109 of My Essential Ingredients: How to Stock Your Baking Pantry
[Post updated on 8/20/2014 to include spices, per reader feedback.]
Thank you to everyone who took the time to share feedback on Monday’s post about what you’d like to see on the site; it was immensely helpful and I appreciate it very much! One of the things that many of you mentioned is that you’d like to see some information about my favorite ingredients, kitchen tools and equipment. While I have some specific recommendations on my Tools of the Trade page, I haven’t done an in-depth look at everything I use on an (almost) daily basis. I loved the idea and figured I would start with ingredients; I will do a future post on the equipment and tools that I use in my kitchen, so stay tuned! Now, on to the ingredients…
The picture above is my pantry, which is one of my most favorite things about our house. It’s enormous, and I love that the middle shelf can accommodate all of my large appliances (and a microwave – yes, there are outlets in there!). As you can see, I take advantage of every last bit of space and then some. Most of my dry baking staples are located on the bottom shelf in airtight containers. Prior to moving last year, I used Lock & Lock containers for storage of things like flours and sugars; however, given the depth and height of the shelves, I found that these square food storage containers afforded me the ability to pack more containers of the same volume into the same space, so that’s what I use now. I also have a label maker, because I’m a total nerd when it comes to organization and office supplies!
Below is a list of all of the things that I keep stocked in my pantry and refrigerator, along with brand recommendations, if applicable. Unless I run out of something mid-recipe, I rarely have to make emergency trips to the grocery store. I’m pretty well stocked for any recipe that comes my way, unless it includes a specialty ingredient. Once I see that I’m low on something, I add it to the list for my next grocery run (my grandma ingrained this habit into my brain!).
UPDATE: Many of you asked for information about the spices that I keep stocked, so I have included a section on that below, as well. Here is a photo of my spice cabinet, which is to the left of my cooktop.
Again, with the uniform containers, alphabetical order and label maker ;-) I use Libbey 4½;-ounce spice jars for almost all of the spices, with the exception of things like salts, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon sticks – for those I use the 12½;-ounce storage jars. I’ve added a section below for spices, and I’ve kept the list to things I use specifically for baking.
If you have any questions about the ingredients below, feel free to ask in the comments below!
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!
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, Rustic 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.
⭐️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
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.
- 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
- 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.
These are additional types of sugar and sweeteners that I keep stocked, as well:
- Corn Syrup
- Maple Syrup
- Decorator/Coarse Sugar
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 course, 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.)
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.
Not exactly “pantry” items, but things that I consider staples nonetheless!
- 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).
- Buttermilk is a must for me so we can do pancakes or waffles on 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).
- Cream Cheese is always in my refrigerator in case I want to make an easy cake with some cream cheese frosting!
- 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!).
- 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!
- 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).
7. Extracts and Flavorings
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. (I buy mine from King Arthur Flour.)
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
If you stock the spices below, you’ll be set up for all of the fall and holiday baking your heart desires!
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 desserts, 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.
And then add any other spices you need as recipes dictate!
9. Add-Ins + Extra Ingredients
- Chocolate chips (semisweet at the least, then milk, dark, and white)
- Chocolate bars (for chopping and melting – milk, semisweet, dark, and white)
- Cocoa powder (both natural and Dutch-process)
- 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.)
- Peanut butter (or other nut butters if you have allergies)
- Food coloring
- 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
- Marshamllows (large and mini)
- Malted milk powder
- Canned pumpkin
- Powdered gelatin
- Freeze-dried fruit
- Instant tapioca
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is a pretty comprehensive list of everything I keep stocked for recipes, with the exception of things that are purely for everyday eating, such as rice, cereal, pasta, bread, etc. I included brands and sources where applicable, but again, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask below.
I hope this has provided inspiration for adding some fun ingredients to your pantry!