Stock Your Local Larder the Smart Way
Top-quality ingredients make the best baked goods. If you’re baking on a large scale, it can get expensive. Here are some tips for getting the best for less.
• Buy unsalted butter on sale, especially buy-one-get-one. Freeze in zip-top bags or wrapped in plastic wrap until ready to use.
• Watch for sales on pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, then buy, but check expiration dates. If you or friends are headed to north Florida, pick up local pecans. Toast nuts separately in a single layer on a parchment-covered baking sheet 350 degrees 5-10 minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn. Cool, pack airtight and freeze until ready to use.
• Look for buy-one-get-one sales on staples – brown sugar, white sugar, molasses, corn syrup, unbleached flour (we use King Arthur), molasses.
• Spices must be fresh and flavorful. Badia and Goya spices are reasonably priced and widely available in South Florida supermarkets. Indian markets are good sources for spices. Penzeys Spices offers an excellent variety of whole and ground spices, including cinnamon from China, Indonesia and Vietnam. Whatever you buy, store them airtight as soon as you open them. If you have a spice grinder, buy whole cloves, allspice and cardamom and grind before using, then label and store. We store all spices individually in zip-top bags (squeeze the air out), labeled and sealed, then placed in sealable containers and stored in the freezer. This technique keeps spices fresh for many seasons and makes buying in bulk affordable.
• Top-quality vanilla prices have skyrocketed this season because of cyclone damage in Madagascar, the world’s top producer of vanilla beans. Grocery-store vanilla at press time was about $5 an ounce. We usually buy an 8-oz. bottle of double-strength vanilla from Penzeys Spices, but it will set you back $55, although you use half as much. Another good source of discounted top-quality vanilla and other extracts is the food section of Marshall’s Home Goods and similar stores, although it can be hit or miss.
• Chocolate and cocoa are essential for holiday baking. Here you can spend as much or as little as you want. For many, Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies are the gold standard (it’s the recipe we use), and you can find BOGO deals before the holidays. Same for Ghirardelli chips, which come in milk chocolate, white chocolate or 60% cacao bittersweet. If you want to splurge on top-quality chocolate, consider buying chocolate bars and chopping them up coarsely to add to your dough. Want to go local? Cao Chocolates’ Ricardo Trillos sells artisan chocolate bars for an extra-special treat.
• Make your own candied orange and lemon zest – it’s tastier than the preservative-laden kind you buy. Stockpile grated citrus zest by grating every time you have fresh fruit and freezing, airtight, in zip-top bags.