Essential Baking Ingredients: Pantry Staples For Your Baking Needs
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Baking is part art…and part science. The art part – a big part of that is your presentation. The science part – that’s using the right proportions of the right high-quality ingredients to create a chemical reaction that results in your food turning out the way you want it to.
If the word “art” scares you a little, then the good news is that becoming a great baker doesn’t hinge on being able to create intricate edible roses or being able to write out a message on a cake in perfect cursive.
However, becoming a great baker does hinge on having the right ingredients in stock and knowing how to use them. How do you know which ingredients are pantry staples that you need to have on hand? That’s where today’s post comes in.
After getting the idea that many people don’t know what essential baking ingredients to keep in stock, I decided it was time to create a list of baking essentials that every baker needs to have in their pantry at all times.
It took a little doing, but I’m excited to share this list with you today because I just know that it will help you know which pantry staples you need to have at the ready…and which ones you don’t!
Top Essential Baking Ingredients For Your Pantry
If you have done any amount of baking, you know that almost every recipe calls for a little of “this”…and a lot of “that”. But how do you know which “this” and which “that” are considered to be baking pantry staples?
For example, some recipes call for baking soda, and some call for baking powder. Do you really need to have both in your baking pantry? Check out the list below to find out what you really need to have on hand – and (by elimination) what you don’t.
Flours & Grains
Depending on what you plan to bake, I recommend purchasing all-purpose flour in larger quantities and keeping smaller quantities of any “specialty” flours (non-all-purpose flour).
All-Purpose- The go-to ingredient for most baked goods. It’s probably called all-purpose because it can be used for, well, almost everything. Unbleached flour is best for baking.
Whole Wheat – This brown flour has the wheat germ intact which adds great flavor as well as some extra nutritional value.
Bread Flour – This flour contains more protein (which means more gluten), and is meant to be used to bake chewy, yeast bread recipes.
Cake Flour – This type of flour has lower amounts of protein and gluten than all-purpose flour, and it’s also been more finely ground and chemically treated to produce a lighter texture that’s perfect for baking cakes.
Rolled Oats – Used to add bulk and texture to a variety of baked goods. Double-check that you are buying rolled oats and not instant (or 1-minute) oats.
Cornstarch – A gluten-free, finely ground corn flour powder that’s often used to thicken sauces (especially fruit sauces) or in place of flour as a thickening agent. It also has the ability to make soft yeast baked goods since it counteracts the tough proteins in the flour.
Gluten-Free Flours – These are alternative flours to all-purpose that are milled from nuts, seeds, or other grains. Examples include almond flour and rice flour.
Cornmeal – A ground-up grain that’s more course, perfect for baking cornbread, pancakes, and more.
Different types of sugar act differently to sweeten your recipes. Here are the three main types.
White Granulated – When “sugar” is listed as an ingredient in a recipe, granulated sugar is what it’s calling for. Derived from the juice of beets or sugarcane, this sugar has been stripped of its natural molasses. You can buy it in its natural tan color or a more-refined white version.
Brown Sugar – Brown sugar is simply granulated sugar with varying levels of molasses added to it to create a slightly sticky, moist texture. Brown sugar has the ability to clump up, making it necessary to store it in an air-tight container. It’s primarily used in richer recipes where you want a deeper flavor.
Powdered Sugar – Small, finely-ground particles of refined sugar are combined with small amounts of cornstarch to yield a product that dissolves quickly and a texture that’s perfect for icings and frostings. It’s also used to “dust” your finished product to give it that final, lovely touch.
Leaveners are essential for making your dough or batter rise, and how you use them depends on what you want to make.
Baking Soda – Also known as sodium bicarbonate, this alkaline chemical leavener works by combining it with heat and acid in your recipe. Examples of acids that you can use include: citrus juice, vinegar, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt.
Baking Powder – Unlike baking soda, baking powder is baking soda already mixed with cornstarch and a powdered acid to form carbon dioxide bubbles to give your baked goods a light airy texture without the need for additional acidic ingredients.
Yeast – A natural, biological leavener that requires more time and patience than chemical leaveners since it takes time for the yeast to metabolize into carbon dioxide during the resting and kneading periods.
