Whether you’ve just moved into your own apartment or you’ve just decided you want to make a batch of cookies for this rainy day, every kitchen should have these basic ingredients for baking. Chances are you will still need basic refrigerator items, too, like eggs and butter, but having these pantry staples ahead of time will save you a lot of hassle. There’s nothing quite as annoying as getting halfway into a recipe, batter-dripping spatula in hand, only to realize you don’t have a key ingredient to finish! So stock up, and happy baking!
1. Flour: Get All-Purpose Flour (AP Flour), since it will serve most of your purposes. If you want to make something very light and fluffy, go for the cake flour, but most of the time AP flour will do. If you’re going to bake bread, then bread flour or hard flour is worth getting. I get my flour in 25-lb bags from Costco and store it in a big airtight bin (available at Smart & Final).
2. Sugar: Also known as granulated sugar or refined sugar. I do the 25-lb Costco treatment with my sugars as well.
3. Brown Sugar: Recipes often call for light or dark brown sugar. I just use whatever I have on hand.
4. Chocolate Chips: A must-have for chocolate chip cookies, stirring into brownies, throwing into pancakes, or melting into ganache. Also consider buying a big bar of chocolate (say, Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bar (only $5 in the store) and chopping it up yourself to add some texture and variety to your baked goods.
5. Baking Soda: Helps things rise and stuff.
6. Baking Powder: Similar to baking soda, but NOT the same. Do not substitute one for one. You can, however, make baking powder out of baking soda and cream of tartar. If you have already have cream of tartar, though, chances are you also own baking powder.
7. Vanilla Extract: I’ve always used pure vanilla extract, but I’ve read that some serious food people couldn’t tell the difference between pure and imitation extract once it was baked into something, so maybe you could get away with whatever’s cheapest. I also just made my own little jar of vanilla extract with vanilla beans and vodka. I’ll let you know how that turns out in a month! It’s cheaper than buying it, and I honestly can’t think of a better way to use up the vodka.
8. Salt : You must already have this. You must. And if you don’t, it’s not going to kill the end product. But… you must.
9. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: Not to be confused with hot cocoa mix, this ingredient frequently takes up some of flour’s space in a recipe to make the chocolate version: pound cake becomes chocolate pound cake. Chocolate chip cookies become chocolate chocolate-chip cookies.
10. Vegetable Oil: Often used in cake batters (especially for box-mixed cake and brownies).
11. Powdered Sugar: Also known as confectioner’s sugar. Used to sweeten whipped creams, make icing, dust your lemon bars, or make crusts.
Once you have the ingredients, make sure you have the right tools. Sure, you can use your chopsticks to whisk the batter, but sometimes your arm is just not up for the workout. Having the right tools at your fingertips makes baking much more enjoyable!