Essential Baking Ingredients: How to Stock Your Pantry

In this baking ingredients guide, you will be armed with everything you need to know about flour, sugar, chocolate, leaveners, spices, and other pantry staples. Build your baking pantry with all of the essential ingredients to keep stocked for everyday baking. 

Flour dusted on a counter with the word "bake" traced in it.

This comprehensive list of essential baking ingredients is broken down into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” lists for stocking your pantry, along with brand recommendations, if applicable. You should be set up so that you never need to make an emergency trip to the grocery store mid-recipe (or late at night!). You will be well-stocked for any recipes that come your way unless it includes a specialty ingredient.

And a pro tip from my grandma – once a baking ingredient is about half used up, add it to your next grocery list so you never run out!

If you have any questions about the ingredients, feel free to ask in the comments below!

1. Flour

Must-Have Flour

All-purpose flour is the workhorse of the basic baking pantry. The middle-of-the-road protein content allows the flour to be sturdy enough to hold its structure for things like yeast breads, but still light enough to produce a tender crumb in a layer cake. It is shelf-stable and has a mild flavor, making it perfect for cookies, quick breads, muffins, cupcakes, cakes, pie dough, and so much more!

Nice-to-Have Flours

These specialty flours may deserve a place in your pantry as well, depending on the different types of recipes you’d like to tackle. Add them as needed!

  • Bread flour has a higher protein content and produces wonderfully chewy yeast bread. [Make these: Milk Bread, Copycat Pizza Hut Breadsticks, Italian Bread]
  • Cake flour has a lower protein content which creates a fine and tender crumb for light and soft cakes and cupcakes. [Make these: Angel Food Cake, Coconut Cake, New York Crumb Cake, Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes]
  • Whole wheat flour uses both the bran and germ from the wheat seed, which results in a denser, more flavorful baked good. [Make these: Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, Irish Brown Bread]
  • White whole wheat flour is milled from a white wheat berry and has a milder and sweeter flavor than traditional whole wheat flour.
  • Self-rising flour has baking powder and salt already mixed in. It’s not one I use myself, but some of your recipes may call for it.
  • Cornmeal is essential for cornbread, cornbread muffins, cheesy corn casserole, savory waffles, and more.
  • Cornstarch is finely ground corn flour and is commonly used to thicken puddings, pastry creams, and pie fillings.
  • Other non-wheat flours such as nut flours, seed flours, and gluten-free blends are becoming increasingly common.

How to Store Flour

Most flour can be kept in airtight containers at room temperature (I use OXO pop containers), however, whole wheat flours and nut and seed flours are more prone to going rancid, so I recommend keeping those in airtight containers or bags in the freezer.

Where to purchase specialty flours

While you will find all-purpose flour in the baking aisle of every grocery store, and most also stock bread flour and cake flour, depending on where you live, you could have trouble finding some of these. Below are links to where you can purchase them online:

Bread Flour / Cake Flour / Whole Wheat Flour / White Whole Wheat Flour / Self-Rising Flour

⭐️ Read a more in-depth discussion about all types of flours, their protein levels, and the types of recipes each one is best-suited for >> Flour 101

2. Leaveners

Leaveners react with other ingredients to cause a chemical reaction, which is what gives baked goods lift and rise. Think tall and light muffins and cakes, thick and chewy cookies, fluffy pancakes, etc.

Must-Have Leaveners

  • Baking soda is a base, which means it needs to react with an acid to create carbon dioxide, which is what gives rise to baked goods. For this reason, you’ll often see a recipe that includes baking soda also include an ingredient like buttermilk, natural cocoa powder, lemon juice, cream of tartar, yogurt, etc.
  • Baking powder is a mix of baking soda, cream of tartar (an acid), and, sometimes, cornstarch. Since baking powder already contains an acid (cream of tartar), it is typically paired with non-acidic ingredients, such as whole milk and Dutch-process cocoa powder.
  • Yeast might not be a must-have for you if you have zero interest in baking bread; otherwise, keep both active dry and instant (or rapid rise) in your pantry.

⭐️ Find out more about the differences between baking soda and baking powder, know when to use them, and how to check if they are expired >> Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

3. Sugars

Must-Have Sugars

  • Granulated sugar is basic “white sugar” is the default ingredient when a recipe simply calls for sugar.
  • Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added. Light brown sugar has less molasses, while dark brown sugar has more molasses added in.
  • Powdered sugar is also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar, is ultra-finely ground granulated sugar until it reaches a powdered state. It is usually mixed with an anti-caking agent to prevent clumping. This is the sugar typically used in frostings since it dissolves into butter so easily.

Other Sweeteners

These are additional types of sugar and sweeteners that I keep stocked, as well:

4. Cocoa Powder

Must-Have Cocoa Powder

Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is the cocoa powder that you like grew up seeing in your mom’s cabinet (think that can of Hershey’s cocoa powder!) and is the one most called for in baking recipes. You can find it in your local grocery store in the baking aisle! [Make These: Texas Sheet Cake, No-Bake Cookies, Devil’s Food Cake, Triple Chocolate Muffins]

Nice-to-Have Cocoa Powder

Dutch-process cocoa powder has been alkalized to neutralize its natural acidity. The result is a richer cocoa powder that is darker in color and has a more mellow, less sharp-tasting flavor. [Make These: The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe, Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes, Better-Than-Box Mix Brownies]

It is often difficult to find at grocery stores but can be purchased online.

⭐️ Dive deeper into the differences between natural unsweetened cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder, and learn when you should use each one >> Cocoa Powder 101

5. Salt

Must-Have Salt

Table salt is the go-to salt of choice for baking. It dissolves easily and isn’t overpowering; I have come across recipes that call for kosher salt, but I often find it to be too coarse, depending on the brand. My recommendation is always to use table salt! (If you come across a recipe that calls for kosher and you want to use table salt, this salt conversion chart is very handy.)