Cream of Tartar – This acidic powder can be used with baking soda in baked goods. It’s not needed when using baking powder, as it already contains acid.
Salt is necessary to balance out the flavors in your recipes. It’s also a flavor enhancer.
Kosher Salt– This course salt is a non-iodized salt that’s used in baking. It contains sodium chloride and often anti-caking agents.
Flaky salt – This salt has large flake-like crystals and is used as a finishing salt to sprinkle on top of cookies and other baked goods to give it a crunchy texture.
Milk proteins soften and add flavor and moisture to baked goods. They help to give strength and structure to batter or dough while also adding in moisture, flavor, and tenderness.
Milk – provides moisture to your batter. Whole milk will deliver a more robust flavor than low-fat milk, but you can substitute them 1:1 for each other.
Butter – Provides rich flavor and texture for your baked goods. When a recipe calls for “butter,” it’s talking about unsalted butter unless otherwise specified.
Condensed Milk – This thick, sweetened milk provides moisture, tenderness, and rich, sweet flavor to recipes. Typically used in desserts, this canned item has a long shelf life and low moisture compared to regular milk.
Evaporated Milk – This is a shelf-stable, concentrated version of milk that’s canned and doesn’t need refrigeration. Use it in recipes where you want to add creamy thickness. Note: evaporated milk can cook at high temperatures without curdling.
Coconut Milk – Makes a great non-dairy substitute for regular milk, as long as the mild coconut flavor doesn’t interfere with the recipe. To use it, replace milk 1:1 with coconut milk.
Eggs – Large eggs are the default to use in recipes. They help to bind ingredients together so that they don’t crumble apart.
Fat serves many functions when it comes to baking. They provide flavor enhancement, moisture, texture, and aid in leavening.
Butter – Butter reigns supreme in baking due to its flavor.
Vegetable Oil – Has a neutral flavor and can be used both in recipes as well as to grease your pans. Can be substituted for butter in a recipe (use ¾ the amount of butter that the recipe calls for).
Vegetable Shortening – A great substitution for vegans to use. It creams up lighter than butter to make very fluffy and tender cakes; has a higher melting point than butter does, so cookies tend to hold their shape and not spread as much.
Coconut Oil – Makes a wonderful replacement for butter and other oils in cooking. Replace at a 1:1 ratio.
There are many different extracts available to add a pop of flavor to your recipes. Here are a few of the most common.
Vanilla – A flavor enhancer that adds a warm, spicy flavor to sweet dishes. Learn everything you need to know about Vanilla.
Vanilla Bean– Provides a more intense vanilla flavor. Vanilla bean enhances the perception of sweetness in baked goods and rounds out the bitter notes of chocolate.
Almond – Adds flavor to baked goods and desserts. It pairs well with these flavors: cinnamon, coffee, chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, peach, cherry, and maple.
Mint – Provides natural mint flavor to enhance your baked goods and dessert recipes.
Add a little spice to your dishes to create even more flavor. Here are a few popular spices.
Cinnamon – This is one of the most popular baking spices. It adds a warm, cozy flavor to dishes and is often used to enhance different breads, apple dishes, donuts, pastries, and other baked goods.
Allspice – Pairs well with cinnamon (think Pumpkin Pie) and works in savory dishes too.
Cloves – A warm and strong spice – a little goes a long way. You can purchase cloves whole or ground.
Nutmeg – Pairs well with cinnamon. Nutmeg loses its potency quickly once it’s ground, so for the best flavor, buy whole nutmeg and grind it yourself just before adding to your recipe.
Ginger – This spice adds sweet heat to your dish. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Sugar isn’t the only way to sweeten a recipe. Here are a few popular sugar alternatives. Be aware that these liquid sweeteners won’t react with ingredients in quite the same way that granulated sugar does.
Honey – A natural, less-processed ingredient than sugar, honey is sweeter than sugar allowing you to use less in your recipe.
Molasses – Thick, and syrupy, molasses adds moisture (and a slightly chewier texture) to your recipe. Use ⅓ cup molasses for every 1 cup of granulated sugar.
Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is another natural sweetener that can replace sugar in recipes. Products baked with maple syrup will be darker than those made with sugar thanks to Its dark color. Use ¾ cup maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar.
One of my favorite ingredients – there are many different chocolate products you can use in your baking. Here are the most common.
