Baking Pantry 101: Essentials
As a Pastry Chef and baker, ingredients are the foundation for every sweet creation and a well-stocked baking pantry proves to be a baker’s best friend.
Below I highlighted some pantry fundamentals for your baking kitchen of commonly used ingredients that I label “must-haves.” These also includes fun facts, differences in each category, their uses in baking, and even some quick substitutions.
As you will see, each baking ingredient has a role to play and brings something to the party like working as a team to create something yummy!
Commonly Used Baking Ingredients
BAKING PANTRY: #1 Flour
Flour is pivotal in your baking pantry to have it well stocked as it provides structure for cookies, cakes, and muffins. Admittingly, I buy in pretty big quantities since I use so much of it, love the varieties to have on hand when I get in the kitchen. If you are like me once I came into baking and pastry, I had no idea the differences of all the flours out there!
I quickly discovered some of my favorites. Here’s three:
- King Arthur All-Purpose Baking Flour (it’s fantastic and non GMO)
- King Arthur Bread Flour
- Trader Joes Organic All-Purpose Flour
Blend of hard and soft flours for “all purpose” uses and contains 10.5 % protein. Most baked good contain this type of flour.
Self-rising flour: (Great Baking Pantry Tip)
All-purpose flour that has with salt and baking powder added. Makes baking simpler by already having a leavening agent in the flour to enable things to rise in the oven.
Baking Pantry TIP
You can also make your own self-rising flour:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Mix all together and stored covered.
Ground fine flour and bleached to get its white color and contains 7.5% protein. Great at making baked goods tender. Love the light and airy texture this brings to cakes.
Contains 12.5% protein and used for breads that need added structure. Pizza crust is a great use for this flour, and I use it in my challah and cinnamon rolls. However, all-purpose works great too.
Contains 13.3% protein where the whole wheat grain is ground, however, it has a shorter shelf life since the flour still contains the germ and brand part of the wheat, which enables it to spoil faster.
If you want to learn more about the power of flour, check out my Flour Power post.
BAKING PANTRY: #2 SUGAR
What would a baker do without sugar! Mercy me! Not only does it taste so good, but it actually plays an important role in baking. Sugar provides spread, caramelization, and sweetness; and one of my favorite baking pantry ingredients.
As a side note when I was developing a cookie recipe for a competition, I discovered the important role of sugar. Too much sugar and not enough flour, will cause the cookies to spread when baked. Sometimes too much! Oops. It was a lesson I haven’t forgotten 🙂
This is commonly known as white table sugar and is refined in nature. Its chemical name is sucrose. Typically, the most common sugar to bake with.
This sugar is simply granulated sugar with molasses added to it giving it is signature brown color. What’s the difference between light and dark brown sugar?
- Light brown sugar contains 3.5% molasses
- Dark brown sugar has 6.5% molasses
Commonly called 10x sugar and is ground to a fine powder with 3% cornstarch added, which helps with clumping. I love the way this sugar feels in your hands. Makes fantastic glazes.
BAKING PANTRY #3 FATS
Next up in the baking pantry is FATS! Fats roll in baking is to bring flavor and tenderness to baked items. Super important to have a variety in your stash.
My recent find in the butter department is located at Costco, this amazing grass-fed butter is delicious and brings a bright yellow color and richness to everything! Typically, I like to use UNSALTED butter in baking, but this butter is so wonderful. However, it contains salt. I don’t usually add additional salt in my recipes when using a salted butter.
Grass-Fed butter is delicious, cows raised and feed on pasture lands and their diets consist mostly of grass. They can be grain finished before slaughter and still qualify as grass-fed.
Hands down the most primary fat used by bakers for its flavor and richness. It’s classified as a saturated fat since it originates from an animal. Consist of fat, water, and milk solids. Unsalted is the best way to go in baking so you are able to control the amount of salt in the recipe.
I keep extra on hand and butter freezes nicely too.
Some fun facts about butter:
- Butter gets made by the churning of cream.
- Consist of about 80% milkfat and 2-4% milk solids.
- Salted Butter can have up to 2.5% salt added.
- It has a smoke point of 260 degrees in which it will burn.
Every wonder what the grading on butter means? Here is a quick reference:
- USDA Grade AA– Super quality with creamy texture and spreads nicely
- USDA Grade A– Good quality, fairly smooth texture
Also made from animal fats and mostly flavorless, it’s a great and inexpensive product for tenderizing baked goods and makes a great pie crust. However, it is classified as a trans-fat.
** Quick mention of margarine, I actually started off baking with margarine but prefer butter in taste and results. Margarine is basically vegetable oil or mix of oils with salt and emulsifiers (thickeners) that allows it to be solid at room temperature.
