I haven’t used a butter knife in years. In fact, I couldn’t tell you where my butter knives are. Why? Because there’s nothing a butter knife can do that an offset spatula can’t do better.
First thing in the morning I use it to spread cream cheese on my bagel (and do the same for peanut butter and jelly at lunch!). Later, when I'm baking in the Test Kitchen, I’ll reach for my offset spatula to spread batter in a pan or create swirls in my marble cake. Back at home, I’ll use it to frost cookies for holiday gifting, and even make pizza at dinner time.
I always keep three offset spatulas within easy reach on my countertop and, as you can see, I use them every single day. Despite its overall simplicity, this versatile tool is as effective as it is unmatched in the kitchen.
What exactly is an offset spatula?
If you’re unfamiliar, an offset spatula is a lightweight, multipurpose kitchen tool that has a thin, flexible, dull blade with a rounded-off tip. Available in various sizes, an offset spatula’s blade is bent at an angle close to where it connects to its handle (unlike a butter knife!).
This small feature makes all the difference in its utility: King Arthur Pastry Baker Wilhelm Wanders once referred to the offset spatula as “an extension of the baker’s hand.” I couldn’t agree more, as the offset spatula’s characteristic bend allows me to maneuver batter, frosting, and other spreadable ingredients into tight corners with ergonomic ease and precision. My favorite is this mini spatula with a blade of uniform width from handle to tip.
What can an offset spatula do?
The better question may be: “What can’t it do?”
Frost cakes and cupcakes: Most people associate offset spatulas with cake decorating, and for good reason. Like an artist’s palette knife spreads paint on a canvas, the offset spatula is perfectly designed for spreading frosting on a cake or cupcake. I find nothing beats its control and precision when spreading frosting, glazes, and ganache smoothly and evenly across a cake’s surface. (This applies to cakes in other forms, too, like spreading frosting evenly between whoopie pies.)
While some people may think the offset spatula is only good for frosting cakes, it’s far more versatile than that. Here are some other ways I put it to use in my kitchen:
Spread cake batter evenly: Before a cake can be frosted, it must be baked, and an offset spatula is the best tool for spreading batter into a pan. With its bend, my offset spatula can spread and smooth batter all the way to the corners of a cake pan with a uniform depth so that my cake bakes flat and even. I find the same is true for thick batters like coffee cakes, pound cakes, and even brownies. (Try doing this with a butter knife and note how your knuckles end up dragging through the batter.)
Remove muffins and other bakes from the pan: Because of its thin flexible blade, I use my offset spatula to wedge between baked muffins (or cupcakes!) and the wells of my muffin pan in order to pop them out for cooling. Because the spatula’s blade is not sharp, I spare my bakeware any scratches, which is why it’s also perfect for sliding between the perimeter of a delicate cheesecake and the ring of my springform pan for unmolding.
Make (and stack) paper-thin crêpes: My offset spatula pulls double duty with this Chocolate Crêpe Cake. First, I use it to flip the crêpes when they’re cooking. Then I use it to spread the hazelnut pastry cream between the cooked and cooled layers: Its ability to distribute filling evenly on each layer while the cake is being built prevents a domed crêpe cake in the end.
Create swirls and swoops both inside and out: When I have a two-tone cake to marble — like this Black and White Pound Cake — I plunge my offset spatula into the batter like a skewer and swirl the two colors together inside the pan before baking. With swift, decisive turns of my wrist, I also achieve decorative swoops and swirls on my lemon meringue pie for height and flourish.
Temper chocolate with ease: If tabling is your preferred method for tempering chocolate, a large offset spatula is the best tool for the job. Its bend and flexibility allow for superior manual dexterity while spreading the chocolate over your work surface for rapid, even cooling. A small offset spatula is also great for placing delicate toppings on recently coated chocolates and for moving finished pieces without exposing them to the heat of your hands.
Sauce homemade pizzas: Have you ever tried spreading tomato sauce onto a pizza using a ladle? It gets the job done, but not without uneven areas of both deep and shallow sauce on the dough’s surface. I prefer a uniform layer of sauce all over my pizza, so I use an offset spatula to spread instead. As with cakes and cupcakes, the larger offset spatula is great for larger pizzas, while the small one is best for personal pizzas.
Set your butter knives aside
As you can see, the humble offset spatula is an indispensable, all-day hero in my kitchen. If you don’t already have one, I encourage you to get an offset spatula (or three) for yourself or an avid baker in your life. Even if you aren’t a cake baker or decorator, I bet you won’t miss your butter knives, and reaching for your offset spatula will become second nature in no time.
The offset spatula is one of the many beloved products featured in our 2022 Holiday Gift Guide. Stock up on gifts for all the bakers in your life — or just yourself!
Cover photo by Jenn Bakos; food styling by Lydia Fournier.