By Lindsey Johnson.
Can you believe Thanksgiving is only a week away? Hannukah and Christmas are right around the corner too! I’m getting excited. Maybe even a little too excited for holiday baking. Confession: I am a Holiday Bake-a-Holic. Sure, I get excited for the gift shopping and the decorating, but my real love lies in stocking my kitchen with goodies for Holiday baking, cooking and entertaining.
Grocery stores run all sorts of specials on pantry items at this time of year, so this is when I love to stock up on essentials — and a few special items to make the Holidays extra festive and memorable.
Let’s start with the very basic essentials. Secret #1: During the Holidays, almost all of these essentials go on sale.
Butter keeps for a long time, particularly if you freeze it. I buy unsalted butter for baking and salted butter for slathering on rolls. European butter has a little higher fat content, so it’s particularly good for pastries.
Every baker’s pantry should have a few different kinds of sugar. Granulated and brown sugar are essential. I like dark brown sugar because of the extra molasses-y flavor it imparts to cookies. Also be sure to grab an extra bag or two of powdered sugar to use in glazes, frosting, and to dust baked goods for a pretty, finished look.
All-purpose flour is perfect for almost any baking need, so grab a few bags and you should be set. If you bake a lot of bread or rolls, consider stocking up on bread flour. It has a higher protein content and is best-suited for use in yeast breads. Secret #2: White whole wheat flour is another favorite of mine. It contributes all of the benefits of regular whole wheat flour with lighter, softer results. (And my kids can’t tell the difference!)
Baking soda should last almost indefinitely, but it is good to change it every few years anyway. Baking powder is still good if it bubbles when boiling water is added to it. Yeast can be kept for years in the fridge or freezer, but if it has expired, you can check to see if it is still active by adding a packet of yeast (2 1/4 tsp.) to a 1/4 cup of warm water with 1 tsp. sugar.
Whipped cream is the perfect one-size-fits-all dessert topping. Have a bowl ready to top Thanksgiving pies and other yummy desserts throughout the Holiday season. I also keep cream handy for ganache, homemade candy, custards, hot chocolate and eggnog.
Jams, jellies and other preserves.
Jams, jellies and preserves are versatile for baking, cooking and enjoying on their own. Marmalades and stone-fruit jams are the perfect thing to pair with roasted meats (particularly pork) for a quick sauce. For a great appetizer, top your favorite cracker with a bit of jam and a creamy, fresh cheese.
Corn syrup and molasses.
Corn syrup (love it or hate it) is essential for many candy recipes. And you can’t have gingerbread cookies without molasses, so be sure to add that to your cupboard too. Secret #3: you can substitute honey, maple or brown rice syrup in most recipes if you don’t want to use corn syrup.
Puff pastry and phyllo dough.
Keep some frozen dough in your freezer to pull out for quick and easy appetizers, tarts, and desserts. This helps save time, which is a precious commodity with all of those parties to attend.
I use canned pumpkin for so many things — pie, cake, muffins and breads, pancakes and waffles, soups and stews, and sauces. My pantry would not be complete without it.
Canned evaporated and sweetened condensed milk.
Canned milks come in handy for baking and cooking. Evaporated milk is a good stand-in for cream in soups. Condensed milk makes homemade caramels extra creamy, and is the secret ingredient for our favorite hot fudge sauce.
Dried fruit and nuts.
‘Tis the season for cookies, breads and cakes studded with dried fruit and nuts. My Thanksgiving stuffing wouldn’t be complete without dried cranberries and pecans. Have a bowl or two of mixed nuts and dried fruit next to cheese and crackers for a healthier alternative to sugary treats, and to make a buffet table extra snazzy.
Spices, herbs, extracts.
The essential herbs and spices for Holiday baking and cooking are: sage, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. I also like orange peel and almond extract. These will cover most recipes.
Secret #4: Herbs and spices don’t last forever! Buy only as much as you think you’ll use in the next six months and store them in a dark, cool place. I buy whole spices too. Whole spices are great for homemade potpourri. And because they keep much longer than ground spices, I buy them in bulk and grind my own.
You’ll want to be sure to include different kinds of chocolate in your pantry. I keep an assortment of unsweetened baking chocolate (for brownies and cakes), chocolate chips (milk, dark, white, other flavors), high-quality couverture chocolate (for dipping chocolates and other recipes), and cocoa powder.
Hot chocolate, assorted teas and coffee, wine and spirits, soft drinks.
A good assortment of hot and cold beverages will help you feel extra festive while you’re decorating the tree, hosting a party, or just sitting down to watch a movie.
Store-bought crackers (and toppings), cookies.
Time is a precious commodity any time, but especially during the holidays. Packaged goodies are the perfect thing to pull out when you don’t have time to bake a batch of cookies for that last-minute party invitation, or need a quick appetizer for the church potluck.
I hope you have fun stocking your pantry with baking essentials and holiday goodies! I know I included a lot of different items on this list, but don’t be overwhelmed. Just pick the products you know you’ll use and think how much you’ll enjoy admiring your well-stocked cupboards.