Holiday Baking on the CHEAP!

Look up the word ‘impulsive’ in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. In my basement pantry, I have at least six bags of chocolate chips to prove it. They are the ghosts of a Christmas past—left over from one of my Gift-in-a-Jar marathon projects.

And those two containers of candied fruit that must be ten years old by now, which I keep because they’ve become such a novelty? They appear to be the same as the day I bought them.

Baking supplies are notoriously on sale at rock-bottom prices starting now in anticipation of Thanksgiving and continuing through the end of the year. I still have four five-pound bags of all-purpose flour from last holiday season, which I bought for $.99 each. Sugar is cheap during the holidays, too. Ditto for other holiday baking ingredients from marshmallows to sweetened condensed milk dates to nuts.

One of my basic rules of grocery shopping is this: When it’s on sale, buy enough to last until it’s on sale again. Baking supplies become so cheap this time of year, now is the time to stock up.

Which begs the question you might be asking: How long will baking supplies last in the event you decide to buy enough to last the year? It all depends on the item and if you have the storage space to keep them at their optimum. Here is a handy guide:

Baking powder. Store in a tightly lidded container; 18 months unopened, six months opened. Stored in the freezer, baking powder is good indefinitely.

Baking soda. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place; good for two years unopened, six months opened. Kept in the freezer, good indefinitely.

Brown sugar. Store in freezer and use within six months opened or unopened.

Butter. Comes two ways: salted and unsalted. Salt is added for flavor and as a preservative so it will have a longer shelf life. Salted lasts up to five months refrigerated; unsalted has a short shelf life of about three months in the refrigerator. If you do not plan to use unsalted butter right away, it is best to freeze it. When properly wrapped so it won’t pick up any odors, butter can be frozen for around six months. It’s best to defrost butter overnight in the refrigerator.

Canned evaporated milk. Store unopened on the pantry shelf for up to six months. Best to check the “use by” date on the product. After this time, it will not turn sour, but it will turn yellow and lose its flavor.

Chocolate chips. Store in a cupboard at room temperature; 18-24 months unopened, one year if opened. I can attest to the fact that chocolate chips will last what seems like forever in the freezer. They may get a white haze, but this will not affect the taste when used in baking.

Cooking oils. Store on pantry shelves at room temperature; good for up to a year; check if still good with the smell test. Oils can become rancid.

Eggs. Properly stored in the refrigerator, fresh eggs are good for four to five weeks past the “sell by” date.

Extracts. Expect these to last up to three or four years when kept at room temperature. (See pure vanilla extract below).

Flour.  Unopened flour lasts for up to a year; opened, six to eight months. Whole wheat flour is good for up to a year unopened but use within six months if opened so the oil doesn’t dry out. If you have room, store flour in the freezer.

Granulated sugar. Store in a cool, dry place; good for two years unopened; use within six months if opened.

Karo syrup. ACH Food Companies, Inc., the conglomerate that owns and markets Karo syrup, says that it is safe for consumption for an indefinite period of time whether it has been opened or not. I know, kinda’ creepy, but that’s the fact. Light corn syrup may turn slightly yellow with age, but this is normal and not harmful. Storage conditions affect product quality. Before or after opening, Karo syrup may be stored at room temperature. Bottles may be refrigerated after opening; however, the syrup will be thicker and slower to pour.

Marshmallow creme. Store at room temperature for four months unopened; store in the refrigerator once opened and use within two months.

Marshmallows. Keep in an airtight container on the pantry shelf; good for three months.

Molasses. Store unopened in a cool, dark place for one year; store opened for six months in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator. Make sure the lid is tightly sealed.

Nuts. Stored in a tightly sealed container, shelled nuts will be good for up to six months in the pantry; 9 months to a year in the freezer.

Powdered sugar. Store in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator); good for 18 months unopened.

Pure vanilla extract. Store at room temperature; as long as it is pure, it has an indefinite shelf life. In fact, it even gets better with age.

Raisins. Up to three years stored on pantry shelf at temperatures up to 80 F. Can be refrigerated.

Shortening. Store in the pantry at room temperature. Unopened, shortening lasts up to a year; opened, three to four months until it turns rancid.

Spices, ground. Store in a cool, dry place for two to three years. Here’s a tip to extend the shelf life: Don’t measure or sprinkle spices over a boiling pot. The steam from the pot will hasten the loss of flavor for what spice remains in the bottle. Measure spices into a bowl beforehand and then add them to the pot. Note: Paprika and cayenne pepper should be refrigerated.

Spices, whole. Whole and ground spices don’t spoil, they just lose their strength. Store in a cool, dry place for two to four years.

Sweetened condensed milk. Store in a dry, clean and cool place; good for one year unopened; invert can every two months. Carnation does not recommend using sweetened condensed milk past its “best before date” for quality reasons.

I am still searching for information on candied fruit. So far I can find no indication that it will ever spoil or change in quality or texture.

I’ll keep you posted.

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9 replies
  1. Mary Wilson
    Mary Wilson says:

    I buy my vanilla at a Hispanic grocery store. It’s pure vanilla extract, not imitation. 16 oz for $8 is better than $9 and up for the tiny little bottle you see in the spice aisle.

  2. Elizabeth Pennington
    Elizabeth Pennington says:

    What happened to my post about not liking the new format? Are we just tossed aside with no response to the feedback in regards to the having to view ads and go to a second site. What happened Mary?

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Elizabeth … I believe you are referring to the format of the email we send each day to subscribers to this blog. So please address your concerns on that to [email protected] Comments here should be limited to the content of the particular post. I hope that makes sense! I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!

  3. Cari Morrison
    Cari Morrison says:

    So candied fruit’s seemingly endless shelf life would explain why fruitcake is still good to pass on (re-gift) the next Christmas? LOL

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      I have to admit that I’m one of those weird people who really does love Christmas Fruit Cake. But not the dark brown, dry variety. I prefer White Fruit Cake. I still have my grandmother’s original recipe and it is awesome. White cake and only dried cherries (no pineapple or green things!). Her recipe calls for “pickled fruit juice” I think she was too timid to suggest to anyone that she really did cook and bake with wine. Ha.

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Excellent! Of course I have to consider “worst case scenarios.” I’ve had good luck with ingredients that are much older in age, too …. but it would be ill-advised for me to suggest that would be true for every one of my dear readers. BTW, our readership is growing! Hard to imagine, but our best estimates are that more than a million people now have access to this blog post in its varied versions and formats (newspapers, magazines, newsletters as well as right here) each week day. I love knowing these statistics, but honestly addressing that many readers each day kinda’ freaks me out. I much prefer my old-fashioned mindset—that I am writing for just one reader whom I consider a dear friend—just you and me!

  4. Rebecca Spargo
    Rebecca Spargo says:

    I keep seeing that many, many cooking ingredients are to be stored in a cool, dry place. I’m a retired teacher living in a senior community and I don’t have any “cool, dry” places. Where would you suggest I store these types of ingredients?

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Generally this refers to a cupboard or close that is closed most of the time, making it a dark place. Sunlight and even incandescent light has a way of breaking down food items. As for “cool” that would be away from a heater or a stove. And remember that heat rises, so lower cabinets and storage areas would be more ideal that say the one above the refrigerator, an appliance that can give off some amount of heat. That cabinet under your kitchen sink is not a very good place for food storage as it tends to have more humidity due to the dishwasher which would be attached under there as well as the garbage disposal and sink drain. So it all has to do with defining “cool, dry.” I’m certain you can find places in your living space that would be ideal for long-term storage of food items. Hope that helps!


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