Baking Ingredients

Tuesday, 13 October 2009 | Tags:

Let's face it, there's nothing better than chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven! For our series Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, we often research the ingredients we need for various recipes. Here are some of the quick shopping tips we've learned along the way...


Active Dry Yeast

  • Active dry yeast is fresh compressed yeast that has been dried until the moisture content is only about 8%, making the yeast dormant. The granules only become active again when mixed with a warm liquid.

  • Always check the expiration date on the package before buying.

  • Once opened, yeast needs to be stored in the refrigerator away from moisture, heat, and light – yeast deteriorates rapidly when exposed to air.

  • There are two types of dry yeast: regular active dry and rapid-rise. The two can be used interchangeably.

    • Rapid-rise yeast is faster but regular active dry has a nicer flavour and texture.

Baking Powder

  • Baking powder contains both an acid and a base and has an overall neutral effect in terms of taste.

  • It is made up of cream of tartar, baking soda, and cornstarch, an acid-base-filler combination that acts as a leavening agent in baking.

  • Baking powder is available as both single-acting and double-acting.

    • Single-acting powders are activated by moisture, so if using in your recipe, you must bake immediately after mixing.

    • Double-acting powders react in two phases and can stand for a while before baking.

  • Recipes that call for baking powder often call for other neutral-tasting ingredients, such as milk.

  • You can substitute baking powder in place of baking soda, but you can’t use baking soda when a recipe calls for baking powder. Baking soda by itself lacks the acidity to make a cake rise.

  • You can make your own baking powder if you have baking soda and cream of tartar – just mix two parts cream of tartar with one part baking soda. Only make what you need in small batches as baking powder of any variety will lose its oomph over time.

  • Baking powder should be kept in a cool, dry place – never the refrigerator where the air is too moist.

  • When in doubt if your baking powder is still good, add a teaspoonful to a half cup of boiling water. If it boils vigorously, the baking powder is still good. If nothing happens, you’ll know it’s time to replace it.

  • Aluminum-Free Baking Powder

    • Unless the label specifies otherwise, baking powder generally contains trace amounts of aluminum.

    • Even though there is no definitive correlation between possible health problems and the consumption of regular baking powder, some chefs feel it leaves an undesirable, tinny taste in food.

    • Aluminum-free baking powder is inexpensive and can be found in many specialty and health food stores. Or, you can follow the instructions above to make your own.

Cocoa Powder

  • Choose a European brand rather than a domestic one if you prefer a strong chocolate flavour. European cocoa manufacturers roast their cocoa beans to a very dark color, which intensifies the flavour.

  • Check the ingredients on the cocoa box and look for a brand with the highest fat content. This adds moisture to baked goods. High-quality cocoas contain at least 20 percent fat.

  • Make sure you use unsweetened cocoa in recipes calling for two or more cups of sugar. Likewise, use sweetened cocoa in recipes that don’t add sugar.

  • Check out our cocoa powder taste test for an episode of Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag featuring a cookbook called Absolutely Chocolate.

Confectioner’s Sugar

  • Confectioner’s sugar, also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar, is finely ground, sifted, and mixed with 2-3% corn starch.

  • For a quick substitution, blend some granulated or regular sugar with a pinch of cornstarch in a blender. The sugar crystals can scratch plastic, however, so consider carefully before mixing in a plastic blender or processor.

  • Store powdered sugar in a cool, dry location – not the refrigerator. When it gets moist, it develops lumps. It also tends to absorb strong odours, even through the packaging, so consider which ingredients you store it next to.


  • Yellow cornmeal is made from dried yellow corn kernels that have been ground into fine, medium, or coarse textures. Fine is often called corn flour and coarse is known as polenta. Medium is most commonly available in grocery stores.

  • Cornmeal is available as steel-ground and stone-ground (also called water-ground).

    • Steel-ground cornmeal is commercially milled with huge steel rollers that completely remove the corn’s husk and germ. Look for it at most supermarkets. It can be stored almost indefinitely in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

    • Stone-ground cornmeal is ground with mill wheels using water power. This process retains some of the hull and germ, making stone-ground cornmeal more nutritious than steel-ground. Look for it at natural food stores and some supermarkets. The fat in the germ of stone-ground cornmeal makes it more perishable, so keep it refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four months.

  • Pre-cooked cornmeal has had the hard casing of the grain removed for faster preparation. It’s also called “instant cornmeal”, “masa harina precocido” or “masarepa”. Like regular cornmeal, it comes in white or yellow versions and is typically available at Mexican grocery stores or specialty shops.

  • If a recipe calls for regular cornmeal, you can usually swap in pre-cooked. Just be sure to adjust your cooking times. However you can’t always use regular cornmeal when a recipe calls for pre-cooked.

  • For pre-cooked varieties, look for “instant” or “precocido” (meaning pre-cooked) on the label.

Cream of Tartar

  • Cream of tartar is best known in our kitchens for helping stabilize and give more volume to beaten egg whites.

  • It also produces a creamier texture in sugary desserts such as candy and frosting, because it inhibits the formation of crystals.

