One of the biggest hurdles to baking at home occurs when you get the urge to bake, pull out the bowls and whisk… and then realise you don’t have any of the baking ingredients you need for the recipe.
Hands up if this has happened to you!
I’m raising both of mine high, because I know this scenario well. Oftentimes, not having the right ingredients will keep you from baking entirely. Who wants to go out to the shops just for a bag of brown sugar or tub of baking powder?
But here’s the thing: I want you to bake. Baking regularly can heal many mental health problems, and I would hate for you to sacrifice that personal time simply because you don’t have the right flour to hand.
In this post, you’ll find all of the essential baking ingredients you need as a beginner home baker. Each of the following 9 ingredients are very affordable, accessible, and last a good amount of time. You’ll also find nice-to-have lists for those of you who are a little more advanced or spend more time in the kitchen.
Plain flour is also known as all-purpose flour, this is the ultimate power flour of the baking pantry. It has a mid-range protein count that means it works well for a variety of baked goods. It’s strong and sturdy enough for yeasted bakes, but also light enough for softer bakes like cupcakes, cookies, and muffins.
Depending on what you like to bake and eat, you might find need for these additional flours in your essential baking ingredients:
Cake flour is a low-protein content flour that makes it much lighter and creates a fine crumb in cakes and cupcakes.
Bread flour contains a higher amount of protein to form structurally sound and chewy yeasted breads and bakes.
Whole wheat flour still contains the bran and germ from the milled wheat. It gives your bakes more of a nutty flavour and creates a denser crumb.
Self-raising flour is popular in the UK for its all-in-one capacity because it already has the leavening agents (usually baking powder) mixed into it. It’s useful for scones and any other bakes where you need a bit of extra lift.
Cornflour or arrowroot powder aren’t actually ‘flour’, but are very finely milled corn and arrowroot, typically used to thicken liquids like puddings, pastry creams, fillings, and custards.
Cornmeal or polenta are fun additions to your baking staples if you enjoy a bit of extra crunch in your baked goods or want to try your hand at cornbread!
Nut flours are great alternatives for gluten-free baking, but they’re also great for adding into regular bakes in small quantities for extra flavour.
How to Store Flour
All flours should be kept sealed in airtight, moisture-proof containers in a cool, dark place. If you’re not going to be using them up within 6 months, I would recommend storing them in your fridge or freezer to keep them fresh longer. Nut flours should always be stored in an airtight container or bag in the fridge or freezer to prevent them going rancid.
Caster sugar is the default ‘white sugar’. It’s finely ground, melts easily, and perfect for any recipe.
Brown sugar is created by mixing molasses into caster sugar. There are varying degrees of brown sugar (dark and light), depending on how strong you want the flavour in your baked good. For beginner bakers and most recipes, I’d suggest light brown sugar.
Icing sugar (or powdered/confectioner’s sugar) is extra-finely ground caster sugar. It’s typically mixed with an anti-caking agent to prevent it clumping and dissolves very easily into butter and liquid ingredients. Icing sugar is essential for frosting and cake decorating.
Natural sweeteners like honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are fun additions to have in your pantry and can be used in a variety of ways from toppings, glazes, and even traybakes.
Molasses (or treacle) should never be used as a sugar substitute. It’s too strong and is usually added to a baked good as a flavour enhancer in things like gingerbread.
Coarse sugar is also known as demerara sugar and is great for topping pastry crusts and cookies for extra crunch.
How to Make Icing Sugar at Home
If you run out of powdered sugar, you can make it at home in a pinch using caster sugar, cornflour, and a high powered blender or spice grinder. Simply place 450g of caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of cornflour in the blender. Blend it together until superfine, around 5 minutes, stopping and stirring occasionally. Pinch and rub it between your fingers to check it isn’t gritty before storing in an airtight container.
Related: Wondering if you need a blender or spice grinder as a beginner baker? Check out this must-have list of baking tools for beginners.
Granulated sea salt (or table salt) is what you use in everyday cooking and baking. It’s light in flavour and essential for bringing out the sweetness and other flavours in baked goods.
Flaky sea salt is harvested from evaporated sea water and is strong in flavour. It’s perfect for sprinkling over finished baked goods like cookies and brownies for that salty-sweet kick.
Smoked sea salt is created by cold smoking sea salt flakes to give it a summertime umami taste. It’s great for topping pizzas or scattering on popcorn or ice cream.
Leaveners are an essential baking ingredient to have in your pantry. They cause chemical reactions within batters and dough that fill them with tiny gas bubbles that make baked goods rise. Without them, your baked goods will all be flat, gummy pancakes!
Baking soda (or sodium bicarbonate) is an alkaline chemical leavener that reacts with acid and heat to give baked goods their lift. It’s 3x as strong as baking powder, but requires an acidic ingredient in the batter in order to work.
Baking powder is baking soda mixed with powdered acid and cornflour. It activates mostly with heat, so doesn’t require an acidic ingredient in the batter.
Note: Baking powder and baking soda cannot be substituted easily for one another. Always have both on hand for easy baking.
Yeast is mostly used for bread baking, so isn’t an essential ingredient for your pantry unless you intend to bake a lot of bread! It’s a biological leavener that takes time to rise. Active dry yeast or instant yeast are the most common varieties.
How Long Baking Leaveners Last
Baking powder and baking soda typically last 6-9 months if stored in a cool, dry place. You can test baking powder for freshness by mixing 250ml of hot water with 2 teaspoons of baking powder. If it fizzes immediately, it’s still fresh. To test baking soda, add 1 teaspoon of soda bicarbonate to a tall glass and pour over 2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. If it bubbles up vigorously, it’s still fresh.
