Baking Essentials

Buy, use and store the best products for your baking needs.

Dairy, Chocolate, Dessert, Baking

Baking powder and soda:
Baking soda and powder last about six months once opened. If you're not sure if they're still fresh, mix a pinch of your soda or powder with vinegar or hot water, respectively. If they fizz, you're in business.

Recipes are written for unsalted butter.

Cocoa, which is key to the distinctive chocolate taste in baked goods and candies, comes in two styles: natural (non-alkalized), and Dutch-processed (alkalized). These should not be confused with the instant sweetened versions intended for hot chocolate. When using chemical leaveners (baking powder or soda), make sure to use the type of cocoa called for in the recipe. Natural cocoas are acidic enough to activate the baking soda in cakes and cookies; alkaline Dutch cocoas should be used in recipes that rely solely on baking powder for their lift.

Recipes are written for large eggs, unless otherwise noted.

Typically, there are three kinds of white flour in supermarkets: all-purpose, cake and bread flour. The main difference is the amount of protein in each flour. Bread flour has the most, cake flour has the least and all-purpose flour, as its name implies, falls in the middle. The more protein there is, the more gluten, or structure, can be developed in the baked good. (Gluten is good for bread, bad for cakes.)

All-purpose flour is versatile, well suited for a variety of recipes. We like it in classic cupcakes, pound cakes and chocolate cakes. Cake flour is more delicate and essential for tender cakes. All-purpose flour and cake flour do not perform the same. If you use all-purpose flour for a recipe that calls for cake flour, your cake will be dense and tough. If you can't find cake flour, use this substitution:

1 cup cake flour (3 3/4 ounce) = 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (3 3/8 ounces), plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch (5/8 ounces)

Heavy cream:
If faced with the choice of heavy cream or whipping cream, we suggest using heavy cream, when possible, although whipping cream will also work. Heavy cream contains at least 36 percent milkfat, while whipping (also known as light whipping cream) consists of at least 30 percent but no more than 36 percent milkfat. The heavy cream has a fresher, creamier taste and when beaten, will hold its peaks and air longer.

Use a fine-grain salt, not kosher or coarse, for baking. Store it tightly sealed, away from dampness.

Vanilla extract:

For the best flavor, use pure vanilla extract, but artificial can be used in a pinch. One of our favorite extravagances is Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste — it's pure vanilla with specks of vanilla bean seeds in a paste.

Basic Equipment: 

  • 9-inch cake pans round and square 
  • Offset spatulas 
  • Muffin pans (for standards and jumbo for cakes) 
  • Parchment paper 
  • Cake testers 
  • Racks for cooling 
  • Bowls and spatulas 
  • Mixer
  • Cake stand
  • Cardboard cake rounds (available in baking and craft stores)