Baker basics: How to get started as a home baker

Bake Off  has taken the world by storm – and we’re all head over heels in love with baking. But do you know the basics? Before you get started on your mille-feuille, macarons, or madeleines, read this handy guide.

Baking is as much as an art as it is a science. So while there are layers of precision to master, once you've got the basics down pat, there's a world of experimentation and creativity to explore too. From temperatures to tools, butter, bread, and flour - we've compiled a neat list of baking essentials to get you started on your baking journey.  

Baker's toolkit

Before any real baking begins, you'll need to ensure you have all the right tools and a fully stocked pantry of recipe essentials.

According to our favourite expert baker Maggie Beer, quality bakeware is key. "The difference that good quality bakeware makes to the ease of baking can be underestimated," she says. "And, if you’re a serious baker you need a mixture of high-quality heavy materials to bake in as well as lighter ones to allow for the quickest cook with your pastry."

You'll need have a happy relationship with your oven too. Insta-famous cake-maker Katherine Sabbath says practice makes perfect, and you should "Get to know your oven and adjust cooking temperatures accordingly."

The tools you need at your fingertips include (but aren't limited to):

  • A wooden rolling pin
  • Australian metric cup and spoon measuring sets
  • Bristle pastry brush
  • A rubber spatula and an offset spatula
  • Mixing bowls in a range of sizes
  • Whisk
  • Big, flat, heavy non-stick baking trays and tins
  • A hand mixer or stand mixer, depending on your preference
  • An accurate electric food scale
  • A cooling rack

Essential ingredients

When it comes to basic baking ingredients, Maggie says it's important to appreciate the difference between your flours. "For me, the types of flour take up a lot of space in my cupboards," she says. "I like to have everything from the norm of plain and self-raising white flours to wholemeal, wholewheat, rye, spelt and chickpea flour as a minimum."

When storing your flour, be sure to store it in airtight, moisture-proof containers on a cool, dark shelf in the pantry to extend its life and ensure it doesn't spoil. 

As well as a range of flour, other essential ingredients your pantry and fridge should house include (but aren't limited to):

  • Sugars
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Large eggs
  • Milk
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vanilla extract
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Baking powder
  • Bicarbonate of soda*

*While baking soda and bicarbonate of soda are essentially the same things (American recipes will typically call bi-carb soda baking soda), there is a slight difference between bi-carb and baking powder. Bi-carb is a pure leavening agent and needs to be mixed with moisture and an acidic ingredient for food to rise. You'll see it in recipes with acidic ingredients already in place, like lemon juice, honey, or chocolate. Baking powder, however, is already diluted with the acidic ingredient. 

Mise en place

Once your pantry's stocked and your tools are sharpened, it's time to bake! Many master bakers will tell you it's very important to read your recipe top to bottom first - great advice to ensure the timing and measurements of your bake are as precise as possible. Baking isn't the sort of cooking you can do on the fly!

To that end, 'mise en place', French for having your ingredients and tools totally prepped and in place before working through your recipe, is equally as important as knowing the beginning, middle, and end of the recipe. 

Room temperature

 

 

 

Unless otherwise stated, use room temperature ingredients. "This is so important when making a meringue; it’s the small detail that counts here," Maggie explains. "Have your eggs at room temperature, making sure the bowl is clean and dry and taking the egg whites to a peak before adding the sugar at several stages and making sure the sugar is totally dissolved by rubbing between your fingers."

Measurements

Every baking 101 guide will demand your measurements be precise - baking is an organic chemistry, and the slightest variant will make or break your cake. Make sure you're equipped with accurate measuring tools. Use your measuring cups for dry ingredients like flour and sugar, and use cups with a spout for liquids. For tablespoons and teaspoons, make sure you use proper measuring spoons - not regular spoons from the cutlery drawer. 

If your recipe uses anything other than the metric system (say, for example, if your recipe is from the United States), use a metric converter like this one to be sure of the exact measurements in your recipe. 

Extra reading

Have a trusted baking bible on hand for any baking questions and queries that arise as you learn. As it is a science, there's lots of precision, rhyme, and reason to every mixture and a great baking-for-beginners book should cover all bases. On The New York Times' best cookbooks for beginner cooks list is Melissa Clark's The Cake Bible - but Paul Hollywood's How to Bake and Mary Berry's Baking Bible cover the best of basics too. 

Get baking  

Try these beginner bakes to kick off your brilliant bake at home career:

For more from the world of great bakes, Watch Paul Hollywood: A Baker's Life on Lifestyle FOOD from 1 May.

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