Episode 03: Stocking the Pantry

Hi there! Come on in and have a seat. I’ve just made a pot of coffee. Let me grab you a mug. I’m Neon, and welcome to Mise en Podcast.

[Fade in music, carefree by Kevin MacLeod]

Welcome everyone to Episode Three! First, I’d like to give huge thank yous to Daffs o’Dill, Alice, and Ponders for becoming our new patrons! These three are getting perks such as early access to episodes, shout-outs on twitter, and access to printable recipe cards! If you would like these perks, and more, visit bakecast.com/support and click on the patreon button!

In this episode, we’re going to be covering some of the very basics that home bakers should have in their pantry. Just like we did with the kitchen tools list, today, the goal is to create a starting point for stocking your pantry that will allow us to make so many different things. With that in mind, let’s get right to it!

Flour is probably the most recognizable ingredient in baking.  For this, all we really need is all-purpose flour. There are many different brands and types out there, but I personally prefer King Arthur Flour. Though it can make a difference, for the home baker, I wouldn’t worry too much about bleached versus unbleached. That being said, use what you’re comfortable with! If you like the store brand, that’s great! Remember that these are just suggestions, and ultimately, it’s up to you to use what you want.

So, there are plenty of cooking sprays out there. For our needs, I would recommend one or two sprays. Standard non-stick cooking spray will usually suffice for our needs. I would recommend your standard, unflavored canola oil cooking spray. Now, a lot of recipes will have you butter or spray a pan and add flour. I do that a lot at work, and 99% of the time, there’s no issue. That being said, there is a baking spray with flour in it! It’s called Baker’s Joy, and though I’ve not used it yet, I have heard really good things about it. This can usually be found in most grocery stores. However, I’ve included a link in the show notes.

Sugar is another iconic staple for the pantry. Most recipes call for just granulated sugar. And your store brand sugar is just fine! If you’re able to get some superfine sugar, also known as castor sugar or baker’s sugar, then go ahead and grab it. At this point, I’ve only been able to find baker’s sugar in large bags and it’s made by C&H. As a tip to the more casual home bakers out there,  you can pulse normal granulated sugar a few times in a food processor to help simulate baker’s sugar.

Brown sugar is made by adding molasses after the sugar has been processed. Just like the granulated sugar, you don’t need to buy the expensive brand, as the store brand works just fine. A couple of things to note. You might see different varieties of brown sugar. There is no difference between “light” and “golden” brown sugars. On a personal note, I’ve only used what I have on hand. I prefer light brown sugar, but if you’ve got dark, that’s great! One thing to keep in mind is that you might want to back off how much brown sugar you use if you use the dark brown variety. You will want to store brown sugar in an airtight container. If you find that your brown sugar gets hard, just set a damp paper towel in a shallow cup of foil on top of the sugar and seal the container for several hours.

Salt is one of those key ingredients that is found in nearly everything. There will be many differences of opinion on what salt is best to use for baking. I’m currently reading a book by a respected baker, which states that she prefers to use fine sea salt. Personally, I find that Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt works best. Once again though, it all comes down to personal preference. We will be talking more about the finer facets of salt in Episode Five.

I’ve lumped our leavening agents into one category and don’t want to get into too much detail here as Episode Four will be dedicated to yeast and all of our leavening agent needs. But, for the home baker, we want baking soda, baking powder, preferably aluminum free, and yeast. I prefer to use Active Dry yeast, but if you want to use instant or bread machine yeast, that’s great too! We’ll cover the conversions next episode.

Another important staple for the pantry, or in this case, the fridge, are eggs. Generally, most recipes call for large eggs. And that’s usually what I keep stocked in my own fridge. If you come across a recipe that calls for jumbo or extra large eggs, you can add an extra egg to the mix to help compensate for the smaller volume. That being said, I generally prefer the standard and cheap store brand egg. I can’t afford to buy organic eggs. If you’re able to get local, free-range eggs, go for it. They add such a wonderful taste and texture to whatever you’re baking. Just keep an eye on them. If you feel like your eggs might be expired, then gently drop one into a glass of water. If it sinks, you’re good. If it floats, you should probably throw it out.