Baking Chocolate Bars – Baking chocolate is unsweetened blocks of pure chocolate liquor that have a strong, bitter flavor. Because baking chocolate is 100% cocoa butter, it melts better than chocolate chips and is used in recipes with sugar.
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips – These slightly sweetened chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter (about 60%) which means they have less flavor than baking chocolate and hold their shape better when baked. They are best used in cookies.
Cocoa Powder – is unsweet, dried chocolate liquor that has about 75% of its cocoa butter (the fat) removed and has been ground into a powder. Cocoa powder imparts a rich chocolatey flavor to baked goods and acts as an acid to help with leavening when baked with baking soda.
Dried fruits add incredible flavor and texture to your baking recipes. Here are the most common dried fruits used in baking.
Raisins – Provide a sweet, chewy texture and flavor to baked goods and can act as a fat-replacer without adding large amounts of water.
Cherries– Dried cherries can replace raisins or dried cranberries in recipes (keeping in mind the differences in sweetness). They also pair well with dried blueberries and white chocolate and taste amazing in fruit puddings, pies, and cobblers.
Cranberries – Dried, fresh, and frozen cranberries can be used in baking. They add a punch of tartness to both savory and sweet recipes.
Do you like a little crunchy texture in your baked dishes? If so try adding nuts. Here are some common options.
Almonds – One of the most versatile nuts for baking, you can add almonds to your batter or chop them up to make a crumble on top. They lend a nice, subtle nutty flavor to your dishes.
Pecans – Another versatile nut for baking, pecans are a vitamin and mineral powerhouse that lend a subtle nutty flavor and nice chewy texture to your baked goods.
Walnuts – Walnuts have higher oil content than many nuts which helps prevent them from burning during baking. Their mild, buttery flavor makes them perfect for inclusion in cake and cookie recipes.
Fun things to keep on hand
Food Coloring – A liquid or gel that’s used to provide vibrant colors to dough, frosting, or icings in a consistent manner throughout.
Sprinkles – Reminiscent of confetti, sprinkles are a fun way to add bits of color to a recipe. Include them in your batter (or on top) before baking so they adhere to the finished product without the need for “glue” like frosting.
Colored Sugar – Consider colored sugar to be a finishing sugar. Roll cookies in it just before baking or sprinkle on top of your cookies or frosted cakes for a subtle and elegant color boost.
With these essential baking ingredients stocked in your pantry, you will be ready to tackle almost any baking recipe that comes your way.
Print out this handy Pantry Staple Guide and tape it to our pantry door.
Favorite Baking Tool Ever
In order to bake you need some tools and these tools are what I use the most.
This KitchenAid Mixer is without a doubt the most used tool in my kitchen, for mixing doughs, batters, and icing. I have been using a 5-quart mixer for over 20 years and it is still working beautifully. This Kitchen Aid Mixer is just a real workhorse. Right now I have a white mixer and someday I think this yellow mixer is the perfect color for me.
If you like to bake these Half-Sheet Pans 0r Jelly Roll Pans are so important. I have three of these Nordic Ware Aluminum baking sheets that are used weekly for so many different foods and I never have a complaint with warping or durability. These pans are perfect for all types of baking at different temperatures.
Use these pans for cakes cookies, bread, biscuits, scones, roasting meats, and sheet pan dinners
For those times you don’t have just the right ingredient here is a handy list of common Ingredient Substitutions for Baking, this way you won’t have to stop in the middle of baking and run to the store.
This handy guide on Baking with Spices goes in-depth on the best spices to keep in your cabinets, what they are and what you can bake with them.
Did you know that vanilla is a spice, and it’s also one of the most used spices? Read this guide on What is Vanilla and learn about this fragrant spice and all its uses.
Thank you for stopping by the One Hot Oven blog. Please leave a comment to say Hello or just let me know what you are baking these days, I always love hearing from fellow bakers.
From learning to cook on a farm in Indiana to culinary school in California, my passion for food is never-ending. Turning on my oven to bake something for friends and family is my happy place, and I am glad to be here at One Hot Oven sharing both sweet and savory recipes with all my baking friends.
Have any questions or just want to chat about the recipe? Contact me here, and I’ll be happy to help!