Baking from scratch rather than buying store bought is one of the key ways you can reduce your grocery bill. A lot of people opt for the "convenience" of store bought because there seems to be a prevalent misconception that baking requires a lot of time and effort. If you're making a wedding cake, maybe it does, but everyday baking can certainly fit into a busy cook's schedule if you have your kitchen set up to facilitate it.
The key to keeping baking as effortless as possible is to make sure you've got everything you need in the place you need it. I have one area of my kitchen established as my "Baking Station" and it is the main reason why baking happens around here so regularly.
Here are the elements of an efficient Baking Station:
1. Countertop: This needs to be a nice clean counter that is kept free of clutter! Clearing clutter off the counter can take more time than doing the actual baking, so be vigilant about this one. If you can, establish your Baking Station close to the fridge, so all your perishable ingredients are close at hand.
2. Cupboard storage: The cupboard should ideally be either directly above or below the designated Baking Station countertop. This cupboard should contain all the dry ingredients used for baking (flours, sugars, other grains, baking soda and powder, cornstarch, cocoa, chocolate chips, coconut). I also keep extracts (vanilla, maple, peppermint, etc), molasses, corn syrup, and canola oil here.
3. Spice drawer/cabinet: Spices should be kept handy to the Baking Station since you'll use them often. I have mine in a drawer immediately under the countertop. If you're going to use a wall-mounted cabinet or rack, it should be hung right above the Baking Station countertop. You can also keep your spices right in the Baking Station cupboard if that's more convenient. Wherever you choose to keep them, they should be easily accessible and WELL LABELLED!
4. Small equipment and tools: You will need knives, forks, spoons, wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, metal spatulas, measuring cups (for both wet and dry ingredients) and measuring spoons. These should all be within arm's reach of your Baking Station, so you don't have to move to get anything. I have a wall-mounted unit with little "buckets" from IKEA. They have a great selection of inexpensive wall-mounted organizers for the kitchen that are perfect for a Baking Station.
5. Large equipment and tools: Larger items like mixing bowls, mixer, baking pans and cookie sheets should all be nearby. A cupboard directly above or below your Baking Station counter is ideal. Make sure it's not cluttered in there so you can easily grab out what you need.
It doesn't take very long to get a good Baking Station put together, and it's well worth the effort! I'm willing to guarantee that you'll bake more often, and with far less hassle, once you've put together a well-organized Baking Station in your kitchen.