Heavy cream is something that tripped me up a bit. I do use it, and usually in large enough quantities on a commercial scale to warrant adding it to this list. However, I don’t use it as much at home. This is one of those things that it’s nice to have, but you shouldn’t keep buying it if you’re not using it. Now, let’s talk about what heavy cream is. Simply put, it’s cream that’s 56.6% water and anywhere from 36-40% butterfat. You can tell the percentage (if it’s not listed) by looking at the nutritional information. 1 Tablespoon of 40% cream will contain 6 grams of fat.

Butter is so common in most households that I almost forgot to add it to this list!  Once again, you don’t need to buy the fancy and expensive butter. However, for baking, you should always use unsalted butter unless a recipe specifically calls for salted butter. Unsalted butter allows you to control how much salt goes into your recipe. The salt content of salted butter can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. One thing to note. While this is pulled from my own personal experiences in America, I am fully aware that a lot of countries don’t offer butter in the same stick packaging. For those who do not have access to the small sticks of butter like we do in America, here are a few measurements to make things easier. 1 stick of butter is 113 grams, ½ a cup, or 4 ounces.

Some recipes call for oils, and I would encourage you to have a bottle of canola oil and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. In this case, I tend to be a bit more picky about my olive oils as I want something a little fancier than just the store brand. However, I would avoid flavored oils as they can add unwanted flavors to your baking.

We’ve covered a lot, and we’re not done. But, let’s take a break for this episode’s House Special.

[Clatter of cafe]

Welcome to the House Special, the part of the show where we discuss things we’re drinking! For this episode, I’ve got a nice little interview with my friend who roasts his own coffee!

[Special thank you to Drew for transcribing this conversation.]

Neon: So joining me today is my good friend Al who roasts his own coffee. And how long have you been roasting coffee?

Al: Oh, probably thirty-five years, or more.

Neon: [laughs] You’ve been roasting coffee longer than I’ve been alive.

Um, I know for me it’s something that’s recently discovered within the past, probably five to seven years, personally, that I’ve developed an interest in. But I know I’ve been trying to avoid buying store bought coffee for well before that. I didn’t realize really until I started hanging out on some websites like Reddit that you could roast your own coffee. And I used to actually have an air-popper that I almost converted into, uh, like a small scale, like, one cup at a time coffee roaster.

But um, some questions that have been asked about coffee. We’re just going to get right into this is-

This is very subjective, but what is it that makes coffee good?

[both laugh]

Neon: Um, this was from someone whose one experience with coffee did not go so well because they had a- uh, they discovered that there were some genetic issues that gives them just terribly up-upset stomachs any time they drink coffee. [Al: Mmhm.] But they’re- I think what they’re looking for is why is it that we drink coffee even though it’s viewed as something that’s bitter and just a caffeine fix for people?

Al: Well, a good- a good coffee, let me- have to back up what you’re talking about there a little bit. A good- a good coffee that’s fresh probably won’t give anybody any problems in their- in their digestion. Uh, most coffees that people view as bitter are bitter because they’re- they’re old, for the most part. Or they’re um, inferior grades of coffee. Uh, there are really only two kinds of coffee, which would be the arabica and the robusta.

Neon: And if I remember correctly, arabica is about what ninety percent of the beans that we drink are.

Al: Uh, more than, uh, it’s more than ninety percent. Uh, There are a- a few roasters of coffee that will blend a certain amount of robusta beans into their roast uh, to kick the caffeine level up. And that’s really about all they’re good for is- is they have a much higher level of caffeine than an arabica bean.

Neon: Yeah, it’s my understanding that robusta good for caffeine, not so good for taste.

Al: Tastes bitter, tastes nasty, yep.

Neon: Tastes like uh, the coffee of a large multinational corporation.

