1) Check the Seal on Your Containers: Flour, grains, and cocoa powder should all be kept in air-tight containers to keep moisture and critters out. You can use old-fashioned ball jars, pretty Weck jars, or even cheap but effective Ikea containers. The options are endless, but make sure everything is sealed. Also, do yourself a favor and label spice jars and larger canisters. Even if you think you'll remember what the contents are, chances are great that you could forget.
2) Check Spice Expiration Dates: Over Thanksgiving, my sisters and I found whole cloves in my mom's cupboard that expired in 1993. Now I'm in the camp that cloves are cloves and they're probably just fine but there are many, many spices that really must be fresh. So check your expiration dates now and start replacing or freshening spices so you're not caught running to the store mid-recipe just for a few cinnamon sticks.
3) Test Your Leaveners: While we're on the topic of freshness, it's important to check if your baking soda, baking powder, and yeast are all still active and fresh. If it's not, the rise and texture of your cookies and breads are going to be greatly affected. According to David Lebovitz, to test if baking powder is still active, spoon 1/2 teaspoon in a bowl and pour 1/4 cup of boiling water over it. It should bubble up violently right away. If it doesn't, discard it and open a new one.
4) Investigate Your Oils: Oils should never be kept near a warm or hot spot (keep them away from the stove!). And, frankly, I believe nut oils should always be kept in the fridge. Line up your oils and smell and taste each one. If one smells even a little off, it's time to replace it.
5) Equipment Check: Think about the appliances and tools you'll need to make your favorite cookies this year. KitchenAid mixer? Piping bags? Good baking sheets? Festive cookie sheets? If you're lacking in any of these tools, now is the time to pick them up! If you have a decent community Goodwill or vintage kitchen store, they can be treasure troves for baking essentials.
What else do you stock up on for the holidays?
(Image: Megan Gordon)