Opened tins of instant yeast should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge to preserve their freshness. It will last up to 6 months in the fridge. Just be sure to let the yeast come to room temperature before using it in a recipe as the coolness of the fridge will put it to ‘sleep’.
Unsalted butter is the best kind of butter to use in baking, because you can then control the amount of salt that goes into the recipe. It’s used in batters, pastry doughs, enriched breads, frostings, and, of course, cookie dough! It’s rich texture and lower water content make it ideal for baking.
Eggs bind ingredients together. Unless a recipe calls for a different size, large is usually the default size. Store them in the fridge to make them last longer.
Milk provides moisture and extra fat to a batter. The higher the fat content of the milk, the richer and more tender your bakes will be. Unless specified, you can normally substitute plant milk into most recipes.
Cream cheese is great for creating delicious cream cheese frostings (always use the brick kind, if you can find it!) But it’s also a great way to add more richness and flavour to cakes and quick breads and to swirl into blondies and brownies for a little something extra.
Alternative milks are made from seeds and nuts and are usually okay to be substituted into recipes for a dairy-free alternative.
Buttermilk lends moisture to bakes and makes a tender crumb. It’s also acidic so will react with baking soda in batter to give the bake lift.
Sour cream adds moisture and a wonderful tangy flavour to baked goods, particularly pound cakes and muffins.
Greek yoghurt acts in a similar way to sour cream and can easily be substituted for it.
Double cream is perfect for homemade whipped cream, chocolate ganache, caramel sauce, custards, and hundreds of other things.
Why Room Temperature Dairy is Important in Baking
It all comes down to science. Room temperature ingredients are vital to creating a smooth, evenly textured batter that forms an emulsion, trapping air inside the batter. When the batter goes into the oven, the heat reacts with the air and it expands to produce a fluffy and tender baked good.
Adding cold ingredients to the batter will not incorporate easily, resulting in chunky batters and frostings and dense, flat baked goods. Always bring your dairy ingredients out of the fridge 1 hour before you start to bake.
Related: Find out exactly what recipe writers mean by ‘room temperature’ in my Ultimate List of Common Baking Terms.
Oil is sometimes used instead of butter to create a lighter, more fluffy crumb. Unless otherwise specified, you want to use a neutral flavoured oil like vegetable, canola, or rapeseed so that it doesn’t overpower the other flavours in the batter.
Butter: (see above)
7. Extracts & Flavourings
Essential Extracts & Flavourings
Pure vanilla extract is the kingpin of flavour in baking recipes. Since a little goes a long way, you want to splurge on the good stuff here – buy only pure vanilla extract and avoid any imitation extracts. It’s worth the extra few quid and you’ll notice a big difference.
Nice-to-Have Extracts & Flavourings
Almond extract is the other pure extract I would advise having on hand. It’s a wonderful flavour accompaniment to vanilla, especially in cakes, cookies, muffins, and quick breads.
Vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste are great if you want to impart a more intense vanilla flavour into your baked goods, frostings, or to make homemade vanilla sugar.
Ground cinnamon is a spice that every home baker should have in their pantry. It’s incredibly versatile and adds a lovely aroma and flavour to cakes, cookies, muffins, breads, and pastry.
Ground nutmeg, ginger and allspice are the other three spices that I would recommend stocking in your baking pantry. Alongside cinnamon, the combination is the quintessential autumn flavour profile.
How Long Ground Spices Last
In general, ground spices that are kept sealed in a glass jar will last 12 months before they begin to lose their potency. If you only need a little bit of a spice for one recipe, try shopping at a bulk or zero waste store, so you can just buy a small amount that won’t go to waste.
This is the fun part! These baking ingredients are the ones that make your home pantry unique to you. If you love chocolate baked goods, stock up on bars and cocoa powder. Love baking up a batch of granola? Be sure to get loads of nuts, seeds, and rolled oats!
Cocoa powder is great to have on hand for when that brownie or chocolate cake craving hits. Be sure to get a brand that’s high quality and fair-trade for the best flavour.
Dark or semi-sweet chocolate bars and chips are essential baking ingredients in any pantry! Plus, they come in handy even when you don’t feel like baking. Weeknight chocolate cravings, anyone?
Jams and nut butters are great for swirling into traybakes, cookies, and cakes.
Milk and white chocolate are fun alternatives to semi-sweet and produce different flavour profiles.
Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are great for adding into cookies or granola. Be sure to store nuts in the fridge or freezer to extend their shelf life.
Rolled oats can be used to make granola, cookies, or even added into smoothies for an extra burst of fibre.
Espresso powder is a favourite if you love coffee or mocha flavoured treats.
Desiccated or shredded coconut goes well in traybakes, cookies, or as a decoration on cakes.
Food colour gels make batters and icings beautifully vibrant without adding a ton of extra liquid.
Sprinkles are just plain fun.
Digestive or gingernut biscuits crushed up make excellent tart, pie, or no-bake cake bases.
Freeze-dried fruit imparts mega flavour into cakes and frostings without using extracts.
Frozen fruit is good to have on hand to add to muffins, cake batters, crumbles, and spooning over other desserts.
Lemons are great for adding a citrus kick to your baked goods via the juice and/or zest.
Powdered gelatin is essential for any home baker who likes to make a lot of chilled desserts or jellies.
I hope this checklist of essential baking ingredients was helpful for you and that you now feel even more excited to get started with your new hobby.
If you’re thinking that you don’t have any time to go out and stock up your pantry but still want to try your hand at baking, you should consider a Bookish Bakes subscription.
Our subscriptions are perfect for beginner bakers, because we send you everything you need to get started. Every kit comes with a fail-proof recipe, all the dry ingredients you need, pre-measured to save time, as well as any extras like pre-cut parchment paper, piping tips and bags, or cutters!