Al: Well, yeah. Most of your- most of your larger coffee roasters, your commercial ones, the coffee in there’s bitter for an entirely different reason, actually. Uhh, the reason being is an organic, that uhh, as soon as you roast that coffee, uh, it starts to decay and that decay takes the form of uh, converting to uh, something called a Lewis acid. Uh, and so the older a coffee is, the more acid it has in it, and the more acid it has in it, the more bitter it is.

Neon: And that would also be what causes like, that heartburn and that- why I need to pop a couple of Tum’s after drinking Folger’s?

Al: Right. Yeah, that never, or at least very seldom ever happens with uh, with fresh coffees of, that are uh, you know good quality and recently roasted, that’s pretty rare.

Neon: Now when you talk about recently roasted, um, obviously you’ll see in stores and even um, with Columbia River, they list an expiration date that still might be a couple months out. Like if they roast- I’ve seen coffee like, if they put it out now, might- might expire in September or a- uh, or even October. Would that not get you almost to that Folger’s store bought level of you don’t know how long that’s been on the shelf?

Al: Yeah, that’d be right. The experience of most coffee snobs that I know, of, of which I am one, uh, the general feeling is that about ten days is about the maximum a coffee will keep without building up um, enough Lewis acids to start giving you heartburn and digestion problems.

Neon: Okay. Um, now with, with the differences as we’ve just briefly touched on. Um, fresh roasted coffee, less than ten days old, store bought coffee, of unknown, indeterminate age. Uh, What about- where would instant coffee fall in on this?

Al: Oh boy, that’s a good one. Uh, Instant coffee is uh, is not. Well. It’s extracted, and we don’t know when it was extracted. We don’t know how necessarily. There’s several different methods for extracting that coffee essence out of the beans, uh, and you don’t really know which one they used. That’s the problem.

Neon: Okay. So that’s, that’s one of those- my personal opinion would be if I’m not sure how it’s done, probably stay away from it.

Al: That, that would be my take as well. Plus, for me, for me personally, I just have no taste for instant coffee it seems to uh, whatever process is used seems to debilitate all of the aromatic flavours that coffee is known to have.

Neon: Now something interesting um, that I’ve known, is uh, espresso powder is used in baking but it’s not just ground espresso. But espresso powder, which there’s a couple different methods but the one that seems to be agreed upon is, it’s the dried grounds of brewed espresso that have been ground even finer.

But what we use it for in baking is a flavour enhancer for chocolate and nuts and- and caramels. I’ve se- recently, um, I’ve seen it called for use in um, hot chocolate, and uh, and cake. I made a double chocolate cake and it called for espresso powder so, I didn’t have any and I just brewed some espresso instead cause I found a substitution. And I know we ate that cake and you couldn’t even taste the coffee in there. But that was just something that came to mind reading about instant coffee versus espresso powder. Which, as I’ve mentioned in my previous episode, you don’t want to actually make espresso with espresso powder because it’s just going to be bad.

And speaking of bad, there’s I know some schools of thought uh, about the health benefits, whether or not coffee and/or caffeine is good or bad for you and just what your thoughts on that are.

Al: Well caffeine is, is an alkaloid, chemically, uhh, that I think probably the jury’s still out whether alkaloids are good for you or not. But there’s a lot of other benefits of coffee. There’s been several studies, uh, by several I mean probably hundreds of studies about the benefits of the other aromatics that are in coffee in fighting things like cancer. [Neon: Huh.] Uhh, I can think of a couple notable studies where, uh, they recommended three to four cups a day of coffee. Uh, It had something like a forty percent reduction in certain types of cancers.

Neon: Okay. Now, I know you roast your own beans. Like you said, you’ve been doing it for thirty-five plus years. If someone is looking to get into coffee and they don’t want that indeterminate store bought stuff, where could they start? For good quality coffee.

