Baking is an unforgiving passion. You can substitute a few ingredients here and a few there when you're in a pinch, but most baking recipes are twitchy enough to demand a certain level of precision. If you want to be able to whip up a batch or loaf of something on a moment's whim, then, you need a pantry fully stocked with baking ingredients.
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Without fats, your baked goods wouldn't be as well blended and tender. The basic fats you'll need in your pantry include vegetable oil, coconut oil and shortening; depending on your taste, you may want lard as well. And don't forget everyone's favorite shortcut: a non-stick spray with flour, such as Baker's Joy.
While you should be ready for just about anything as long as you have all-purpose flour in the pantry, for a healthier spin on baking, you'll want whole wheat flour as well. Then add depth to your capabilities with cake flour and white whole wheat flour. Many bakers like to keep a supply of old-fashioned rolled oats (for tenderness) and wheat germ (for a nutritional boost) on hand.
It's time for the sugar. Standards to stock include granulated (table) sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar. You'll also occasionally need light corn syrup. Then you're ready to stock up on thicker sweeteners that add texture and flavor, including honey, molasses and maple syrup (the real thing, not Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima).
Chemicals and additives
Here are all the nuts and bolts of your baking projects: baking powder and baking soda, cornstarch, cream of tartar, unflavored gelatin and yeast (regular yeast, not the kind specifically for bread machines).
Every baker knows that a baking pantry needs vanilla extract. You might like to explore other extracts too; almond and peppermint extracts are called for fairly frequently. You'll want the spices most commonly associated with sweets and baking, including allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Add to your pantry list kosher salt, sea salt, white vinegar, cocoa powder (a box of Hershey's does the job) and powdered milk. Oh, and don't overlook the powerful flavor potential of peanut butter.
Add-ins and goodies
Here's where you get to add the finishing touch that says "homemade with love." No pantry can have enough sizes and varieties of chocolate chips (and peanut butter chips and mint chips and — you get the picture). Best to start out with basic semi-sweet chocolate chips. Other add-on goodies you'll want to stock up on include raisins and other dried fruits, nuts (walnuts, almonds and pecans will be most useful in baked goods), shredded coconut, graham crackers, vanilla wafers and marshmallows. Don't forget cake decorating supplies, food coloring and sprinkles and candies.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the fridge basics you'll need in order to indulge in spontaneous baking projects. Make sure to stock up on unsalted butter (you can freeze it, too!), eggs and whole milk. You'll also get a lot of mileage out of sour cream and cream cheese.
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