Piping Bags are a Kitchen Favorite
Piping bags are one of my favorite kitchen tools to use and, contrary to popular belief, offer versatility outside of cake decorating. Transferring cake-style donut and muffin batter to trays, creating intricate designs with drizzles of melted chocolate, and even piping mashed potatoes onto dishes are done with ease. When shopping for piping bags, most stores will carry two options for consumers: single-use plastic disposable bags and reusable bags, which can vary in materials. I’ll cover the standard options later in this article. While disposable bags offer the convenience of not cleaning a bag, reusable bags are a better investment in the long run.
Why Purchase Reusable Piping Bags?
Disposable bags may offer the convenience of skipping a cleaning step, but it comes at a cost financially and environmentally. Over time, the plastic waste and hits to your wallet add up. Reusable bags offer not only an eco-friendly alternative to plastic but also durability, a more comfortable grip, and cost savings over time! The only care required is thoroughly washing the bag between uses, especially if using dairy-based icings.
If you don’t wash it thoroughly, it’s the baking world’s version of a forgotten mixer with protein powder remnants. The sour smell on the fabric takes serious elbow grease and some bleach to entirely remove. Luckily, I have a few tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your piping bag, starting with the first use. But first, I’ll cover the types commonly available on the market.
Types of Reusable Bags
Polyester bags are a great option with cost and durability in mind. Offering stain and leak resistance, polyester bags are easy to clean by hand with warm soap and water. In addition, many polyester bags come with a reinforced tip for trimming and use with a coupler. One downside of polyester bags is that they can be slippery when held and piping. Most stores carry polyester bags if you are shopping at a local craft or retail store’s baking section. The options listed below are usually only sold online or at specialty decorating supply stores.
Thermoplastic polyurethane bags look and feel like silicone cut into sheets of fabric. They are easy to clean and prevent foods high in grease or fat from seeping through the bag. However, while silicone bags offer stain protection and ease of cleaning, they can be slippery when holding. Also, silicone bags do not have a reinforced tip and cannot be trimmed for a custom coupler fit.
Canvas bags offer the most durability of reusable bags on the market, making them perfect for cookie doughs, mashed potatoes, and thicker batters. While canvas bags can hold thicker batters, they do have some cons. If filled with food that has a high fat or grease content, it may absorb through the canvas. Cleaning canvas bags also requires a deep scrub, as the material can absorb stains and ingredients. Nothing is worse than remnants of dairy ingredients creating a sour smell. Finally, you cannot trim canvas bags for coupler use unless they have a reinforced tip. Once cut without reinforcement, the fabric will quickly fray.
Polyurethane-Lined Cotton bags offer the benefits of both polyester and canvas. They provide the durability of canvas, leak protection, and ease of cleaning polyester. More often than not, the tips are reinforced and can be cut for use with a coupler. While the inside of the bag is resistant to stains, the exterior can absorb stains and ingredients. Be sure to thoroughly clean both the interior and exterior of the bag to prevent stains and sour smells.
How to Prepare Reusable Piping Bags
As with all new kitchen tools, piping bags should be thoroughly cleaned and dried before their first use. Depending on the piping bag you purchase, the tip may have reinforced material. I use Wilton featherweight bags which are polyester and do have reinforced tips. If you’re unsure if a piping bag you already own has one, it’s easy to tell by examining the material.
The opening of the tip will feel thicker and sturdier than the rest of the bag. You will also notice a seam, possibly on the inside of the bag, where the reinforcement begins. Reinforcing tips provide added durability for a longer bag life and prevent fraying if you cut the end. Bakers will cut a pastry bag to create a better seal around the end of a piping tip and for use with a coupler.
What Are Piping Couplers?
Couplers are plastic attachments placed inside a piping bag with the tip exposed. A piping tip is placed on the exposed portion of the coupler, and a threaded collar screws over the tip to lock it in place. Without a coupler, the tip is inserted inside the bag and held in place by the icing applying pressure.
If you need to change the decorative tip mid-icing, emptying the bag is required. By using a coupler, changing a tip is as simple as unscrewing the collar, changing the tip, and re-attaching the collar. It comes in handy when icing multiple designs with the same color or using the same tip with multiple piping bags containing different colors. Before using a coupler, the opening of piping bags need to be cut to the correct size. It may sound daunting, but the process is easy.
Cutting Piping Bags for Coupler Use
When cutting a piping bag for coupler use or even for a larger tip, there will be no guesswork. You can create a cut line by placing a coupler or tip into the end of an uncut bag and squeezing it to the tip. Whether you are cutting a bag for a coupler or piping tip, make sure you aren’t trimming too close to the end of the reinforcement coating! If cut off, the removal of the reinforced tip can cause fraying.
Finding the Cut Line
If cutting for coupler use, the cut line should expose the first thread of the collar closest to the tip. To find that line, place your coupler inside of the piping bag and press the coupler as far into the tip as it will go. Next, pinch the fabric with your thumb, index, and middle finger to push the coupler down and hold it in place. With most couplers, where the threads begin, a thick line will be visible through the bag.
Carefully Cut Along the Line
The start of the threads is where you will want to cut. With a pencil or marker, draw a mark over the line. I will draw all around the bag to produce an exact cut line. Once creating the mark, remove the coupler from the bag. With a pair of scissors, cut the excess off. If in doubt, cut less than you think you will need to. You can always cut more if needed. If you cut too much, the threads may extend outside of piping bags. Exposed threads can cause the icing to leak while decorating as the collar grips the bag and creates a seal.
Check Your Fit, and Redraw the Line if More Needs to Be Cut
Once cut, the threads of the coupler should barely show outside of the pastry bag. This cut point will allow you to unscrew the collar and remove the piping tip. Should your bag still partially cover the tip, you won’t be able to remove it, rendering the coupler useless. Once cut, thoroughly was pastry bags before use.
Care of Reusable Piping Bags
The one drawback of reusable bags is the cleanup required compared to disposable bags. But when considering the cost savings over time and the reduction of landfill waste, the time taken to wash reusable bags is time well invested. The most thorough method to clean reusable bags, especially cotton and canvas bags, is with a soft-bristled brush and warm soapy water. First, spray off as much of the icing or food debris as possible. Once rinsed off, thoroughly scrub with a brush inside and out using warm water and soap. Once washed and rinsed off, flip your pastry bag inside out. If a loop is sewn into your bag’s edge, you can hang it to dry or prop it open over a vase or bowl to dry. Once fully dry inside and out, store your bag flat.
Are Reusable Piping Bags Worth the Investment?
If you bake or decorate often, I recommend investing in reusable piping bags. The cost savings of not buying disposable bags will pay for a reusable option over time. Also, while you need to wash reusable bags, you will only need to cut a reusable bag once. Disposable bags require trimming every time if used with a coupler, taking away from their convenience. I have three different pastry bags I keep on hand. One is cut for a standard coupler, a second for a larger coupler, and a third I custom cut for use with a cake icing tip. For fellow bakers, do you prefer disposable or reusable pastry bags? Comment your favorite below!
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