Whether you’re looking to make your grandmother’s beloved apple pie or are trying your hand at the latest cake fad, you will likely require a handful of essential baking ingredients. Baking is a precise science, and there’s a reason why most recipes rely on the same culinary standbys. Here are 12 baking essentials to always have in your pantry.
All-purpose flour is a mixture of hard and soft wheat and is considered the default option when a recipe calls for flour. While other flours have higher or lower levels of gluten, all-purpose flour is a middle-ground. There are other flours worth having — for instance, almond flour if you’re gluten-free — but all-purpose flour is the most common.
Baking powder is made of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. It is a leavening agent that helps baked goods rise. Baking powder is commonly found in cake, bread, and pancake recipes.
Much like baking powder, baking soda is a leavening agent. However, unlike baking powder, baking soda lacks an acidic element, so when mixed with an acid — lemon juice or buttermilk, for example — it produces carbon dioxide that helps baked goods rise.
Butter is an essential fat for many baked goods, such as cookies, pies, and pastries. It provides richness, structure, and tenderness. Butter is what makes pastries flaky because moisture is released during baking, creating steam that makes the layers of dough rise and flake.
Brown sugar is a mix of granulated sugar and molasses, which adds color and moisture. There are two kinds of brown sugar: light and dark. Light has about 3.5% molasses, while dark is double that amount. Unless otherwise specified, these brown sugars can be used interchangeably. If you are out of brown sugar, you can mix 1 tablespoon of molasses with 1 cup of granulated sugar.
Chocolate chips add the perfect pop of sweetness to baked goods. While different kinds of chips are on the market, such as milk, dark, and white chocolate, semi-sweet is the most common and used in most classic chocolate chip cookie recipes.
Eggs are one of the hardest working ingredients in baking. They add stability and binding to baked goods, moisture, flavor, and leavening.
We all know that sugar makes baked goods sweet — but it does so much more than that. Sugar provides moisture and texture and, when combined with fat, helps leaven a sweet treat. Granulated sugar also helps give baked goods such as cookies their signature golden brown color because the oven's heat caramelizes the sugar.
Salt does not make baked goods taste salty. In fact, it enhances its sweetness and brings out the flavor. Never omit salt from a recipe.
Vanilla extract acts as not only a flavoring agent but a flavor enhancer and balancer. Always use pure vanilla extract — not imitation — for the best flavor. If you can’t find vanilla extra, vanilla bean paste is a great substitute. It’s also easy to make your own vanilla extract with vodka and vanilla beans.
Vegetable oil is an important ingredient for maintaining moisture while baking. It’s exceptionally reliable compared to other fats like butter, which can solidify during baking. Vegetable oil stays liquid the entire time, maintaining a softer texture. You can substitute vegetable oil with canola oil if you are out.
Yeast helps dough rise. There are three different types of yeast that are typically found in grocery stores: active dry, instant, and RapidRise. Active dry yeast must be proofed before being added to a recipe, which means adding it to warm water and some form of sugar and letting it sit for a few minutes to bloom. Instant yeast does not need to be proofed and is added straight to the dry ingredients. RapidRise is Flesichmann’s branded instant yeast that requires one rise.
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