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It’s Stock-Up Time: Here’s What You Need for Cookie Baking Season

Updated October 10, 2019
variety of cookie baking ingredients
Before Santa Claus comes to town, we’re making a list and checking it twice to be sure we’ve got all the cookie baking supplies!
Cookies themselves are relatively simple baked goods, which means each ingredient plays an important role. Learn the difference between similar but not-the-same ingredients (like the salted butter, we favor over sweet butter), when quality really makes a difference (hint: it’s not in cookies that pure vanilla extract has the most impact) and how freshness can impact your cookies (with expired baking soda, your cookies simply won’t rise) in this article, we’ll cover all the questions that come up when you’re preparing to stock your cookie baking pantry. Plus, we’ll share the smart shortcut ingredients that’ll help you when time runs short.

Flour

Flour provides structure and chewiness to your cookies and of course, it’s the primary ingredient in most cookie recipes.

What to Stock:

  • Gold Medal All Purpose flour is as the name implies, perfect for a wide variety of purposes. Buy a fresh bag for cookie baking and you’ll be able to use it for pizza dough, biscuits, pie and all sorts of baked goods.

A note about substituting whole wheat flour, only substitute for one-third to one-half of all-purpose flour. Otherwise, your cookies might turnout dry.

Fats

Fats, like butter and shortening, add tenderness and flavor to your cookies.

What to Stock:

  • Salted Butter is what we use in our cookie recipes, unless otherwise specified. That bit of salt in the butter, makes your cookies more flavorful and enhances their sweetness by providing a contrast. It’s important to note that all-butter cookies tend to spread and have crispy edges. Always soften your butter before baking.

Buy as Needed:

  • Shortening is an all-vegetable product sold in sticks and cans and available in regular or butter flavors. Cookies made with shortening hold their shape better than all-butter cookies—see spreading note above—and often have a more tender texture. Some cookies call for a combination of butter and shortening, so you get the best of both worlds.

Avoid:

  • Margarine with less than 65 percent fat, as it will contain more water, which could result in cookies that are both too soft and too tough.

Eggs

Add richness, moisture and structure to cookies. Remember to crack your eggs in a separate container and then add to your dough. This is a simple way to avoid ruining dough, if you get a bad egg.

What to stock:

  • Large eggs are used in our recipes, unless otherwise specified.

Avoid:

  • Egg substitutes are made with egg whites and can result in drier cookies.

Sweeteners

Sugar doesn’t just add sweetness, it also help your cookies brown and turn out tender.

What to stock:

  • Granulated (or white) sugar is made from sugar beets or sugarcane. Besides providing sweetness, it can make a cookie thin and crispy. A bag of white sugar is a must-have ingredient for cookie making.
  • Brown sugar is actually granulated sugar combined with molasses. It’s available in light or dark brown and the two colors can be used interchangeably. Brown sugar is a staple in many cookie recipes, and one that’ll you’ll want to keep stocked.
  • Powdered (Confectioner’s) sugar is granulated sugar that’s been processed into a fine powder and contains a small amount of cornstarch, which prevents clumping. Powdered sugar is often used to make cookie glazes or icings.

Buy as Needed:

  • Molasses is made from sugarcane or sugar beets, just like sugar. If you love old-fashioned Soft Molasses Cookies, molasses is a sweetener you’ll want to keep around. This syrup is typically stirred into the cookie dough. It’s sold in Lighter or Darker grades, which can be used interchangeably—though some prefer the sweeter, subtler flavor of Light molasses.
  • Decorating sugars, such as pearl sugar, sparkling sugar and colored sugars last quite a while, but we recommend restocking on your favorites every so often.

Leaveners

Cookie recipes will call for baking soda or baking powder. These two ingredients are not interchangeable.

What to Stock:

  • Baking soda is a leavener that must be mixed with an acid—lemon or buttermilk are common examples—in order to activate the carbon dioxide that causes baked goods to rise. Keep in mind baking soda has a shelf life of about 6 to 12 months. To test if yours is still good, mix ½ teaspoon with ¼ cup boiling water a splash of vinegar. Vigorous bubbling should result. If it doesn’t, it’s time for a new box.
  • Baking powder is made from baking soda, an acid (like cream of tartar) and a moisture absorber, so will be called for in recipes where there’s no acidic ingredient—as would be needed to activate baking soda. Just like baking soda, baking powder has a shelf life of about 6 to 12 months. To test if yours is still good, try the experiment above but skip the vinegar. If you don’t see bubbles, it’s time for a new canister.

Chocolate

Rich chocolatey flavored baked goods? You can make them with the ingredients below.

What to Stock:

  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips are essential because a life without Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies is not one we even want to contemplate. While there’s a wide variety of chocolate chips available today—everything from white (not real chocolate, by the way) to dark chocolate and varieties in between—we prefer semi-sweet because they’re not too sweet or too bitter in a dough that includes sugar.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder is an essential ingredient in many chocolate baked goods, including our can’t-miss Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies. Typically, this powder will be stirred into dough, like any other dried ingredient. There are two types of cocoa powder commonly available: “Dutched” and regular cocoa powder. Dutched is richer and dark in color, it has been processed in a way that neutralizes the acid naturally occurring in cocoa. Stored properly—in an airtight container inside your pantry (or other cool, dark place)—it should last up to two years. Avoid using hot cocoa mix as a substitute for baking cocoa, which also includes sugar, milk powder and other spices. It will not taste the same as cocoa powder.

Buy as Needed:

  • Baking chocolate, or unsweetened chocolate, is sold in bar form. Recipes will call for melting the bar before adding it to batter—like in our Ultimate Brownies recipe—frosting or ganache. It will contain at least 50 percent cocoa butter. Find it in the baking section of the grocery store.
  • Instant coffee and espresso can be used to deepen chocolate flavor. See what we mean with our Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe.

Extracts, Spices and Mix-Ins

Extracts and spices are most often integrated into the dough, while mix-ins, like chopped nuts, are stirred into the dough after it has come together. All these types of ingredients add extra flavor.

What to stock:

  • Vanilla extract has so many uses, we recommend always keeping it stocked. There is a difference between pure vanilla extract, which is extracted from vanilla beans, and imitation vanilla extract, which is a synthetic. Pure vanilla extract will be labeled as such and typically costs more—though don’t take price alone as an indicator, definitely check to make sure “pure extract” appears on the label. In baked goods, either option will work. Pure extract will really sing in desserts that are unbaked, like custards or cheesecakes.
  • Cinnamon adds warmth and sweetness to favorites like snickerdoodles and gingerbread. Ground cinnamon does lose its flavor over time. To check yours look at the color to see if it appears faded and smell it. If you aren’t getting a woodsy, sweet scent, it’s time for a new jar. If the scent is faint, you might be able to revive it by crushing it in your hand or warming it in a skillet, before adding to your recipe.

Buy as Needed:

  • Walnuts, pecans & other types of nuts have high fat content, which means they go rancid relatively quickly. We recommend buying nuts when you plan to use them—rather than always keeping them stocked. If you use nuts often in your cooking and baking, store in the fridge to extend their shelf life. In the case of chocolate chip cookies, dough will not be effected if you skip the nuts.

Substitutions

While we recommend avoiding substitutions until you have made a recipe a few times, we all run out of ingredients from time to time. When that happens, we’ve got you covered with kitchen-tested hacks.

Sanity-Saving Shortcuts

A well-stocked pantry can save the day during the busy holiday season. Keep a couple of quick-start mixes on hand, so you can still whip up a sweet treat—even if you’re low on scratch-baking ingredients.

What to Stock:



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