Al: Well, there are several different uh, suppliers of green coffee, green meaning unroasted, uh, in the United States. Um, One thing I think that’s important to note, that that clock on coffee, that ten day clock doesn’t really start until you roast that coffee. As long as it’s a green bean uh, and you keep it in a dry, cool environment, it’ll last up to three years. As- [Neon: Okay.] As a green element. Um, so it-

Neon: But once you start roasting, that ten-day timer just starts from-

Al: That’s what kicks the chemistry and gets it started, [Neon: Okay] yeah.

Neon: And, and I know you’ve mentioned to me before but once you roast beans you need to let it sit for about twenty-four hours before you even want to grind it. [Al: Mmhm.] And just wondering why that is?

Al: Essentially they have no flavour at all there, well, minimal flavour, uh, and it has to do with the chemistry of the high temperature of the beans. [Neon: Okay.] Uh, And what happens is they- the high temperature drives off oxygen uh, during the roasting process uhh, and it replaces the oxygen with carbon dioxide and it just tastes flat. Has no real flavour, no depth to it.

Neon: I think, a good analogy in my mind, is, is when you are cooking, say, a steak. You pull the steak off the grill you want to let it sit for five minutes so that the juices can recirculate, otherwise the steak itself can be dry.

Al: Yeah, I think there’s probably some correlation there. Uh, ye- By the way, it’s not just sit there, it has to be sit there open to the atmosphere. So, [Neon: Okay.] So that carbon dioxide can be replaced with oxygen out of the atmosphere.

Neon: So that- that process of converting into acids wh-while the coffee’s still freshly roasted, that’s also what’s going to help give us that, like, the, the taste. Because if the coffee beans need to breathe but after that ten days, more oxygen has been, well, I believe it’s more carbon dioxide is in there than oxygen on the, those chemical chains.

Al: Well when it’s first roasted it is. What you want to do is over time that- Carbon dioxide’s real loosely bound, and what happens is it just, it just spontaneously coffee will kick off that carbon dioxide will absorb oxygen out of the atmosphere.

Neon: Okay.

Al: So.

Neon: That’s one of those things where you drink this delicious cup of coffee and don’t quite realize how much science is actually behind it.

Al: There’s a lot of science behind it. [laughs] [Neon: And I find that-] A lot of chemistry.

Neon: I personally find that fascinating. A-And we’ll talk more about that later in the longer recording. And I think too, someone asked what gives coffee that distinctive coffee flavour? It would be, if I understand it, it would be a combination of where the beans are grown, the type of bean, and the roasting.

Al: Mm. Yeah, it all starts out with uh- Most people don’t know that coffee is not a primary crop in most of the world. Uh, It’s actually grown as a cover crop to keep weeds down uh, in most areas, Central America specifically. Um, And then at the end of their- they, they grow it under like, papaya trees, banana trees, those sorts of things. And then they harvest the banan- bananas, papayas, and then that leaves them a crop of coffee. But the coffee takes on the flavours of the ground where it was grown. And so essentially you get papaya flavours, uh-

Neon: You’ll see sometimes in coffee shops “Hints of mango,” or hints of whatever.

Al: That’s, That’s right.

Neon: Okay.

Al: That’s right. Also coffee, most people are unaware, is a relative genetically to cocoa, cacao. And so uh, it’s not uncommon at all to see that it has flavours when you drink it of chocolate.

Neon: That actually makes sense on why I would use coffee as a baker to help enhance the flavour of chocolate, to make it taste more chocolatey.

Al: Mmhm, much like the relationship between nutmeg and cinnamon.

Neon: Good point.

Talking about how most of the crop is grown in Central and South America brings up the question of uh, the ethics of coffee. Like, how ethical is coffee harvesting? We, We hear about workers being paid like three cents a day or- or something, for what us seems ridiculously low. But I’m not certain about what would be considered ethical coffee, ethical- ethical farming or even if uhh, free trade is, is something that’s helping the coffee farmer and, and the whole production chain.

Al: Yeah, I suppose it depends where in the world you’re talking about. Umm, Central America has gotten a lot more ethical over the last fifteen years uh, with the advent of free trade. Uh, Coffee growers in Central America are coop now. [Neon: Okay.] Uh, They have some leverage to demand some higher prices. Um, It’s still impossibly cheap, it’s still in the neighbourhood of cents a pound. Uh, But in those countries, that- a few cents makes quite a bit of difference.

