7 Baking Ingredient Essentials for Every Baker
A great starting place is to have a few key baking ingredient essentials in your cupboard. Basic baking recipes start with just flour, sugar and butter and then work up from there. With just the following nine ingredients you’ll be able to make most recipes. And the great news is that many of them will already be in your cupboard or fridge! So baking is a super cheap hobby to start.
The first and foremost of your baking ingredient essentials, flour is what gives any bake its shape and texture. The most common type is “plain” or “all-purpose” flour which is just ground wheat. It contains gluten, which makes your cakes springy and hold their shape. As this is what makes up the ‘bulk’ of your cake it’s important to buy a good quality flour and store it properly.
Flour should be stored in a cool, dry cupboard. It’s easy to ruin it with moisture, so keeping open flour in an air-tight container is recommended. This also stops any unwanted guests creeping into your flour stash.
You can also invest in self-raising flour, which is enriched with baking powder and salt. This means that your raising agent is already combined with your flour, so you don’t have to add it separately. Lots of recipes will call for this type of flour, so it’s worth keeping some in your stash.
Alternatively, you can also turn plain flour into self-raising by just adding the baking powder and salt yourself. Combine 1 teaspoon of baking powder to 200g of plain flour and add a pinch of salt. Make sure you whisk it all together when it’s dry before adding to the rest of the mixture. You need to ensure the baking powder is evenly distributed. If you don’t then this can cause all sorts of problems with your bake.
Sugar is essential to make your bakes sweet and tasty. I always use caster sugar as it’s lovely and fine. It will give a great texture to your bakes. You might be tempted to think you already have sugar in your cupboard, but this is likely granulated sugar, which I find too coarse to bake with. You can use it in a pinch, but it will alter the texture of your bakes.
Storing sugar is like storing flour; the key thing is to keep it dry. Any moisture in your sugar will make it clumpy and hard to evenly distribute through your bakes. Keep your sugar in a cool, dry cupboard in an air-tight container and it’ll last for ages.
Another sugar you might want to invest in is soft brown sugar. This is great for adding a more rich, caramel-like flavour to bakes such as brownies. It’s great for Christmas bakes like gingerbread too. Soft brown sugar also helps give a moist, soft texture to biscuits, where caster sugar would give more of a crunch. This is always good to know when you’re looking up biscuit recipes, as it’ll give you an idea of whether the biscuit is meant to be soft and chewy or hard and crunchy. It’s always the sugar that dictates it!
Butter (and other dairy) brings the moisture to cakes and bakes. It’s used as a ‘wet’ ingredient and often beaten with sugar as the first stage of any bake. Either salted or unsalted is absolutely fine to use; it really depends on your taste. I like to use salted butter in my bakes as I find it seasons them and brings out the other flavours nicely.
It’s also useful to have other dairy on hand as well. A little dash of milk is often called for, just to loosen up a cake batter. Sour cream is also a great one to keep in the fridge, as some recipes use this to give extra moisture to fudgy chocolate cakes and brownies.
Store the butter as you usually would, in the fridge. Just make sure you take it out of the fridge to get to room temperature before baking with it. This will make your life easier when trying to mix it and will also give a better bake.
If you’d like to use vegan alternatives to butter and dairy in your bakes, then check out my Introduction to Vegan Baking where I recommend great vegan alternatives for your bakes.
Eggs are used for two reasons in baking; moisture and rise. It’s not just the baking powder that helps your cake rise up and keep its shape; eggs have a lot to do with it too. They can be whisked to trap extra air in your cakes and they play a big part in setting your cake to make it hold that rise.
They also bring moisture to bakes, while keeping them elastic, while dairy just adds moisture. Think of a cookie that is made without eggs (like shortbread); it has a crumbly texture. Then think of something like a Millie’s cookie style which is soft and chewy; that’s the egg at work!
Bicarbonate of Soda and Baking Powder
These are two basic leavening (raising) ingredients that you’ll see in most cake recipes. They even appear in some cookie recipes where they’re soft rather than hard biscuits.
Usually measured in teaspoons, one pack of each will last you a long time, so it’s worth storing them properly so that they last. Keep them in a cool, dry cupboard. It’s essential to keep these ingredients away from moisture, as it can activate them and make them useless when you come to bake with them. You want these to be active when they’re in your cake and not before.
If a cake or bake calls for oil, it’s best to use something like sunflower oil as it’s almost flavourless and won’t interfere with any other flavours in your cake. Oil is used for moisture in bakes, and I particularly recommend it for chocolate cakes! It helps give a great, fudgy texture to chocolate bakes where you’re not so concerned with a big rise but more with a moist cake.
Luckily, you probably have this in the cupboard already for regular cooking. I just raid my cooking stash whenever I need oil for baking.
Let’s get baking!
Once you’ve got a little stash of all of these basic baking ingredient essentials, you’ll be ready to rock and roll! Cakes and cookies will be at your fingertips. I’ll leave you with a few quick tips just to help start your baking journey:
- Always follow the recipe amounts EXACTLY! Adjusting ingredients always has unforeseen consequences like your cake collapsing or ending up with a dry, crumbly cake.
- Store your ingredients properly and never use anything out-of-date. I’ve given you advice on how to keep your ingredients in tip-top condition. You can only expect the best bakes if you start with the best building blocks.
- Always pre-heat your oven to get the perfect rise on your bake. It’s so important, which is why it’s always the first step in any recipe.
- Try using baking strips to ensure your cakes bake nice and evenly. This avoids a wet middle and crisp edges as well as those unsightly bumps that you have to shave off the top of your cake.
- Enjoy the process. Even if your cake looks a bit rough around the edges, enjoy eating the spoils of your labour. Every time you practice baking, you get to eat something yummy at the end!
Baking for beginners
Getting started with any new hobby can be daunting, and baking is no exception. From showstoppers on Bake-Off to decadent drip-cakes on your favourite blog, baking can look complicated and inaccessible, but it’s actually really easy for beginners!
Some of the simplest recipes are the most delicious. The best advice I can give is don’t run before you can walk. Start with something easy like cupcakes, brownies or a nice simple chocolate cake. This will help you master the basic techniques, get to know your oven and start to understand flavours and textures. Even super-fancy looking cakes and bakes all start with these same baking ingredients and just build on them. Take time to master the basics and it will stand you in good stead for the rest of your baking career.
We’ve got your cravings covered
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