Chocolate, chocolate! Who doesn’t love it. I’ve become such a big fan of unsweet lately but not in baking so much as eating. Semisweet and white generally are the most common chocolates used in baking. It’s just perfect in every sense, has a little sugar and love the colors.
Chocolate is a total MUST in your baking pantry. I love having it on hand when the chocolate cravings hit!
One of the ways I love to incorporate chocolate in baking is making CHOCOLATE GANACHE Check out my post here in how to make three versions of this delicious, silky, and amazing accompaniment.
Here are a few varieties:
Chocolate that has no sugar added to it and contains no milk solids. Another name for it is chocolate liquor.
Chocolate that has sugar and vanilla added. Most commonly in chocolate chips.
Chocolate with sugar, vanilla, and milk solids added which makes its appearance lighter.
Not really technically chocolate since it contains no chocolate solids. It consists of sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, milk solids, and lecithin (thickener). This generally can burn easily than the other chocolates and always great idea when heating and melting to use a low temperature.
Pulverized “chocolate liquor” in a nutshell is a way to describe this. I love using both varieties of cocoa powder. Dutch processed produces a deep dark chocolate result (great in brownies and flourless chocolate cakes). This type is treated with an alkali agent to make the flavor milder and darker. Also has a higher pH.
Baking Pantry TIP
Here are some great substitutions with cocoa powder for chocolate:
Unsweet-makes 1 ounce
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- Whisk together
Semisweet- makes 1 ounce
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons shortening
- 1 tablespoon + 1 tsp sugar
- Melt shortening and whisk all together
Dairy products that include a variety of milk and creams, provide moisture in recipes and also can supply a little browning when baking due to the sugars in milk (lactose). Not necessarily in your baking pantry but awesome to have on hand in the fridge. When using milk in recipes I like to use WHOLE milk as it contains more fat and adds a good richness to the recipe.
Cream is a heavy thickened milk so to speak and super rich and delicious. Usually contains about 38-40% fat and great for making amazing, whipped cream. You can add a few TBS of powdered sugar to the cream before whipping for a hint of sweetness and stability. The fancy name for this is Chantilly cream.
Half and Half:
Simply stated in the name as it consists of half cream and half milk. Usually 18-20% fat, however, doesn’t have enough fat to whip into cream, FYI.
Milk that has about 60% of water that is removed which leaves a concentrated liquid that gets canned then sterilized.
Sweetened Condensed Milk:
Similar to evaporated in about 50-60% of the moisture is removed from the milk and 45% of sugar is added. Making is super sweet and rich. When canned, caramel color is usually added to get the brownish tint.
Dry Powdered Milk:
Milk that removes just about all the moisture, which gives it a longer shelf life as it prevents growth of bacteria. Can be used in bread recipes along with the liquid in the original recipe.
Low fat or skim milk that has cultures added to it resulting in a thick and sour mixture.
Here are a few quick points in processing and sterilization of milk products:
Milk that is heated to kill any bacteria, usually heated to 161 degrees F for 15 seconds. An added benefit is that enzymes that cause spoilage are destroyed.
Heated for 160 degrees for 15 seconds.
Milk heated to a higher temperature of 275 degrees F for 2 seconds. Destroys bacteria and extends the shelf life much longer. Typically used in cream and individual creamers.
Deals mostly with fat in milk products where they are broken down so they are able to spread evenly in the milk and not separate and clump. Gives good consistency and even produces a whiter color and richness to the milk. This applies to whole milk.
Egg varieties have changed drastically since my days in culinary school and starting out. I remember only having one choice of eggs in the grocery store. A total must have to have in your banking pantry. Now, so many varieties and marketing on eggs. Let me break them down for you a bit.
Free Range or Cage Free
Chickens have access to the outdoors to feed, this could be a large or small space but different than chickens in confined spaces.
Specifically applies to what the chickens are fed, which is an organic feed. Can be caged or cage free.
Chickens that have full access to the outdoors in pastures where they feed on grass and insects. Yolks from these chickens are usually much darker orange than regular eggs. I love these!
Let’s get inside of eggs:
High in moisture and contains albumin (protein), consist of 67% of the egg.
33 grams roughly equals one large egg white by weight.
Contains high fat and cholesterol and gives richness to baked products. Is considered an emulsifier (thickener) and consist of 33% of the egg.
19 grams roughly equals one large egg yolk by weight.
There you have it, my top 6 must haves in your baking pantry. Total basics to have on hand so you can get into your kitchen and create something amazing!
Want to learn more about baking and pastry? Check out these other fun links!
Mixing Methods- 3 Basics for Baking