It’s Saturday December 18th… less than a week left until Christmas! I’ve been planning this post for a month or so now, but between cakes, christmas shopping and, oh yeah, my job… let’s just say I’m off to a late start. And I apologize for that. Hopefully it can still be of some help some of you last minute shoppers looking for a gift for that special baker in your life. 🙂 Here’s my list of 5 gifts under $50 that any baker/ cake designer would love!

1. Cooling racks with a small grid design.

Cooling racks are an essential for any baker, but what makes these puppies so special is the awesome grid-design! If you’ve ever used a cooling rack with vertical lines you’ve probably noticed those unsightly lines that show up on your cakes once they cool. That’s because when a cake is hot its very soft and can take on impressions easily and make decorating a bit difficult in the future. Ick.

Not my favorite kind of cooling rack.

One day while shopping at the Crate & Barrel Outlet in Berkeley I found these awesome cooling racks with a grid pattern… perfect! They were about $24 for a package of two racks, but worth EVERY penny. Ever since I’ve bought these guys there’s been no more trenches in my cakes! Also, these cooling racks have a pretty good weight to them so I’m less nervous of one collapsing with a heavy cake on it. (That has happened before…)

See the grids? THAT'S what you're looking for!

In store, I was able to purchase a package of two cooling racks by themselves. Unfortunately I can’t find that deal online, but 2 cooling racks and 2 cookie sheets for $24.95 is not a bad deal either! You can buy them here.

(Images from here and here)

2. Food Color Kits

Food coloring is a strong tool in any baker/decorator’s army, but unfortunately individual colors can be pretty pricey (about $3 per color). There are several vendors that sell food color kits, and I highly recommend them. Not only will you save a few bucks, but you’ll also have a nice array of colors to start working with.

One of AmeriColors' many food color kits.

Wilton & AmeriColor are the two food color brands that I’ve used, but you can also get food coloring from Atecco and other baking supply vendors. AmeriColors’ product is what they call a “soft gel.” You can squeeze it out of a bottle, but the slight gel-ness of the color ensures you don’t accidentally squirt out too much. Wilton’s color products are the consistency of jello, and they require a toothpick or small spoon (depending on how much you’re using!) to get the coloring out of the container.

Overall I couldn’t recommend one brand over the other, but there are a couple things that you should be aware of:

  1. It’s very difficult to color anything a true red. If you’re planning on coloring icing Santa Red, you may want to look into the “No-Taste Red” product from Wilton. Believe it or not, when you add enough color to icing you will start to taste a bitterness. With No-Taste Red you’ll have less of a chance of running into this issue.
  2. Similar to red, it’s very difficult to color anything a true black! I’ve used both AmeriColor & Wilton’s black food coloring, and it always leaves my fondant looking a deep forest green instead of black. At this point, consider purchasing pre-tinted fondant, icing or piping gel.

You can purchase a lot of these color kits online through Amazon or other baking supply vendors. However if there’s not enough time for shipping, stop by your local baking supply store or a Michael’s Arts & Crafts store. Both of those places will usually carry food color kits.

(Image from here)

3. Tiny Cookie Cutters

When working with fondant, tiny cookie cutters are a girl’s best friend! Fox Run makes several different kinds of affordable sets of mini cookie cutters. I’d start with the basic shapes: circles, squares, rectangles and the letters/numbers set, and then branch out to some of the more ridiculous ones. I actually received one of these sets as an early gift this year! He was so sweet and gave me the 7-piece leaf set, so when next fall rolls around I’ll be ready to go with fondant leaves for all my cakes & cupcakes.

Fox Run's 7-Piece Leaf Set

You could also use these cutters to make decorations for pies, and I suppose you could even make super tiny sugar cookies if that’s your cup o’ joe.

I’ve found sets of these cutters at various different resellers: Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, local baking supply stores, etc. You can also find them online at Amazon, and I believe you can purchase from Fox Run’s website directly. Depending on who you purchase them from they can cost anywhere from $8-$15 for a set.

(Image from here)

4. Disposable Decorating Bags

If my cake decorating teacher knew I was recommending these, she’d probably ban me from her store forever! Parchment paper bags are wonderful and are great for doing detail work, but I’ll be completely honest: I am TERRIBLE at making them. No matter how much I practice, I always end up losing icing out the sides or the top of the bag. I also find them a huge pain to refill once you’re out of icing.

Disposable decorating bag. Easy to fill & relatively mess-free.

If your gift recipient regularly decorates with multiple bags, then you also might want to consider gifting them with a decorating bag holder. I actually don’t have one yet, but I’ve been eyeing them every time I pop into Michael’s.

Wilton's decorating bag holder

Both of these products are made by Wilton and can be purchased online (Amazon or or at your local Michael’s store.

(Image from here and here)

5. Kitchen Scale

If you’ve watched the Food Network for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard Alton Brown argue about how it’s more accurate to bake by weight than to measure your ingredients in dry/liquid measuring cups. What he didn’t mention was how much easier it is to bake by weight instead of measure!

It’s relatively easy to convert your cups measurements into weight. Just remember that 1 cup = 8 ounces, and then reduce or double your numbers from there. Once you’ve got your ingredients converted you simply pour them onto the scale, and there’s no additional dirty dishes from scooping & leveling off measuring cups.

Taylor's kitchen scale. Found at Target.

I found this little bugger at Target for, at the time, $20 (I think). Target’s website now says it’s $30, but I don’t think I paid that much for it. Anyways, your recipient doesn’t need the most expensive scale ever. Just one that is accurate and can zero out added weight. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and probably even Walgreens will sell an accurate kitchen scale.

(Image from here)

Bonus Gift Idea

Ok, I know I said 5 gifts under $50 but here’s an extra idea. Please note: I’ve not yet tried out this service. I just recently found it online, so that’s why I’m listing it as an “idea” and not a straight recommendation.

As many of you know I follow several baking blogs online, and they’ll often recommend good services & products to try. I’ve seen My Cake School featured on a couple of blogs, and decided to check it out. My Cake School is an online cake decorating resource and for $30 a year you get unlimited access to their video tutorial library, recipes and message boards. There’s also a blog that’s open to everyone to check out. -- Check them out!

And just so you know I have no affiliations with My Cake School, nor do I have any affiliations with Amazon or any of the other sites I’ve mentioned above. I just saw their service and thought it was an interesting concept. I anyone out there tries it, please let me know what you think of their services! And if I decide to sign up I’ll definitely share my experience with you.

(Image from here)

To each of you that has read my blog and is following OmNom Treats, thank you. Thank you for all the love and support, and for giving me the courage to try something new. I wish each and every one of you a very happy holidays, and may 2011 be the best year for us yet!