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Unless one has a particular fetish for such things, a rolling pin is one of those items one expects only to buy once over a lifetime. Rolling pins are normally very sturdy so why am I on my second?
Our previous rolling pin was a pretty standard traditional wooden pin, nothing special but it did the job. The only problem was that in our cold kitchen it was taking ages to dry after being washed and if not completely dry before being put away, it would emerge from the drawer with a slightly black tinge and have to be washed again before it could be used. Many experienced chefs claim that wood is the best material for a rolling pin but you do really need to spend a lot of money to get a good one. The wood needs to be of excellent quality so that it doesn't split and that will usually come at a price. Cheaper versions will start to split, and when moisture gets into the wood, this exacerbates the problem. The more it splits, the more you need to wash it to keep it clean and more washing perpetuates the problem. When the condition of your wooden rolling pin starts to deteriorate there's a strong likelihood that bacteria will be trapped in the gaps.
I'd been replacing some wooden utensils with versions made from silicone or other synthetic materials and decided to do the same with the rolling pin. There are numerous alternatives to wooden rolling pins and I was surprised how much there was to consider before making a final decision.
In the end I bought what is known as a 'rolling rod'. This is a simple cylinder that is the same thickness all the way along (though you can get ones that taper symmetrically at each end) and it's made from a single piece of polyethylene. There's no change of it splitting and no little joints where dirt could get in. While you could stick this in a dishwasher or in a bowl of hot soapy water without doing it any damage, there's no need to do that anyway because all this rolling pin needs is a wipe with a damp cloth.
A rolling pin differs in that it has handles that are screwed into the end of the cylinder. When the handles turn, this is known as a 'French rolling pin' and such a rolling pin is usually recommended for people who are not very experienced in making pastry because you need to apply less pressure and the pin gives you a more even rolling motion. A rolling rod requires more effort and, as I have found, gives more varied results unless you are an expert pastry chef.
The one I bought comes from a company called Sussex Supplies that deals in catering industry standard utensils and equipment. I bought the 18 inch version but with hindsight would have gone with something slightly shorter if I'd given it more thought. It weighs 998g so it is quite heavy and this might be an issue for some people with arthritis. I have to store this diagonally across a drawer as it will not fit tidily into any drawers in my kitchen.
The polyethylene surface is non-stick and I use very little flour when rolling pastry with this rolling rod; in fact I could probably get away with not flouring it at all but tend to anyway partly from habit and partly because I can't quite believe that you could roll pastry successfully without flouring your rolling pin.
I don't make huge amounts of pastry and my rolling technique leaves a bit to be desired but I manage reasonably well with this model. I would concede, however, that I'd do a lot better with a pin with handles.
This rolling rod does have a couple of additional advantages. One is that the material stays cool even with repeated use (for example if I have rolled out bases and lids for several pies) which is essential when making pastry. The other is that it is much better to use for crushing biscuits than my old rolling pin. The fact that the rod is the same thickness all the way through means that when I bash the pin on the worktop I know that I'm going to hit the bag of biscuits with some force. With the old pin I would try to hit the biscuits with the barrel of the pin, but would sometimes hit them with the handle which was mostly ineffective and wasted time.
The density of this material means that you can smash things like nuts and not do any damage to the rod, leaving it lovely and smooth and perfect for rolling out things like icing that need to be pristine.
I paid 11.49 for my rolling rod (from Amazon, inclusive of postage) and I've been very happy with it so far. It may sound quite costly but you'd pay a lot more for a top quality wooden rolling pin (which may get damaged) or for a marble rolling pin. For less experienced bakers I would suggest buying a polyethylene rolling pin with handles as this design is easier to use but you would still get the advantages of this easy to clean material.