How to CookBakingPantry

The Baker's Pantry Essentials (& 15 Cakes They'll Bring to Life)

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Grocery lists get out of control fast. One second you've picked a main, a side, and a dessert, and the next, your chicken-scratched list of what to "grab" has spread from the back of your hand to well up your forearm.

But just as savory pantry essentials—be those anchovies, canned tomatoes, and pasta; sushi rice, kombu, and miso paste; chana dal and tamarind concentrate—bound you closer to dinner, the baker's pantry staples (often outlined in the front or back of trusty dessert and pastry books) leap you closer to dessert (and save you from wondering whether you have baking powder in the cupboard).

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If you have the following essentials, all 15 of the cakes below can be pulled off with just a couple additional ingredients that we've made note of below each image, along with viable substitutions. And in some wonderful cases, you'll need nothing extra at all.

Here's what to keep on hand, in plentiful quantities, this baking season:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Leaveners (baking soda and baking powder)
  • Salt (fine sea salt is versatile for baking)
  • A few key spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Neutral oil (like canola or vegetable)
  • Vanilla and almond extract
  • Granulated sugar
  • Bittersweet/dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
  • Cocoa powder
  • Eggs
  • Whole milk (perishable, but very easy to find uses for—helloooo, cereal)
  • Unsalted butter

And here's what to put them toward:

One-Bowl Vanilla Cake
One-Bowl Vanilla Cake

You might need 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Use whatever you have in your kitchen (poppy seeds? lemons? orange flower water from years ago?) to flavor the cake, which is designed to be played with.

New England Spider Cake
New England Spider Cake

You'll probably need to buy 1 cup heavy cream and 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal. This cake is at its best with a drizzle of maple syrup, but perhaps you already keep that handy for pancake breakfasts.

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Elizabeth David's Chocolate Cake
Elizabeth David's Chocolate Cake

You might need 3 ounces ground almonds (or swap in walnuts or hazelnuts). If you have whole nuts, you can process them yourself. You'll also need 1 tablespoon of hard liquor (a good excuse to make a cocktail, no?) and 1 tablespoon strong coffee or espresso (save it from your morning cup?).

Torta Caprese (Chocolate and Almond Flourless Cake)
Torta Caprese (Chocolate and Almond Flourless Cake)

An even more pared-down variation of the cake above, this one has no liquor or espresso. You'll still need ground almonds (4.4 ounces).

Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)
Cindy Mushet's Italian Jam Shortbread Tart (Fregolotta)

You'll need 1/3 cup sliced almonds and any jam of your choosing (like the one you already use to make sandwiches or smear on your morning toast).

Pearl's Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Pearl's Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Pick up plain yogurt (which you may already have) and 3 lemons. The recipe calls for self-rising flour, but if you have all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt you can make it yourself.

The Cake of Three (Dolce del Tre)
The Cake of Three (Dolce del Tre)

Add 10 1/2 ounces fresh ricotta and 1 lemon to your list. And while the recipe calls for superfine sugar, you can get around that by blitzing your regular granulated sugar in a food processor until it's softer and more powdery.

Sweet Cream Bundt Cake
Sweet Cream Bundt Cake

All you need is love heavy cream (1 1/2 cups).

OMG! Coconut Pound Cake
OMG! Coconut Pound Cake

Everything but the 7 ounces shredded, unsweetened coconut comes from your stock of baking supplies.

Party-Trick Peanut Butter Cake
Party-Trick Peanut Butter Cake

You'll need 1/2 cup buttermilk (or, better yet, make your own from milk and lemon juice or vinegar), as well as 1/2 cup creamy unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (if you don't keep that on hand for sandwiches and bananas).

Tiger Cake
Tiger Cake

Surprise! The only thing you might not have for this cake is 1/2 teaspoon finely ground white pepper. (And one Food52er, Kaite, swapped it out for black with good results.)

Cardamom Crumb Cake
Cardamom Crumb Cake

Add 1/2 cup walnuts and 1 orange to your shopping list. You'll also need 1/2 cup of strong, cooled coffee (and I bet I know where you will get that...).

Almond Sheet Cake
Almond Sheet Cake

You'll need 1/3 cup almond flour or meal (and if you have whole almonds and a food processor, remember that it's easy to make your own).

Lemon Curd Cake
Lemon Curd Cake

Buy a 12-ounce jar of lemon curd and mix together the self-rising flour yourself.

Grapefruit Pudding Cake
Grapefruit Pudding Cake

For the grand finale—a fancy and beguiling nearly-pudding—you'll need 3 red grapefruits, 1/2 vanilla bean (or sub in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract), 1 cup Greek yogurt, and 1/2 cup crème fraîche (which you could replace with additional yogurt).

What baking basics are you never without? And what would you like to always keep on hand? Tell us in the comments below.