In 1923, English mountaineer George Mallory was asked, “Why climb Mt. Everest?” “Because it’s there,” he famously answered.
Now, as the holiday season moves into full swing you might well ask, “Why make your own specialty baking ingredients when you can easily buy them ready-made?”
My answer? Because you can.
Most of us bakers like a good challenge every now and then, particularly one that pits store-bought against homemade. When a craving for America’s #1 cookie (Oreos, of course) strikes, do you automatically run to the supermarket? Perish the thought — hello, Faux-Reos! Tasked with providing fresh whipped cream for a friend’s dinner party dessert, do you break down and buy whipped cream in a can? Nope, not when all you need to make your own is a cup of cream and a Mason jar. (Yeah, really!)
If you’re a baker who loves coloring outside the lines, you might be convinced to make your own ingredients simply because you can. And also because homemade ingredients are:
- Super-fresh and packed with flavor
- Free of added chemicals, colors, or preservatives
- Customizable to taste
- Easily scaled up or down for quantity
- Often less expensive than store-bought versions
But what about the time spent? Surely it’s quicker and easier to buy rather than make. Well, you could say that about anything homemade, right? Chocolate chip cookies, sourdough bread, birthday cake — they’re all readily available for purchase. Yet you bake them at home over and over again because you love both the process and the results.
The same is true for the following holiday-friendly ingredients. Whether a classic Christmas Stollen is calling your name, you need the title ingredient for your Candied Cherry and Almond Biscotti, or you prefer homemade caramel sauce to bottled for your Caramel Pecan Cheesecake — we’ve got you covered.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what to give to your baking buddies who already own everything a foodie could ever want or need? Treat them to a homemade ingredient (or two, or three) to feed their passion, of course — wrapped up in a pretty package and tied with a bow!
Ever searched the aisles of your supermarket for almond paste, finally finding it on a bottom shelf in a size that’s just shy of what you actually need? Once you make almond paste yourself, you’ll never need to resort to the store-bought tube (or can) again. Plus, with its relatively long shelf life in the fridge, you can make a big batch now and use it right up through Epiphany (January 6) — which Christians traditionally celebrate with this Almond Galette.
Boiled cider adds intense apple flavor anywhere you choose to use it. Whether you simply want to enhance the taste of an apple-based dessert or surprise people with a touch of apple where they least expect it (Apple Cider Caramels), boiled cider is a genius ingredient.
A shortage of candied cherries on supermarket shelves a couple of years ago inspired the King Arthur test kitchen bakers to make their own. This resulting simple recipe yields moist, plump, flavorful candied cherries, quite unlike the dry, lackluster ones you might buy at the store.
4) Candied peel
If you think you don’t like candied citrus peel, it’s probably because you’ve never had GOOD candied peel. These intensely flavored, moist-sugary strips of orange, lemon, lime, or even grapefruit are equally good as an ingredient or garnish.
There’s caramel sauce in a jar; and caramel sauce you get from melting caramel candies. And then there’s homemade caramel sauce, a slow-simmered elixir of heavy cream, butter, sugar, and vanilla. When stacked up against store-bought taste-wise — well, I know which one I’d choose!
Been there (the ice cream shop). Had that (hot fudge sauce dripping over your sundae bowl of vanilla bean ice cream). Don’t limit that fudge sauce to the scoop-shop; make your own and be prepared to drizzle it atop all manner of tasty treats!
7) Lemon curd
What’s lemon “curd”? Think lemon meringue pie filling — but without the typical gluey cornstarch texture. This smooth spread and filling is lemon at its most luxurious. And when you make lemon curd at home, its fresh flavor really shines.
Perhaps best known for pairing with peanut butter in an iconic sandwich (the “Fluffernutter”), marshmallow spread is also the key ingredient in old-fashioned whoopie pie filling. Who’d ever think of making your own, right? Just try DIY marshmallow spread, with its engaging hint of vanilla, and you’ll be hooked.
This shapeable chocolate (aka chocolate clay) is a great stand-in for potentially one-dimensional fondant or gum paste when you’re looking for rich chocolate flavor in your cake and pastry decorations. While not pipeable, it’s beautifully “sculptable;” simply knead it a few times with your warm hands and it softens into a Play-Doh type consistency, perfect for turning into tiny animals (think chocolate teddy bears), pressing into flower molds, or more.
Enjoy it on: While we don’t yet have any recipes specifically calling for modeling chocolate, we think it would be ideal for dressing up a Yule Log (Classic Bûche de Noël), Black Sesame Cake, or when constructing your own gingerbread house.
Yes, you absolutely can make your own vanilla extract. All it takes is vanilla beans, your choice of vodka, brandy, or another neutral-flavored spirit — and time. It’s actually too late to make DIY vanilla extract for your holiday baking this year, but tuck this tip in your back pocket for next year. Make it now, and by spring you’ll be using your DIY vanilla every chance you get.
Interested in turning plain granulated sugar into something more? See how to make flavor-infused sugar and toasted sugar, either perfect for a new twist on one of our favorite sugar cookies, Vanilla Dreams.