What Every Pantry Needs: Baking

The Kitchen Cure Spring 2009 - Week 3

(Here's a post from last year's cure that I've updated. We'll keep this one alive with each and every Cure, taking into account your suggestions.)

It's a listy week here for Kitchen Cure takers as we guide you through Week Three. Yesterday, in the spirit of item number three of this week's assignment, "stock the kitchen," I posted a pretty big list of suggested savory ingredients for stocking your kitchen.

For the sweet side of cooking, and all manner of baking, there is another list.

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Here is a list of pantry staples that having on hand at all times will make it easier to bake and make desserts on a whim. If you haven't made many desserts, you should start out by studying some cookbooks or a favorite website. Desserts, especially baked ones, are harder to make using inspiration and instinct alone so Recipes are handy.

Take this list with a grain of salt (or sugar), and leave suggestions for pantry basics I've left out that you feel are essential for the way you like to make dessert.

  • Sugar. Obviously.
  • Brown Sugar. Granulated sugar + molasses = brown sugar. It has a softer texture than granulated sugar. Light and dark brown sugar differ only in their percentage of molasses. When in doubt, use the lighter variety.
  • Confectioners' Sugar. aka Powdered Sugar, is finely ground granulated sugar with a touch of cornstarch, which prevents it from clumping. It's used to make icings and is nice to dust atop an otherwise plain looking dessert.
  • Honey. A nice alternative to sugar that lends an earthier flavor, especially complementary to oats and nuts.
  • Unbleached All-Purpose Flour. Pretty much any baking starts here. If you plan on making anything with yeast, you will want to try some bread flour as well.
  • Pure Vanilla Extract. The imitation stuff is a different beast. Keep a bottle of pure vanilla extract on hand for cakes and cooking, and to enhance icings, ice cream, just about anything sweet.
  • Cinnamon. Aside from where it's called for in recipes, cinnamon is great for sprinkling on about-to-be baked fruits like apples and pears. Try buying sticks and grating it yourself.
  • Nutmeg. Better to grate it fresh instead of buying powdered nutmeg. Your whole kitchen will smell great and the taste is superior.
  • Fine Granulated Salt. The kind you can pour. Skip the iodine if you can, as it can leave a slightly metallic or medicinal taste to some foods, depending on how sensitive one's tastebuds are.
  • Cocoa Powder. Unsweetened chocolate - cocoa butter = cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa is lighter in flavor and darker in color than "natural unsweetened cocoa." The two are not necessarily interchangeable. More about cocoa basics here.
  • Chocolate. These days there are dozens of varieties of chocolate available. Semisweet and bittersweet are the two varieties most often called for. There is a vast difference in flavor between lower-end and higher end chocolate. If you can afford it, try brands like Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, and Valrhona.
  • Nuts. Walnuts are the most commonly called for nut in desserts, but peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts and cashews also have their day in the sun. If you're going to keep one on-hand, it's walnuts.
  • Raisins or Currants. Or any dried fruit for that matter. It perks up bread recipes and cookies. Dried fruit is also a great morning addition to oatmeal.
  • Oats. With a sack of rolled oats at your disposal, you can make oatmeal cookies and struesel toppings for fruit crumbles. You can't go wrong with either of those desserts.

Related: What Every Pantry Needs: Sweet (The original post from the 2008 Cure.)