Halloween is behind us, and the holiday season is just around the corner. I get excited for all the trappings of the season -- the gift shopping, the decorating, all the festivities, but my real love lies in stocking my kitchen with goodies for holiday baking, cooking, and entertaining. Your basics might be different than mine, but it’s time to take inventory and make a list of the things you need. Here’s my “must-haves” list to provide some inspiration.
The essentials (many of these items go on sale at this time, so stock up on the things that keep well):
Butter -- Butter keeps for a long time, particularly if you freeze it. I buy unsalted butter for baking and salted butter for slathering on rolls.
Sugar -- Every baker’s pantry should have a few different kinds of sugar. Granulated and brown sugar are essential. Also be sure to grab an extra bag or two of powdered sugar to use in glazes, frosting, and to dust baked goods for a pretty, finished look.
Flour -- All-purpose flour is perfect for almost any baking need, so grab a few bags and you should be set. If you bake a lot of bread or rolls, consider stocking up on bread flour.
Leavening agents -- Baking soda should last almost indefinitely, but it is good to change it every few years anyway. Baking powder is still good if it bubbles when boiling water is added to it. Yeast can be kept for years in the fridge or freezer, but if it has expired, you can check to see if it is still active by adding a packet of yeast (2 1/4 tsp.) to a 1/4 cup of warm water with 1 tsp. Sugar.
Heavy cream -- Whipped cream is the perfect one-size-fits-all dessert topping. Have a bowl ready to top Thanksgiving pies and other yummy desserts throughout the Holiday season. I also keep cream handy for ganache, homemade candy, custards, hot chocolate, and eggnog.
Jams, jellies, and other preserves -- Jams, jellies, and preserves are versatile for baking, cooking, and enjoying on their own. Marmalades and stone-fruit jams are the perfect thing to pair with roasted meats (particularly pork) for a quick sauce. For a great appetizer, top your favorite cracker with a bit of jam and a creamy, fresh cheese.
Corn syrup and molasses -- Corn syrup is essential for many candy recipes. And you can’t have gingerbread cookies without molasses, so be sure to add that to your cupboard too.
Puff pastry and phyllo dough -- Keep some frozen dough in your freezer to pull out for quick and easy appetizers, tarts, and desserts. This helps save time, which is a precious commodity with all those parties to attend.
Canned pumpkin -- I use canned pumpkin for so many things — pie, cake, muffins and breads, pancakes and waffles, soups and stews, and sauces. My pantry would not be complete without it.
Canned evaporated and sweetened condensed milk -- Canned milks come in handy for baking and cooking. Evaporated milk is a good stand-in for cream in soups. Condensed milk makes homemade caramels extra creamy.
Dried fruit and nuts – during this season cookies, breads, and cakes are studded with dried fruit and nuts. My Thanksgiving stuffing wouldn’t be complete without dried cranberries and pecans. Have a bowl or two of mixed nuts and dried fruit next to cheese and crackers for a healthier alternative to sugary treats and to make a buffet table extra snazzy.
Spices, herbs, extracts -- The essential herbs and spices for Holiday baking and cooking are sage, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. I also like orange peel and almond extract. These will cover most recipes.
Chocolate -- You’ll want to be sure to include different kinds of chocolate in your pantry. I keep an assortment of unsweetened baking chocolate (for brownies and cakes), chocolate chips (milk, dark, white, other flavors), high-quality chocolate (for dipping chocolates and other recipes), and cocoa powder.
Hot chocolate, assorted teas and coffee, wine and spirits, soft drinks -- A good assortment of hot and cold beverages will help you feel extra festive while you’re decorating the tree, hosting a party, or just sitting down to watch a movie.
Store-bought crackers and cookies -- Time is a precious commodity any time, but especially during the holidays. Packaged goodies are the perfect thing to pull out when you don’t have time to bake a batch of cookies for that last-minute party invitation or need a quick appetizer for the church potluck.
Bellisari’s Gourmet Spreads and Sauces – whether it’s spread on toasted French bread as is or used as a flavorful addition to a recipe, whipping up a gourmet dish has never been easier!
I hope you have fun stocking your pantry with baking essentials and holiday goodies! I know I included a lot of different items on this list, but don’t be overwhelmed. Just pick the products you know you’ll use and think how much you’ll enjoy admiring your well-stocked pantry and feeling confident that your ready for whatever this holiday season presents!