The Baking Essentials You Should Always Keep in Your Fridge, Freezer, Pantry, and Spice Rack
Here’s some great news: Being a great baker is not really about artistic flair or a prodigy-like ability to whip out sugar roses. It’s actually about precision, patience, and keeping a well-stocked pantry. We know: You’re probably not whipping out batches of muffins every morning or frosting layer cakes every Friday night. But there are some baking pantry essentials you should always have on hand, so you can create baked magic whenever the mood strikes. Here, a BA-approved list of the ingredients you really need (for example: all-purpose flour, sugar, butter), plus all of the “bonus” pantry items (rye flour, molasses, coconut oil, to name a few) to stock up on if you’ve got the space. Ready? Set? Bake.
Unbleached white all-purpose flour: This is your baking workhorse. Use it for anything from cookies to muffins to pizza dough.Rolled oats (not instant): Not just for cookies! Oats add texture and heft to quick breads and breakfast pastries. Not to mention granola. Stone-ground cornmeal: Cornbread, either savory or sweet, can save a dinner.
Salt: Without a pinch of salt, baked goods will taste one-dimensional. Kosher will do just fine.
Baking powder: This leavening agent is essential for airy cakes and more.
Baking soda: Ditto above.
White granulated sugar: When it comes to creaming “wet” ingredients, nothing works quite as well as plain old granulated sugar.
Confectioner’s sugar: Use this ultra-fine sugar in whipped cream or meringue. A small amount of cornstarch in the sugar gives it lifting power.
Brown sugar: The difference between light and dark is inconsequential in most recipes, so stock whichever you like.
Honey: Choose your favorite, but know that some are more intensely flavored (like buckwheat honey) than others (like clover honey).
Canned pumpkin purée: This a must for pumpkin pie, of course, but 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. We like to use cocoa powder in these super chocolatey brownies.
Shredded unsweetened coconut: Toast it before using for better, bolder flavor.
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.
Dried fruit as desired: Raisins, cranberries, dates, figs, and currants are some of our favorites.
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.Alternative flours as desired: We stock buckwheat, rye, and gluten-free. Coconut oil: Use it as a butter substitute, as in this recipe for pumpkin bread.
Alternative liquid sweeteners as desired: Barley malt syrup, molasses, agave, and brown rice syrup are good options, but proceed with caution: They don’t react with ingredients exactly like sugar does.
Alternative granulated sweeteners as desired: Coconut sugar and date sugar are our 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.
Unflavored gelatin: Those marshmallows that require corn syrup? Yep, you need gelatin, too. You’ll also use it in puddings and custards, like this buttermilk panna cotta.
Condensed milk: Keeping a can on hand will allow you to make things like bourbon caramels on a whim.
Evaporated milk: This milk product can stand high heat without curdling, making it great for candy.
Ripe bananas: Not ready to bake? Transfer them to the freezer.
Spice Rack Basics
Cinnamon: Bonus: It’s great for braised meat, too.Ginger: This spice adds sweet heat. Nutmeg: We’re all for buying whole nutmeg and grating it fresh over a rasp.
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.
Spice Rack Bonuses
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.
Eggs: Remove them from the fridge well in advance of your baking time, so they can come to room temperature.Unsalted butter: As with eggs, butter should be room temperature for baking. Whole milk: Full-fat milk adds creaminess and flavor to baked goods.
Active dry yeast: Storing yeast in the fridge extends its freshness.
1-2 jams, marmalades, or preserves: Choose your favorite. We use them in thumbprint cookies and tarts.
Lemons: The zest can brighten up any baked good, while the juice mixed with milk is a fine stand-in for buttermilk.
Cream cheese: For frostings, of course!
Buttermilk: This tangy liquid is what’s left after butter is made from cream. Replicate the flavor with lemon juice and milk.Heavy cream: For puddings, custards, and whipped cream. Sour cream: A tangier substitute for yogurt, this is perfect in coffee cake.
Other citrus (orange, grapefruit): Anywhere you can use lemon, you can use other citrus. Also: candied citrus peel.
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.
Seeds: Seeds like pumpkin, poppy, and sesame turn rancid quickly, so storing them in the freezer is a smart choice. Other nuts: Such as pistachios, cashews, and hazelnuts.
Not a baker? Here’s our guide to general pantry essentials to always have on hand.