Holiday Baking + Food Storage

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This time of year is an EXCELLENT time to stock up on your items in Step 7: Baking Ingredients. Mary Hunt, best-selling finance author, sends out daily finance tips in her Everyday Cheapskate newsletter which we LOVE. We encourage you to sign up for her newsletter and also to stock up on these items for your holiday baking AND your food storage. Here are Mary’s thoughts on the topic of holiday baking from her newsletter:

Holiday Baking on the Cheap

Although baking sweets for the holidays is a joyful and gratifying project, it does take time and money. If you’ve got the time to build your baking stockpile, merchants are willing to help out with the cost as they begin to compete for our holiday food dollars. This time of year, baking ingredients become loss leaders. That means they’re willing to take a loss on basic pantry items in hopes that while we’re picking up those items, we’ll drop a bundle on other full-priced food items. Here is a quick guide to help you stock your pantry with the right stuff so you can bake like a pro this holiday season.

All-purpose flour: As its name implies, this is your basic flour and can be used in most baked goods. It’s best to store flour tightly sealed in a canister. Flour has a shelf life of about eight months in the cupboard, about one year refrigerated and several years in the freezer. Always use up all the flour in the canister before adding more.

Self-rising flour: This is all-purpose flour to which baking powder and salt have been added. Don’t substitute it for other flours because the added ingredients might affect your recipe outcome. Only use self-rising flour if the recipe calls for it. It’s best to keep this in the original container, tightly wrapped, and keep in mind the shelf-life is only about six months.

Whole wheat flour: Store whole wheat flour in the freezer. It contains fat from the wheat germ and can become rancid at room temperature. Whole wheat flour is good for about six months in the freezer, and only a couple of months if stored at room temperature.

Granulated sugar: This is refined from sugar cane or beets and is used in most baked goods. When stored properly in a tightly covered canister, it will last for years.

Confectioners’ sugar: Also called 10X sugar or powdered sugar, this is granulated sugar that has been ground into a powder. Confectioners’ sugar is commonly used in cake and cookie icings and is often dusted on desserts. It’s best to store it in the original box.

Brown sugar, light or dark: This soft textured and hearty-tasting sugar is white sugar flavored with molasses. Light and dark are interchangeable; it is a matter of taste. Keep it well wrapped in the original packaging. It’s best to use it within six months of purchase for maximum flavor. Don’t store brown sugar in the refrigerator. However, if you are in a very dry area or are going to keep it for a long time, freeze it.

Molasses: This dark, thick syrup is the liquid that is left behind from the process of refining sugar. It can be stored in the pantry. Make sure you wipe the bottle well after using to prevent stickiness and pests.

Honey: For baking purposes, select a light colored honey for a more delicate flavor. Store tightly sealed in a cool dry place for up to one year or indefinitely in the freezer. If the honey crystallizes, microwave it for about 30 seconds or melt it in the jar in a pan of hot water over low heat.

Maple Syrup: Make sure you buy pure maple syrup, not pancake or table syrup. Once opened, store maple syrup in the refrigerator.

Baking soda: Also known as bicarbonate of soda, baking soda is used as a leavener to make dough and batter rise. Once opened, baking soda has a shelf life of only six months.

Baking powder: This leavener is composed of baking soda, an acid (usually cream of tartar) and a moisture absorber, like cornstarch. Once you open it, it will be effective for about six months when stored on the pantry shelf. Stored in the freezer, it will remain good indefinitely. You can check to see if your baking powder is still active by stirring one teaspoon into 1/3 cup of warm water. If it still fizzes, it’s okay.

Yeast: Generally, yeast comes in three forms: fresh active compressed “cakes,” (which will be in the store’s refrigerator section), active dry and rapid rise granules. Rapid rise yeast reduces rising time by as much as 50 percent, which allows you to eliminate the first rise. Rapid rise is the same as “instant” or “bread machine yeast.” Store unopened yeast in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry or refrigerator. Use within three to four months. Freezing yeast is not recommended.

Baking chocolate: There are two main types to look for: pure, unsweetened chocolate (bitter or baking chocolate), and dark chocolate (bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate) that has added sugar but isn’t as sweet and mild as milk chocolate. Store this chocolate securely wrapped away from sunlight and dampness for up to three years.

Milk chocolate: This is dark chocolate with milk solids added, making it creamier and mellower. Store this chocolate securely wrapped and away from sunlight and dampness for four to six months.

White chocolate: This is technically not chocolate since there is no chocolate liquor, but it does contain cocoa butter along with sugar, vanilla and lecithin. Store white chocolate securely wrapped and away from sunlight and dampness for four to six months.

Chocolate chips: These contain less cocoa butter than chocolate bars, which is why they can retain their shape. It’s best to use these where you want the chocolate chip shape and use chocolate bars for melting. Store tightly wrapped for up to six months.

Unsweetened cocoa powder: The important thing to know about cocoa powder is that there are two types. Dutch process has been treated with an alkali, which neutralizes its acidity and gives a more mellow flavor. Natural cocoa powder has a deeper chocolate flavor. Recipes are often written for one type or the other, as they react differently with baking powder. Dutch process is always labeled on the box; if there is no mention, it is natural. Store it in a tightly sealed container for up to two years.

Candy canes: Both your tree and your pantry need candy canes. These minty favorites always put a smile on a kid’s face whether they’re eaten by hand or sprinkled on top of cupcakes and cookies. To crush, place a handful of canes in a heavy duty plastic bag then break them up with a rolling pin.

Cinnamon: Everyone’s favorite baking spice not only tastes divine, but is good for you! Just one teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains more disease-fighting antioxidants than half a cup of blueberries. Add a few sticks at a time in a coffee grinder for the freshest flavor or skewer some mini-marshmallows on a cinnamon stick and use it to stir up a special cup of hot chocolate.

Ground ginger: An essential for gingerbread, ground ginger abounds in holiday baking. Milder than fresh ginger, this spice is kid-friendly. For flavor you can taste, make sure your supply is no older than six months.

Marshmallows: Toss them into hot cocoa, whip up crisp rice treats at a moment’s notice, or throw a few on some brownies. They’ll stay moist if stored frozen in a tightly sealed bag. Bonus: They’re easier to slice or snip with scissors when frozen.

Sprinkles: Who doesn’t love sprinkles? Best prices are found in bulk stores, but be sure to transfer into small, kid-friendly shakers to help little fingers decorate with ease.

Vanilla: Vanilla is used sparingly in recipes so if you can afford it, buy genuine vanilla extract. Because of its high alcohol content, vanilla will last indefinitely on your pantry shelf.

For more from Mary Hunt, sign up for her Everyday Cheapskate newsletter or read her blog Money Rules Debt Stinks. She also has some fabulous books you can check out at

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