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Baking ingredients: Where to splurge and where to save

Not sure what ingredients you should be using for what? Here's a handy guide that will teach you the basics of when to pay for quality and when to simply budget-bake.

by: Katelyn Williams | 28 Feb 2019
baking tools and ingredients

ALSO READ: 11 things that are guaranteed to turn you into a better baker

There are numerous studies around why baking is so therapeutic and relaxing, but you know what’s not relaxing? Seeing the cost of some rather crucial baking ingredients!

Yes, really great quality ingredients can make a huge difference in flavour - but it’s not always necessary to use the best. In fact, in a lot of recipes, it’s a complete waste to splurge on ingredients if they’re not going to be noticed. So here’s my complete guide on where to splurge and where to save:


Splurge on really great quality chocolate (we’re talking about bean-to-bar chocolates with high cocoa percentages) if you’re using it to make a ganache to sandwich cakes together, to make edible decorations or as chunks in chocolate chip cookies. Basically, only use the good stuff when you’re actually eating the chocolate and can taste it! 

Save it and use cheaper chocolate if you’re melting it into brownie or cake batter. You’re actually better off using cocoa powder if this is the case. 

baking with chocolate

Here’s a shortcut: next time a brownie or cake recipe calls for melted chocolate, swap it for cheaper cocoa power. For every 100g of 70% chocolate you need, add 70g cocoa powder and 30g extra fat (oil or butter). Magic!


Splurge on butter if you’re going to be whipping it into a light buttercream, making shortbread, cookies or in buttery recipes like brioche, croissants or Danish pastries. These recipes are traditionally centred around the flavour of butter and rely on the low melting point of butter to succeed and give that melt-in-the-mouth effect. 

Save it and use margarine or vegan margarine in any recipe that has a flavour that will completely overpower the taste of the butter - chocolate cakes or muffins. If a recipe calls for melted butter, you can substitute it with canola or vegetable oil. 



Splurge on unrefined sugars such as muscovado or demerara if you’re sprinkling it on cookies or if you’re making something that highlights the flavour of sugar. Gingerbread, soetkoekies, fudge and toffees are all really delicious ways to show off that dusky molasses flavour unrefined sugars have. 

Save it if you’re making caramel, or using it in a recipe that has a strong flavour which will overpower the delicate flavours of the sugars. 



Splurge on proper vanilla pods or vanilla extracts it if you’re putting it in vanilla ice cream, panna cotta, custard or a buttercream. But only if the recipe heroes vanilla! 

Save it and rather use vanilla essence if the recipe has a more dominant flavour than delicate vanilla. E.g. Adding vanilla extract or vanilla seeds to a chocolate cake is a waste. 

cupcakes with vanilla pod

Splurge on stone-ground flour if you’re making bread, since there are so few ingredients. The flavour of the flour really makes a big difference in the final product. 

Save it and use regular store-bought flour if you’re using it to make cakes, muffins, cookies etc. 

flour for baking

ALSO READ: Your one-stop guide to different flours and their functions in baking


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