Taste of Home
The most frequently used flavoring in baking is pure vanilla extract. Whether you prefer Madagascar, Mexican, or Tahitian—or make your own—make sure it’s always in your cupboard. Although it does go into nearly every kind of baked good, it’s pricey now and getting ever more expensive: here are some tips on how to make it go further!
For spices, the true essentials are the classics: cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Spice preference is personal, so add to that list however you like—allspice, cloves, and cardamom are nice to have, too! But always make sure you have salt. It’s tempting to cut the salt, but it adds lots of depth to the flavor of baked goods and shouldn’t be left out. Either regular table salt or kosher salt will be fine.
Must have: vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt
Yes, chocolate gets its own entry! Lots have been written on different chocolates and how each should be used. Some kind of cocoa and bar chocolate should always be ready to be pulled off the shelf. Natural baking cocoa is versatile and all-purpose. Bars of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate are also essential. They can swap out for each other in recipes and can be chopped into chunks when chocolate chips are needed. If you have the storage space, a bag of chocolate chips is never a bad idea, as is a bar of unsweetened baking chocolate. (But if you don’t have it, you can use 3 Tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa plus 1 tbsp. of shortening or vegetable oil as a substitute.)
Along with all that chocolate goes a recommendation for a jar of instant espresso granules. This isn’t an essential item, but a little bit of coffee teases out a surprising depth to chocolate recipes. It often appears as an optional item, as in these Ultimate Fudgy Brownies, but even adding it to a boxed cake mix makes a difference!
Must have: baking cocoa, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate bars
The Fun Stuff
Beyond the must-haves, there are some core ingredients that are versatile, useful and just for fun. While no one will turn up their nose at brownies that don’t contain nuts, having walnuts and pecans does make things better! Dried raisins and cranberries are great instant add-ins and have a seriously long shelf-life. And speaking of raisins… a bag of rolled oats is great for making all kinds of cookies and bars. A couple of jars of fruit preserves in different flavors provide a quick filling for a cake or sandwich cookies, or make a lovely addition to brownies. A can of pumpkin puree opens up lots of options for cookies, breads, cakes, and muffins. Throw in a jar of peanut butter, and a couple of lemons (which will keep for a surprisingly long time in the fruit drawer in your fridge), and you’ve expanded your potential flavor palate by yards. Watch out for these kitchen mistakes you’re probably making—and how to fix them.
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