Monday, 30 March 2015

Pantry Chat

I take pride in a well stocked pantry.  Well, it isn't pride as much as a bit of an obsession.  The minute a baking supply gets below the half full mark I write it on the grocery list to be replenished.  It's nice to know I can bake almost anything that takes my fancy at any time.  


When I was young and had my first home, it was really expensive to stock a pantry.  Almost everything available to purchase was a branded item. For example, Gold Medal Flour was an excellent product but the clue is in the name, gold as in costly. 

Times have changed and consumers have a so many choices. I still like to try artisan products like the flour milled at our local medieval watermill - but for everyday baking I find most store brands are perfectly fine to use and will keep your baking costs under control. 

I usually have three types of flour in my pantry:

 Plain Flour -  general all purpose for cakes, cookies, scones, etc.
 Strong Bread Flour -  for making bread and all things bread-y like pizza crust
 Self-Raising Flour -  for cakes, scones, and some traditional puddings 

I don't use self-raising flour very often so I purchase it in small quantities and try to use it well before the best by date.  Be sure to store all flour in an airtight container to keep it fresh, dry, and free from any wee beasties. 


You can't bake bread or cake without some kind of raising agent.  These are the ones in my pantry today.  I am not fussy about the brands but they must be fresh and stored in a dry environment.  NEVER put even a slightly damp measuring spoon into your leavening product or you will ruin it's effectiveness. 

I purchase rapid rise yeast in bulk because we bake all of our own bread. If you only bake bread on special occasions,  yeast in individual packets may be more efficient for you.  


Lots of British recipes call for Golden Syrup or Treacle.  I love the old fashioned Lyle's tins but let us be honest here, the store brand of golden syrup will do the job for a fraction of the price. 

Treacle, molasses as we would call it in the States, is a different matter all together.  I am rather partial to the Lyle's variety....simply because it's the only one I see in my local shop.  


This leads us to the spice section of the pantry.   Now here I am VERY picky.  I firmly believe you should use the BEST vanilla extract you can find.  If you use gallons of the stuff, like I do, you can make your own.  CLICK HERE for the instructions to make VANILLA EXTRACT.

I am very fussy about ground cinnamon.  I like BART Ground Cinnamon the best.  The supermarket variety just isn't as beautifully scented or as tasty. 


One of the most confusing issues in recent years is which oil we should be using for cooking and baking.  You can drive yourself mad trying to figure out which oil is best ... I keep it simple.  I always use canola (rape seed) oil for cooking and baking.  I purchase the store brand and I immediately decant it into a glass bottle.  It's just a weird thing I have... I like pretty bottles.  

I also keep a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny bottle of sesame oil in the pantry.  I use these for savoury dishes. I know there are olive oil cake recipes out there.. I just haven't tried to make one yet. 


Now, here comes the controversial part... butter vs baking margarine:


I know this is going to upset some bakers but let me explain.  I bake A LOT and if I used butter for everything I baked, I'd be bankrupt.  I use baking margarine in most of my cakes, cookies, and some of my scones.  The reigning Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry, says it's best to use the stuff in some recipes.  Who am I to argue with Mary Berry?

If you know the recipe will suffer if you don't use butter, then butter must be used.  It is the taste of your baked goods that matters most.  But don't be bullied into thinking that only the most expensive products will work. 

Good baking is more about technique than the cost of the ingredients.  Take your time, be patient and thorough, read the recipe twice before starting, assemble all of the ingredients before you begin to make sure you have everything  you need.  Give the oven time to really heat up... this is often one of the biggest problems in home baking.  Finally, enjoy the creative process of baking.  It sounds corny, but the most important ingredient really is love. 

PS-  I do not do product endorsements.  The store brand, Tesco, is featured simply because it is our local supermarket.  I also use the store brands from all the major UK supermarkets with equal success.



5 comments:

  1. Thank you for a very interesting post. I agree that own brand items are often just as good as branded ones. I have to admit though that I have never got on very well with rape seed oil. I know it has good health properties and a lot of it is locally produced, but it always seems to have a fishy smell to me. I have tried several brands. But hey -ho - maybe I just have a strange sense of smell!

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  2. Great post, you are like me, I use some good products but as you say some cheaper products do the job just as well, I use I can't believe its not butter for cakes, I have made your vanilla extract before, so much cheaper than buying the little ones thanks for sharing

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  3. I am going to write these down! I learned so much from your post here friend! You have helped me in the flour department for sure and have pushed me to go to our local spice shop to invest in good cinnamon and vanilla extract! Wishing you a fantastic Tuesday! Nicole xo

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  4. A lovely post! Own brand items are normally just as good as the expensive brands especially for things like plain flour.

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  5. Very interesting! I have to say I am surprised about the butter vs margarine! I would not have guessed that about you. ;) I'm pretty much a butter girl, and my waistline proves that. I am also very fussy about spices and get all mine from an awesome spice shop in Chicago (Lincoln Park), even down to my black pepper! They grind and mix everything fresh, in small batches, and quality ingredients. I almost always order when they offer free shipping and stock up. It does make a difference!

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