12 Essential Baker’s Pantry Ingredients


It’s hard to know what you need in your pantry and what you don’t. Below is a list of 12 essential baker’s pantry ingredients and a list of bonus items if you have extra space.

Click HERE for a free printable checklist of the baker’s essential pantry ingredients.

A Baker’s Must Have Pantry Items:

All-Purpose FlourLike the name suggests, this is the flour used for almost everything in your kitchen.  It’s the flour that you use in cookies, brownies, and even some cakes.  You can find it bleached or unbleached. Bleached flour has been treated with benzoyl peroxide to whiten it and make it softer. Unbleached has not. All-purpose flour contains 9.5-11.5% protein.

Granulated Sugar -a.k.a. white sugar is the most common sugar used in baking recipes. All of the molasses is removed from granulated sugar during the refining process, hence, the white color. Granulated sugar is the driest sugar because there is no molasses at all. We use only granulated sugar for recipes like brownies to produce a nice crisp crust, where brown sugar would leave them too soft.

Brown Sugar– simply granulated sugar with some of the molasses mixed back in. Light brown sugar has less molasses mixed in than dark brown sugar. Brown sugar makes cookies chewier because of its molasses content (molasses is an invert sugar and invert sugars pull moisture from the air).

Powdered Sugar -is refined down to a more “powdery” consistency. Besides confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar is sometimes called “icing sugar”. Nothing like having several names to make it a little more confusing! In the U.S., powdered sugar is mixed with 3% cornstarch to prevent the sugar from clumping. Powdered sugar is the kind of sugar we typically use in frostings and whipped creams because it blends in nicely and doesn’t have a grainy texture.

Salt-one of the most important ingredients in any pantry, salt adds flavor whether mixed into the batter or sprinkled on top. I always have a box of kosher salt in my pantry but I like to have some flaky sea salt as well, for finishing cookies or caramels. Humans need salt (sodium chloride) to survive, but our bodies can’t store it. Consequently, we are designed to crave it. Because of this, foods that are salted smell better and taste better to us. So using a little bit of salt on the top of your cookies deepens and enhances their flavor.

Baking Powder -Sodium bicarbonate plus cream of tarter.  What is cream of tarter?  It is potassium bitartrate and is an acidic byproduct of winemaking.  It is added to the sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda) in order to activate it.  That way you do not have to have any acidic ingredients in the recipe, you can use regular milk and flour, etc.  Baking powder is used in many cake recipes because it makes your baked goods puff up.

Baking Soda-is sodium bicarbonate.  It is a base.  When added together with an acid, it creates a reaction and the byproduct is carbon dioxide AKA air bubbles!  Maybe you remember from when you were a kid and mixed baking soda and vinegar together to make volcanoes.  Same idea. You want to add baking soda to baked goods where there is another acidic ingredient to create that reaction.  Buttermilk, lemon juice, and some cocoa powders are all examples of acidic ingredients. One of the reasons that baking soda is regularly used in cookies is that it makes your baked goods spread so you get a flatter, crispier cookie.

Vanilla Extract-flavoring found in almost every baking recipe. It’s made from the seed pods of vanilla orchid vines that are hand pollinated and hand picked. The extract is made by soaking beans in alcohol and water. There is some controversy about using pure vanilla extract or the artificial stuff. I say, whichever you prefer, do that, just make sure you have some.

Shortening-Solid vegetable fat. Sounds gross but it’s the key to keeping your cookies from spreading all over your pan. Butter has superior flavor but the shortening keeps the shape. Ideally, you use a little bit of both.

Cocoa Powder– what is left when chocolate is processed to remove almost all the cocoa butter. Cocoa powder gives you a deep, rich chocolate flavor in your baked goods because most of the fat is removed and only the cocoa solids remain. Sometimes a recipe will call for Dutch cocoa powder. Dutching cocoa powder means they washed the cocoa beans in a potassium solution before grinding the beans into cocoa powder. This lowers the acidity of the coca powder. The lower acidity makes the cocoa powder softer in flavor and the processing makes it darker than regular cocoa powder. But sure to use whichever the recipe calls for because they react differently to your leavening agents.

