Baking Basics: Essential Ingredients to Stock your Baking Pantry
Finding that perfect chocolate cake recipe when you’re in the mood for baking is pretty easy (here are some of our favourites). The tricky part is getting yourself organised with all of the ingredients. There is nothing more annoying than deciding that you want to bake something and then realising you’re missing half of the ingredients. Instead of shopping every time you want to bake, why not just keep your pantry well-equipped? Here are the essential ingredients to stock your baking pantry.
If you’re specifically making bread, particularly a sourdough, then you’ll need to make sure you have bread flour in your cupboard. Bread flour has more protein content than all-purpose, which helps with gluten development. In South Africa, where it can be tricky to get hold of, you can get away with using all purpose flour but if you’re after an especially chewy and elastic crumb, then it is encouraged to use bread flour.
Cake Wheat Flour
Seeing as flour makes up the base of most baked goods, you’ll need to have this on hand at all times. Go buy a large container for it and keep your flour dry and bug-free, then you’ll always have fresh flour on hand.
Some recipes specify self-raising flour, although if you’re in a serious pinch you can add 2 teaspoons of baking powder to every 150 g of flour.
Probably the most common and widely used raising agent out there, baking powder is a non-negotiable. As with flour, buy it in bulk and keep it well-sealed, as it can lose its freshness. To check if it’s fresh, add a teaspoon to some warm water, if it fizzes, it’s fresh. If not, chuck it.
Bicarbonate of Soda
Bicarb is another raising agent, similar to baking powder. When using bicarb, often an acid is needed to activate the raising qualities, such as yoghurt or buttermilk. Baking powder on the other hand, is made up of bicarb, as well as an acid, so that it doesn’t necessarily need to be mixed with one to work.
Cream of Tartar
Otherwise known as potassium bitartrate, cream of tartar is a dry, powdery, acidic byproduct of fermenting grapes into wine. It has stabilising qualities, so if you’re making a meringue, you can add a pinch to your egg whites once they’ve reached the foamy stage to ensure they hold tight once baked.
Granulated White Sugar
Simply a hard working sugar that will work in most of your bakes and cakes.
Castor sugar is a much finer sugar and is usually used when the baked good is more delicate. Meringues, icings and very light cakes will usually specify for castor sugar, as the grains are smaller and are dissolved more easily. Again, if you’re stuck, you can blitz sugar in a jug blender to make castor sugar. Just be sure to give it a good shake in between blitzes to ensure that it all blitzes evenly.
Also sometimes referred to as powdered sugar as it is superfine. An essential if you’re going to be making icings, plus a dusting of icing sugar over any baked good hides a multitude of sins.
Generally if the recipe you’re using calls for granulated sugar, you can easily swap in brown sugar for a slightly more toasty flavour. As your baking advances you may also want to stock demarara sugar, caramel sugar and dark muscovado sugar, which all add a different flavour profile to your bakes.
If you’re making all things chocolate-y, you’ll need cocoa powder. Dutch process has a less bitter flavour than ‘natural’ process, as the beans were rinsed prior to grinding to remove the acidity but either are fine to use in any recipes. You just need to decide which flavour you like more.
Even if you’re making a chocolate baked good, vanilla will help add to the flavour. The difference between vanilla extract and the cheaper essence is that extract is (as the word suggests) extracted from the actual vanilla bean. Essence is chemically engineered. So if you’re after a stronger, more natural flavour in your bakes, go for the extract. If you’re making something like an ice cream or creme brulee however, then you’ll need a dried vanilla bean, as extract won’t do the dessert any justice.
As with cooking, salt is hugely important for flavour, but in baking it can also have a leavening property. Don’t be shy with seasoning your baked goods, they won’t end up tasting savory or salty, just all the more flavourful!
If bread is your game, then you’ll need yeast. Fresh yeast tends to have a better flavour, but dried yeast works perfectly.
Most cakes are either butter or oil based. We’re going to assume that you are a normal person who has butter in their fridge and won’t waste time specifying that you buy it. Instead, we’ll tell you that you need oil, preferably plain sunflower with minimal flavour.
Keep a pack of ground almonds in your freezer so that you can always add an extra element of nutty moisture to your cakes.
Don’t use that cheap cooking chocolate, simply buy a bar of dark chocolate (we like 70%) and chop it up when you need chocolate chips. Hide it from yourself in your freezer if you think you might be tempted to eat it.
Keep these in the freezer too, and you’ll be able to toast them and add them to loaves, cakes and cookies.
Now that your pantry is stocked check out these amazing baking recipes.
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