Pantry Staples Every Baker Should Have
If you or your family enjoy fresh-baked goodies, why not create these delicious dishes from scratch within the confinement and comfort of your home? Honestly, it really doesn’t take much time or effort to bake goodies from scratch. One of the benefits of home-made baked treats is that you can tailor them to your taste, adding nuts, fruits, or other flavors and toppings. You can also eliminate many of the preservatives found in baking mixes. Baking from scratch can also save some money compared to purchasing mixes. Besides, home-made cakes and cookies just taste better!
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The key to becoming a skilled baker is practice, following recipes precisely (baking is a chemical reaction, so details matter), and having the ingredients you need when you want to bake. Here is a list of baking basics that you should always have on hand:
Flour – All-Purpose flour is the best option, and you can use either bleached or unbleached. This flour is the do all in the world of baking. It is used to bake cookies, cakes, bread, muffins and the list goes on. It can also be used to thicken gravies or puddings and coat meat for browning.
Gluten-Free Flour – If you or someone you bake for has a gluten allergy, stock your pantry with a gluten-free flour and follow recipes specifically for its use. In most cases, however, you cannot use gluten-free flour in place of all-purpose flour.
Cake Flour – If you bake cakes, cake flour will make them lighter and rise higher.
Cornmeal – If you like cornbread, add cornmeal to your pantry. This is a staple in our home as my husband loves his cornbread.
Specialty Flours – Whole wheat flour and specialty grain flours like rye can be added if you’re a more skilled baker. They are mainly used for baking bread, but can be included in other recipes, too.
Sugar – The best sweetener for baked goods like cookies and cakes is granulated white sugar. It’s inexpensive and easy to find. When most recipes specify sugar, this is what they’re using.
Brown Sugar – Brown Sugar is made by combining white sugar and molasses. Light brown sugar has less molasses than dark brown sugar. It is a personal preference as to which one to use, but if you’re baking something on the delicate side, go for light brown sugar. Make sure to keep the inner bag tightly closed or you’ll end up with a sugar brick. My husband makes some awesome cookies and uses light brown sugar. He keeps the sugar in its original bag, but then places the bag in a ziplock bag to keep it fresh.
Powdered or Confectioner’s Sugar – This is NOT granulated sugar ground up in your food processor. Powdered Sugar is very finely ground sugar that has another product (usually a little cornstarch) to keep it from clumping. Powdered sugar is usually used to make frosting or added to whipped cream or merengue for sweetening. Make sure you sift before using to remove any lumps.
There are other sweeteners available, but they tend to behave differently when used in baking. Remember, baking is science and you need certain things to happen for it to turn out properly. These include raw sugar, date sugar and honey.
Baking Soda – This is a separate box that you have for baking; don’t use the stuff that you put in the fridge to absorb odors. Baking Soda is used to make baked goods rise,and is usually used with an acidic batter or dough. It’s cheap and lasts a long time.
Baking Powder – This is also used as a leavening (raising) agent. It contains Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar and other ingredients. Baking powder usually comes in a small can and will keep for at least a year. To test for freshness, put a teaspoon of Baking Powder in some water. If it fizzes, you’re good. If it doesn’t fizz, throw it out and get more.
Salt – Plain old table salt. Salt helps to bring out flavor. This is one of the biggest mistakes beginning bakers make – leaving the salt out. Your baked goods will taste ‘flat’. Think of what salt does for caramel – how it heightens the flavor. Salt affects everything that way.
Cocoa – Cocoa Powder is unsweetened and Hershey’s is a good brand. It’s readily available at every grocer I’ve visited and has a good flavor. Cocoa Powder is not the same as chocolate drink powder you mix with milk to drink.
Vanilla Extract – Buy the best vanilla you can find. Trust me, it makes a big difference. Don’t use imitation extracts because they can have ‘off’ flavors and ruin your efforts.
Butter – or Margarine – most of the time you can use either salted or unsalted butter. If using margarine, make sure it says margarine on the package and not ‘spread.’ For either product, use cubes. The stuff that is spreadable or in tubs is usually whipped and may have water added. Whipped spread will drastically change your outcome.
Eggs – Use fresh eggs. Most recipes that list eggs as an ingredient expect large eggs will be used.
This is just the beginning of baking basics and what your pantry should include. As you become more experienced in baking, you’ll continue to add more ingredients. Items such as real chocolate chips, nuts, coconut, and food coloring. Don’t be shy and get out there and bake. Besides, if kids can do it on those baking tv shows, why can’t you? You’ll be impressed with what you can accomplish.
Don’t miss these handy-dandy pantry organizers!
I’d love to hear about your favorite from scratch recipes. I’d love to see a picture of your finished creation in the comments.
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