November 6, 2013

How to Prep your Pantry for the Holidays

We're headed straight into the holiday season now. Just a few more weeks and then it's almost a constant stream of holidays until 2014. Yikes. I haven't even figured out the complete list of people we need to shop for yet! And don't get me started on holiday cards…

I'm a little less anxious about all the cooking I'm going to do over the next few months though because I've slowly been stocking up my pantry with things I know I'll need. A last minute request from school or a hostess to bring a dessert or snack becomes so much less stressful if I know that 95% (or 100%) of what I need for a recipe is my kitchen already. Since I know that we will all be doing a whole lot of baking over the next 8 weeks I wanted to give you a peek into my pantry essentials. For each category I'll lay out the basic item you'll need and the items that might also be helpful for you.

Flours: All purpose at the minimum, and whatever else you prefer based on your household-whole wheat, cake flour, gluten free, almond or coconut flour.

Sugar: Granulated sugar (regular or extra fine), and brown sugar to start. You may want to keep alternative sweeteners around too, like maple syrup, honey or agave.

Spices: Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are the big ones in holiday baking. You'll notice in the picture I used the whole spices and that's simply because they are prettier than the ground containers. The ground spices will be your starting point, but I find that the holidays is the one time of year I really go through cinnamon sticks and whole cloves regularly. Check Amazon or World Market for good deals on the whole spices.

Flavorings: Vanilla extract (make your own-it's easy!), jars of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling), molasses, and a variety of baking chocolate. I always keep bittersweet, unsweetened and semi-sweet baking bars, a container of unsweetened cocoa powder and whatever bag of chocolate chips catches my eye. It's amazing what a different type of baking chip can do to change up a recipe! Try butterscotch, cinnamon or mint chocolate chips in your favorite cookie recipe.

In the fridge: Eggs and butter of course, but heavy whipping cream, buttermilk and cream cheese give you lots of options too.

Odds and Ends: Parchement paper. Seriously, what I did before I discovered this stuff I don't know. I use it when I roll out pie crust, for lining baking sheets, dividing layers of cookies when packing them, and more. A good non-stick spray-this Baker's Joy happens to be my favorite, but use whichever one you like. I try to stay away from anything with a flavor though. A variety of cookie cutters makes the endless round of holiday cookies fun. In the picture you can see our family favorite-an airplane! With two boys and a pilot in the family what else could it be?  :)

Packaging: I'm going to do a more detailed packaging post as part of my Gifts from the Kitchen series but think about jars that you can re-purpose, disposable tupperware, clear gift bags and of course, pretty paper!

What are your holiday baking essentials? What's your favorite thing to cook during this season? 

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