While some home cooks are content with cooking here-and there, there are others—a select, energetic and brave few—who are constantly longing to turn their merry meal-making and holiday baking into something more.
If you are lucky enough to have such a creative cook in your life, nudge them along in their quest for kitchen greatness by bestowing upon them any of the following cooking and baking gifts. Each product has been personally kitchen-tested (and subsequently adored) by Relish.com editors.
For the Big-Batch Baker…
KitchenAid Proline Stand Mixer ($650)
KitchenAid’s legendary stand mixer is the stuff dreams are made of—shall we say, the holy grail of every aspiring baker. For the serious baking set, we recommend The Pro Line Series 7-Qt Bowl Lift Stand mixer. At a whopping seven quarts (that’s 10 dozen cookies!), it’s the biggest home model they offer—so be sure your recipient has ample counter space and at least 18 inches beneath his or her upper cabinets.
The motor on this beauty is noticeably quieter than its tilt-head 5-Quart counterpart and can knead up to seven quarts of dough without any trouble. Admittedly, the bowl-lift feature will be a bit of an adjustment for those accustomed to the tilt-head model, but will become second nature after a few passes. This mixer is certainly an investment, but it will last a lifetime—perhaps even longer. And think of all those cookies your loved one will make….
For the Sophisticated Olive Oil Connoisseur…
Xertoli Coupage Olive Oil ($30)
Every good cook knows a good olive oil makes a world of a difference at dinnertime. We tried many fabulous variations this year, but our hearts were sold to this beautiful Spanish extra-virgin oil from the regions of Baix Ebre and Montsia. The golden-green blend uses the best of the season’s harvest. While it has detectable aromas of green almond and olive, it isn’t particularly heavy in one area, allowing it to pair well in and alongside a variety of dishes. We also love how the oil’s delicate quality masquerades in sleek, modern packaging, allowing for proud display on any kitchen countertop.
For the Cook Lacking in Basics…
OXO Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set ($59.99)
For one reason or another, people seem to tend toward the chintzy when it comes to buying themselves mixing bowls. A bowl is a bowl is a bowl, right? Well, true—but not all bowls are built to last like those in this nesting trio from OXO. Fashioned in stainless steel, coated in a glossy plastic exterior, and grounded by a non-skid bottom, each bowl is exceptionally pretty and doesn’t bend or scoot around during use. Like a good pair of jeans, your lucky aspiring chef will make use of them daily. And did we mention they are dishwasher safe?
For the Friend Whose Cookies Always Stick to the Pan…
Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat (U.S. Half Size: $18)
We like gifts that save money in the kitchen—and the multipurpose Silpat will do just that. This reusable nonstick baking sheet is a staple for many professional bakers, because it negates the need for parchment paper and greasing, thus saving trees and dollars. The mat can be used for baking savory or sweet items and is particularly helpful when making toffees, brittles and other extraordinarily sticky items. We also find it to be a fine work station for rolling out pie dough, as the dough tends to peel right off without excessive flouring. The half-size mat will fit in any pan that is 13×18 inches or larger.
For the Cookbook Nerd…
A fantastic cookbook can transform the way a person cooks in the kitchen. The best texts inspire and teach and have the ability to make even the most complicated recipes tangible. To help your friends build cookbook collections they can be proud of, we suggest:
At 800 pages, 210 recipes and 3,200 photographs—Patisserie is one hunk of a book. The impressive visual step-by-steps instruct readers on how to master the fine art of French pastry making and construct recipes they would ordinarily never dream of attempting. Think homemade Pastry Cream-Filled Brioches and Raspberry Macarons. We would only recommend this hot pink mammoth to those who are serious about pastry and have a bit of prior pastry knowledge. Otherwise, it will likely sit untouched on the shelf. Learning the recipes and techniques will take time and dedication, but there is no better guidebook for taking on that journey.
Boasting dreamy photography and a gorgeous coffee-table-worthy construction, Summerland is a collection of over 100 of Quatrano’s best recipes from her successful career as a James Beard award-winning chef. The book’s Southern recipes are organized by month and range from simple to a slew chefy-showstoppers. It’s a great gift for a cook hoping to expand beyond the basics and try more outlandish offerings such as Rabbit Rillettes or Chicken Roulades with Fig Stuffing.
