Breaking news: being a great baker is not really quite so much talent. It’s actually about precision, patience, and keeping a well-stocked pantry. While you’re probably not whipping out batches of muffins every morning or frosting layer cakes every Friday night, there are some baking pantry essentials you should always have on hand, so you can create baked magic whenever the mood strikes. Here is a list of the ingredients you really need (for example: all-purpose flour, sugar, butter), plus all of the “bonus” pantry items to stock up on if you have the room.
Unbleached white all-purpose flour, which can be used for anything from cookies to muffins to pizza dough. Rolled oats are another staple, and you use them to add texture and heft to quick breads and breakfast pastries. Not to mention granola. For stone-ground cornmeal, go with cornbread, either savory or sweet, and it can save a dinner. Furthermore, don’t forget the following:
Salt: Without a pinch of salt, baked goods will taste one-dimensional.
Baking powder: This leavening agent is essential for airy cakes and more.
Baking soda: Essential for most baking needs
White granulated sugar: When it comes to creaming “wet” ingredients, nothing works quite as well as plain old granulated sugar.
Honey: Choose your favorite, but know that some are more intensely flavored (like buckwheat honey) than others (like clover honey).
Canned pumpkin purée: It can also be used in breads, cakes, muffins, and pancakes.
Bar baking chocolate: Chop finely if a recipe calls for chips. Choose your preference when it comes to bittersweet, unsweetened, etc.
Cocoa powder: Dutch-process cocoa has been rinsed to neutralize the beans’ acidity, while natural cocoa powder has simply been roasted and ground. Both are acceptable. You can even use coco powder for things like brownies
Don’t forget shredded unsweetened coconut, pure vanilla extract (spring for the good stuff; imitation extract can taste cloying), in-season ripe fruit as desired: (pears, peaches, apples, berries, and rhubarb are good places to start), and finally, dry fruits such as raisins, cranberries, dates, figs, and currants.
Whole wheat all-purpose flour: Swap out a portion of white all-purpose flour for whole wheat when baking, but be careful of adding too much, which can make breads and pastries dense and heavy. You can also stock other flours such as buckwheat, rye, and gluten-free. Also consider:
Alternative liquid sweeteners as desired: Barley malt syrup, molasses, agave, and brown rice syrup.
Alternative granulated sweeteners as desired: Coconut sugar and date sugar are common favorites.
Raw sugar: A sprinkle of this over cookies before baking “finishes” them nicely.
Corn syrup: A must for many candies, like marshmallows and fudge.
Cornstarch: This thickener keeps fruit fillings from getting too soupy; as in the case of this mixed berry cobbler.
Vanilla beans: Extract is fine, but beans add nuance and pretty black flecks. Use them to infuse milk or cream with dairy, or place a clean, spent pod in white sugar to flavor it.
Additional pure extracts: Like lemon, peppermint, and almond.
Spice Rack Basics
Cinnamon: Bonus: It’s great for braised meat, too.Ginger: This spice adds sweet heat.
Allspice: See cinnamon, above, for savory uses.
Cloves: A little goes a long way, whether you buy whole cloves to infuse dairy, or ground to add to baked goods.
Cardamom: This fragrant spice is best when purchased in whole pods and crushed just before using.
Mace: An occasional member of the pumpkin pie spice crew, mace is a lighter, more floral and citrusy version of nutmeg.
Of course, we’ll have to start this section with eggs! Don’t forget to remove them from the fridge well in advance of your baking time, so they can come to room temperature. And don’t forget unsalted butter! As with eggs, butter should be room temperature for baking. Whole milk: Full-fat milk adds creaminess and flavor to baked goods. Always keep in stock 1-2 marmalades, or preserves. Lemons are another great staple which are frequently used in cooking.
Almonds: Chop and add to baked goods, or grind them into meal for a flour substitute.
Pecans: You can’t make pecan pie without pecans.
Walnuts: Add these to a traditional streusel topping for extra crunch.
Unsweetened berries: Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries freeze well and thaw quickly.