Neon: Yeah.

Al: Um, It’s not quite true in Africa, where they’re growing coffee now. They, uh, they’re not coop there. It’s uh, one off farming, what they call. Um, So uh those- those people work for extremely cheap.

Neon: Okay. That, that reminds me of a book that I picked up a while ago called Where the Wild Coffee Grows and, I still need to finish reading it but I know it’s, it- it chronicles the journey of coffee. And you mentioned Africa and how coffee really started the cloud- in the cloud forests of Ethiopia, if I remember correctly, and it’s just kind of amazing to see this one little product from this one little area has just kind of blown up across the world an- and to the- the mass amount of consumption that goes on every day.

I know espresso’s over here in America. Um, I mean, Starbucks is this huge chain and just the amount of coffee that they go through. And then you figure, over in Europe just having, just couple shots of espresso every day too. There’s- I guess for me it seems like the, the demand is so high, that the suppliers should be able to raise their prices and, like you said, those workers being able to make more demands and get better, better paid for their labour. You know? Just for me it’s, it’s fascinating to watch this migration of, of a thing, and how it spreads out and affects us globally.

Al: People often don’t recognize that coffee is the number two traded commodity on the planet.

Neon: Number two?

Al: Number two, yeah. Oil is the number one, and coffee is number two.

Neon: Everybody should invest in coffee futures. [laughs] So I think that’s going to do it. Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me for this.

Al: Anytime.

 

While this was not everything we talked about, it’s a nice start. If you want the full audio, consider tossing us a few bucks on patreon! With that, let’s get back to the rest of the show.

[Coffee shop sounds]

Welcome back! We’ve still got a few things to cover, and I think we’ll pick things up with syrups. This is another case where I don’t use them enough to provide a strong opinion, but some people like to have corn syrup or golden syrup. Both work well in baking, but I use them more in working with caramel, candy, and chocolate.

As we talked about two episodes ago, personal preference will play a hand when it comes to chocolate selection.. That being said, let’s talk briefly about dark chocolate, and what those percentage numbers mean. To start, I generally only use dark chocolate in baking, with few exceptions. That percentage number you see on the chocolate? That is the percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter in the bar. The rest… is sugar! Those percentages can and will affect the flavor and texture of the finished product. Touching briefly on milk chocolate, just know that milk chocolate has a lower percentage of cacao, still contains sugar, and has added milk solids. And we can’t talk about chocolate without talking about the confusing thing known as white chocolate. I’m not going to go into detail here, but I will say that you should look for brands that contain only cocoa butter and flavorings. Avoid vegetable oil. I’ll have a tweet thread running about this.

Cocoa powder is one of the more frustrating ingredients for me. On one hand, it can be an essential item in the kitchen if you find a powder you like. In this instance, I actually think Hershey does a good job of making a chocolate product. I generally prefer Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder. All this means is that the cocoa powder has been processed with a mild alkali to help mellow the flavor and neutralize the acidity. This also helps make the powder easier to dissolve. On the other hand, I don’t use it enough to warrant buying it for my house.

Vanilla is one of my favorite things in the pantry. I love vanilla. If you’ve been paying attention though, the price of vanilla has been climbing. This is due to a shortage from the world’s largest vanilla producing region, Madagascar. The concern here is how difficult it is to harvest vanilla. The flowers only bloom for one day a year, and are required to be pollinated by hand. It can take upwards of five years for the trees to produce the familiar beans. That being said, for the home baker, imitation vanilla is perfectly acceptable to use. I can’t afford $40 for a bottle of pure vanilla extract, but I can afford a small bottle of imitation vanilla, or even a blend of the two. If you want to use whole beans, look for Tahitian beans. These are some of the best beans out there as they are fatter, more moist, and usually more aromatic than other beans. I’ve included a couple of links in the show notes discussing the vanilla shortage.

