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Monday, May 19, 2014

The complete guide to essentials in my baking cabinet (and other storage areas in my kitchen)

(Just an FYI -- there's still the vanilla bean giveaway here. This giveaway closes at 12 midnight PDT, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Now back to today's blog post.)

Don't we all like to "see" what's in someone else's cupboard or closet or shopping cart? I think that's a universal curiosity. It gives us insight into a person's daily life. It's what anthropologist's study. So, here's my guide to essential for my baking cabinet.

Baking and cooking from scratch has been a large part of what has kept our grocery spending so low over the last 27 years. I get that not everyone wants to spend as much time in the kitchen as I do. But learning to scratch-cook and bake has allowed me to be the one who kept the home fires burning. Put plainly, our grocery savings was the monetary difference between having me work outside or inside the home.

To bake so much from scratch, I need to keep a very well-stocked cupboard of baking and dessert-making essentials. My goal here is to have what I need to make just about any baked good or dessert that we could want. I fall short on a couple of ingredients, but overall I'm keeping my baking cabinet well stocked.

There are a few items that I find essential to my baking and dessert preparations. These are the basics for my baking.


molasses -- I buy molasses in 1-gallon jugs at the restaurant supply. 1 gallon lasts us about a year to a year and a half. I use it in making pancake syrup, brown sugar, whole wheat sandwich bread, and specific recipes which call for molasses, like gingerbread cake or cookies.

granulated sugar -- I buy white granulated sugar in 50-lb sacks at the restaurant supply. My last bag was $18.75, or 37.5 cents per pound. It's a lot of sugar, yes, but I'm doing a lot of baking!

confectioners sugar (powdered sugar) -- I buy confectioners sugar during holiday baking sales (Christmas and Easter), for $1.99/2-lbs or less. I typically buy 4 or 5 bags per year, and use in some cookies, to top items like waffles or brownies, and in butter cream frosting and glazes.

corn syrup -- I don't use corn syrup for much, primarily for candy-making at the holidays. I buy corn syrup in the 32-oz container, which will keep for years and years. I also use a small amount of corn syrup in homemade bubble solution for the kiddies I babysit.

Sometime this year, I'd like to add honey to my baking supplies. Perhaps this summer from the farmer's market. One of my daughters bought and used honey in homemade nougat this past Christmas.


cocoa powder -- Trader Joe's has the best price per pound on cocoa powder in my area, even beating the large institutional bags (5 lbs) sold at the restaurant supply. The flavor of different brands of cocoa powder does vary, so some people might prefer a different brand (Hershey's is actually quite good, even though it's just a supermarket brand). But, before we get all snooty about which brand tastes best, I remind myself that the cocoa powder will be mixed with a half-dozen other ingredients, making the flavor or individual cocoa powders mostly indistinguishable from each other.

vanilla extract -- I make my own once per year.

maple flavoring -- I buy this in 16-ounce bottles at the restaurant supply. 16 ounces lasts for about 3 to 4 years in our house. I use maple flavoring in our pancake syrup as well as baking that includes pumpkin and/or apples (muffins, quick breads, granola, cakes, cookies).

almond extract -- I buy almond extract in 16 ounce bottles at the restaurant supply. One bottle lasts a decade or so in our house.

spices -- I keep cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, mace, allspice, both as ground spices and as whole. I've found whole spices, freshly ground, to be far superior in baking than packaged ground, and will use the fresh ground for special recipes/occasions.

assorted jams, jellies and preserves -- I spend some time every summer putting up preserves, from cherry preserves, to blackberry jam, plum jam, crabapple jelly, and red currant jelly. These can be used to fill cookies, make homemade pop-tarts, add a layer of flavor to cakes, and spooned on top of tapioca pudding.

bottled lemon juice -- I buy lemon juice in 1 gallon jugs, at the restaurant supply. I keep this in the fridge, to use in beverages, to flavor glazes for pound cake and bundt cakes, make lemon flavored desserts (lemon bars and lemon meringue pie), and to make lemon curd for scones and toast. Lemon juice can also be used as the acid to stabilize egg whites for whipping.


