There are two main types of rolling pin, a heavier one that rolls as you push it along and a long thin rolling pin, which is lighter and is really just a narrow long piece of wood or plastic with blunt or tapered ends. Here’s how to decide what’s best for you.
Two-handled rolling pin
– This is the rolling pin we are all familiar with (see the wooden rolling pin on the left in our photo) – it has two handles, one on each end, which you use to push the central cylinder along. It is usually made of wood, though you can find them in metal, glass and even in marble.
– This rolling pin is usually quite heavy and does a lot of the work for you. Because the rolling pin is made of hardwood or metal, it is heavier the larger it is. It can be quite heavy for someone who is older who may not have the same strength they did in their hands in younger years, and if you have arthritis, it would be a hard rolling pin to use. In this case, you can choose the much lighter French rolling pin (see below).
– You can find rolling pins that allow you to put iced water inside to keep the pastry cool but there is no need for this if you chill your pastry – if you are unlucky, the water can also leak out and wet the pastry.
French rolling pin
– This is really just a long dowel of wood, usually about an inch to an inch and a half thick (see the darker wooden narrow rolling pin in the photo above). Sometimes both ends are tapered but it doesn’t matter. This is the one we use at greatfood.
– It is lighter, has a nicer feel to use and we feel it gives us more control over what we are rolling. It is especially good for making pasta from scratch as you need to have a light touch and, in fact, we saw this type of rolling pin in Tuscany first and just had to find our own version when we got home. (The one you see in the picture is ours, we got it from a Thai shop – see how to make your own below.) It is a good rolling pin for anyone who hasn’t got strength in their arms or wrists or who hasn’t got much room to store the larger rolling pin.
– The French rolling pin is easy to clean, just wipe it with a damp cloth.
How to make your own French rolling pin
– Pop along to your local DIY shop, buy the handle of a brush or a dowel rod that is 1 to 1.25 inches in diameter. Ask them to cut it down to 16 inches in length and to sand both ends. When you get home, oil it with food-safe oil (eg mineral oil). Don’t use olive or food oil or it will go rancid.
Plastic rolling pin
– A rolling pin, made of plastic (often non-stick polyethylene) is used to roll out icing, sugar paste and delicate pastry. It is easy to clean and doesn’t soak up the dyes in the icing so it’s perfect for cake-makers and pâtissieres. You can usually wash it at low temperatures in the dishwasher but check before you buy.
– The advantage of a marble rolling pin is that it stays cold and, if you wish, you can chill it in the fridge before using. It is naturally very heavy so it does the work for you. However, it can squash delicate pastry. You need good biceps too, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Marble can also chip and you need to store it carefully.
Flatbread rolling pin – You can buy a long tapered thin rolling pin for rolling out flatbreads. They are much lighter and thinner so they are really only suitable for this purpose.
How to choose a rolling pin
– How does it feel in your hand? Has it enough weight to do the job or do you want it to be lighter so that you need to rely more on your rolling technique than on the rolling pin’s sheer heft?
– Is it long enough, or too long for the size of pastry or pasta you roll out regularly?
– Does the surface look like the pastry will stick to it, so that you need to use more flour than you want to? Is the wood very dry-looking or is it shiny and moist-feeling? If it is too dry, then you will find that the pastry ends up on the roller.
– Can you store it comfortably? Does it come with a stand and need to be stored on the worktop, taking up space or can you wipe it and put it in a drawer?
– Does it need lots of care or can you just wipe it clean with a damp cloth and use mineral oil on it from time to time?
– Is it very expensive? You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a rolling pin. After all, if you can’t find it one day, you’ll end up using a clean wine bottle and that will do nicely, so what advantage does spending more money give you?
– Do you need the gimmicks – a cylinder that takes iced water or adjustable handles to raise the height of the rolling pin? You pay more and in the end, can you improve on something that is already perfect? You choose.