'Tis the season to be baking, but why waste your money on ingredients you'll use only once? This week on "In the Pantry," host Aida Mollenkamp tells you the six ingredients every baker should have in his or her kitchen.
1. All-purpose flour . If you like to bake, a good all-purpose, unbleached flour is an essential. "An awesome alternative is white, whole wheat flour," says Mollenkamp.
2. Sugar. Mollenkamp recommends that you stock your pantry with several types of sugar: baker's sugar, confectioner sugar, brown sugar, and a liquid sweetener.
Baker's sugar dissolves quickly and can be substituted for regular granulated sugar measure for measure. Baker's sugar can be used in meringues and simple syrups, or for sweetening cold drinks. You'll also want to keep on hand confectioner sugar, also known as powdered sugar, and brown sugar, especially if you're going to be making cookies. "I'd also recommend having one liquid sweetener on hand," Mollenkamp says, "and a good clover honey should do the trick."
3. Leaveners. Leaveners, like baking soda, baking powder, and yeast, are the ingredients that help your baked goods rise. When using baking soda, you want to make sure it's fresh. Once baking soda is opened, it has a shelf life of one to three months. Mollenkamp recommends that you write the expiration date on the outside of the box so you know when to get rid of it. If you're using baking soda for freshening the refrigerator, keep a separate one for baking, though, both should be stored in the fridge.
As for baking powder, Mollenkamp says it has a shelf life of about nine to 12 months. It can be stored at room temperature. She recommends that you buy aluminum-free baking powder.
You'll need yeast when you make bread. Mollenkamp recommends buying active, dry yeast, which basically doesn't get going until water is added to it. Check the expiration date, because if your yeast is no longer good, your bread dough won't rise, she added. If you bake bread on a regular basis, consider buying refrigerated yeast.
4. Salt. You'll want to balance the sweetness of your baking with salt. Mollenkamp uses Diamond brand kosher salt for everything from sweet to savory recipes. "For something more refined," says Mollenkamp, "you might want to keep a nice, fine sea salt on hand."
5. Vanilla extract. Mollenkamp says you should be using pure vanilla extract for its intense flavor. If you bake often, splurge on pure vanilla extract because the flavor lasts longer whereas the flavor of imitation vanilla can dissipate in baked goods.
6. Cocoa powder. Purchase unsweetened cocoa, not hot cocoa powder, because you can adjust how much sweetness you add to your baked goods.
Once you've stocked your pantry with these six baking essentials, Mollenkamp suggests a few extra items that can add a little pizzazz to your baked goods. "You're also going to need a few extras to personalize your pantry: crystalized ginger, maybe some cacao nibs, or even unsweetened coconut," Mollenkamp says. "All you have to do is just stir these into any recipe" without worrying about adjusting measurements.