I have started to do a series of tips based on what is in my refrigerator and pantry to help people new to veganism, people who are having vegan company, or just any seasoned vegan create a fully stocked kitchen with minimal space, and ingredients! This week, I am focusing on items used for baking. It is kind of hard for me to nail down a few key things because I have a whole pantry dedicated to baking, but there are a few essentials that I always keep on hand. I have broken my baking section into six main categories: flours/grains/starches, sweeteners, oils, leavening agents, thickeners, and add-ins.
Flours and grains are the most important components in my mind. Without flour (or a GF alternative), baking doesn’t really exist. I always keep an unbleached all purpose flour and whole wheat flour on hand. I use the all purpose flour for my cupcakes, cookies, pie crusts, pretty much everything. I will typically use the whole wheat flour for breads or just to add another level of flavor to a cookie, muffin, or biscuit. For gluten-free baking, I keep almond flour and oat flour on hand at all times. A lot of my gluten-free crusts are made with those two flours, so it is important for me to have a healthy supply on hand at all times. I also keep rolled oats stocked up because they add texture and can be used as a binder. Other than those four flours, nothing is mandatory.
When it comes to sweeteners, I try to keep it as simple as possible. I typically keep about five different sweeteners on hand. It is always important for me to double check everything when it comes to sugar. Most conventional sugars aren’t vegan because they contain animal bone char. A lot of companies will process sugar with bone char to achieve a white color. For my regular everyday sugar, I use a pure cane sugar that is clearly labeled “bone char free”. I also keep an organic powdered sugar for icings. Most organic products will label “vegan” or “bone char free”, so there is no guessing when it comes to sugar. For liquid sweeteners, I always have agave nectar, maple syrup, and molasses. I like to use agave for desserts that I will keep free of cane sugar. It is sweeter than regular sugar, has a neutral flavor, and won’t spike blood sugars like most other sugars. I keep maple syrup for when I don’t want to use a regular cane sugar, and I want to add a deeper flavor. I use molasses for a lot of things. I usually don’t like using brown sugar because it dries out before I can get to it, so I will make my own by mixing regular granulated sugar with a little bit of molasses. It is also handy for gingerbread, spice cookies, and a few savory applications like barbecue sauce and sweet soy sauce.
I keep it very simple when it comes to oils. I use a refined coconut oil for baking and olive oil for everyday use. That is it. I have found that nothing else is really necessary. I use refined coconut oil because it has a neutral flavor, but still has the MCTs (medium chain triglycerides). It is high in saturated fat, which some people don’t like, but I prefer it over oils like canola and palm. I like coconut oil because I can melt it down and use it just like any other liquid oil, or I can use it in it’s solid state for an icing or cookie.
For leavening agents, I keep it pretty simple. I use baking soda, baking powder, yeast, and apple cider vinegar. I like using a combination in my cakes because the combination of the baking soda and vinegar also helps bind the cake. Baking soda is a lot more powerful than baking powder, so I will typically use a combination so I am not using as much baking powder, which can yield a metallic/chemical like flavor. I keep yeast for breads (loaves, cinnamon buns, rolls, etc.). I don’t use yeast very often, but it stays good for a long time in the freezer.
I always keep a variety of thickeners on hand, it probably isn’t necessary, so I have nailed it down to three different thickeners. I use cornstarch, potato starch, and agar flakes. My main use for cornstarch is in my sugar cookie recipe. It keeps the cookies light and soft. I also like dredging tofu in it and pan frying the pieces to create a crispy exterior. I use potato starch in my gluten-free cake. Since it is gluten-free and I don’t use eggs, the potato starch helps the cake stay together and it helps to create a fluffy texture. I use agar for anything that a non-vegan would use gelatin for. I also use it in my pastry cream. Once set, I will puree the cream mixture in the food processor, and it creates a smooth cream that holds together well and resembles a pastry cream.
I could talk all day about add-ins! Putting different ingredients to make something unique is my favorite part about baking. I’m keeping it pretty simple, though. I always have cocoa powder, chocolate chips, nuts or seeds (any mixture of pecans, peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, coconut, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts), dried fruits (usually raisins, dried cranberries, or dried cherries), and flavorings. I always have cocoa powder. It is easy to make nearly anything chocolate by taking out a little flour in a recipe and adding in cocoa. That is how half of my chocolate recipes are developed. I like keeping a variety of the list above, because it is so easy to add a small amount of something to completely change a dessert. I always keep at least two different kinds of nuts or seeds on hand, and two kinds of dried fruit. I tend to mix it up every few weeks to give me different options. By keeping different combinations, my pantry never gets too crowded and I never get bored.
That is pretty much it as far as my baking pantry goes. It is a lot, but when broken down into categories, it really doesn’t feel like that much. I hope this tip was useful to anyone out there who is trying to stock a pantry. I know I could have really used some guidance in the beginning. I had no idea what I needed or what was good until I had a few years of experience. Obviously, each person’s need is different, but with these basics, pretty much any vegan dessert can be made!