If you're new to baking, or just doing a lot more of it these days, the choices you have in the baking aisle can be overwhelming. Sure, if there are shortages where you are, get what you can. If you are on a restricted budget, get what you can afford.
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There are really no wrong answers when it comes to baking products. Nothing will necessarily fail you, but there are definitely some choices that give slightly better results than others. Here are my treasured picks for the 10 basics:
The Best Flour (All-Purpose, Bread, Self-Rising)
While I often order straight from a local farm and mill, my grocery store go-to for all-purpose, bread, and self-rising flours is King Arthur. Their products are available in traditional and organic varieties, and I have always gotten great results. You can easily source at your local market or order from them directly online.
Buy It: King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
The Best Specialty Baking Products (Flours, Meals)
It’s wonderful to have some specialty flours and meals on hand—almond meal; rye flours; semolina; buckwheat, chickpea, or oat flour; and corn meal—in a variety of grinds, and Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite go-to source. I always check them first when I need something a little unusual, and they have never let me down.
Buy It: Bob's Red Mill Specialty flours and nut meals
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The Best Baking Powder and Baking Soda
While I know that most people stock the old orange box and little white or red cans, I am a huge fan (again!) of Bob’s Red Mill leaveners. First off, they come in larger bags, which is great for when you do volume baking, and you can keep a small amount in the pantry and the rest in the freezer for refilling. I find them to always be fresh and potent, and I genuinely think they have more oomph than the other brands. If you can't find these at your local market, I bestow strong second place finishes to Clabber Girl Double Acting Baking Powder and Arm and Hammer Baking Soda.
Buy It: Clabber Girl Double Acting Baking Powder, Arm and Hammer Pure Baking Soda
The Best Vanilla Extract
Hands down, my favorite vanilla is Nielsen-Massey. I buy both extract and vanilla paste, and since I bake so much, I tend to buy them in the large professional-size bottles, which saves money in the long run despite the large initial investment. I use the extract in most recipes but love the vanilla paste for any time I want those tell-tale seeds and don’t have a vanilla bean on hand.
Buy It: Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract
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The Best Yeast
While I do keep a sourdough starter, I still make a lot of yeasted breads and bakes, and for that, I stick to Red Star dry active yeast. Not the same as “instant”, so be careful when looking at recipes. Even better, my Costco carries a two-pound package, so I buy in bulk and keep a small jar in the fridge for use and the rest in the freezer for refilling. If you buy in bulk, one packet of yeast is 2 1/4 teaspoons or 7 grams.
Buy It: Red Star Dry Active Yeast
The Best Granulated Sugar
I buy Kirkland brand unbleached organic granulated cane sugar in 10-pound bags from Costco, but Morena also makes this product, and it can be found at a lot of grocery stores in smaller 2 – 4 pound bags. Even though it isn’t pure white like the granulated sugar you are used to, it does not color your baking, and I find it has a very clean flavor that works really well in baking.
Buy It: Kirkland Signature Organic Cane Sugar, Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar
The Best Confectioners Sugar and Brown Sugar
I rely on Pioneer brand for powdered sugar, and both light and dark brown sugar, usually available in 2-pound bags. I find their products to be really fresh: The powdered sugar doesn’t get too clumpy, and the brown sugars are always lovely and soft and seem to stay that way a bit longer than other brands. If you can’t find Pioneer, Crystal is another grocery store brand I like. I’m not a huge fan of Domino, and only really use them for superfine sugar, since that is often the only brand available.
Buy It: Pioneer Confectioners Sugar, Pioneer Brown Sugar
The Best Baking Chocolate
When it comes to chocolate, I don’t like to skimp. My preferred brands are Guittard and Valrhona. I buy chips, baking wafers, and baking bars from Guittard, and specialty discs and flavors like Dulcey (a caramelized white chocolate) from Valrhona. Guittard can be found at Whole Foods and other specialty grocers, and I stock their baking bars in unsweetened, bittersweet, and semisweet. And if you see their baking wafers, thin large discs of chocolate, stock up: They will change your cookie game for the better.
Buy It: Guittard Chocolate, Valrhona Baking Chocolate
The Best Cocoa Powder
I use Droste for any recipe calling for Dutched cocoa, Valrhona for regular process cocoa powder, and when I want super deep richness, I swap in a percentage of King Arthur black cocoa, for a cocoa powder product that goes to a very dark chocolate place.
Buy It: Droste Cocoa, Valrhona 100% Cacao Cocoa Powder
The Best Butter
When it comes to baking, there may be no more important single item than your butter. It provides richness, flavor, and texture; this is not the place to cut corners. I rely almost exclusively on Plugrá European-style butter for my baking and cooking. It comes in sticks, half-pound slabs, and full-pound bricks. The higher fat content and lovely flavor really take your baking to the next level. I keep a big stash of both salted and unsalted in the freezer so that I am never without.
Buy It: Plugrá European Style Butter Unsalted
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