A pastry bag and a few piping tips come in handy for more than just cake decorating—like piping potatoes over a shepherd’s pie or stuffing baked goods with fillings. In Fine Cooking issue #108, we’re using them to make Rosemary-Lemon Tartlets with Pine Nut Shortbread, Lemon-Gingersnap Mini Meringues, and a Salty Caramel Croquembouche with Ricotta Cream.
Pastry bags are made from various materials—each with different pros and cons—and are available in lengths ranging from 7 to 24 inches.
Canvas bags are great for working with stiff doughs and purées, but they’re difficult to keep clean.
Plastic-lined cloth bags can manage the heavy-duty tasks, too, and the plastic lining makes them far easier to clean.
Nylon bags are supple, comfortable to use, and easy to clean, but they can become slippery with use and tend to be less durable than cloth bags.
Disposable plastic bags make for the easiest clean-up since you toss them when you’re done. But that also makes them wasteful, and ultimately, expensive.
The ideal scenario is to have two or more types and sizes of pastry bags and tailor your choice to the task at hand. But if you’d rather have one all-purpose bag, choose a 14- to 16-inch plastic-lined cloth bag. Any larger and you’ll struggle to handle it; any smaller and you’ll need to refill constantly.
These are made of plastic or metal and come in a mind-boggling number of shapes and sizes for piping everything from leaves to basketweave patterns, but plain tips and star tips are the most commonly used.
Choosing tips can be confusing because there’s no standardized sizing system. Some manufacturers stamp the size on the side of the tip. For example, the number 4 may indicate a 4-mm tip, but it may also just refer to a catalog number and have nothing to do with size. When in doubt, measure the tip’s opening to be sure.
You can buy tips individually or in sets. You may also want a plastic coupler, a two-part gadget that lets you switch tips without emptying the bag.
Handwash bags and tips immediately after use with warm soapy water. If a bag has a loop, hang it to dry. Otherwise, stand it tip side up to dry. Towel-dry tips, then allow them to air-dry. If stored before thoroughly dry, bags may mold and tips may rust, and then they must be discarded.
|Step one: If using a coupler, fit the funnel-like part into the bag (cut the end of the bag to accommodate it as necessary); then fit the tip onto the coupler from the outside of the bag and secure with the coupler ring. If not using a coupler, simply fit the tip into the bag.||Step two: Fold down the top of the bag over your hand, like a cuff. Use a spatula to fill the bag about half full. Don’t overfill or it will be hard to handle.|
|Step three: Twist the bag closed until all of the air is purged from the bag and the filling is forced into the tip.
||Step four: To pipe, position your nondominant hand near the tip and use it to guide the tip as you squeeze the filling out with pressure at the top of the bag from your dominant hand. As you pipe, frequently twist the top of the bag to keep it tight around the filling.|
Photos: Scott Phillips