Parchment Paper-Parchment paper is paper that has been infused with silicone. This makes it grease resistant, non stick, and heat resistant. Line a cookie sheet with parchment and your cookies won’t stick to the pan, no extra greasing necessary. Line a cake or brownie pan with parchment, easy removal. Parchment also provides a thin layer of insulation between your pan and your cookies/cake/etc to help with more even baking. This is especially helpful if your pan is a little bit old and warped and doesn’t heat evenly all the way around.

Spices: Cinnamon and Nutmeg-two of the most common “warming” spices in a baker’s arsenal.

Chocolate chip cookies

Bonus Ingredients

Rolled Oats– are oat kernels with the hull removed that have been rolled and steamed.  They take less time to cook and are what we traditionally think of as oatmeal.  Instant oats are rolled oats that have been processed further and are in smaller pieces, making the cooking time faster. Throw them in your cookies for extra tenderness and chew.

Whole Wheat Flour-Whole wheat flour is made by crushing the whole wheat berry (rather than just the endosperm like in all-purpose flour).  Because it contains more oils, whole wheat flour can go bad (rancid) faster.  If you don’t use it very much, store your whole wheat flour in the freezer.  

  • Red Whole Wheat Flour: made from red wheat, has a higher protein content that white whole wheat flour.  In the United States, red whole wheat flour is more prevalent.
  • White Whole Wheat Flour: made from hard white spring wheat.  Has a lower protein and gluten content than red whole wheat flour.  Because of its softer nature, it can be used more like all-purpose flour but with higher nutritional content.

When a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, I like to substitute out 1 cup of all-purpose flour and replace it with 1 cup whole wheat flour to increase the nutritional value.  Substituting 100% whole wheat for all-purpose will result in a heavier, drier baked good due to the increased protein and water absorption of whole wheat flour.  I have success with substituting up to half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour like in these cookies and this bread.

Cake Flour -Flour used for cake.  Has the lowest protein content to produce delicate cake or in some cases brownies. Typically, cake flour is bleached to create pristine white and light cake. It contains 6-7% protein.  (Remember, low protein=less gluten=more delicate/less tough). I have only ever been able to buy cake flour in a box (about 2 pounds) but unless you make cake all the time, this much should suffice.  The most common brands I find in the grocery store are Swan’s Down and Softasilk.

Baking Chocolate-whether it’s chocolate chips, bar chocolate, or white chocolate, baking chocolate has a special place in every baker’s pantry.

Corn Syrup-Corn syrup’s gotten a pretty bad rap in the last several years. BUT there is a pretty big difference between high fructose corn syrup that is in our soda pop and regular ‘ole Karo corn syrup that you find in the grocery store. Both are made from corn (duh) but high fructose corn syrup had fructose added back into it, which has been shown to have some negative health consequences.. Regular corn syrup is all simply glucose.

Sweetened Condensed Milk -milk where much of the water has been removed AND sugar has been added. It’s thick and slightly more yellow looking and super sweet. Sweetened condensed milk was actually the first canned milk to be released back in 1856. The idea was to create a milk product that would last longer than just a day or so. (Pasteurization wasn’t even discovered until 1862). The sugar was originally added to inhibit bacterial growth in the milk (kind of like the same reason we add sugar to jam).

Evaporated Milk-canned milk where about 60% of the water has been removed. The resulting milk is a little bit thicker and creamier with a significantly longer shelf life than regular milk. It’s different from heavy cream because it doesn’t have as much of the milk fat as cream. It’s also far more shelf stable then cream (i.e. you don’t have to refrigerate it unless it’s been opened).

Cornstarch-A thickening agent made from the endosperm of corn. When mixed with liquid it creates a thick, gel like substance. Use it to help prevent soupy crumbles and pies.

Spices: Ginger and Allspice– The other two powerhouse baking spices. With all four, you can create your own pumpkin pie spice!

Cream of Tarter-is a white powder also known as potassium bitartrate and is an acidic byproduct of winemaking.  In baking, it’s often used in meringue or angel food cake to create more stable air pockets and pump up the volume on your meringue!

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Happy Baking!

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Happy Baking!

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The Spruce Eats

The Sugar Association

Cooks Illustrated

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice*

Fine Cooking

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat*