Scientifically Sweet: A Baker's Pantry

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Baker's Pantry

A lot of people ask me what a beginner baker should have on hand to make tasty desserts.

If you have eggs, flour, butter, sugar and chocolate, then you can easily make the best brownies in the world. That's all it takes. But if you want to make more than just brownies, there are a few items you can keep handy to spice up your repertoire.

Here's a great list of mix-ins and ingredients that I always have in stock to make my recipes shine.

CHOCOLATE - I think a bear just crapped in the woods because this is the most obvious ingredient ever, but it's truly a must and you should have it on hand at all times. I'm being a bit bossy here. I mostly use bittersweet, but semi-sweet is also a good idea to have. Even white chocolate is fancy for drizzling.

Brown sugar - it gives a richer, more complex flavour to cookies, cakes and more....

Icing sugar - great for whipping up a quick buttercream, sugary glazes and for rolling things around in.

Coconut - the sweetened flaked stuff is soft and chewy and makes an oatmeal cookie feel like a rock star. Toast it gently in a dry frying pan and you've created an aroma that can win any war. Toasted coconut = warrior.

Almonds and other nuts, like pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts - toast all of these too for a richer flavour in your cookies and candy. Roll chocolate truffles around in chopped nuts or mix them into your favourite biscotti recipe.

Lemons and oranges - what we want lies in the zest on the peel because that's where the essential oils live. You know how you dig your fingernails into an orange peel as you tuck into one and the oils squirt out at an unreasonable pace and land right in your eye? That burning sensation is the effect of delicious flavour compounds. Enjoy it. Mix this zest into cake batters, cookies and icings for a powerful flavour punch.

Granulated sugar - seriously? I'm not going to go on about it....

All-purpose flour - it's great for almost anything. It's all-purpose!

Butter - Butta!!! I prefer to use unsalted but salted will work just fine in most recipes

Cocoa powder - Dutch, not-dutched, black or brown. There's so many kinds! I use one that is mildly dutched (I know because potassium carbonate is on the ingredient list) but is not labeled as so because it is still light. It has a camel or tan colour, much like natural hershey's cocoa, but is processed just slightly. It's a common grocery store product.

Canola oil - it's a neutral tasting oil that makes cakes stay super moist. I like to use a blend of butter and oil when making layer cakes.

Spices galore: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and cardamom. It's hard for me not to make a cookie without spice - it just amps up the flavour hands down! Get into spices! It will change you.

Pure vanilla extract, NOT vanilla essence or "vanillin", which is the imitation stuff that's actually made from tree bark. Check for vanilla from Madagascar - that's my favourite. Vanilla beans are great to have on hand once you get more savvy. I personally L-O-V-E them. Use them to infuse cream or milk when making creme caramel, custards and panna cotta.

Corn syrup - essential for candy-making as it prevents recrystallization.

Honey - makes a superb glaze and is excellent in muffin batters to keep them moist and blissfully sweet.

Molasses - robust, rich and a totally grown up flavour. It makes cookies extra moist and comes in handy around Christmas time ;)

Dried fruit - cranberries, cherries, apricots and raisins. Again, great mix-ins for cookies, scones, brownies and more.

Oats - mostly for cookies, but also for bars and of coarse homemade granola! Mmmm.....

Peanut butter - this sticky stuff makes delicious no-bake granola bars. Mix it with butter and icing sugar for a quick and tasty frosting.

Heavy whipping cream 35% fat - so you should definitely store this in your fridge and not your pantry, but it's something I always have stocked. This is a must when it comes to making chocolate ganache for silky truffles, shiny glazes and fudgy frostings. Use it to brush the tops of scones and biscuits to create a glossy finish. Also use it to make creamy custards to fill tarts and other pastries.

Fresh fruits like apples, bananas and pears can be diced up and mixed into muffin batters. Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are lovely baked into tarts or used to pretty-up frosted cupcakes.

Is your pantry full yet? That's what I like to see. 

There's nothing worse than bare, sparse, anorexic shelves. Where's the inspiration in that? Total buzz killer.

I'll show you how it works: 
> open pantry
> scan goods
> do math
> oats + peanut butter + dried cherries + chocolate = oatmeal peanut butter cherry chocolate cookies!

Go in the kitchen, crank your oven, make a mess, lick the spoons and get someone else to clean it up. 

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  1. I love this. Great tips on what to stock!

    I do keep most of these pantry items on hand usually, with the exception of "fancier" nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios - I keep almonds/walnuts all the time) and heavy cream. I tend not to use heavy cream fast enough when I buy it before it goes sour, so I opt to avoid most recipes with it. (That, and my waistline benefits from my avoidance.)

    I love reading your blog and trying your recipes! I am a baker at heart, but trying to balance my love for sweet goodies with my passion for fitness and health (and new career direction in it) is quite tricky. I know you're a pioneer for the "real stuff" with baking science, but do you have thoughts on how to adapt delicious baked goods recipes to be less detrimental to my unlovely-love handles (that would surely grow back if I baked as much as you)? ;)

    PS- Two batches ginger cookies in two weeks. Dangerous. ;) They didn't last long.

  2. @Whitney I find many recipes out there call for far more butter than required, especially for cakes. Too much fat can actually weigh it down and hinder aeration. But, cutting back on sugar is often tricky because it has a big impact on texture. Try recipes for biscotti and muffins that use less fat and sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth!

    PS - you can freeze heavy cream and use it again to make truffles. You just won't be able to whip it.

  3. Hello there! I just spotted the wonderful apple jam and vanilla custard tart you published a year ago, but the link seems to be broken :s
    I enjoy reading your blog a lot, but I had never attempted a recipe before, hope I can finally bake that tart..;)
    Greetings from Mexico...

  4. Awesome advice - I am severely lacking in the baking department. My wife is much better at it than me, I just do all the cooking :)

  5. My baking cupboard is full!!! Love your awesome list of supplies :)

  6. Fantastic list, Christina! I'm also proud to say 'check' to all those ingredients! :)

    I will definitely be making those brownies for my party next time. After all they are the best brownies in the world! And the biscotti look wonderful too!

    Tammy <3


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