You probably have noticed that many cookbooks include some kind of a guide concerning the ingredients necessary for re-creating the recipes. It might be a glossary at the end of the book, or perhaps an introductory “Know Your Ingredients” section at the beginning. This is my version of such a guide. For although I try to remember to clarify any confusing ingredients in each individual recipe, my memory does fail me occasionally . . . so here’s the back-up plan.
Flour: Unless I state otherwise, this means unbleached, all-purpose flour. If the recipe calls for bread flour, I recommend the King Arthur brand. I measure all flours by the “dip and sweep” method: scooping the flour out of the bag with a measuring cup and then leveling the top with the straight side of a knife. I don’t spoon the flour into the cup. Of course, if the recipe includes weight as well as volume measurements, and if you have a kitchen scale, you don’t have to worry about this.
Salt: I use kosher salt at home, which does not measure the same as regular table salt. If you are using table salt, be prepared to cut the measurement by as much as half. Then taste the dish and decide if you want more.
Sugar: If I don’t specify the kind of sugar, I mean granulated. Brown sugar should always be packed down firmly when you are measuring it. You should use light brown sugar, unless the recipe clearly calls for dark brown.
Honey: In most recipes, a mild honey such as clover or wildflower works best.
Maple syrup: Many bakers prefer using Grade B syrup for baking, due to its stronger flavour; and I am no exception. However, it can sometimes be difficult to locate, so if all you have is Grade A, that’s fine. The maple flavour will just be slightly less pronounced.
Butter: I use unsalted butter exclusively.
Oil: When a recipe calls for vegetable oil, I will be using safflower oil; but any flavorless oil (corn, canola, etc.) should work. Just don’t use olive oil unless the recipe specifically calls for it. If the recipe does call for olive oil, I prefer using extra-virgin, cold-pressed.
Eggs: I use large eggs (unless some infuriating cookbook calls for extra-large, in which case I will grudgingly go out and buy a carton), preferably free-range.
Dairy Products: I only keep whole milk in my refrigerator, because even if the recipe calls for skim milk, using whole can never hurt—however, the reverse of this is not true. I always have plain, fat-free yogurt on hand, and often use it as a substitute for buttermilk (which I don’t need often enough to bother keeping in stock). However, if I buy sour cream or cream cheese for a recipe, I prefer to get the full-fat version. Heavy cream, or whipping cream, is 35% fat. Single, or pouring cream, is 18%. Any cheese that is called for in a recipe should be freshly grated.
Chocolate products: Dark, semi-sweet, and bittersweet are equal terms. If a recipe calls for any of them, I use a 58% Swiss chocolate that I buy from Albert Uster Imports. It is only sold in eleven-pound boxes; but as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place, it will last a year easily. However, if you don’t want to buy such a large amount, Whole Foods Market usually has blocks of Callebaut in their specialty section, which is a chocolate of comparable quality. For chocolate chips, I always try to find ones with natural vanilla extract in them—it makes a world of difference. For cocoa powder, I try to keep both a natural and a Dutch-processed variety in my cupboard; but often recipes don’t specify a kind, in which case I prefer to use natural cocoa.
Citrus juice and zest: I always try to buy organic citrus fruits when I need to use the zest. And although this seems fairly obvious, please remember to always zest citrus fruits before juicing them. (Believe me, it’s a lot easier that way.) Even if a recipe only calls for juice, you should still zest the fruit first: the unused zest can be stored in the freezer for several months. Likewise, if you only need the zest for a recipe and not the juice, I would recommend juicing it anyway and then storing the juice in the freezer until you do need it. After the zest has been removed, the fruit will dry out very quickly, and then you won’t get as much juice once you do get around to juicing it. And if you’re in a dash and simply don’t have time to juice the fruit right away, at least wrap the fruit in plastic wrap before returning it to the refrigerator, which will help keep the juices from drying up.
Oats: I eat a lot of oats. I keep steel-cut, old-fashioned, and quick varieties on hand. So if I don’t specify in the recipe . . . well, let’s just hope I don’t forget. But old-fashioned oats are probably the most useful for baking. And when I say quick oats, I do not mean instant.
Walnuts: I find that the flavor of California-grown walnuts is the best, and always use them if I can find them.
Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract is a must.
Vinegar: Plain white vinegar unless the recipe calls for a particular kind. I usually only keep three kinds of vinegar in my pantry: white, balsamic, and apple cider.
Yeast: I use active-dry yeast. If you only have instant yeast on hand, decrease each teaspoon of yeast called for in the recipe by an ⅛ of teaspoon.
Can’t find an ingredient here? Just leave me a comment with your question or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll get you the information you need as quickly as possible.