8 At-Home Baking Essentials, According to a Pro
This article is part of an interview series called Tools of the Trade, a column featuring expert-approved tips, tricks, and product recommendations. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
Pippa Allen began baking to avoid being boring. “I was working my first full-time job after college and terribly scared of becoming someone whose only hobby became hanging out with their friends and working out,” she said. “I grew up cooking, but I really wasn’t much of a baker—I’m not very good at following directions and doing math—so baking was never really for me, but I needed a challenge.” Little did she know, she’d soon be kneading dough full-time.
When she started her baking endeavor, Allen kept her expectations low. “I just wanted to make one good loaf of bread,” she said. “I started to document my baking trials and tribulations on social media, word got around as I actually started to get better at it, and I began baking out of my own house.” Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, she was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and began selling bagels and assorted pastries out of her home, at pop-ups, and at a local ice cream shop. “I essentially became Charleston’s resident bagel baker,” she said. As the popularity of her baked goods continued to grow, her former hobby became a full-time gig until she moved to New York City in May of 2021.
Not having a sweet tooth, Allen gravitates towards baking (and biting into) more savory-leaning pastries and baked goods. “The sweet side of pastry is just not my M.O.,” she said. “I love baking in the summer because bread rises a lot better, but also you get to involve really delicious seasonal produce. Anything with tomatoes, cheese, and lots of garlic.” Allen will reach for a ham and cheese croissant before looking twice at a double-fudge brownie.
If you’re looking to start baking but don’t know where to begin, Allen suggests making things that actually sound delicious to you and making sure your friends are always hungry. “The fun thing about baking is that it’s not something that you can keep to yourself,” she said. “You typically make an abundance of everything. So be prepared to feed your friends well, feed your neighbor as well, all that good stuff.”
Also, don’t be afraid to fail, just make sure you learn from it. “I chronicled absolutely everything that I baked, that was how I learned the best,” she continued. “Whether it succeeded, failed, or was just okay, I was able to figure out where things went right or wrong.”
The daughter of two former restaurant owners, eating well and cooking has been a constant in Allen’s life. Today, she works with chefs, restaurants, and consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands (think: canned and bottled beverages, packaged snacks, oils, and other products you’re bound to have in your kitchen) as a culinary publicist. “I’ve worked in this industry since college and on various sides of it,” she said. “I’ve worked in-house, I’ve worked in agencies, at a few different magazines, but it’s always been food. I’ve always been a food person.” Now, she works with some of the biggest names in the New York culinary scene. If you live in the city and think you’ve seen her next to a bouncer, running the guest list at a downtown event, or sharing a plate of oysters at a business dinner, you’re probably not mistaken. Being a publicist is more than just representing a client. Her days can include anything from building storytelling and communication strategies to late nights running the door at an event she’s helped organize. “My Samantha Jones Life,” she joked about the nature of her job. “Sometimes, I’m a professional door girl. Yes, the job is very sexy. But also, I do love to buy groceries and sometimes I’d like to do that more often.”
Although her role in the culinary world has shifted away from being behind a dough-covered prep table, her involvement isn’t all representation and public relations. She’s written pastry how-tos for Insider, talks food on social media (if you fell in love with Bobwhite Counter’s chicken caesar wrap last summer or are a Bonne Maman Advent calendar super fan, you and Allen have two things in common), and recently hosted a midwestern-themed pop-up dinner at Mo’s General in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—serving up pizza with ranch, Chicago dogs, shots of Malört, and perfectly fried potato wedges (with ranch for dipping, of course).
Below you’ll find the eight items she always has on hand, and recommends, for anyone wanting to dabble with dough at home.
1. A Bench Scraper, $15
“This is a tool that not only every person working in pastry needs but any cook in any sort of kitchen, no matter how amateur you are. It is the absolute best for transferring things from a bench to a pan, but it’s also a great cleaning tool. I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you’re working with sticky dough. It also has measurements on it, which really helps when trying to be precise. Sometimes it’s the only ruler that I have in my house…I would be lying if I said I didn’t use mine when I was moving to measure furniture in six-inch increments.”
2. An Unbeatable Cleaning Solution, $2.13
“Bar Keepers Friend is the best cleaning tool in the entire universe. It can clean up sticky ovens after you’ve made a messy meal, it can shine any sort of stainless steel back to perfection, and it’s just incredibly inexpensive and easy to use. Just get steel wool and Bar Keepers Friend and everything will be fresh as a daisy.”
3. A Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $420
“Absolute best money that a person can spend. Realistically, you only need one really big one. I prefer a circular one (like this Le Creuset one) over the oval Dutch ovens, just because they’re easier for stirring and fitting on a burner. They’re great for anything—baking bread, making soups—and are pretty enough that you can leave one on your stove if you don’t have much kitchen storage. I bought mine used off Facebook Marketplace (I just gave it a really great scrub down with the Bar Keepers Friend), but they have a lifetime warranty and truly last forever—I still have my great-grandmother’s, too.”
4. Durable Baking Pans, $34
“Having a sheet tray with really high sides is great for any pastries. I grew up in a household where we only had flat sheets and, well, things slide off. I’m incredibly clumsy. So baking pans with raised edges like these are great for everything you’re making, but also for serving because they look good on the table.”
5. A Silicone Pastry Brush, $25
“I prefer silicone pastry brushes over the hair pastry brushes because the ones with hair shed, and they’re more difficult to clean.”
6. Coffee You Love, $13.99+
“If you’re a pastry cook you don’t sleep very much. You work crazy hours. Sometimes I’d bake from 11:30 pm until the pop-up would begin at 11 am, so having good coffee that you’re excited to drink specifically, is crucial. I would schedule mine to be made for about 10 minutes before my alarm would go off in the morning because it would pull me out of bed. I can’t really function without coffee normally, but especially when I was working pastry.” If you’re looking for a flavored coffee that isn’t too sweet, Allen’s favorite beans to keep stocked are the Southern Pecan brew from King Bean Roasters in Charleston, South Carolina. “It smells like pie and it’s so delicious. I drink my coffee black and it’s not too sweet—it just hits.”
This tip is dual-purpose if you like to bake with coffee, too.
7. Lint-Free Kitchen Towels,
“When you’re letting things proof and you need to put a towel over the top of something, you’ll want that towel to be lint-free. You don’t want to pick lint out of your dough.” Just be sure to stock up, Allen advised. “They can get really messy and gross, fast. All of mine are stained with coffee, turmeric, and things like that, so just having a bunch on hand is ideal. Have more than you think they need because you will use them.”
8. Gel Nail Polish, $13
“I eternally have this on my fingernails, always. When you’re working with pastry your hands get extremely dried out, nails included, so it’s important to take care of them. But, when you’re working in food, you can’t have polish flecking off into what you’re making—gel polish stays on. I always do green because it’s my favorite color, but the only thing that matters is it has to be gel.”
What are some of your favorite pastries to make? Let us know below!