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A baking spatula is specifically designed to assist with baking tasks. It has a very narrow blade, allowing the baker to use it in tight quarters without the risk of messing up. The blade is also flat, not at all curved or rounded, and extremely flexible so that it can be bent and torqued easily. Many kitchen supplies stores sell them, and they come in an assortment of blade lengths and styles. They are essential for making professional quality cakes and can also be useful around the kitchen for other tasks.
The primary application for a baking spatula is frosting cakes. The blade can be used to spread icing onto a cake and smooth it out so that it has an even and aesthetically appealing look. One can also be used to a similar end on other foods where a smooth appearance is desired. In some cases, the spatula is also designed to double as a serving utensil, and some companies make ones with a serrated edge for cutting cakes.
There are two primarily styles of baking spatula. A straight blade spatula has a blade that runs straight in one line from the tip to the handle. An offset spatula has an angled blade, distancing the hand of the user from the cooking project. For small cakes and precision projects, an offset spatula can be very useful. If a cook often ends up with his or her hands in the frosting, this type is crucial.
The three primary characteristics that set this type of spatula apart from other models are the width, flatness, and flexibility of the blade. When a shopper selects a baking spatula, she should remember that it is supposed to feel slightly flimsy, since the give in the spatula ensures that it does not gouge baking projects like a stiffer spatula can.
Metal and plastic are both used to make these spatulas. Metal tends to be a more flexible, yet sturdy choice, while plastic can seem bulky but floppy at the same time. For a short bladed tool, this difference may not be terribly important, but metal is sometimes a better choice for longer blades. In both cases, the spatula is often made heat resistant and dishwasher safe, for convenience.
@MrsWinslow - I don't know any names for it that don't involve the word "spatula." (Except artists have a very similar tool called a palette knife.) My grandmother always called it an icing spatula.
I got by without one for years. I didn't make a lot of cakes and when I did, I just iced them with a butter knife. But my grandmother died a couple of years ago and my mom asked me to help clean out her house. In the kitchen, I found her old icing spatula, and my mom said I could keep it.
It makes such a difference! You can pick up more icing and spread it more evenly than with a puny little butter knife.
I used to use one of these in home ec class and never knew what it was! My home ec teacher forbade us to use the word "spatula" because it could mean so many things. A flat spatula like you would use for pancakes was called a turner and a rubber spatula like you would use for getting cake batter out of a bowl was called a scraper.
I can't remember what we called the baking spatula. We only used it for leveling off measuring cups after filling them. Does anyone know what's another name for a baking spatula?