We have run through some of the essentials when it comes to baking at home. We also have a blog post on vegan baking essentials.
Baking powder is a raising agent. It’s made up of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is an acid that activates the bicarbonate of soda causing it to release carbon dioxide and aerate the cake with the addition of moisture. It’s often used in baking, especially in creamed cakes.
Bicarbonate of soda
Bicarbonate of soda can also be bought separately but it’s still necessary to add acid and moisture to activate it. Common acids that you will find in recipes include cream of tartar, buttermilk and milk. Bicarbonate of soda has a strong flavour so care must be taken not to use too much.
Butter is a must for many cake recipes and is a useful all-round item to have in your fridge. Butter is ideal for creamed cakes where it’s beaten together with sugar to incorporate air into the mixture and produce a light cake.
Plain flour and self-raising are white (refined) flours that are essential for baking. Self-raising flour is made from plain flour with a small amount of baking powder mixed in (1/2 tsp per 100g). If a recipe states plain flour, it will also specify a raising agent such as baking powder or bicarbonate of soda to ensure a good rise.
Another all-round useful ingredient, eggs are used in cake batters to trap air in the cake as well as to bind the ingredients together.
It’s worth having some plain chocolate for making chocolate cakes and brownies; for breaking up to use as chocolate chips and for making rich chocolatey cake toppings. In most recipes, plain chocolate of around 40 per cent cocoa solids is adequate unless otherwise stated. You might want to keep a stash of white/dark and milk chocolate for your recipes.
Another key ingredient for chocolate cake recipes, cocoa provides an intense chocolate flavour. It has the benefit of not needing to be melted and is completely stable. A couple of tablespoons are often used in place of flour in addition to melted chocolate to give depth to the recipe. It is also used when making chocolate buttercream for icing and filling cakes.
Caster sugar is the most popular sugar for cake making, particularly for creamed cakes as its fine texture blends well. Icing sugar, as the name suggests, is the key ingredient for both glacé icing and buttercream. It’s also useful to have a variety of brown sugars; light and dark soft brown sugar and muscovado all have distinctive flavours and are commonly found in fruit and other richly flavoured cakes.
Common spices used in baking include ground cinnamon, ground mixed spice, ground ginger and nutmeg.
Sunflower oil is ideal for baking as it has a mild flavour which allows the other ingredients in a cake to be the focus.
Vanilla extract is cupboard essential. The flavour is much better from vanilla beans, as opposed to the cheaper vanilla essence.
Ground almonds are often used in place of flour or as well as flour in cake recipes. They produce a moist cake and are great as a gluten-free option.
Mixed chopped nuts, hazelnuts, flaked almonds, walnut halves and pecans are the most common nuts you will find in recipes. One type of nut can always be substituted for another in recipes so don’t worry.
Polenta is a brilliant flour substitute. Cakes made with polenta tend to be denser, with a lovely texture and have a vibrant yellow colour. It another great gluten-free option. We have a delicious orange and polenta cake.
Sticky and sweet, golden syrup makes a moist sticky cake and it keeps for a long time in the cupboard.
Oats can replace about 50 per cent of the flour in certain recipes like cookies. Some flour is necessary because oats are heavier than white flour. Oats are naturally sweeter than wheat flour, so use a little less sugar when substituting them in place of flour.