What's the Best Way to Store Flour, Sugar, and Other Baking Staples?
If you love to bake, chances are good that you also enjoy stocking up on baking supplies. A pantry filled with a variety of flours, sugars, leavening agents, and extracts allows you to turn out a batch of cookies—or a layer cake, or muffins, or a dozen buttermilk biscuits, the list could go on and on—on a whim, without having to run out to the store for more flour or sugar. To keep those ingredients well, it pays to follow a few storage guidelines. Read on for the best ways to keep your baking staples in top shape.
Store all-purpose flour in an airtight container at room temperature. The important word there is "airtight." Once you've opened a bag, it's not enough simply to fold over the top to secure it. Your best bet is to transfer the flour (still in the bag, if you prefer, or decanted as long as it's labeled) to a container with an airtight seal, to avoid infestations of pantry pests. There's no reason to store all-purpose flour in the refrigerator or freezer; a dry environment is actually better for long-term storage.
Other flours, including whole-grain wheat flours and many alternative grain flours, are less shelf stable than all-purpose flours. Oils in the grains are more prone to turning rancid, so you should take care to keep those flours out of the warmer temperatures of the pantry and into the refrigerator or freezer. Again, it's crucial to seal them well and keep them airtight. And because of their shorter shelf stability, pay close attention to the expiration dates stamped on the bags. You'll want to use them up more quickly than all-purpose flour that you purchase at the same time. The same goes for nut flours—and whole nuts. Their oils can cause them to turn rancid, so you'll want to keep both in the freezer, in airtight containers.
Sugars are best stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Granulated sugar may form lumps, but they are easy to break up with a whisk or fork. Brown sugar is especially prone to hardening, in which case you'll have to soften it before measuring and using in a recipe. Try placing a thin wedge of apple in with the sugar and sealing it overnight (a small piece of bread works as well); the moisture from the apple (or bread) will transfer to the sugar, softening it from its hardened state. You can also put the brown sugar in a glass bowl and put it in the microwave with a second glass bowl filled with water. As you microwave the sugar on high, the moisture from the water should help soften it in less than a minute (check at 20 second intervals to avoid overdoing it). Confectioners' sugar is fine at room temperature, as long as it's in an airtight container. Though it has cornstarch added in as an anti-caking agent, you may want to give it a good whisk, or sift it through a strainer, before measuring, to get rid of any lumps.
Baking powder and baking soda should be stored at room temperature, away from heat and light. It's best to decant baking soda into an airtight container rather than using it from an opened box. And whatever you do, don't use a box of baking soda that you've opened and set in your refrigerator when you need a teaspoon or two for a baking recipe. That opened box is designed to absorb odors, so it should be left to do just that.
Store extracts such as vanilla or almond at room temperature, away from heat and light. There's no need to keep them in the refrigerator even after they have been opened.
Chocolate Bars and Chocolate Chips
Store chocolate for baking, whether bars or chips, in airtight containers in a cool spot in your pantry, away from light—and away from chocolate lovers who may go looking for your stash whenever they need a sweet snack.