Now that fall is here, it’s time to get ready to bake! I love this time of year. I love the sights, the smells, and very definitely the flavors of fall. Getting to the good part of fall baking is easier and a lot more fun if you spend a little time getting yourself organized and your kitchen stocked and ready. In the first part of the series, the Hardware Edition, we tuned up the oven and gave our equipment a once-over. This time we’re dealing with the software: the recipes and ingredients.
There’s little worse than heading into your kitchen, all excited, music going, to make a batch of cookies or a tasty dessert, only to discover you’re out of baking powder, your pecans smell like dirty feet, and that box of cocoa expired eight months ago. Now, instead of your fun cookie marathon, you slog your way through sorting the pantry, trudge through the crowded supermarket, and get home so tired you give up and take a nap. Don’t let this tale of cookie-less tragedy be you! Take a little time now to get everything sorted, stocked and ready to go when inspiration strikes.
1. Assess Your Pantry Status
Before we do anything else, we need to get a feel for the conditions on the ground. Brace yourself, because this is going to be tedious. Get into your baking cabinet, or shelf, or wherever you store your ingredients. I always find it easiest to take everything out as I go. Separate out what is still good and can stay, and trash anything that is expired or stale or you can’t remember when you bought it.
Check expiration and best-by dates. As a general rule, if that bag of pecans or walnuts is still in there from last year, they’ve gone rancid. Toss them. Open those spice jars and take a sniff. If they don’t smell like anything, they’re not going to taste like anything, either. Don’t waste good ingredients, time and labor on a recipe only to have it taste bland and boring because your spices have lost all of their flavor. A snickerdoodle with no cinnamon oomph is a sad and sorry thing indeed.
While you’ve got that shelf or cabinet empty, give it a good wipe down, and then start placing back all of the items that are still good to use.
2. Make a List for Re-Stocking
Now that you’ve cleared out and cleaned up, you’ve got a good idea of where your supplies stand. Start putting together a list of the items you need to buy before you’re ready to bake. Everyone’s baking styles are different, so include the items that are part of your favorite dishes, but may not be on the list of basics below. Adapt the list as needed for any health or dietary conditions in your household. If you are gluten free, a good quality GF baking mix will substitute for the All-Purpose flour, or a sugar substitute designed for baking instead of cane sugar if you have a diabetic in your household. To get you started, here’s a list of the staple players in the baking pantry:
- All-Purpose flour
- Granulated sugar
- Brown sugar
- Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Yeast – active dry or instant
- Buttermilk powder
- Vanilla extract
- Cinnamon – ground
- Nutmeg – ground or whole
- Powdered ginger
- Pie spice – or make your own from the spices above
- Cocoa powder
- Semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate bars
- Chocolate morsels
- Evaporated milk
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Canned pumpkin
In addition to the pantry items, it’s a good idea to keep the following perishables on hand during baking season:
- Heavy cream
- Unsalted butter
3. Check Your Go-To Recipes
The list in the prior section will give you a solid pantry selection that will see you through most recipes, but everyone has their favorites. That special bread you have to bake for Thanksgiving or the dessert recipe your grandmother handed down, and it’s just not Christmas without it. Take a look at your must-do recipes and add any unique ingredients for those items to your list. In our house, those are always peanut butter, raspberry jam, and sliced pineapple.
Now that you’ve got your list, hit the supermarket and get your pantry stocked! That’s the last piece of your baking season prep, and you’re done. Yes, you should absolutely open the cabinet door and peek in at your organized and ready pantry and be all smug. You did it!