new. I have never owned any other stand mixer so I am not really in a position to comment; however my mother-in-law owns a Kenwood Chef and she is very happy with that. I would suggest that you should spend as much as you possibly can on a stand mixer – this is not the time to scrimp on quality.
A hand blender/processor
These are really handy to have, mainly for blitzing soups directly in the pan and suchlike. My mother has owned a Bamix for approximately 20 years that is still going strong. I made the mistake of buying a mid-range Moulinex some years ago. It was a chunky plastic thing that stained the first time I made pasta sauce and was a nightmare to clean. So I took the plunge and bought a Bamix Deluxe – what a difference! Sleek, minimalist design, stainless steel, easy to keep clean. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It comes with neat blades to chop, whip and blend as necessary. I use mine to make smoothies in a jug – it is just as powerful as a big clumsy blender and takes about ten seconds to clean. It also came with a mini processor attachment that connects to the main body of the Bamix – I use that frequently to blitz onions for sauces etc.
I know those retro-fabulous, pastel coloured scales look simply gorgeous in your kitchen. I’ve got some myself. But do I use them often? Do I heck. I measure everything with OCD precision using my tiny, slimline digital Salter scales. I’ll tell you why they are brilliant. They are not only accurate, and capable of switching between ounces, grammes, millilitres etc – you can place your mixing bowl on to the scales, reset to zero, and directly measure your ingredients into the bowl. So less washing-up. Digital scales are not expensive and they even sell them in supermarkets. I particularly recommend digital scales to Americans, who, having been brainwashed into using tedious cups, seem to struggle a bit with the idea of measuring ingredients by weight rather than volume. They will make your life easier, I promise.
Digital Sugar Thermometer
This is a great, inexpensive piece of kit to keep handy. Some things like fudge, toffee and jam rely on heating to quite specific temperatures for a successful outcome. A digital thermometer takes the guesswork out of it, although it can be a bit fiddly to use as you need to hold it with one hand while possibly stirring with the other hand. If you can get hold of one, I highly recommend the Thermospatula from Lakeland – designed to withstand very high temperatures, it is a silicone spatula with a thermometer built in – so you can stir and monitor the temperature at the same time.