8 Pantry Staples Professional Bakers Always Keep on Hand

updated Feb 3, 2020
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Credit: Christine Han/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

When it comes to baking, using high-quality ingredients can make all the difference. And who better to know which ingredients are worth keeping around and which aren’t than professional bakers? They spend all day obsessing over the perfect batch of cookies, the lightest cakes, and the most decadent brownies — so they know a thing or two about which ingredients are best.

We went ahead and asked four pro bakers what pantry items they always keep on hand. From fresh vanilla beans to cake flour, here are the groceries they always have stashed in their pantries.

Credit: Faith Durand

1. Flaky Sea Salt

You’ve probably seen big flakes of sea salt on steaks and tomatoes, but it’s also a beloved ingredient kept in many pastry chef’s pantries. “Maldon salt makes a great addition to any dish — be it savory or sweet,” says Ben Weiner, pastry chef at C&B Cafe in New York City. “A good-quality finishing salt helps round out all the flavors of a baked good —and it’s especially great on chocolate chip cookies.” We recommend sprinkling it over any dessert made with dark chocolate or caramel, as the subtle pop of salt can help balance the sweetness.

Buy: Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, $5.50 for 8.5 ounces

2. Quality Honey

“Honey can make a fantastic addition to a cake,” says Weiner. “Its uses are practically endless, and it gives a more nuanced sweetness compared to granulated sugar,” he explains. If you want to start baking with honey, we recommend starting with recipes that are specifically developed to be made with honey — like our one-bowl yogurt and honey olive oil cake. You can’t swap out granulated sugar for honey without making some tweaks to the recipe, so start experimenting with recipes that already call for it to get comfortable with it.

Buy: Happy Belly Raw Wildflower Honey, $9.50 for 32 ounces

Credit: Leela Cyd

3. Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans are amazing to have on hand because they make anything simple so much better,” says Kaitlin Garske, host of Kitchn’s baking show Kaitlin Bakes It All. “I wouldn’t add them to something like chocolate chip cookies, but angel food cake or ice cream? Oh heck yeah!” Most recipes call for scraping the seeds out of the pods and adding them straight into batters, frostings, and custards — and you can add the leftover scraped pods directly to sugar to infuse it with a pleasant vanilla flavor afterwards, so you’ll get decent mileage out of a pod.

Credit: Maria Midoes

4. Cake Flour

“Cake flour is one of those staple baking ingredients you really can’t substitute well, so I always keep it in my pantry,” says Garske. “I like to keep a box on hand because it’s a showstopper ingredient for me that would necessitate a trip to the store before I can continue to bake, and that just ruins my night.”

But why is cake flour such an important ingredient? It has a lower protein content compared to all-purpose flour, which means it produces less gluten. This can help achieve a lighter, more tender crumb in your cakes.

Buy: Swans Down Cake Flour, $17 for two 32-ounce boxes

Credit: Kelli Foster

5. Swedish Pearl Sugar

Swedish pearl sugar is the sequins of the baking world,” says Brian Hart Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief of Bake from Scratch magazine. “It can dress up a brioche and provide the crunch you need in chouquettes. I even roll sugar cookies in it before baking them — it’s next-level euphoria.”

What exactly is Swedish pearl sugar, though? Simply put, pearl sugar (also called nib or hail sugar) is small pebbles of compacted sugar that don’t melt when baked. This makes them perfect for sprinkling over baked goods you want to add a crunchy texture to such as breads, muffins, and sweet rolls.

Credit: Amazon

6. High-Quality Chocolate

Most professional bakers have their go-to chocolate they always keep on hand, and for Hart Hoffman that brand is Guittard. “Their 66% works perfectly in cookies, ganache, and so many other things,” he says. We recommend keeping high-quality chocolate on hand for things that use it as the main flavoring component, such as chocolate chip cookies. “Chocolate is the main factor of success or failure in them,” explains Hart Hoffman, so stick to chocolate that actually tastes good, such as Guittard.

To keep it on hand so you’re always set up for success, store it in a cool, dark place away from any appliances that generate heat — such as an oven or fridge. If your kitchen is too hot, you can stash the chocolate in the fridge or freezer tightly wrapped in plastic to prevent freezer burn. (Just make sure to let it come to room temperature before baking with it.)

Credit: King Arthur Flour

7. Dry Milk Powder

“I spent the first half of my career trying not to use dry milk because it was an ‘extra’ ingredient that felt unnecessary — but it’s life-changing (and shelf-stable), so I finally gave into its greatness,” say Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of The Fearless Baker. “It makes breads and cakes delightfully fluffy and soft, and you can often add it to an existing favorite recipe without really needing to make any adjustments.”

“My favorite is the baker’s special dry milk from King Arthur, but the stuff in the baking aisle works great too,” she adds.

Buy: King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Special Dry Milk, $10 for 16 ounces at King Arthur Flour

8. Neutral Cooking Oils

“This is always a funny one because I think people don’t like buying it or using it for other things, but there’s nothing worse than going to make an easy one-bowl cake and not having oil,” says McDowell. “It makes up for in moistness contributions what it lacks in butter’s delightful flavor.” Because you can’t use olive oil for everything.

Buy: Happy Belly Vegetable Oil, $4.50 for 48 ounces

What pantry staples do you always keep on hand for baking projects? Let us know in the comments!