Let me say straight off that I am not a gadget person. That said, there are a few tools I consider essential to getting anything done in a kitchen, not just baking. They’re multi-purpose and simply make many tasks easier. They let me be more efficient.
I have 3 large bench scrapers in addition to my small one. The latter I’ve had since the late ’70’s, and I’m not sure it’s to be found anymore. It’s like a favorite blanket. I got it in Minneapolis when I was in graduate school, with a gift certificate (gift cards weren’t even a gleam in the eye) to Williams Sonoma that my mother had sent me for my birthday. I’ve loved to cook for a long time; it just took me a long time to give myself permission to act on it.
Anyway, a bench scraper (which I tout as the #1 most useful tool in the kitchen) will help you gather chopped vegetables to transfer them to a pot. It will divide bread dough more effectively than any knife. If the thought of smashing a clove of garlic with the flat side of a knife is more than you bring yourself to do, a bench scraper will do the job and keep you safe. And after the bread dough has come and gone, use the bench scraper to literally scrape up the stuck-on dough, gather it up, and dump it in the garbage. Once the bread has been sliced, buttered, and eaten, use it to dispatch with the crumbs.
Which brings us to the oh-so-appropriately-named white plastic scraper, aka the #2 most useful tool in the kitchen. It will pull bread dough out of a mixing bowl in a couple of swipes. Scrape down cookie dough in a bowl so that not one morsel is wasted. Scoop out generous splops of cake icing. It transforms your hand into a large spatula. Support your local cooking store. You should easily find a bench scraper for $10, and a white plastic scraper for under $2. You’re worth it.
Speaking of cleaning up, when washing up after making bread, it’s a good idea to start with cold water. Cold water will soften stuck-on dough (of which you won’t have much if you’ve pulled the dough out of the bowl with a white plastic scraper!) and make it easily scrubbable. Hot water turns dough into a stringy, gooey mess.
The best tool for scrubbing off dough? A stainless steel scrubber. When it starts to look like this, soak it overnight in a solution of half vinegar and cold water. Vinegar breaks down the protein in the flour, and the next day it will rinse right out. And I always run it through the dishwasher whenever I run a load.