Baking ingredients on a wooden board, horizontal, close-up

The Best Time to Buy (and How to Store) Baking Ingredients + Free Printable

Look up the word ‘impulsive’ in the dictionary and prepare to see my face. In my basement pantry, I have 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 only because they’ve become a novelty. They appear to be the same as the day I bought them and perhaps one of the reasons fruit cake has gotten such a bad rap

 

Baking ingredients on a wooden board, horizontal, close-up

I still have a bag of all-purpose flour in the freezer, purchased last holiday season ($.99). I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Traditionally, baking supplies go on sale in early November until the end of the year. Now, granted, 2021 is shaping up to be a year like none other in our memories with shortages and delays showing up as limited supplies and empty shelves. But even so and based on what I am seeing in my local supermarkets, baking supplies will once again be holiday loss leaders. That means cheap sugar and flour; 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 the next time it’s on sale. As you see the sales roll out, that’s the time to stock up.

Which begs the question: How long will baking supplies last in the event you decide to buy enough to last the year? It all depends on the items and if you have the storage space to keep them at their optimum.

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

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

White bread. Addinga slice of white bread in your brown sugar container allows the sugar to draw moisture from it. The bread hardens while the brown sugar softens, keeping or returning it to a soft texture.

Vacuum seal. Another option is to vacuum seal brown sugar in small amounts, like 1 or 2 lbs.

Airtight container. When you store the sugar in a sealable, airtight container, there’s no air to absorb the moisture that causes the sugar to harden. brown sugar keeper

Terra cotta disk. This amazing little brown sugar keeper will make sure brown sugar is always soft and easy-to-use. I can fill it with hardened brown sugar, follow instructions to soak that little disk in water and place it in the lid, close the container, and in no time the brown sugar is soft and usable. I’ve discovered quite by accident that even if that little terra cotta disk in my brown sugar keeper dries out and falls into the container, the brown sugar remains soft and lovely. Is there something magical about terra cotta? Hmm…

Butter

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. 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 its Karo syrups are 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 pour more slowly.

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 the 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. Paprika and cayenne pepper will last longer when refrigerted, but it’s not necessary.

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

I’ll keep you posted.


Free Printable Cheat Sheet

We’ve prepared a handy single-sheet cheat sheet for you. You can either save it to your device or print it out to hang inside a cupboard door or pantry.

 

Shelf life and Cheat sheet

Shelf life

 

 


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19 replies
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  1. Joyce says:

    I make wonderful oatmeal Christmas cookies with the candied fruit. Used instead of raisins it makes a festive yummy cookie, especially with a piece of candied cherry – green or red – on top. Can add nuts or not.

    Reply
  2. Debbie says:

    Mary, do not use that candied fruit from the market to make fruit cake. Use regular dried fruits. Alton Brown of Food Network has a great recipe.

    Reply
  3. Cheryl says:

    I have been using the bread trick in brown sugar for years. And it really does not require a whole piece of bread. Just a small piece (like off the heel, which usually doesn’t get eaten anyway) will do the trick. Even a tiny piece has always softened my brown sugar if it turns hard on me.
    Thank you so much Mary for your wonderful column. I start my day off with you everyday!

    Reply
  4. Linda Radosevich says:

    Instead of buying brown sugar, I make may own! About a half of a cup of granulated white sugar to one to three tablespoons of molasses makes close to one cup of brown sugar.

    Reply
  5. Nancy Brakka says:

    Instead of paying $4.95 for the terra cotta disc, I go to the plant supply & get a saucer for the smallest planter pot (about 2″). They cost less than a dollar & work just the same. Sterilize in boiling hot water.

    Reply
  6. Polly B Deal says:

    My family that I would share with are generally small. I guess I could 1/2 the ingredients and use a pint jar? It’s a little confusing, on the book front, that looks like a pint jar…but the instructions before the recipes say use a wide mouth quart jar. Thank you for the gift. I’m thinking about the baked cake in the small jars!

    Reply
  7. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, you’re a mind-reader! I was wondering about the shelf life of baking items. I didn’t know that we could store flour and baking powder in the freezer. Thanks for the cheat sheet. I will print it today and post it inside my pantry. You’re my rock star!

    Reply
  8. Jackie says:

    Mary, surely as a Cheapskate you know my grandmothers fix for brown sugar—store in airtight container and if hardens put a slice of fresh bread or piece of apple in it for a day or so. Soft again! Or, more modern-zap a few secs in microwave.

    Reply
    • Cindy says:

      Wow…never heard of that. I put a damp paper towel in a snack size ziploc bag and put it in the container. The piece of bread is much more frugal. I’ll try that next time. Thanks for that tip!

      Reply
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