Nice-to-Have Salt

Flaky sea salt, also referred to as fleur de sel or Maldon salt, can be an incredible finish to cookies, brownies or caramel sauce. Some higher-end grocery stores carry it, but you can also buy it from Williams Sonoma or Amazon.

6. Dairy

Not exactly “pantry” items, but things that I consider staples nonetheless!

Must-Have Dairy

  • Unsalted butter is the defacto choice for baking for a very important reason – different brands of salted butter have varying amounts of salt added. By using unsalted butter, you have complete control over the quantity of salt in your recipe.
  • Eggs are a must! Unless a recipe states otherwise, you will want to use large size eggs, as that is standard in nearly all baking recipes.
  • Milk isn’t called for in ALL recipes, but I do like keeping a small container in the refrigerator for when it’s needed. I prefer whole milk for baking (more fat = more flavor and more moisture).

Nice-to-Have Dairy

  • Buttermilk is a must for me so we can make pancakes or waffles at a moment’s notice! Most stores sell full-fat or reduced-fat and I always buy the full-fat version (same reason I reach for whole milk). Dry buttermilk powder is also a good option to keep in your pantry in case you’re in a pinch!
  • Cream Cheese is always in my refrigerator in case I want to make an easy cake with some cream cheese frosting. Always stock full-fat cream cheese to keep frostings from being runny.
  • Evaporated milk is shelf-stable and used in some custards, pie fillings, frozen desserts, aaaand hot fudge sauce.
  • Sweetened condensed milk is milk that has had the water removed and sugar added, and is shelf-stable. Uses include quick ice cream, seven layer bars, tres leches cake, coconut macaroons, and more!
  • Sour cream adds wonderful moistness and flavor to things like muffins, cake, and cupcakes.
  • Heavy cream for quick homemade whipped cream, ganache, salted caramel sauce, or a million other things.
  • Canned coconut cream is perfect for making dairy-free whipped cream (or homemade coconut cups!). Most grocery stores carry this but it can also be purchased online.

7. Fats

Must-Have Fats

  • Unsalted butter for all of the reasons we touched on in the section above.
  • Vegetable oil has a neutral flavor and doesn’t overpower baked goods, which is perfect, and it creates very moist finished products. Absolutely necessary in my favorite chocolate cupcakes, banana bread, carrot cake, and much more!

Nice-to-Have Fats

  • Vegetable shortening is definitely a staple for me since I use it in my favorite pie crust and always want to have it available. It is also used in a number of cookie recipes and for chocolate coatings.
  • Coconut oil can be swapped for some other fats in recipes if you want/need to do that, and it’s also perfect for making magic shell!
  • Lard can also be used for pie crusts, and in other recipes where solid fat is called for (mostly in a lot of old-fashioned recipes).

8. Extracts and Flavorings

Must-Have Extract

Pure vanilla extract is an absolute must when it comes to stocking your baking pantry. It adds richness and extra flavor to everything that you make, and I swear by pure vanilla extract, not imitation. It can be pricey but is 100% worth it. And don’t forget – you can make your own homemade vanilla extract, too!

Nice-to-Have Extracts and Flavorings

This list really depends on what flavors YOU like and the types of recipes you’ll plan to make. My advice would be to buy these on an as-needed basis when you make a recipe that calls for them.

  • Almond extract
  • Anise extract and/or oil
  • Lemon extract
  • Mint extract
  • Peppermint extract
  • Coconut extract
  • Rum extract
  • Whole vanilla beans
  • Vanilla bean paste

9. Spices

Must-Have Spices

If you stock the spices below, you’ll be set up for all of the fall and holiday baking your heart desires!

  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Allspice
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg

Nice-to-Have Spices

While these are not used as frequently, I do recommend keeping them stocked if you plan to do semi-regular baking.

  • Cream of tartar works as a type of leavener when combined with baking soda, stabilizes egg whites for meringue (think pavlova, lemon meringue pie, and angel food cake), and gives snickerdoodles their characteristic tang.
  • Espresso powder is often added to chocolate desserts because it enhances and intensifies the chocolate flavor without adding any coffee flavor. In almost all instances, you’ll want to use instant espresso powder because it dissolves easily.

And then add any other spices you need as recipes dictate!

10. Add-Ins + Extra Ingredients

Must-Have Add-Ins

  • Chocolate chips (semisweet at the least, then milk, dark, and white)
  • Chocolate bars (for chopping and melting – milk, semisweet, dark, and white)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, blueberries, dates, figs, apricots, etc.)
  • Coconut (shredded/flaked and sweetened/unsweetened)
  • Oats (traditional rolled oats will work in most all recipes)
  • Nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews, almonds, peanuts, etc.)
  • Jams/jellies
  • Peanut butter (or other nut butters)
  • Food coloring (I recommend AmeriColor gel food coloring)
  • Sprinkles

Nice-to-Have Add-Ins

  • Crystallized ginger
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Peanut butter chips
  • Mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • Toffee bits
  • Candy (M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Hersheys kisses, etc.)
  • Graham crackers and graham cracker crumbs
  • Marshmallows (large and mini)
  • Malted milk powder
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Powdered gelatin
  • Freeze-dried fruit
  • Instant tapioca

Baking ingredients: wrapping it up

If you have ever wondered what types of baking ingredients you should keep on hand to have a well-stocked pantry, giving you the ability to bake something at a moment’s notice, then this list is definitely for you. Bookmark it, print it out, use it to make your next grocery list.

And, most importantly… Happy Baking!