Stocking up the baker's pantry

Planning ahead can help eliminate cooking-related stress over the holidays.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
Make sure your pantry is well-stocked at all times so baking through holidays can be hassle-free.

Thanksgiving is almost here! Despite my passion for all things Christmas, Thanksgiving is actually my favorite holiday, bar none. It honors gratitude and if you're very fortunate, gets your friends and family together for celebration and formally remembering to give thanks for all of our blessings. I love this time of year. It can be stressful if you let it because of all the myriad of things involved in holiday celebrations but to me, if I get stressed over the holidays, I'm missing the point of them and the true spirit of celebrating them.
 One thing I've learned over the years is to minimize the usual stress. This can be done by planning ahead. As any Type A personality can tell you, there's much you can do to manage a long to-do list by thinking through what you truly need to do (as opposed to the want-to-get-done list) and giving yourself enough lead time to accomplish it. Interspersed with baking posts over the next month, I hope to also put up some tips and tricks for getting through the holidays stress-free.  Ironically though, I'm late in putting up this kind of post since it's been so busy but that doesn't mean I haven't been preparing, just that I haven't written about it.
 First up for any baker: Stock your pantry early.  The last thing you want is to be in a frenzy, baking for a family celebration, hosting a dinner party, attending a holiday party, going to a company potluck, etc., and realize you're out of a critical ingredient. If you're truly organized, you'd plan ahead what you want to cook and/or bake, make out an ingredient list and buy everything ahead of time. If you're the more normal kind of person never fear, you don't have to be that far-thinking. But you can and should stock up on some staples. Here is what the typical baker should always have on hand for marathon baking sessions well ahead of time – these are what I consider the "base staples":

  • Unsalted butter (Costco has them the cheapest in my area in four 1-lb. packs)
  • Large or extra large eggs
  • All-purpose flour
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar (light and dark)
  • Powdered sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Vanilla extract (I buy this in "bulk" here)
  • Cake flour
  • Unsweetened baking chocolate
  • Bittersweet or semisweet baking chocolate
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Pernigotti from Williams Sonoma)
  • Chocolate chips (semisweet, milk, white, mini, chunks – your choice)

Many of the above go on sale at this time of year so be on the lookout and stock up when the prices drop. I've bought 50 lbs. of flour at one go when the 5-lb. bags went on sale for $1.50 each.  Then I went back and bought 20 more lbs. I bake enough that I know I'll use them well before the expiration date and that was the cheapest they've been in awhile. Yes, I'm a baking ingredient hoarder.

Depending on what you like to make or flavors you want to use, I also suggest having on hand:

  • Peanut butter, creamy and/or chunky (your preference)
  • Nutella
  • Red food coloring (for red velvet-type confections)
  • Lemons
  • Cream cheese
  • Cinnamon
  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • Marshmallows
  • Rice Krispies (for Rice Krispie Treats and nutella crunch topping)
  • Nuts if you bake with them – they can be stored in the freezer until you're ready to use them
  • Caramel
  • Dulce de leche
  • More perishable with a shorter shelf life so you don't want to buy these too early but you should have a good sense of when you need them and purchase them accordingly:

    • Whole milk
    • Buttermilk
    • Heavy cream (skip the half and half – you can use half whole milk and half heavy cream for any recipe that calls for it)
    • Sour cream

    Of course, the above isn't an exhaustive list and you may still need to make a last-minute grocery run when you need something for a particular recipe but if you have most of the above, there are many, many things you can whip up at a moment's notice right out of your pantry. The added advantage of having a fully stocked baking pantry ahead of your holiday baking is you can avoid the long lines at the grocery store or Costco as holiday time nears and it fills up with people doing their last-minute shopping.  Not to mention you can spread out the cost so it doesn't run up against your Christmas gift-buying budget.

    Lastly, if you plan to make any banana-flavored items, you should be buying the ripest bananas you can find now/yesterday so you can give them time to overripen.  If they turn black before you actually need them, just peel them and put the bananas in the freezer in a ziploc freezer bag.  Then when you need them for baking, you already have them ready to thaw and use.

    Related post: Snickery, Crispy, Cookie Balls

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