baking powder -- I keep a small container of homemade baking powder (baking soda, cream of tartar and corn starch or arrowroot) for recipes which won't have liquids added (some cookie recipes, mostly). I use a combination of baking soda and vinegar as a substitute for baking powder in all other recipes. Both of these homemade concoctions are completely aluminum-free and easily made from very basic ingredients.

baking soda -- the large boxes of baking soda are no more economical at our restaurant supply than the small boxes, when found on sale or at the dollar store. So, I buy small boxes as I need. In addition to baking, I use baking soda to neutralize acids in fruit desserts/sauces and as a scrub for the kitchen and bathroom sinks. And, I use a combination of baking soda and vinegar as a substitute for baking powder.

vinegar -- I buy 1-gallon jugs of vinegar to use in cooking and as part of my substitution for baking powder (such as souring the milk portion in a recipe). Vinegar is also my go-to cleaning solution (infused with orange peels and whole cloves) for bathrooms, the kitchen floor, inside of appliances, etc. It should be noted that vinegar should not be used on real stone (such as the very-popular granite countertops).

cream of tartar -- I keep a small amount of cream of tartar in the cupboard for homemade baking powder. I only use this "baking powder" for recipes which I don't want to add any liquids (the vinegar), such as a couple of cookie recipes.

yeast -- I buy yeast in 2-lb bags at the restaurant supply. I transfer yeast from these bags to a small jar (keep in fridge), and store the rest in a large ziploc bag in the fridge.

sour dough starter -- sour dough starter replaces yeast in bread-making. I keep a 12-ounce jar of sourdough starter in the fridge. I made this starter from flour, yeast and water, about 2 years ago. I use it about once per week to keep it fresh and active. I can make a large loaf of bread with nothing more than some of this starter, 4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt and water. About the cheapest bread I know.

eggs for baking -- when I find a great sale on eggs (99 cents to $1.29 per dozen), I buy a few extra dozen eggs to freeze, to use in baking later. I can pour beaten eggs into muffin pans, freeze, then pop out to store in freezer bags. I currently have 4 dozen eggs in the freezer, for baking late this spring and in early summer.


cornstarch -- mostly used as a thickener for puddings and sauces. I buy cornstarch in standard-sized boxes at the restaurant supply, for under a $1. It keeps for years. I don't seal it up in a plastic container, but just leave it in the cardboard box. I have yet to have a problem with it kept this way. I also keep a small amount of tapioca flour and arrowroot, which I also use as thickeners, for when I need to switch off from cornstarch.

tapioca pearls -- I buy small bags of tapioca pearls at the Asian market for about $1 per bag, about 1/3 the price of instant tapioca. Yes, whole tapioca pearls take a lot longer to cook, but they're much more economical. Tapioca is not a grain, but a root, and so can be used on a grain-free diet (Paleo, for example).

arrowroot -- I buy small amounts of arrowroot at the natural foods and grains store. They sell in bulk bins, so I can buy just what I need. As a thickener, arrowroot tends to make dairy sauces and puddings a bit slimy. But I do like arrowroot as a thickener for a natural, no-sugar added, fruit pudding (just dried fruit, re-hydrated in water or juice, then thickened with arrowroot).

oils and fats  

vegetable oil -- I buy vegetable oil in 35-lb containers and decant into smaller jugs. I vary which oil I buy. I also buy small bottles of very good olive oil, but use this for fresh green salads.

butter -- Butter stores well in the freezer, extending the freshness by several months. I stock up on butter twice a year when on sale, once around the fall/winter holidays and the second time, around Easter.

solid shortening -- I buy solid shortening (Crisco) for pie pastry, in 6 lb cans, at the restaurant supply. It's just under $10 for this size, and will last about 1 year for my pie-mongers, here.  


