Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Pantry Essentials Part 2: The Baking Edition!

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When it comes to home-made baking, there are several items that are absolutely necessary. Conveniently, many of these items can also be used in other dishes as well. For example when we think of flour, we tend to only think of baked goods. However, flour can also be used to thicken a cheese based pasta sauce or in a breaded-coating for items such as home-made fish sticks of chicken strips (which, incidentally, can be way healthier than store bought). The following list should provide you with the necessary basics to get all your at home baking done, and more.



 Flour

 

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There are many different types of flour out there, all-purpose, whole-wheat, cake flour, bread flour… the editors of Home Cooking Magazine tell us that the main difference between these flour types is the gluten content, which is the protein that helps yeast stretch and rise. While its best to use the type of flour the recipe specifically calls for, a big bag of all-purpose flour will do the trick for most recipes. For those gluten free folks out there, there are several different types of acceptable flours, including rice flour, potato flour and corn flour.


Sugars and Sweeteners


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It's a good idea to have some kind of sweetening agent on hand. A big bag of plain sugar may seem like the easiest solution, particularly if you aren't baking wiz, but don't be afraid to explore your options. There's a world of possibilities, each with different pros and cons. For an in-depth look at different sugars and sweeteners, click here!

Pro Tip: If you're out of brown sugar, but you have some molasses tucked away in the cupboard, you can just mix one cup of white sugar with one tablespoon of molasses as a substitute (allrecipes.com).

 

Baking Soda and Baking Powder

 

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Both of these are a “leavening agent” meaning they cause baked goods to rise. It's best to have both of these on hand, as many recipes call for some of each. But if you're really stuck, you can substitute the powder in a pinch.

Pro Tip: If you happen to have some baking soda and cream of tartar in the pantry, you can make your own baking powder by mixing two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda (About.com: Chemistry).

Salt 

 

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Even many sweet recipes call for just a pinch of salt. Salt is often used as a seasoning in many soups, stews, pastas, casseroles…. The list goes on. A quick internet search will reveal that salt can also be used in a variety of home-made cleaning solutions and even be used to help repel ants! Basically, its always good to have on hand. That being said, it's best to go light. Too much salt can raise your blood pressure and has been linked to a variety of different medical complications. Try relying less on salt and more on herbs and spices to add flavor to your food. One kitchen pixie has been using the same box of salt for the past 3 years!

Pro Tip: Is your morning coffee coming out too bitter? Try stirring in a tiny pinch of salt. Sodium ions will block some of the bitter molecules from reaching your tongue. Go science!


Yeast 

 

Better check the best before date on that one... Photo source Flickr, used under creative commons.

Although baking soda or powder often provide the necessary rising power to many baked goods, yeast is essential for most breads or items such as pizza dough. As with so many items at the grocery store, there are several different options. Your best ‘jack of all trades’ option is instant active dry yeast. Unlike active dry yeast, it doesn't need to be dissolved in water, so you can add it right to your dry ingredients. It can also be used interchangeably with active dry yeast… just measure the same amount of yeast and skip the water (thekithcn.com).

Oil

 

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Just remember, a little goes a long way. And we mean a looooong way. Vegetable, olive, and seed based oils are extremely versatile and much healthier than butter. Many are quite a lot cheaper for the amount that you get and have a much longer shelf life than their dairy-based counterpart. Oil can often be substituted for butter in recipes and is great to have on hand when you want to whip up a quick stir-fry. Just a drizzle should do it! There are, of course, some high priced, high ticket oil varieties out there too. While the kitchen pixies will always encourage you to try new things and experiment, we realize that the variety of options can be overwhelming and buying a bottle of everything could be a costly endevour! So here we have two basic recommendations to get you started: olive oil and canola oil. Olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available and has a rich taste that is especially nice in Mediterranean dishes and salads. Canola oil has a more neutral taste and a high "smoke point," in other words, it can be heated to higher temperatures.

Pro Tip: You can make your own salad dressing in a flash by mixing 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar along with some of your favorite herbs and spices!

Cocoa Powder

 

Enjoy in moderation! Photo source Flickr, used under creative commons.

Who doesn't love a mug of steaming hot chocolate before bed? Or a rich chocolate cake? Cocoa is a good ingredient for any chocolate lover's pantry.

Recipes

 

Just to prove to you how you can make magic happen with just a few simple ingredients, here are three easy but delicious recipes that you can make with the essentials listed above:

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Pizza Crust

3 cups of flour
2 tbsp instant active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp oil

Mix first four ingredients, reserving one cup of flour.
Add 1.5 cups warm water and 2 tsp oil and mix to combine.
Gradually add the reserved flour and lightly knead until dough is elastic, but not too sticky.
Divide dough in half and let rise 10 minutes.
Roll dough onto pan to desired thickness (consider how many toppings you plan on adding!). Add your sauce and toppings and cook at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 mins.



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Simple Bread

This bread has only four ingredients, but you will need quite a bit of time to let it rise. Perfect for a rainy day or a day when you have to clean the house or do laundry.

3.5 cups water
2 tsp instant yeast
4 tsp salt
2 cups flour (plus more as needed)*

Mix these three ingredients with enough flour to form a dough (*start by adding a cup and then slowly add more, a cup at a time until it forms a dough that is well formed and not sticky)
Knead the dough for about 3 minutes
Let the dough rise for 1.5 hours then punch it down
Let the dough rise 1 more hour, then shape it into whatever shape you like (you can make rough rectangles and put them in bread pans or roughly shape them like French bread loaves and score the top)
Let the shaped loaves rise 45 mins
Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit 45 minutes until just golden brown on top.

Photo source Wikimeda Commons, used under creative commons.

 

One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Ok… so we cheated a bit on this one, it has some extra ingredients other than those listed above. But most of them are things you probably have in the cupboards already. Besides, the fact that this cake only requires one bowl to be washed more than makes up for it!

*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
1.5 cup flour
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cocao
1tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
6 tbsps oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp white vinegar (although you can substitute balsamic for a rich, earthier flavor!)
1 cup cold water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add wet ingredients.
Whisk the mixture together and then pour into an 8 inch, greased square pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

(Source: Moosewood Cookbook)

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