01 Jul Top 9 Essential Baking Ingredients and How to Store Them
You’re all set to prepare an awesome dessert…Baked Alaska, maybe? Or a cherry cheesecake? But then you look in the pantry, get your bag of flour and discover it’s swarming with ugly little pests, maybe ants. Or it’s nothing but a bag of hard, useless lumps. And there is nothing awesome about that, right? So much for that cherry cheesecake! Don’t let moments like these ruin your desire to bake goodies, or – heaven forbid! — make you decide to forgo baking that scrumptious dessert altogether. It just takes a little time and know-how to learn how to safely store essential baking ingredients that you should have in stock. To help, we’ve designed a list of nine, common baking staples you should keep, and just as importantly, we’ve outlined here how they should be stored, for ultimate freshness and little or no waste.
A few of these staples are stored in the container in which you buy them, so it’s easy. Others are a little trickier, so we’ve got advice on how to store them to get the longest life possible out of each and every one!
Eggs are such traditional baking ingredients in many recipes that it can be hard to imagine baking without them. Many people choose to toss out the carton in which eggs come once they get home from the grocery store, and place them either in the fridge door’s egg compartment or in an “egg caddy,” as they are called, wire racks that are specifically meant to hold them. Some folks even use just a plain bowl. These are all bad ideas, for several reasons.
First, if the eggs are on the door, they don’t stay as cold as they do within the interior of the fridge. And they can absorb aromas from other foods in the fridge. In a bowl, they are liable to hit each other and crack. It’s best for you to store your eggs in the original, cardboard or plastic carton from the store. Not as pretty, perhaps, but far more efficient and safe from breakage. Leave the large end up, so the yolk remains in place in the egg, just like nature intended!
When it comes to baking, sugar is one of the most important baking ingredients we use. Sugar never expires, so if yours gets lumpy, hard and unusable, you’re not storing it correctly. Sugar has zero water, so it absorbs moisture instantly if any air gets at it.
Sugar should be kept in an air-tight container or jar, one with a silicone seal inside the lid. These jars are moisture and odour proof, meaning nothing comes between you and your sugar! It’s best to store it out of direct light, on a shelf, and away from any source of heat, like the stove. If you have a pantry, that’s best, but a cupboard will do. Just don’t keep it with onions or garlic – put those as far from the sugar as you possibly can!
Salt makes other baking ingredients, like vanilla, almond, and sugar “pop.” Salt is a remarkable product because it won’t go rancid when it’s exposed to the air; it can sit in the cupboard in a salt shaker or grinder and be just fine. But it has one weakness – it reacts to water – and moisture will make it hard. If you live in a humid climate, you may have noticed that occasionally your salt in the shaker gets hard as a rock and stops pouring. Be aware of that, and just tap the shaker lightly on the edge of the sink; the salt will “relax” into a shake-able state once again.
However, be forewarned: don’t store salt in metal containers! Salt is a mineral, and it will react and leech the metal, maybe creating a toxic substance. And you don’t want that on your morning eggs!
4) Baking Powder
Baking powder is simply baking soda plus some sort of acid baking ingredients mixed in. Baking powder comes in the perfect container for you to store it just like it is. Make sure the lid is tight and secure, and store it in your pantry or cupboard. A word of warning, however: don’t store it in your fridge or freezer. Both are sources of moisture, and that condensation can cause the baking powder to react negatively, in taste and texture.
To check whether your baking powder is fresh, mix 1/4 cup of water with half a teaspoon of powder; if it bubbles up, you’re good to get baking!
Flour is a basic baking ingredient in all bread, cakes, and pastries making. Like sugar, it’s important to keep your flour – no matter what type, pastry, all-purpose, etc. — as fresh as possible. In order to keep pests (like the yucky ants we mentioned!) out of your supply, store flour in a vacuum sealed or airtight container or jar. Refined flours are made by extracting the germ and bran from wheat before it’s crushed, meaning the flour won’t have much oil, and therefore “lives” a lot longer. Refined flour keeps for a very long time in the right container, but if it has gone off, you’ll know by the odor. If it smells sour, it’s turned.
