We’ve all been there: You get an intense craving for homemade cookies, and you decide you’re going to make your own dreams come true. You’re so excited to bite into those warm, gooey treats that you can already taste them.
...Then you open up your pantry to discover the only viable cookie ingredient is a sad box of baking soda that’s been open for a seriously questionable amount of time. So you walk away—cookie-less, despondent, hoping to have your craving satisfied another day.
Luckily, the key to avoiding this sad state of affairs is straightforward: Just invest in a few pantry staples and keep them on hand so you can whip up all manner of baked goods at a moment’s notice. Here’s how to be ready for nearly any baking challenge.
The following ingredients will enable you to produce a huge variety of classic baked goods, from cookies and brownies to simple cakes.
There are several options here depending on your culinary prowess and your dietary preferences and constraints:
- Unbleached white all-purpose flour works in pretty much any recipe that calls for flour, from pizza dough to cookies.
- If you prefer whole-wheat, you can swap in whole-wheat all-purpose flour in place of the white stuff.
- There’s also a variety of specialty flours including bread flour, cake flour, pastry flour, and gluten-free options such as almond flour.
Leavening agents such as baking powder, baking soda, and yeast help baked goods rise and achieve an airy (read: not dense and crumbly) texture. Purchase both baking powder and baking soda to cover most bases.
Fine-grain salt is essential for enhancing flavor in virtually all baked goods. The salt you choose can be as basic or as fancy as you’d like; the important thing is that you have it.
There are several varieties of sugar that deserve a place in your pantry. These include white and/or brown granulated sugar (which aid in creaming wet ingredients) and confectioner’s sugar (which is frequently used to make icings and has a slight leavening effect).
Depending on your preferences, you might also consider stocking alternative sweeteners such as honey, raw sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, or stevia.
Cornstarch is a commonly used thickening agent and excess moisture absorber. It’s especially handy for cobblers and any pastry that contains cream or curd.
A huge variety of recipes call for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Choose high-quality versions without lots of additives in order to achieve the best consistency and flavor.
Cocoa powder can be put to use in everything from cookies to brownies and cake. It’s a must-have for anyone who enjoys baking (and eating) chocolatey treats.
Many recipes call for vanilla extract for extra flavor. If you can afford it, shell out for the pure stuff—imitation versions are often cloyingly sweet.
Opt for a neutral-tasting oil that won’t overpower the flavor of your baked goods. Vegetable oils such as canola oil are popular; sunflower oil and coconut oil are also growing in popularity. Just be sure to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, as these contain unhealthy trans fats.
Allspice, cinnamon, ginger, ground cloves, and nutmeg are most commonly used in baked goods. While not absolutely essential, they add a depth of flavor that isn’t achievable without them.
Upping the Ante
If you’ve stocked up on the basics and are looking to add more diversity to your pantry, you might consider the following ingredients:
- Additional extracts such as almond, lemon, orange, or peppermint extract
- Condensed and/or evaporated milk
- Dried fruits such as apricots, cranberries, dates, or raisins
- Ground, chopped, or whole nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, poppy seeds, and walnuts
- Rolled oats
- Shredded unsweetened coconut
Once you’ve stocked up on your pantry staples, store all the ingredients in airtight containers that aren’t exposed to excessive heat, temperature changes, or light. This will help ensure that the next time you reach for your baking soda, it will be ready to rise to the baking challenge.