Have a trivia-obsessed cook in your life? This playful yet informative read details the history of some of our favorite dishes and drinks. Find out who’s quarreling over inventing Eggs Benedict, who’s responsible for popularizing the Cosmo and many more historical tidbits. Then, once you’ve learned all about the dishes, follow classic interpretations of the recipes. We love that Winter’s book doesn’t read like a textbook and the way each page is dotted with vintage photography and illustrations.
For the Pizza Makers and the Bread Bakers…
Marble Pastry Board ($130)
Cool marble can be a lifesaver when rolling out pie crust and pizza dough. The lower temperature of the stone and its naturally non-stick, extra-smooth composition helps prevent bakers from over-flouring. Unfortunately, having marble countertops installed for your loved one this holiday season is likely to set you back more than you’re willing. So instead, gift this marble pastry board from William-Sonoma. Made from beautiful white Spanish marble, this board is hard to beat and will double as a lovely backdrop surface for aspiring food bloggers.
We do recommend scoping out your friend’s counter space and kitchen storage beforehand to ensure they have a place for the board. It is deceptively heavy and a bit difficult to move at 30 pounds—so your loved one won’t want to hoist it to and fro.
For the Cook Who Doesn’t Want to Chop for Days…
Cuisinart Elite Collection 14-Cup Food Processor ($300)
When faced with chopping, shredding and pureeing large quantities, a food processor that can do multiple jobs in multiple sizes is a godsend. We are particularly taken by this 3-bowl system that has the ability to process up to 14 cups. But if you only need, say, a cup of nut butter, it also gives you the option to process in a small bowl and save on time, energy and clean up.
For all sort of jobs, the processor comes complete with small and large stainless steel chopping blades, a dough blade, adjustable slicing disk and a reversible shredding disk. With this variety of gadgets, its lucky recipient can mix large amounts of pastry dough, puree vegetables and even turn granulated sugar into extra-fine.
For the Cook in Need of a Work Station…
JK Adams Cherry Chunk Chopping Boards ($90-$200)
We like statement pieces in the kitchen—and a beautiful chopping board is definitely one of them. While there are so many gorgeous, hand-crafted boards on the market, these JK Adams Cherry Chunk boards stood above the rest for us. Made entirely in the U.S. with North American sourced wood, the boards are extra-thick to keep them from warping. We are big fans of the end-grain construction and its ability to keep knives sharpest the longest. How does it manage this effect? The blade goes between the wood grains when chopping, rather than over.
For the Pie Lover…
Pie Weight Disc ($13)
If you’ve ever watched a friend spill a bag of pie weights or a mass of dried beans across the kitchen floor before blind-baking a pie crust—you know that buddy of yours will appreciate this inventive pie weight disk from William-Sonoma. The weight is a single piece, and its perforated-steel disc allows for even airflow across the crust. Plus, its flowery design, complete with super thin silicone petals, is nothing short of precious.
For the Stew Maker Tired of Cast Iron…
Emile Henry 7 Qt Dutch Oven ($120-$170)
All right. We know what you’re thinking: Ceramic instead of cast iron for a Dutch oven? What? Let us explain: While cast iron is a fantastic conductor of heat and flavor—it can also be extremely heavy. For cooks that may not have Goliath’s upper body strength, we find this flame-proof ceramic stewpot by Emile Henry a welcomed alternative. Like cast iron, this pot can transfer from stove to oven, but it’s much simpler to clean (dishwasher safe!) and since it’s ceramic, the pot doesn’t oxidize food, causing a loss of nutrients. Plus it comes backed by a 10 year guarantee, meaning Emile Henry is confident in its ability to last.
For the Beginner Patissier…
Lekue Macaron Kit ($40)
Learning new baking techniques can be tough—especially when they look as intimidating as French Macarons. Nudge a tentative loved one towards seemingly tough stuff with this easy-to-use kit from Lekue. We had a few Macaron novices at Relish.com test the product, and they found the silicone baking mat with circular guidelines particularly helpful in sizing the macarons. The mat is also super flexible allowing them to pop off easily once they cool. We think a good gift pair would be this kit alongside a 16×12 inch baking sheet to place the kit’s baking mat upon.
For Every Cook…
GIR Spatulas ($23)
GIR,which stands for Get it Right, is a company that knows its spatulas. Spawned from a creative Kickstarter campaign, GIR spatulas are, quite frankly, silicone masterpieces. The bright and sturdy one-piece spatulas are smooth, perfectly balanced and great for everything from scraping baking bowls to using on the stovetop (they are heat proof up to 464F). Stuff a pair of them in your favorite cook’s stocking this holiday season.