dried fruit -- I buy raisins in 2-lb bags at the restaurant supply. This is the lowest price on raisins in my area. I also buy dried apricots, prunes and cherries in mid-summer, when the local drugstore puts them on sale. I squirrel them away until fall and winter, when the fresh fruit is less plentiful. For banana chips, the dollar store has the best price on those. I also dry homegrown cherries in the dehydrator. I've found it's less expensive to just buy dried fruit when on sale, than to buy fresh fruit for drying at home. The exception to this is bananas when on a fabulous sale, for banana chips, and drying homegrown fruit.

candied fruit -- I buy fruitcake fruit mixes after Christmas on clearance, when about 50 cents per package. It keeps unopened for a year or more. Once opened, I store the rest in the fridge. My current package is about 1  1/2 years old, and still perfectly fine. I used 1/2 cup in our traditional Easter bread last month. I also make candied orange peel, which I chop and freeze to use in baking, and to extend the fruitcake mix, and add something a bit more natural-looking than the green and red citron in those packaged candied fruit mixes.

citrus zest -- when we have whole citrus, I do something to salvage the peel, either make citrus-vinegar cleaner, candied orange peel, or zest and freeze the citrus to use as flavoring in baking.

canned fruit -- I don't buy much canned fruit, but a few cans of pineapple are nice to have around for pineapple upside down cake, to add to carrot cake, or to top homemade tapioca pudding.

frozen fruit -- I put away fruit from our garden each summer, whole cranberries, blackberries, chopped rhubarb, plums, sweet cherries, raspberries and blueberries. I use these fruit in coffee cakes, muffins, pies, cobblers and crisps, and fruit sauces, throughout the winter months.

flours and grains 

flour -- I buy whole wheat and all-purpose flour in 50-lb sacks at the restaurant supply. This amount lasts us about 3-4 months. The restaurant supply near us has a rapid turnover on the stone ground whole wheat flour, much faster than a supermarket. So I feel confident that this grain is fairly recently milled, which is key for retaining nutrients in whole grains.

other grains -- I buy cornmeal and oats in 25 lb. sacks, also at the restaurant supply. In a pinch, I use my blender or food processor to make oat flour for recipes. This can substitute for some of the all-purpose flour in quick bread and cookie recipes.  I buy brown rice in 50 lb sacks. Mostly this rice is used as a side dish for meals, but also I grind brown rice in my coffee grinder to make my own brown rice flour for GF baking.

I have 2 very large plastic food storage containers for the oats and cornmeal. It's my hope to purchase 2 more very large containers for storing the wheat flours, perhaps next year. 

I also have small amounts of white rice flour, tapioca flour, corn flour (for the rare occasion I make corn tortillas) and buckwheat. I buy these alternative flours at a local health food store in their bulk section. It's a great place to buy just a small amount of any flour or starch, for making your own non-wheat flour blends or homemade baking powder, or just trying something out to see if you like it.

odds and ends

salt -- I keep Kosher salt for topping homemade pretzels and some breads, as well as pickling and making salsas. Kosher salt is iodine-free, resulting in better flavor for home canning. I also have a supply of iodized table salt, of which I buy several containers when I find a good sale. In addition to general cooking/baking, I use table salt as a scrub for my stainless pots. It works faster than baking soda in scrubbing out my stainless yogurt-making stock pot.

nuts -- I usually have some sort of nuts in the house that I buy when I find a good deal, primarily at our local drugstores in late-November, but also I just keep my eyes open for deals on nuts. Otherwise, I buy whole or sliced almonds and pecan halves at Trader Joe's, and unroasted sunflower seeds at a local grocery store, in the bulk section. I've found the unroasted sunflower seeds to be less expensive than the roasted. I can roast my own and save 50 cents or more per pound. I also keep a lot of peanut butter on hand, mostly for my peanut butter fiends, but also yummy in cookies.

cake and cookie decors -- this includes sprinkles (bought on clearance after holidays), colored sugar (we make this ourselves), small candies like red hots (clearance purchase) and cut-rock/ribbon candy (after Christmas clearance) used for decorating gingerbread houses, and jelly beans (after Easter clearance, used the next Easter to make chocolate and candy "nests", as well as decorating gingerbread houses.

