Building a basic baking pantry makes whipping up baked goods a snap. With these ingredients on hand, you can bake any number of cookies, cakes, biscuits and everyone’s favorite—banana bread, whenever you like. Here are your must haves.
Keep a bag of all-purpose flour in the cupboard at all times. It's the foundation of most baked goods, and it does important work making breadcrumbs stick to chicken cutlets, thickening gravy and stews, and creating a non-stick work surface for rolling out perfect pie dough. While you may want to experiment with alternative flours like whole wheat, rye, or nut meals, all-purpose flour is the most versatile and essential for home baking.
It’s not necessary to keep specialty fine salt on hand just for baking: kosher salt will do the trick. And never skip it. Salt helps to balance and bring out the flavors of sweet things just as it does in savory preparations.
The sweet cream flavor of unsalted butter is what gives cakes and cookies their unmistakable color, texture, and taste. Beat it at room temperature with sugar for a tender crumb, or use it melted for something more dense and chewy. It freezes beautifully, so stock up when it's on sale.
For basic baking, nothing beats granulated sugar. Its neutral sweetness won’t mask the other flavors in your batter and it offers moisture and tenderness you can’t get with just flour and fat alone.
Light and dark brown sugar get their color from molasses, leftover from the sugar-refining process (that’s why it’s sticky). While both offer butterscotch-like flavor, dark brown sugar tastes slightly more robust. But don’t feel like you need to run to the supermarket for the other box if a recipe calls for light brown and dark is all you have: you should achieve pretty much the same effect from either.
Baking Soda and Baking Powder
These two are considered chemical leaveners (versus yeast, which is a natural one) and they help things rise. Baking soda works particularly well when there’s something acidic in the mix, like citrus juice, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. Baking powder, usually labeled “double acting baking powder,” also adds lift and, just like its name suggests, acts twice: once when it gets wet and again when it gets hot. Keep both on hand but don’t substitute one for another: too much baking soda can make things taste soapy or metallic.
Nothing beats the floral aroma and flavor of real vanilla beans. Buy them if you can and store them tightly wrapped in the freezer. They defrost in minutes. But for most day-to-day baking, pure vanilla extract is what you want. Fun fact: most vanilla extract caps are about 1/2 teaspoon, so no need to get out the measuring spoons.
If nuts are safe in your house, keep a variety on hand for adding texture and crunch to sweet and savory dishes. For baking, pecans and walnuts are great options because they’re relatively soft (read: easy to slice through in loafs or brownies). Unless they’re getting baked on top of something, toast nuts before adding them to batters or dough for the best flavor.
Almost all baking recipes are written for large eggs. Use an egg too small and you won’t get the lift you expect. Use an egg too big and you’ll get a bouncy finished product. Hot tip: If a recipe calls for room temperature eggs there is no need to leave them out for hours before you start. Simply place them in a bowl and cover with warm water while you gather the rest of your ingredients. They’ll be ready to go by the time your oven is preheated.