The 23 Staple Ingredients a Home Baker Should Have In Their Pantry
As every serious baker can attest, baking is both an art form and a science, and the secret to creating a successful baked good comes down to two things: numbers and ingredients. With the proper numerical balance (that’s where following the recipe closely comes in) and the right high-quality ingredients, you can become a master baker in no time at all.
While the initial process of stocking a pantry to become a baking savant might seem daunting, the good news is most of the key ingredients come in bulk, are non-perishable, and are long-lasting—so once you’ve stocked up on an ingredient, it’s likely to provide numerous batches of cakes, cookies, muffins, and more.
Whether you’re a rookie baker just getting the hang of bread making or a seasoned pro looking to make sure your pantry’s up to date, these are all of the necessary ingredients every baker should have stocked in their pantry at all times.
Aptly named, all-purpose flour can be used to create just about anything, from fluffy pancakes to dense baguettes. We’d recommend sticking to the unbleached white variety, but for those with specific dietary restrictions or preferences, you can also opt for whole-wheat all-purpose flour or alternatives like gluten-free, rye, and buckwheat flours. However, make sure to adjust the recipe accordingly if you’re using a kind of flour that isn’t initially called for. Depending on the kinds of baked goods you make frequently, you might want to also invest in more specific forms of flour, like cake flour and pastry flour, each of which has its own balance of ingredients to produce unique end results.
While it probably seems like a no-brainer to always have salt in stock, this seasoning can make or break the balance and overall flavor of your baked goods, even when used in very small amounts. Though larger flaky sea salt isn’t typically called for in baking, it can be sprinkled on top of both sweet and savory creations to add some texture and flavor.
If you see the word “sugar” in a recipe, it’s generally referring to granulated sugar, the standard sweetener used to make just about any baked good. As a rule, granulated sugar should be kept well-stocked in your pantry at all times.
Confectioners' Sugar (a.k.a. Powdered Sugar)
Essential for making icings and frostings, as well as lighter recipes like meringues and whipped cream, this finely ground version of white sugar dissolves quickly in liquid, making it the perfect base for glazes and sweet sauces.
This alternate form of sugar is a combination of white granulated sugar and molasses, resulting in a moist, slightly sticky texture and darker tone. Brown sugar is necessary for the creation of many richer baked goods, like Brown Sugar Icebox Cookies and Brown Sugar Pound Cake. While brown sugar comes in light and dark varieties (depending on the percentage of molasses), these can generally be used interchangeably and won’t alter the outcome of your recipe significantly.
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In order to create light, airy baked goods, it’s necessary to add a leavening agent like baking powder, which releases carbon dioxide bubbles into your dough or batter during the mixing and/or heating processes. While it may seem like baking soda and baking powder are interchangeable, baking powder actually contains baking soda, cornstarch, and a powdered acid, requiring no additional ingredients to activate the leavening process.
Another leavening agent, baking soda activates and causes your baked goods to rise when acid and heat come together. Therefore, unlike baking powder, which activates on its own, it is necessary to always pair baking soda with an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar, citrus juice, cream of tartar, cocoa powder, or a form of fermented dairy like yogurt or buttermilk.
Another form of leavener, yeast is a slow-rising agent that takes more time and patience than baking soda or powder. Instant yeast and active dry yeast can be used to make bread the slow and steady way, allowing the cells of the yeast to create carbon dioxide as they metabolize during the kneading and resting periods.
Cream of Tartar
This acidic powder can be used in tandem with baking soda to create a suitable environment for carbon dioxide to release and cause your baked goods to rise. It’s not necessary to add cream of tartar when using baking powder, as it already contains acid.
Some baked goods rely on this powder, which is typically used to thicken sauces and other recipes, for tenderness, as it has the ability to counteract the tough proteins in flour, making for softer baked goods.
With a neutral flavor, vegetable oil is a key ingredient in many recipes, and is also useful for oiling pans before baking. Canola oil—which is a slightly healthier form of vegetable oil made from rapeseed—can also be used interchangeably in recipes like Carrot Cake with Toasted Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting, and will result in the same texture.
This vegetable fat is sometimes used in place of or in addition to butter to create more tender, flexible baked goods like cookies and pie crusts, due to shortening’s higher melting point.
Pure Vanilla Extract
Buying a natural vanilla extract, opposed to the imitation version, is a slightly costlier investment that’s well worth it in the end. While you’re stocking up, you might want to also pick up a few other pure extracts, like almond and lemon, for future baking endeavors. For those who want to take their vanilla game to the next level, whole vanilla beans can also be used to add a serious hit of flavor to your batters and sauces.
This pantry staple is good for much more than Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and can be used to add texture to a variety of baked goods, from bread to muffins. Just be sure you pick up classic rolled oats, not instant.
A key ingredient in any chocolate lover’s pantry, cocoa powder is what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the beans, leaving just the bitter solids behind. It’s a necessary addition to most chocolate confections, and as a bonus is also said to have superfood benefits, so you can have your cake and feel good about it, too.
Whether you opt for the unsweetened, bittersweet, or sweet variety of baking chocolate, this ingredient is included in many chocolate-heavy recipes, from Molten Dark Chocolate Cakes to Chocolate Pudding Pie. Semisweet or sweet baking chocolate can also be used in the place of chocolate chips in a recipe; simply break into small chunks for a more rustic feel.
This naturally sweet ingredient can be found in countless recipes, and is a great way to add some subtle flavor to a number of baked goods like Orange, Sesame, and Honey Cookies and Honey Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
This coarse ground flour made from dry corn is obviously an essential element of cornbread, but can also be used to make crispier pancakes, crunchy crackers, and textural biscuits and muffins.
Most commonly found in candy recipes, this sweet syrup can be used to make numerous other desserts. Adding both sweetness and moisture to a recipe, corn syrup is an alternative to solid granulated sugar.
No, we’re not talking about the brightly colored sugary powders that come in Jell-O packets, but rather the unflavored, unsweetened version, which is used to make custards, marshmallows, puddings, and more—like Strawberry-Lime Panna Cotta.
This thick, concentrated dairy product that doesn’t require refrigeration can be added to custards, pie fillings, and more for some extra thickness and creaminess. Check out these tips for making the most of a can of evaporated milk.
While your spice collection will vary based on your personal preferences, some of the key spices you’ll see repeatedly in baking recipes include cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger.
Dried Fruit and Nuts
While dried fruits and nuts are certainly bonuses in any baker’s pantry, they can be used to accentuate a variety of recipes. We’d recommend stocking up on raisins, figs, dates, and cranberries, as well as nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds, which can be stored in the freezer to extend their freshness lifespan.