baking chips -- I rarely buy chocolate, white chocolate or butterscotch baking chips. But when I do buy and open a bag, I keep the rest of the opened bag in the freezer. Not for freshness purposes, but to keep us from snacking on them. Frozen chocolate chips are not so appealing. I only buy these when I find a great sale ($1.79/12 oz bag or less). Right now, I have a couple bags of peppermint/white chocolate chips (clearance after Christmas), 1 bag butterscotch chips and 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips. For most of our chocolate-y desserts, I use cocoa powder, saving the baking chips for very specific recipes (Dream Bars, Haystacks, Peppermint Bark and dipping homemade candies, dried fruit, nuts or pretzels). I've found that I can make a very satisfying fudge sauce or fudge candy with cocoa powder, for a fraction of the price of chocolate pieces. While chocolate chips in brownies are always popular, I've also found that a cocoa powder frosting topping a pan of brownies will also make them very decadent.

To make shaved chocolate, using baking chips, I melt semi-sweet chocolate chips, spread on a baking sheet with a rubber spatula, pop in the freezer, then use a metal spatula to "scrape" curls. Just as pretty as shaved bar chocolate, but a lot less expensive.

To make dipping chocolate, using baking chips, I microwave melt semi-sweet chocolate chips with a teaspoon of Crisco solid shortening. A favorite is to dip candied orange peel strips. I've given boxes of chocolate dipped candied orange peel strips at Christmas, with great success.

food coloring -- I use gel food coloring, the kind sold for cake decorating. I buy this at Jo-Ann Fabrics, using a 40 or 50% off coupon, one small jar at a time. I keep the vials in a repurposed egg carton. The egg holders are just the right size for each. In addition to coloring for icings, I use them for egg dye at Easter, and occasionally "correcting" the color on a sauce or pudding that's supposed to be pale yellow, but looks gray.

pie crusts -- my pie pastry recipe makes enough for 4 to 5 crusts. I make and freeze pie pastry in pie tins, making pie-making very easy. A two-crust pie is easily made by upturning the second crust out of the tin, onto the filled crust.

unflavored gelatin -- I buy the large 32-packet boxes at the restaurant supply. Each packets cost about 30 cents, setting 2 cups of liquid. And the unopened packets keep forever.

whipped heavy cream --  when I find a stellar deal on heavy whipping cream, I buy several pints. I whip and sweeten most of it, then freeze in mounds on waxed paper. These mounds of whipped cream make a lovely topping for desserts, with no last-minute work for me. I simply place one whipped mound onto a serving of dessert, and allow to stand at room temp for about 15 minutes, to thaw.

what I wish I had in stock -- flaked coconut (love coconut in meringues and to make Easter candy "nests"), mini-marshmallows (however, I don't think I could keep them in stock very long here. they'd get gobbled up too quickly), honey (this is a possibility this summer)

With a baking cabinet filled with these items, I can bake just about anything we could want. I really enjoy baking, so in a typical week I may bake a batch or two of cookies or wafers, a pie, 1 or 2 fruit cobblers/crisps, several loaves of bread, some muffins, pancakes or waffles, and a batch of cupcakes. That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Keep in mind, I'm feeding 5 adults, 3 meals per day, 7 days per week. It surprises me too, to see how quickly it all disappears! I don't know what I will do when we're empty nesters! Who will come eat my baking?


  1. Very interesting! I do love seeing what others keep in their cupboards/pantries. Ours are actually very similar. I don't currently have sourdough starter going, though. And I do buy brown sugar...had a bad experience once mixing white with molasses so I prefer the pre-made. But I usually buy the dark and just cut it a bit with white sugar if I need it lighter. Otherwise, I also use lemon and mint essential oils in place of those extracts and keep coffee and caramel extracts/flavorings for some recipes. Also almond and coconut flours, unsweetened shredded coconut, granulated erythritol and stevia extract, and unsweetened baking chocolate (for making sugar-free chocolate chips).

