(BPT) - A kitchen without baked goodies would be like a movie without popcorn, burgers without fries or a sundae sans cherry: good but not quite perfect. If you enjoy baking traditional favorites, you may also like trying new recipes. Experimenting with new recipes is easier if you start out with a well-stocked pantry.
While some recipes might call for unusual ingredients that require a trip to the gourmet food store, some ingredients are ubiquitous. Keep those ingredients in your pantry year-round and you'll be on track to bake up a storm.
The baking gurus at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, a more than 100-year-old family-run flavoring company, offer this checklist of must-have items to help ensure your pantry is well-stocked:
* Flour - Some type of flour is the foundation of most baking. Your pantry should always have a supply of all-purpose white baking flour, but don't forget to add some other common, useful varieties like whole wheat, unbleached or semolina.
* Sweeteners - Refined white sugar, of course, is a reliable stand-by for sweetening any recipe. But many recipes may call for alternative sweeteners like confectioner's sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar or honey. And, if you're baking for folks with dietary restrictions, you'll need artificial sweeteners. Many brands of artificial sweeteners now offer varieties specifically designed for use in baking.
* Extracts - Baking cries out for certain flavors, like peppermint, almond, chocolate and vanilla. You can find an extract for virtually every flavor under the sun, but keeping an ample supply of the staples, like Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, will ensure you have the perfect flavoring on hand for a variety of dishes - from baked goods to main courses and side dishes. The family-run company uses a proprietary cold extraction process that slowly and gently draws the delicate and distinctive flavor from the vanilla beans.
* Spices - Certain spices are useful throughout the whole year. Keep your pantry stocked with baking-appropriate spices like cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
* Fruits and nuts - While some recipes may call for fresh fruits and nuts, others will require dried varieties. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, raisins, candied ginger and even dried apricots and cranberries are all good starting points for a well-stocked pantry.
* Grains - What would oatmeal raisin cookies be without the oatmeal? Recipes often call for grains and cereals, including oatmeal, cornmeal and bran.
* Leavening - Many cookies don't require a leavening agent or stabilizer, but cakes and breads may, so include yeast, baking soda and baking powder in your pantry.
* Shortening - Vegetable oil, shortening and lard are staples of baking. To lighten a recipe without sacrificing taste, try naturally lighter oils like canola.
* Milk - You may not use it frequently, but baking often calls for evaporated milk. Sweetened condensed milk is also incorporated in many recipes. A can or two of each, purchased ahead of time, will ensure you don't have to make a special trip to the grocery store for this less-used ingredient.
Now that your pantry is prepped, try this recipe from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas:
Crisp Vanilla Butter Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate pieces of choice
Cream the butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla powder in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt on low speed until just blended. Place the dough on parchment paper and shape into a 12-inch long log. Chill for three to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Cut the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Place the cooled cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Place the chocolate pieces in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 15 seconds. Repeat at five-second intervals, stirring and checking the consistency. The chocolate is ready when it freely drips from the spoon in a fine line. Spoon the chocolate into a large plastic food storage bag. Twist the bag until the chocolate is in one corner and then trim the tip of the bag. Drizzle the chocolate over the cookies.
Variation: Add 1/2 teaspoon of any Nielsen-Massey Pure Flavor Extract, such as Chocolate, Almond, Lemon, Orange or Coffee, to the cookie dough to create a signature cookie.
Makes 2 dozen