There are far too many spices to go into. Some people have ones that they prefer. I’m not really going to touch this other than to say pick what you use the most. We’ll talk about specific spices and seasonings in recipes in the future. Wing screamed cinnamon.

We’ve got some of the basics covered. Up next are some things that are nice to have, but not things I would deem “essential”.

 

Corn starch is first. Though I don’t use it often, this is one of those things that is nice to have in the kitchen, particularly when it comes to making cake flour!

Though I’ve not used it, Cream of Tartar is great for stabilizing egg whites when making a meringue as it helps to prevent the whites from drying out from over-beating.

Gelatin is a bit touchy as it is traditionally made with animal liquids. However, there are kosher and vegan friendly gelatins out there. That being said, I’ve only used it to make marshmallows, so it’s not something I really use.

And that’s it for some of the basics that will offer you a good foundation for baking! As I said earlier, the aim of this list is to provide a starting guide for what pantry items you might want or need. Feel free to message us on twitter @MiseEnPodcast with your favorite ingredients!

For now, let’s talk about something important that I think every home cook or baker needs to hear in this episode’s Teaspoon Tips.

[Clanking teaspoon]

In this week’s Teaspoon Tips, we’re going to tackle a topic that popped up a lot at PodCon. And that is failure in baking. Now, I’m not trying to say that we’re all failures. Quite the opposite! You’ve taken the first steps in learning to bake, which is huge!

What I’m talking about is: what happens the first time that loaf of bread comes out flat and dense as a brick? You know the loaf! The one that you’ve spent a week looking for online, and you’ve got everything, and it’s needed for the family dinner. And it’s just… flat. These things will happen. And that’s okay! It’s okay when our product doesn’t come out like it’s supposed to! The first time I made sourdough loaves, I had completely inconsistent results. One was beautiful and golden and lovely. The second one was flat and dense. And I was crushed. For a week, I knew where I had gone wrong, but it still got to me.

The key when this happens is to realise that it is okay for our products to flop. It helps us grow. It lets us learn, and it drives us to improve. Food is tied up with how we can perceive ourselves. From family gatherings, to romantic dinners, food is so important in our society that we put a lot into it. And we get devastated when things don’t turn out the way we want. As much as we put into food, we need to realise that these things do happen.

I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten to do something or messed up a recipe at work. Try having a cranberry cake without any cranberries in it. Not my greatest moment. And I’ve ended up throwing out many, many baked goods because they failed. Some more spectacularly than others. But, I learned from my failures, so I encourage everyone to learn from theirs. Just because something might not look like it should, for example, doesn’t mean the food is not edible or enjoyable! These things can turn into a laugh or a story. But please, don’t let failures eat at you and get to you. They happen, sometimes in defiance of how well prepared we are when we go to bake.

So, it’s okay to fail. It’s even good to fail as we are able to learn and grow. Please don’t let setbacks cause you to give up on baking. Things will get better and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve grown. Remember, I’m rooting for you!

That’s it for this episode’s Teaspoon Tips, and that’s it for this episode! Hungry for more? Why don’t you check out The Sisterhood of the Bottomless Mimosa? It’s a show where the hosts talk about wine and awesome women throughout history! Thanks for listening everyone, and I’ll see you next time!

Lur: Mise en Podcast is written, edited, and produced by Neon. You can find them on twitter, @NeonGreenTiger. Script editing was by Wing McCallister. You can find him on twitter @DrWingMC. Art is drawn by MyselfSquared. Find more of their work on their facebook page, facebook.com/myselfsquared. Music is Carefree by Kevin MacLeod from incomptech.com and used under the Creative Commons Attribution License. Special thanks to Kristen Gadzic. For all other information, including episode transcripts, links, and show notes, please visit our website at bakecast.com. You can also find us on twitter @MiseEnPodcast, or write to us at hello@bakecast.com. Want to help support us? Check out bakecast.com/support. Please remember to leave a rating and review on iTunes. And lastly, I’m Lur. I eat bugs.