    I will have to try whipping the heavy cream before that idea! I have cartons frozen and they whip okay after thawing, but have to be completely thawed to get it out of the carton first.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Cat,
      I used to buy brown sugar, until I discovered that some members of our household (won't name and shame the culprits-ha ha!) were eating the brown sugar straight out of the container! Can't blame them too much. My sister and I used to do the same, as girls.

      I had to look up erythritol, as I'd never heard of it. It's a non-calorie sweetener, right? Your flavorings sound interesting. I tried to make a mint oil last summer (didn't turn out). There are a few chocolate recipes that I'd like to have mint flavoring for. I'll check into essential oil.

      I do really love having the already whipped cream in the freezer. If a mound is too large for me, I simply cut one in half, while frozen. And they make preparing an elegant-looking dessert much simpler.

    2. Yes, the erythritol is essential non-caloric as the few calories are from sugar alcohol which doesn't affect the blood sugar in most people. I've been experimenting with it some the past year or so in trying to a. lose weight, and b. regulate my blood sugar better

      And yes, I used to do the same with brown sugar when we had light brown in the house. :) The dark brown has been very molasses-ey tasting lately so I'm not tempted by that. :P

      The mint essential oil is great for chocolate or in shakes. I like to make myself a protein shake using cottage cheese and a bit of spinach for color and then sweeten it and add two drops of mint.

    3. essentially, not essential

    4. If you added a bit of cocoa powder to that spinach-mint protein shake, I'd be very tempted!

    5. Well, I do add just a bit of dark chocolate and turn the blender on to chop it up. ;)

  2. Wow! You DO bake a lot! I knew you would blow me out of the water with breads, but wow, you do with desserts as well. My family would love you. :)

    Not surprisingly, we have very similar baking pantries. I've never considered buying huge vats of molasses--do you find it granulates as it ages? My in-laws occasionally give us sorghum (similar in consistency and somewhat in taste to molasses), which we use as a pancake topper, and I have found that it granulates as it ages.

    I don't really care for candied fruits so we skip these, but I can get chocolate chips and other baking chips for a great price at Aldi (yes, for real chocolate) so I stock a lot more of that than you do. At Christmas this past year they ran sales for $1.29/12 oz bag, so I bought a lot. I smiled at your comment about the cocoa--typically I purchase Aldi's baking cocoa which I'm sure doesn't meet "snob" requirements, but no one has yet complained about my baked goods using them! I also buy honey periodically. I recently bought maple extract for a recipe because I thought, hmm, if it works, maple flavoring is delicious but I refuse to use real maple syrup to bake with. I still haven't tried the recipe ...

    Thanks for giving us a peek!

    1. Hi Kris,
      just remember, we're 5 adults, here. A batch of muffins lasts one breakfast. If I make slices of pie small, we can squeak two night's of desserts out of 1 pie. It all goes faster than I ever expect!

      What a deal on chocolate chips! I keep hoping for prices like I used to find on them, during the fall/holiday baking season. Maybe this next year. And I can make a lot with cocoa powder, that satisfies my chocolate cravings, especially if I'm the one who gets to lick the bowl and spoon!

      Real maple syrup is soooo expensive here. I couldn't imagine baking with it. Last night I was making granola for the week. Somehow my mixture was turning out too salty (I added all the bits from the bottom of two cans of mixed nuts, which probably had a lot of salt). I already had it spread in the pan, ready to bake, when I discovered this. So instead of turning it all back into a bowl to remix it, I dumped in a bunch more oats, some cinnamon, and poured over all, some homemade pancake syrup, which was made with maple extract, sugar, water and molasses. I tossed with a spoon, and baked. It turned out very good, with just a hint of maple flavor. I also use maple extract for maple-nut cookies (chocolate chip cookies, minus the chocolate chips, substituting the maple extract for vanilla extract, and using chopped nuts equal to the amount that I would have used of chocolate chips. They turn out very good. Maple extract is also good added to pumpkin pie in the fall.

