Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

What Baking Ingredients Are Best to Buy for Home Bakers

In today’s competitive home baking world, where aspiring pastry chefs think nothing of churning out macarons or elaborate, gilded creations traditionally bought in a bakery, there’s a certain sort of bragging rights in doing it all yourself—right down to the core ingredients. Sometimes, however, using those ingredients involve complicated methods, access to specialized equipment or a level of expertise that comes through years of tradition and are best left to the professionals.

Let’s take a look at some of these things that home bakers can buy from a local bakery (such as the ones on Project Bakeover) or grocery store, and a couple of items that are easy to make in your own kitchen.

Pastry Chef Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

Phyllo Pastry

Watching professionals produce phyllo by hand is a mesmerizing experience—achieving those gossamer-thin sheets without breakage requires a light touch and nerves of steel. Although there are recipes to make phyllo at home, it requires a fair amount of space and a knowledge of texture and timing that can be tricky. Buy a high-quality phyllo pastry instead, either frozen or fresh from a local Greek or Middle Eastern bakery or even a large chain supermarket. Be warned that phyllo dough dries out in a snap, so keep it covered as you work, and try to work quickly.

Deconstructed Baklava Butter Tart with fresh berries and mint

Get the recipe for Baklava Butter Tart Bake

Puff Pastry

Much like phyllo, flaky, multilayered puff pastry is a delight, and the basis for many last-minute appetizers, desserts or tarts. Achieving those layers, however, depends on a multi-step process where you fold and roll dough around butter repeatedly—a simple but time-intensive process that varies depending on the heat of your kitchen and your rolling speed. The freezer case at your local grocery store will hold puff pastry options, from flat sheets to pre-formed tarts, ready to bake with your best homemade fillings

Fondant

Although hacks abound to make fondant with melted marshmallows, the real deal involves a gelatin-based dough with glycerine and glucose that involves kneading and resting for rolled fondant or a candy thermometer and bain marie for poured fondant. Save yourself some time and effort, buy ready-made fondant and spend your energy making pretty hearts, delicate flowers or perfect petit fours.

Cookie Dough That Requires Specialized Presses or Decorating Equipment

If visions of ornately decorated cookies dance through your head, spurred on by Spring Baking Championship and images of a benevolent judge beaming at you, take a moment and consider how often you’re actually going to use this equipment. The best-laid plans to make pressed or extruded cookies and finish them off with a decorating kit more involved than a surgeon’s array of tools can go awry, especially in the heat of holiday planning. Consider borrowing these tools from a friend, buying a set to share with family or adding to this collection over the years rather than purchasing a complete kit with all the options right off the bat. And unless you’ve got very steady hands, icing that elaborate piping or calligraphy onto your cake might be best left to a local baker.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract is far from difficult—it’s a basic method of pouring spirits over vanilla beans and letting time do the rest—but it’s included on this list due to the cost of ingredients versus buying a bottle in the store. For most people, a smaller amount of vanilla extract will last for months through the most frenzied of baking booms, so making it in bulk may not make sense for your household. Plus, once you factor in buying the alcohol and the vanilla beans, it may be worth spending your money on a high-quality store bought extract or paste (look for versions that contain real vanilla bean from reputable manufacturers, rather than “flavoured” extracts that can contain filler).

Vanilla and Calamansi Macaron stacked on a white tray

Related: Try These Vanilla Calamansi Macaron

“Handle With Care” Ingredients

If you’ve got little ones around or working in a cramped space, consider outsourcing some of your components to the pros. Heating sugar for caramels or candy creates a molten, sticky substance that requires vigilance and precise movements to avoid spills or spatters. The liquid nitrogen so beloved by cooking show contestants for instant ice cream requires knowledge of how to handle it and protective gear. You know your space (and yourself) best – if there’s a risk of injury when working with these items, think about buying a quality pre-made caramel, dulce de leche or candy for your baked goods.  

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

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