Baking Basics: Essential Ingredients to Stock your Baking Pantry

Words: Jess Spiro

Finding that perfect cake recipe when you’re in the mood for baking is pretty easy, 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.


Stock your Baking Pantry Properly

Bread Flour

If you’re specifically making bread, particularly 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 / All-Purpose 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. Depending on the brand it may also be referred to as all-purpose flour or cake flour. Read about different kinds of flour here.

Self-raising flour

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.

Baking Powder

Probably the most common and widely used raising agent out there, baking powder is non-negotiable to correctly stock your baking pantry. 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.


Good ol’ butter, while not a pantry item per se, it is a really integral part of baking. We recommend keeping a block on standby in your freezer, that way you won’t be using it for making sarmies etc and will always have on hand when you need it.

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

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.

Icing Sugar

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.

Brown Sugar

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 your baking pantry with demerara sugar, caramel sugar and dark muscovado sugar, which all add a different flavour profile to your bakes. They are a little fancy but adds great flavour, colour and texture to things like crunchies and carrot cakes where you want the flavour to be a bit more caramelised.

Cocoa Powder

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 is fine to use in any recipes. You just need to decide which flavour you like more.


No matter what you are making (even if you’re making a chocolate baked good), vanilla will add to the flavour. The difference between vanilla extract and the cheaper essence is that extract (as the word suggests) is extracted from the actual vanilla bean, whereas essence is chemically engineered. So, if you’re after a stronger, more natural flavour in your bakes (and you should be), go for the extract. If you’re making something like ice cream or crème brûlée however, you’ll need to use a really good quality extract, or even better, get hold of dried vanilla bean pods, from which you can scrape the seeds. Check out our favourite vanilla recipes.


As with cooking, salt is hugely important for flavour, but in baking, it can also have a leavening property. Don’t be shy about seasoning your baked goods, they won’t end up tasting savoury or salty, just all the more flavourful!

Dried Yeast

If bread is your game, then you’ll need yeast. Fresh yeast tends to have a better flavour, but dried yeast works perfectly.

Oil (canola, vegetable, sunflower, avocado etc)

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.

Pantry Bonuses

Ground Almonds

Keep a pack of ground almonds in your freezer so that you can always add an extra element of nutty moisture to your cakes. Also an integral ingredient in macarons and other baked goods.

Dark Chocolate

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.

Pecan Nuts

Keep these in the freezer too, and you’ll be able to toast them and add them to loaves, cakes and cookies.

Food colouring

If you’re feeling adventurous, you may want to add some food-safe colouring and even sparkles or sprinkles from your local baking shop. You can add colouring to your plain cakes and icing give them a little funk! Check out this amazing Ultimate Rainbow Sprinkle Cake.

Once you’ve made your shopping list of everything you need to stock your baking pantry, check out these amazing recipes as inspiration.

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