Great investments: Kitchen Aid Professional stand mixer
There are a ton of stand mixers out there, but for me, the Kitchen Aid Pro is the best. It has a 6 quart bowl (most have less) that's supported by arms that allow you to raise and lower the bowl without disturbing the attachment. They're workhorses that can handle kneading bread dough and rolling pasta (attachment for pasta sold seperately). My last mixer survived 15 years of heavy wear and tear before it finally crashed. In short, it's well worth the extra cash, and a joy to use.
Silpat baking mats
Silpats are a terrific substitute for parchment paper when lining sheet pans for all kinds of projects, including baking cookies, shaping candy, pouring caramel, or working with sugar. I think that they are particularly great for baking small delicate tuiles or the cookie part of French macarons. Take good care of them, and they will last for years!
There are some really terrible peelers for sale out there. Many tend to be ergonomically-challenged or grow dull very quickly, both issues put the cook in peril. Swissmar peelers are my brand of choice because they fit great in your hand, are light, and stay very sharp. They are also sold in bundles of three, so you have backups ready when the blade finally does become dull.
Offset spatulas have a million uses in the pastry kitchen. They’re great for getting the leverage to lift pastry items from their pans, frosting and decorating cakes, testing for doneness, smoothing surfaces… this list goes on and on. It’s ideal to have a few different sizes on hand to manage all of the different tasks they can handle.
Pastry brushes are another essential that require replacement from time to time. I especially like the ones made by Good Grips, since they hold their bristles longer than most other brands and are easy to clean.
Many pastry enthusiasts have already discovered how awesomely useful
microplanes are for tasks such as scraping pith-free zest from citrus, grating nutmeg and chocolate, or just filing off the rough edges of a crust or meringue. Since Microplanes grow dull over time, they are always a welcome gift for long-time fans and first-time users.
Pans and molds: Double use spring form pan
This springform pan serves double duty as a regular round spring form and a bunt pan with a hole in the center. Great for those with limited kitchen storage, this spring form has two different bases and allows bakers to release any kind of cake, from cheesecakes to rings of pound cake, with ease.
Pans and molds: Nordic Ware bundt pan
Nordic Ware bundt pans are practically indestructable and teriffic for conducting heat for even baking. They come in a wide variety of designs and sizes for beautiful and dramatic bundt cakes.
Pans and molds: silicone hemisphere molds
Hemisphere molds are a fantastic choice for cooks who love making pretty, multi-layered entrement cakes, or frozen bombe desserts. They are made of highly durable silicone, but should not be placed in the oven.
Pans and molds: copper canelle molds
For experienced bakers who are looking to perfect a classic French specialty, consider splurging for a set of copper canelle molds. Canelle are French pastries that are crispy and caramelized on the outside, creamy and custard-filled on the inside. Making a perfect canelle is a skill that takes many bakers years to master, and these copper molds are just one of the ingredients the baker in your life will need for the task.
Cake gifts: deluxe decorating tip set
This decorating tip set is the perfect gift for folks who love decorating cakes. The set contains pretty much every tip, so the possibilities are endless. The set also includes couplers and decorating nails for piping flowers.
Cake gifts: revolving cake stand
This stand is a must-have for cake decorators who are getting serious about their craft. The stand allows the decorator to pipe or smooth frosting evenly around the circumference of the cake. The extra height they provide makes decorating easier on the back, and the heavy weight ensures that the stand can support even the largest of cake boards.
Cake gifts: Wilton cake caddy
If you’re into making cakes you’ll probably need to travel with them. The Wilton cake caddy is the most sturdy and secure on the market. It's heavy-duty protective case is made with three very sturdy clasps to hold the top on securely while protecting decorations and frosting from damage and
Gifts for chocolatiers: Valrhona feves
High quality chocolate is a luxury item; for those who wish to buy their chocolate supply at most grocery stores, the selection is very limited. Home cooks who enjoy working with great chocolate will love getting a big bag (3kg.) of Valhrona (the industry standard for great chocolate) feves as a gift to use throughout the year. They come in a variety of cocoa content percentages and hail from different chocolate regions.
Gifts for chocolatiers: bonbon molds
For those wishing to make their own chocolate bonbons, these polycarbonate chocolate molds make a great gift. Cooks pour tempered chocolate into these to form the outer shells, then pipe ganache fillings inside ,and seal them with another layer of tempered chocolate. This mold is what the pros use to make their chocolates, and with a little practice, home cooks can make gorgeous chocolates of their own.
Frozen gifts: standard ice cream maker
This a a great starter model for cooks who want to make their own ice creams and sorbets. Just freeze the inner canister and pour in chilled base for ice cream or sorbet, and hit the start button. The machine will aerate the contents as it chills, creating delicious ice cream before your very eyes.
Frozen gifts: deluxe ice cream maker
If your giftee is someone who loves making ice cream and sorbet at home, but wants to make multiple quarts in a day without having to wait for the canister to freeze, this is a great gift option. The Cadillac of home ice cream makers, this unit is self-freezing, which allows the cook to make multiple batches on the same day.
I tried to categorize this gift like the others, but all I could come up with was "awesome". Vanilla beans are a "luxury" ingredient because they are expensive and make pastry items taste and smell exponentially better. Get someone you love who loves to make desserts half a pound of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, and I promise, they will love the gesture.
Great investments: the Thermapen instant read digital thermometer
Ask anyone who has ever had to precariously hold a stick thermometer over a pot full of bubbling caramel how much most candy thermometers suck, and they will tell you "big time". They break. They're hard to handle and impractical. Ironically, they can't withstand the heat that they are supposed to be measuring. This one's different. It's expensive because it's worth it. It's got great response time, it's durable, and best of all, it's needle moves so you can hold it at a million different angles. This thermometer is the answer to our prayers. Mine was stolen on the job, so guess what I'm hoping to find under the tree this year?