Friday, August 9, 2013

A Baker's Pantry

Friends often ask me how I manage to make so much of our baked goods from scratch. The answer is simple; I have great cookbooks, a well stocked pantry, and baking is a hobby, so I enjoy it. Today, I thought we'd explore my baking pantry in the hopes that it inspires you to tackle some scratch baking of your own, even if it's just cornbread.

Since I do a lot of bread baking, I keep several different kinds of flours and meals on hand. We always keep whole wheat, bread, soy, and all purpose (AP) flours. Sometimes, I buy cake flour, but generally I just use the conversions in the back of Joy of Cooking and don't mess with cake flour. I also use the conversions for self rising because I find that I don't use it quickly enough or forget I have it and the baking powder in it goes bad. I use all of these on a regular basis for pizza dough, bread, pancakes and waffles, and quick breads like muffins. I tend to use the soy flour as an additive to baked goods, just substituting a tablespoon or two for the regular flour called for, to increase the protein content since we eat a lot of vegetarian meals. I also keep flax seed meal and corn meal on hand for making corn bread, dusting sheet pans for bread, and other things, but these are the primary uses. I tend to throw a tablespoon or two of the flax seed meal into most of our breads, again substituting for the flour, to increase the omega-3 content, since we don't eat a lot of seafood (I love fresh seafood, but it's not easily found here in the mountains). And I keep rolled oats on hand, since they're nice in lots of whole grain breads and make homemade oatmeal a snap.

I also keep a fair amount of other staples on hand for making bread and cookies. Many bread recipes call for buttermilk, but I hate to keep it on hand in the fridge since I don't go through it quickly and feel like its a waste of fridge space and electricity to keep it cool. So, I opt for powdered buttermilk, which you can find in the baking aisle. I also keep powdered milk on hand, since many bread recipes call for this. It is also fine to use in corn bread, muffins, etc. in place of regular milk if you reconstitute it. A lot of bread recipes, and many sourdough starters, call for potato flakes, so I have a big box. We keep sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds on hand in the fridge, so they don't go rancid. Sometimes I have whole flax seeds too. If you buy them in bulk, they're a lot cheaper than the tiny bottles in the spice aisle. These are great on top of breads or mixed into muffins for a little extra crunch. (The sesame seeds are also great in homemade fried rice or stir fry.) We generally keep pecans and almonds on hand too. (If I can swing it, I love to have the pecans from my family farm, but right now the pecan trees are infested with a bug which bores holes in the nuts and makes them inedible. And the infestation lasts for 7 years, the lifecycle of the darn thing, so I won't be getting family pecans for a while.) Costco has nice prices on pecan halves, generally around $12 for a 2 lb bag. There is also a local guy who sets up a truck every fall with all sorts of nuts, so we try to buy from him when we can. I love to keep dried fruit on hand too: dried cranberries, cherries, prunes, coconut, raisins, and sometimes apricots or currants. These are fabulous in muffins or scones when its not berry season and I don't want to use my cherished freezer stash of blackberries and raspberries. And, of course, there's the chocolate chips... white and semisweet are the staples around here. I ask for the fun ones (peanut butter, mint, butterscotch etc.) for stocking stuffers and they get used throughout the year.

And sugar... who can bake without sugar? I keep white sugar on hand always. We stock up on brown and powdered sugar when it goes on sale around the holidays, so there's generally some of that around too. I keep honey and molasses in the pantry, which are called for in a lot of my bread recipes. If I'm out of brown sugar, I just make my own with molasses and white sugar. I don't keep fancy sugars, such as turbanido, but I do keep colored sugars and sprinkles for cookie and cake decorating.

Oils and fats are essential. Our butter we buy in bulk at Costco. I keep olive oil on hand for making pizza dough, and we keep some sort of lighter oil (vegetable, corn, etc.) for baking and stir fries. I keep crisco sticks for shortening. I know the cans are cheaper, but the sticks are so convenient and less messy. Keep them in the fridge to keep from going rancid.

As far as flavorings go, we keep vanilla extract and cocoa powder. I plan to make some homemade mint extract soon before my mint is done for the season, so I'll let you know how that turns out. I hope it is good, would be fun in homemade fudge for the holidays.

So, in summary, here's a rundown of the staples:

AP flour
whole wheat
soy flour
rolled oats
flax seed meal

Add-ins and staples:
powdered buttermilk
powdered milk
potato flakes
seeds: sunflower, poppy, sesame, caraway, flax
nuts: pecans, almonds
chips: chocolate, white chocolate, fun ones (peanut butter, mint, etc.)

olive oil
cocoa powder
vanilla extract
brown sugar

Did I forget anything? What do you keep on hand for baking? I'd love to hear from you!

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