  • Cream of tartar is an active ingredient in many baking powders, along with baking soda and cornstarch.

  • It causes air bubbles to form throughout batter when it’s heated, which in turn keeps baked goods from becoming too dense.

  • The acidity of cream of tartar also keeps vegetables from losing their colour during boiling. Only use a small amount so as not to affect the taste.

  • You can substitute cream of tartar with white vinegar when beating eggs whites. Use the same ratio, generally 1/8 teaspoon per egg white.

  • You can substitute cream of tartar in baking if you use white vinegar or lemon juice, in a ratio of 3 times the amount that cream of tartar is called for.

Carob Powder (chocolate alternative)

  • Carob is milled from the dried pod of a Mediterranean evergreen tree.

  • It has an aromatic caramel taste and a starchy, bean-like texture.

  • It is also low in fat and calories and free of gluten, lactose, caffeine, and cholesterol.

  • Carob comes in powder, chunk, or chip form.

  • When buying, look for tightly sealed containers or packaging that protects it from air and moisture.

  • Carob is not as flavorful as chocolate, so it’s best used in recipes that contain other strongly-flavored ingredients.

  • Carob is naturally sweet, so it usually isn’t necessary to add sugar when using in place of unsweetened cocoa powder

  • When using carob powder as a substitute for 1 square baking chocolate (one ounce) mix 3 tablespoons of carob powder to 1 tablespoon of water or vegetable oil.


  • Cornmeal is made from dried corn kernels that have been ground into fine, medium or coarse textures.

    • Fine is often called corn flour, medium is the most commercially available, and coarse is known as polenta.

  • Cornmeal is yellow, blue or white depending on the type of corn used.

  • Cornmeal is available as steel-ground and stone- or water-ground.

    • Steel-ground, most commonly found at the supermarket, is commercially milled with huge steel rollers that completely remove the corn’s husk and germ.

    • Stone-ground, the old-fashioned way, is ground with mill wheels that use water power. Because this process retains some of the hull and germ, stone-ground cornmeal is more nutritious. It can be found at natural food stores and some supermarkets.

  • Steel-ground cornmeal can be stored almost indefinitely in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

  • The fat in the germ of stone-ground cornmeal makes it more perishable. It should be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to four months.

Rock Candy or Rock Sugar

  • Also called “rock sugar”, rock candy is a type of confectionery created when large sugar crystals are formed on a solid surface like a stick or string.

  • Food colouring and flavouring are often added to these crystals to make the sugar look appealing and taste like candy. Avoid using these varieties in recipes as the added flavour and colour could interfere with the flavours of your recipe.

Stone Ground or Coarse Ground Grits

  • Grits are made when hominy (dried kernels of corn) is ground into fine, medium, or coarse granules and simmered with water or milk until fairly thick.

  • The coarser the grind, the longer it takes to cook.

  • Cornmeal for polenta is often ground more finely than cornmeal for grits, so it typically cooks faster.

  • “Quick” or “instant” grits cook in just a few minutes, whereas coarse-ground cornmeal can take more than 30 minutes to reach desired consistency.

  • Stone-ground cornmeal is more nutritious than steel-ground, but it spoils faster because it contains parts of the germ and hull.

  • Unless the package says “stone-ground”, the cornmeal is probably steel-ground and will last almost indefinitely if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

  • Keep stone-ground cornmeal in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life.



Heavy Cream

  • Cream is the fat that rises to the top of whole milk. It has a smooth, satiny texture and is labeled according to its butterfat content. (e.g. heavy cream to light cream.)

  • Heavy cream has 36-40% butterfat. When whipped it holds its form and doubles in volume.

  • Creams are usually labeled pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.

    • Ultra-pasteurized creams have a longer shelf life, but the taste can be affected by the process. (Some say it has a cooked flavour.)

    • Pasteurized cream (not ultra) is best for superior taste, but you might have to search for it.

  • When a recipe calls for whipping cream, you can use heavy cream instead. It will taste richer (due to the higher fat content) and that means it will taste better.

  • If you can’t find heavy cream at your local grocer, you can substitute 3/4 cup milk (whole preferably) with 1/4 cup melted and cooled (but still liquid) butter. (Makes 1 cup heavy cream.) Note: this substitute will not whip. If you use low-fat milk, you may need to add a tsp of flour to thicken it up. You can also substitute whipping cream, which is about 30-33% butterfat. 

Crème Fraîche

  • Crème fraîche is a thick, smooth, soured cream with a rich and velvety texture and a sweet, slightly sour and nutty taste.

  • Crème fraîche is rich because it starts as whipping cream but gets a slight kick from fermentation. It’s produced by culturing pasteurized cream with a special bacteria.

  • In France, where it originated, the cream is unpasteurized. It naturally contains the bacteria necessary to make crème fraîche.

  • Unlike sour cream or yogurt, crème fraîche does not separate during cooking.

  • Every brand of crème fraîche tastes a little different because there is no set standard for making it. The butterfat content also varies, though is usually around 30%.

  • Crème fraîche can be found in specialty stores and some grocery stores where it is pasteurized and ridiculously expensive.

  • Cans of crème épaisse are a decent substitute, though still expensive.

  • Fortunately, crème fraîche is not hard to make:

    • Take a cup of whipping cream and mix in a tablespoon of buttermilk.

    • Heat to about 100F (or 37.5C).

    • Let it sit loosely covered with plastic wrap or wax paper in a warm corner of the kitchen for between 6 and 20 hours or until the crème fraîche has thickened.

    • Then place it tightly covered in the refrigerator for several hours so that it chills and thickens further.

Vanilla Beans

  • When selecting vanilla beans, choose plump beans with a thin skin to get as many seeds as possible. To test, gently squeeze the bean between your fingers.

  • Pods should be dark brown, almost black in color, and pliable enough to wrap around your finger without breaking.

  • Beans should be kept in a tightly-closed container in the fridge. They should last up to six months.

Soy Cream Cheese

  • Soy dairy-free products are lactose-free and are a good source of essential fatty acids. They contain no cholesterol and little or no saturated fat. These dairy alternatives can be good sources of high quality protein, B vitamins, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

  • If you’re allergic to milk, check the ingredient list since many soy products contain casein, a protein derived from milk. Casein helps hold the dairy-free product together and give it texture.

  • All soy dairy-free products should be handled like any perishable dairy product. Follow “use by” dates on packages and refrigerate.

Corn Syrup

  • Corn syrup is a high-fructose sugar that is hydrolyzed from the vegetable maize.

  • It helps prevent foods from crystalizing or forming solids. For this reason, it is used in foods that are made to be eaten in a soft form, such as jams, frostings, and baked goods.It adds volume to ice cream and makes candies like taffy more bendable.

  • Corn syrup is also a primary sweetener in many soft drinks and juices.

  • Although it is less expensive than granulated sugar, corn syrup is high in calories and low in nutritional value.

  • You can easily substitute corn syrup with other sweeteners:

    • To replace 1 cup of corn syrup, use 1¼ cups granulated sugar or firmly packed brown sugar plus ¼ cup liquid (whatever liquid is called for in your recipe).

    • Or, substitute equal parts honey for corn syrup.

Almond Extract

  • Though pure almond extract can cost up to twice as much as artificial extract, it is free of chemicals.

  • Pure almond extract is made by combining bittersweet almond oil with ethyl alcohol whereas artificial extract is made from benzaldehyde, ethyl alcohol, and water – no almond oil at all.

  • “Natural” almond extract is typically derived from plant sources other than almonds.

  • Almond extract has a very intense almond flavor, so you only need to add a small amount to your recipes.

Lemon Extract

  • Lemon extract has a stronger flavour than lemon juice and is used to give the essence of lemon without adding acid to the recipe.

  • While lemon juice and lemon extract are both essentially made from lemons, the difference lies in the parts of the lemon each utilizes.

    • Lemon juice is made from the juice of the fruit.

    • Lemon extract is made with lemon peel or zest, and vodka.

  • The best substitute for extract is the zest or a lemony liqueur.

  • It’s easy to make your own lemon zest:

    • Peel only the yellow part of the rind (the white pith is the bitter part), place in a jar with ½ cup of vodka, shake, and leave in a cool dark place for 2-3 weeks.

    • Shake every two or three days.

    • Remove peels and enjoy!


Phyllo Pastry Sheets

  • Frozen phyllo dough is available in long rectangular boxes in most supermarkets, with 18-20 sheets in each 1 lb (500 g) box.

  • Phyllo sheets must be thawed before using by refrigerating for up to 24 hours or letting stand at room temperature for about three hours.

  • Sheets that are dry, crumbly, or severely torn are difficult to work with – discard.

  • Phyllo tends to dry out fast so work quickly and keep covered with a damp towel.

  • Re-wrap unused phyllo and refrigerate for up to two days.

  • Leftover pastry is best suited to making wafers or items for which no manipulation is required.

  • Baked phyllo is easier to cut with sharp serrated knife.

Wafer Paper

  • Also called rice paper, wafer paper is an edible, flavourless paper made with potato starch and vegetable oil.

  • Typically used in candy making, wafer paper serves as an edible lining for baking trays to prevent items from sticking.

  • It can also be used to make edible decorations and can be printed on using edible inks to create cake toppers.

  • Look for wafer paper at baking specialty stores.

  • Sheets come in various rectangular and even round sizes which can be cut into smaller shapes or overlapped for larger items.

Parchment Paper

  • Also called baking paper or baking parchment, parchment paper is a heavy-duty paper sold on rolls in boxes like plastic wrap or waxed paper.

  • It is NOT the same as waxed paper and can’t be used interchangeably.

  • Moisture- and grease-resistant, parchment paper is typically used to line baking pans or cookie sheets to ensure food won’t stick.

  • It’s also a quick way to eliminate extra calories and make clean-up a snap.

  • Look for parchment paper in the baking section of your supermarket alongside the aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

  • Pre-cut circles, cupcake cups, and other shapes for lining cake pans are available in kitchen specialty stores and some grocery stores.

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