Here we are, poised at the starting gate, baking season is about to begin— Is your kitchen ready? Mine’s not. In fact this week I discovered we have the dreaded pantry moths! I’ve spent so much time cleaning and clearing out all my cabinets, I now basically have to start all over from scratch. But the one benefit is that I can begin the baking season with a well prepared kitchen. And even though there will be mess, there will be spills, there might even be a few burnt edges here and there, I’ll have what I need, organized and at my fingertips, so the coming days in the kitchen will be a joy and not a nightmare. Here’s my personal list of must haves, from ALLSPICE to ZIP LOCK FREEZER BAGS…
I remember the lineup of canisters on my grandmother’s linoleum counter. She had the right idea. Canisters are your best friend when you are doing a lot of baking. The more the better, and the bigger the better. If you don’t have the counter space, try to store them in the lowest shelf of the cabinet right above where you work. SQUARE is best because they will set up right next to each other without wasted space. I recommend THIS ONE, from OXO because it’s big enough for large bags of flour and sugar, and it comes in other sizes for other ingredients, so everything can look coordinated. There are so many benefits to using canisters. You can measure and scoop directly from them. They protect the contents from bugs. And when they are within easy reach they streamline the baking process. I like to have a big canister for white flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and confectioner’s sugar. I put the brown sugar in, bag and all, to help it stay soft..
Spices are key for fall and holiday baking. Don’t skimp on them. You don’t want to get up to your elbows in cookie dough only to realize that tin of ginger is all but empty. I like to buy spices in fairly small containers whenever possible, and replenish them often so they don’t sit there for years. Start the season with a good variety. The basics for cookies are GINGER, CINNAMON, NUTMEG, ALLSPICE, GROUND CLOVES, and CARDAMOM. I like to keep WHITE PEPPER around for authentic gingerbread and speculoos doughs, and STAR ANISE (for Chai themed recipes.) For holiday recipes I often need POPPY SEEDS, SESAME SEEDS, and I splurge on WHOLE VANILLA BEANS. But my favorite favorite thing that I cannot be without is WHOLE NUTMEG. You can buy it right in the spice aisle, and the jar holds several of the nuts. When you grate them fresh they have the most intoxicating aroma and flavor. I put it in everything! You can use a MICROPLANE GRATER or get a special tool like THIS ONE that I’ve used for years. It stores the nutmeg right inside.
#3 Special Pantry Ingredients
Under this category I include ingredients you might not normally have around the kitchen, but become essential for recreating classic fall and holiday treats. There’s nothing worse than finding a tempting recipe on a blog and not having the ingredients to make it on the spot. Here are my fall pantry must haves, in no particular order: MOLASSES, CORN SYRUP, ALMOND PASTE, DRIED EGG WHITES (for meringues and royal icing) GEL FOOD COLORING, (so much more vivid than the liquid) SPRINKLES OF ALL KINDS, GELATIN POWDER, PECTIN, EVAPORATED MILK, SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK, CANNED PUMPKIN, SHREDDED COCONUT, POWDERED ESPRESSO, and HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK COCOA POWDER. In addition to my normal supply of chocolate I like to have some WHITE CHOCOLATE around, both baking squares and chips, and some BUTTERSCOTCH CHIPS. And NUTELLA, CORNSTARCH, and CRISCO SHORTENING, if you don’t normally stock them. I love to keep a selection of AIRLINE SIZED LIQUOR BOTTLES around for flavoring. Especially Amaretto, Frangelico, Irish Cream…whatever your favorites are. And don’t forget FLAVOR EXTRACTS, I like to keep almond, vanilla, peppermint, lemon, and maple handy, but THE MORE THE MERRIER, I say.
There are a few key supplies that really make a difference when you’re baking. Like PARCHMENT PAPER, and lots of it. You will use it for a thousand things. I especially like the ready to use SHEETS that are cut to the size of the baking pan. And SILICONE MATS are worth their weight in gold. Don’t forget TOOTHPICKS for testing, and an EXTRA SET of MEASURING SPOONS & MEASURING CUPS, so you can move on to a second project without stopping to wash up. A basic set of round COOKIE or BISCUIT CUTTERS is important to have, and BAKING SPRAY. Even thought I don’t usually do fancy cake decorating, I like to have a basic set of PASTRY BAGS AND TIPS around in case I get a sudden urge to make a gingerbread village. (It could happen!) And plenty of heavy duty ZIP LOCK FREEZER BAGS in various sizes for freezing cookies and storing all those sprinkles.
Besides your rolling pin, there are a few tools that are super useful at this time of year. And I’m not talking about a KitchenAid mixer, don’t worry. But a small KITCHEN SCALE is so important to have for bread baking, and accessing European recipes written with weight based measurements. You need SEVERAL SIZES OF COOKIE SCOOPS for muffins, cupcakes, and cookies, and COOLING RACKS. Multiple BAKING SHEETS so you don’t have to wait for your one pan to cool down before starting the next batch of cookies. And an inexpensive OVEN THERMOMETER to check the accuracy of your oven temperature is probably one of the most important tools you can have.
#6 In the Fridge
This is a short but important list. BUTTERMILK. HEAVY CREAM, EXTRA BUTTER (keep in in the freezer) SOUR CREAM or YOGURT. Luckily these ingredients keep a relatively long time. And I keep an assortment of NUTS and usually ALMOND MEAL in the fridge or freezer too.
Remember that fall and holiday baking is often about giving. And that means one thing…packaging. You’ll need CELLOPHANE BAGS, CARDBOARD BOXES, GIFT CARDS and TISSUE PAPER. I send care packages to my kids in the fall, so I always keep a few FLAT RATE SHIPPING BOXES and some BUBBLE WRAP around. Add a SHARPIE to the list and, guess what? You’re set!
Whew! What have I forgotten??