The ultimate baking storecupboard
If the return of longer nights and colder weather has prompted you to up your baking game, you’ll need to start with the right ingredients. We’ve consulted our food editors, development chefs and cookery school tutors to find out the secret to perfectly risen cakes, biscuits with just the right snap and – of course – the best ways to make sure your bakes look and taste delicious.
“Bicarbonate of soda is absolutely essential in my kitchen,” says Helen Carey, chef tutor at the Waitrose Cookery School, Kings Cross. “Gooey chocolate chip cookies are my go-to treat and bicarb is what helps them spread out evenly and brown quickly so I can get them out of the oven while they're still fudgy in the centre.” Food editor Silvana Franco warns: “It does have a distinctive flavour so should be measured carefully.”
“Cream of tartar will ensure the most light and dreamy meringues,” says consultant pastry chef Will Torrent. It’s an acid which helps to stabilise egg whites so use it to transform a pavlova or in royal icing to prevent the sugar crystallising.
When cream of tartar is combined with bicarbonate of soda, it produces carbon dioxide which enables batters to rise and expand. These are the two key ingredients in baking powder: a must in any baker's storecupboard, it gives a light, fluffy texture to cakes, muffins and American-style pancakes.
Made using vanilla beans from Madagascar, our Cooks’ Ingredients vanilla extract will add depth to a classic Victoria sponge. “Remember that a little goes a long way,” advises Will. It pairs especially well with chocolate and caramel flavours, as in the decadent traybake below that’s a cinch to prepare.
“Cocoa nibs are great for adding texture and intense ‘chocolateyness’ to biscuits and cookies,” enthuses Will. Helen explains: “A part of the cocoa bean that isn't used in chocolate making, they’re quite bitter with an incredible crunch so even a small amount makes quite a difference. I like to mix them through shortbread dough to offset the rich sweetness.”
Dulce de leche is the rich caramel spread hailing from Latin America that’s perfect for making a cheat’s banoffee pie. “I try to resist eating it straight from the jar,” jokes Silvana. “Instead, use it to sandwich pairs of thin biscuits together, drizzle over waffles or to ice a banana loaf. Turn a simple apple pie into a very special one by adding a spoonful over the fruit before putting the pastry on top.”
THREE MORE WAYS
TO ADD FLAVOUR
TO YOUR HOME BAKES
Orange extract – made using oranges from Valencia, this gives an instant zesty kick to buttercreams, syrups, or for a choc-orange flavour in cakes and icings
Italian cut mixed peel – this mix of lemon and orange strikes the right balance between sweet and bitter. Try it in a tea loaf or stir it into plain biscuit dough
Crystallised stem ginger – for a hint of mellow heat, chop this into biscuits, cakes and florentines
“I’m a real fan of our Cooks Ingredients’ icings,” says Silvana. “Butter icings can be a little temperamental – especially in a hot kitchen – and it’s not always easy to get the texture as smooth or as thick as you might like. I love the Sicilian lemon on a carrot or polenta cake and the salted caramel on chocolate brownies. They can transform a simple cake into something really special.”
Here, Silvana makes a flourless polenta and almond cake that’s perfect for celebrations.
For Helen, raspberry powder is the go-to cake decoration: “It offers a great tangy acidity and a really vibrant colour. I use it sprinkled over cheesecakes, or added to dark chocolate curls on top of a trifle or chocolate cake.”
Pastry chef Will loves to sprinkle dried raspberries onto desserts: “In the Food Innovation Team, we describe these as flavour bombs.” Silvana agrees: “I scatter these over anything chocolatey - the flavours work so well and the colours look beautiful together. They’re 100% raspberry and nothing else.”
Don’t forget to stock up on muffin cases, cake boards, piping bags and other baking supplies to show your creations at their best
John Lewis & Partners has compiled an expert guide to the most useful tools and equipment for home baking