The smells and tastes of gingerbread, sugar cookies, and pastries can all conjure up the holidays for us. Whether you are baking from your grandmother's tried and true recipes or experimenting with ideas from the latest baking show, there are probably a few pantry staples that you won't want to be without when you're baking for the holidays. Below are three ingredients whose quality you won't want to shortchange.
Good Fruits and Nuts
Candied or dried fruits can add a festive touch to holiday baking, and nuts can add a sweet or savory crunch. Not only do fruits and nuts feature in a lot of traditional favorite recipes, they can also add a bit of health to sugary confections. Apples, cherries, and berries are all great choices for holiday treats; you can buy them dried or use fresh organic fruit. Plums, prunes, and figs are also good choices for puddings or various types of pastry. Walnuts, pecans, and almonds are all good nut choices, and pistachios can add a bit of festive green without having to rely on food coloring.
Baking with quality chocolate, whether you're using chips or chunks or grating from a bar, can add rich flavor to your recipes. Milk, dark, and bittersweet chocolate provide different flavor and texture options for breads, muffins, and cookies. If your want the chocolate flavor to permeate your cake or bread, you will want to choose a good quality cocoa powder such as the ones sold by Valrhona. Their gourmet powders feature different percentages and types of cocoa and sometimes blend in touches of other flavors such as vanilla, malt or caramel. Using excellent cocoa can elevate a rich but simple cake or a plate of holiday brownies to the next level.
Sometimes referred to as powdered sugar or icing sugar, confectioner's sugar has been processed extra fine. It feels and even looks a bit like a soft, powdery snow, which makes it perfect for dusting the tops of cookies and cakes. It also provides a nice base for making a sugary glaze for dessert topping when you add milk, vanilla, and perhaps a touch of coloring. Although you'll want to keep other staples on hand, these three ingredients will do a lot to enhance your holiday baking pantry. Enjoy baking with them and seeing what delightful treats you can make for families and friends.