      With molasses, no I've never seen any crystals form. A gallon jug lasts for about 1 to 1 1/2 years here, and in that length of time, no crystals form. I don't know about it, if I had it longer in the pantry, but I kind of doubt it. My mom only used molasses once or twice per year, and would have a small bottle of it in the cupboard for many years at a time, with no crystals.

      Hope the recipe with maple flavoring turns out well! What is it, by the way?

    2. It's a cookie recipe from I don't know why it never occurred to me to use maple extract instead of maple syrup (there are an abundance of maple syrup-based recipes floating around on the web these days) and I thought, brilliant! Much cheaper and easier to store! On the rare occasions we do have real maple syrup, it gets used on pancakes. Aldi's has maple syrup for $4 (don't remember how many ounces, but I would pay $7 or more for the same amount elsewhere) but I still don't want to bake with it. Not meaning to add insult to injury, but Aldi's chocolate chips are averaging $1.59 for 12 ounces (which is a significant decrease from $1.79-$1.89 the previous year). However, milk, cheese, and eggs have spiked greatly since January ...

      Your granola sounds good! Isn't it nice that you are so seasoned in the kitchen that you can punt when things don't turn out as planned?

    3. Milk and eggs are up in price, here, too. The best I can do is make sure I'm not buying other stuff that's expensive, so that I save our budget for these increasing costs on some items.

      Real maple syrup is definitely a pancake topping, here. And usually for a special occasion, like a birthday or Father's Day. For the most part, I'm fine with that. I'd rather have blueberry pancake topping any day! You are so lucky to live where blueberries grow well!

    4. Kris,
      Molasses can crystallize with time. However, a little heating with the jar in a pan of water or the jar in the microwave melts them just fine.

    5. Interesting, live and learn. So far, my molasses has never crystalized. But maybe it takes longer for that to happen. We go through our 1 gallons in 1 1/2 years, max. Honey does crystalize on us, and we've had to heat it up in a pan on the stove for a couple of minutes.

  3. Easter bunnies on clearance (chocolate bunnies , that is!) can be chopped for cookies. Reduce sugar in recipe since it's usually a lot sweeter than semi sweet chocolate.

    1. Hi Jen,
      I do that, too! Well, sort of. (And I thought I was the only one crazy enough to buy holiday chocolate for baking.) I buy Valentine's and Easter foil-wrapped chocolates, on clearance. (I think I bought 10 bags of foil-wrapped chocolates after Easter this year. It worked out to $1.20/12 oz, which is the size of chocolate chips packages I usually find.)

      Mostly we use these for s'mores, but I have chopped some for cookies. I've found because of their high sugar content that they tend to scorch a little on the bottoms of the cookies, so I raise the baking sheet one rack. I'll have to try reducing the sugar in these cookies, too. Thanks for the tip!

      I do think those larger chocolate bunnies would be easier to chop up than the small foil-wrapped clearance chocolates that I buy. And the bonus would be that it doesn't matter if all that's left are the broken bunnies. :)

  4. Great post Lili! Makes me want to do a bunch of baking today!

    1. Hi Jayne,
      Can't wait to hear what you bake today. When you're away for long spells, I imagine that baking is a nice welcome back home!

  5. hi lilli, have a very well stocked cupbord.i have a similar filled pantry.
    i love it to baking.sourdough bread is our favorite.thanks for this wonderful post.
    wish you a wonderful day,
    love regina

    1. Hi Regina,
      I would love to hear about your sourdough bread, what ingredients you use, etc. My sourdough bread recipe is San Francisco-style, using just white/whole wheat flour, white sugar and salt. Does your recipe use flours/sweeteners other than wheat flour, white sugar? I've heard of other flours and molasses and honey used with sourdough starter.

    2. hi lili,
      i will make a post about my sourdough bread in few weeks.
      warm hugs,

    3. Thanks, Regina. I'll be looking for that. I enjoyed reading your post on using lovage.


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