Store whole grain flours, like buckwheat, in airtight jars too. These you can store in the freezer since they all still contain the germ from the seed, which is packed with nutrients but is suspended in oil. And oil, as you know, oxidizes if it’s exposed to the air, and soon turns rancid. Compared to refined flours, whole grain flours have a much shorter shelf life, which is why the freezer is a perfect storage spot.
6) Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is also a key baking ingredient in baking. If you love baking, you know that the cost of vanilla beans skyrocketed recently, and is still rising, pardon the pun! When you do buy them, you want them to last, right? Storing them properly is key, so again, a vacuum sealed, the airtight jar is your best bet. You can also opt for double-bagging them in plastic bags, but airtight containers are the best choice.
Keep your beans as far away as possible from heat and light sources – put them in a dark cabinet, if you can, that rises above room temperature, so nowhere near the oven! Bean are happiest when the temperature is about 60 degrees F, or 15.5 centigrade. Don’t put them in the fridge or freezer, as they are apt to get moldy! Beans will dry out or even rot if you put them in the freezer, and even in the fridge, the condensation can make them hard because the oil seeps out. So stick with a securely fastened container and your vanilla beans will last.
Baking chocolate is a type of dark chocolate that is prepared for use as a baking ingredient. This is everyone’s favorite, right? For cookies, cakes, pies, and a whole range of other baked goods. It has to be stored properly in a cool, dry spot, wrapped tightly or, preferably, in a sealed box. Many people store chocolate in the fridge, but you mustn’t put it in the freezer. If you store dark chocolate correctly, your supply can last a long time – 10 years, in fact. But good luck keeping the kids away from it for that long!
But milk and white chocolate contain milk solids, which means they should be kept for no more than nine months. A cool, dark pantry is the perfect spot. But if your kitchen frequently gets warm, you can store chocolate in the fridge. Just be sure you wrap it tightly to prevent any odors from ruining the texture, or condensation from ruining the taste. Or both.
You should keep chocolate out of the fridge and in a cool pantry instead so it won’t suffer “sugar bloom” when it comes out into warmer air. “Sugar bloom” happens when chocolate’s been in the fridge, then exposed to warmer air, and condensation causes its surface layer of sugar to dissolve. It then recrystallizes and turns grainy and white on the surface – yuck!
8) Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is a delicious and versatile baking ingredient. Fresh fruit isn’t always the best option when it comes to baking, because it can add a lot of excess moisture to your recipe that you weren’t counting on. In many cases, dried fruit is best.
If you aren’t a fan of things like raisins or dried cherries, look beyond those and try dried figs, prunes, dates, currants and other fruits that taste great and work beautifully in baked goods. You can also use a little orange peel or lemon rind, for variety.
If you want to add flavor and texture to your baked goods, nuts are one of the baking ingredients you can choose. Nuts have a lot of oil, and so they can spoil a lot more quickly in warm weather than other ingredients on our list. You can keep them in the cupboard or pantry for about one month, but after that, they need to go in the fridge or freezer. If they’re in an airtight container, they will last there for up to a year.
But, be sure that container seals really well; otherwise, your nuts might pick up the odors of other foods. And the more they’re exposed to the air, the more quickly the oils turn rancid. Just get what you need for your recipe, and get that jar back in cold storage as soon as you can!
As you can see from this list, most of your favorite baking ingredients can last for quite a long time if you store them properly. Get a good set of differently-sized containers so they are always on hand. That way, when your favorite grocery or specialty shop has something on sale, you can stock up for your next baking day. And if you decide to bake something on the spur of the moment, like a cake for that special someone’s birthday, you’ll have everything from chocolate to nuts to baking powder on hand and at the ready!
These are the most common baking ingredients all cooks need close by. Some are inexpensive, some are very dear. Either way, why not ensure they last by following these simple steps and making them last? Cheers to your next baking extravaganza!