30 Essential Items You Need To Have On Hand For Holiday Baking

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the busiest for home bakers. It's filled with delectable treats at office holiday parties, trays of cookies at church cookie swaps, and elaborate table spreads for family events. But as much fun as it is to sample these baked treats, that joy is often outweighed by the hassle of shopping before your holiday baking stint.

Numerous home bakers have likely fallen into the annual trap of seasonal ill-preparedness — and regretted it every single time. Yet you don't have to wait until the night before an elaborate holiday gathering to grab a bag of sugar from the store (like countless other individuals). In fact, the key to ensuring you have the ingredients and tools you need for the holidays is actually quite simple: shop early.

To help make this the year of organizing ahead of baking season, we've gathered a list of kitchen tools and pantry essentials to stock up on before the holiday rush. Here are 30 essential items you need to have on hand for holiday baking.


You can't decorate your Christmas cookies without sprinkles, so we always recommend having a small container of sprinkles on hand. This can include nonpareils, colored sugar, or the chocolate sprinkles you'd find on a soft serve cone. If you can't decide which sprinkles to purchase, opt for a container with several different types all in one, as it's guaranteed to make your cookies more exciting (and merry) for the holiday season. Plus, sprinkles don't really expire, since sugar is relatively resistant to bacteria growth, and doesn't spoil easily.

Powdered sugar

Powdered sugar is a vital ingredient to have in your pantry. It can go a long way when decorating a cake, and you can also use it to make icings for your various holiday treats. You can sift it right on top of your baked goods to give it the impression of freshly fallen snow, or use a cutout to sprinkle an elaborate design. When working with this ingredient, though, it's essential to cool your baked goods completely. If you don't, the sugar may stick to the surface, and lose its seasonal appeal. 

Canned pumpkin puree

Realistically, canned pumpkin puree is an ingredient you should have in your pantry year-round — not just for the holidays. It's the base of seasonal favorites such as pumpkin pie or bread, and you can also use it to add moisture to your cake (or banana bread) to the next level. The best part about this ingredient is that it's shelf-stable, and you can leave a sealed can in your pantry for quite some time if it isn't damaged. Once opened, though, pumpkin puree lasts about five days in the fridge. 

Graham cracker crusts

Virtually anything can be made into a delicious holiday dessert with a graham cracker crust. Yet the best graham cracker crusts for your no-bake cheesecake are the ones you don't have to make yourself.

Although we're always for making a crust yourself, a pre-made graham cracker crust can be the key to easy holiday entertaining. All you have to do is pop your filling in, let it set in the fridge, then serve the dessert to your hungry guests. No food processor or melted butter is involved, which will save you time and headaches, and you can even purchase chocolate or Oreo-based crusts to best fit your dessert. 

Rolling pin

From gingerbread houses to pie crusts, there are numerous holiday treats that require a rolling pin. In other words, one secret to holiday baking success is investing in a good rolling pin. We prefer using a rolling pin without handles on the side — aka French-style — but some folks prefer the American-style version. You can also buy rolling pins made with lightweight wood or heavy marble. Whatever material you choose, remember to be gentle with your rolling (and always use extra flour).

Condensed or evaporated milk

Condensed milk and evaporated milk are two canned ingredients many folks forget to pick up before the holiday rush. But each is critical to baking certain varieties of custard pie and fudge — and are also helpful to include in your brownie, cake, or Rice Krispies treat recipes, as well.

Evaporated milk can last for over two years, which is good for folks who forget to include it on their shopping list. Plus, if you have leftover sweetened condensed milk in your pantry at the end of the holiday season, simply keep those cans to whip up a batch of homemade ice cream in the summer. 

Flavor extracts

Every baker should have a small collection of flavor extracts in their cabinet. These extracts are often made with alcohol, so they tend to have a long shelf life. Plus, they can be used for recipes outside of the holiday baking season, including cookies, cakes, and icing. Real vanilla extract is by far the most ubiquitous flavor. But if you plan on baking some seasonal cookies or marzipan, you might want to invest in rum or almond extract, too. 

Mixing bowls

Every aspiring home baker needs a sturdy selection of mixing bowls for the holiday baking season. You can purchase a set of bowls based on several factors, including how you plan to store them, and whether or not you'll use them for serving.

If you want to double up the utility of your bowls, purchase a nested set of ceramic or glass ones. You should also opt for bowls that are heat-resistant, and can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher — because nobody wants to be standing over the sink on Christmas.


If there's one thing holiday baked treats have in common, it's butter. Luckily, modern supermarkets carry a ton of different types of butter, including Irish and European varieties. These have a higher butterfat content than standard American sweet cream butter varieties, whether it's salted, unsalted, or whipped butter. For baking, we recommend stocking up on unsalted butter, since it gives you greater control of the sodium level in a recipe. Plant-based eaters can also stock up on vegan butter from popular brands like Miyoko's or Earth Balance. 

Brown and white sugar

Many recipes call for a combination of white and brown sugar, so your baking arsenal should be prepared with both of these essentials. Now, white granulated sugar is less particular storage-wise than brown sugar, which contains sticky molasses. One of the absolute best ways to keep brown sugar soft includes removing it from its plastic bag and placing it in an airtight container to retain its natural moisture. You can also add terra cotta discs, or a slice of bread to the bag (although you must be very careful if you're baking for gluten-free folks). 

Leavening agents

Your cookies and cakes will fall flat if you neglect to stock up on baking soda and baking powder. These chemical leavening agents interact with the other ingredients to give your baked goods a proper rise, so you must remember to stock up on a fresh container of each at the start of baking season. You can test them to see if they're still fresh by adding vinegar to baking soda, or water to baking powder. If there's not much fizzing action, it's time to toss it in the trash. 

Candy pieces

The best type of Christmas cookies are arguably peanut butter blossoms. These classics are made with delicate, plush peanut butter cookies, and a Hershey's Kiss in the center. Frankly, it's not an authentic peanut butter blossom without this confectionary addition. So if you plan to make any cookies with candy this year? Now is the time to start stocking up.

You'll find the best candy deals if you shop in the regular candy aisle rather than the aptly-decorated Christmas candy section (which is never really brimming with worthwhile deals). If you plan on including red and green M&M's in your monster cookies, though, you'll need to make an exception.

Baking chocolate

Most people go straight to chocolate chips for their Christmas cookies, but we opt for baking bars instead. Bar chocolate is much better for homemade cookies because it has a higher cocoa butter content than chips, and often contains fewer stabilizers. When you bite into cookies with bar chocolate, the chocolate will be ooey-gooey. 

Even if you're just garnishing your treats with melted chocolate, you should still avoid chocolate chips. The stabilizers in chips inhibit proper melting, so it will produce a thicker melt than bar chocolate, while taking longer. 


Are you the overachiever who makes the bread for every holiday occasion, or homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning? If so, you can't make holiday magic happen without yeast. This dried powder allows your dough to rise correctly, which is essential for a perfectly-baked challah or babka. 

If you're an occasional bread baker, fear not. Unopened packages of active dry yeast can last upwards of two years in a cool, dry place. You can also mix the yeast with water and granulated sugar in a container to test it before using the rest of the packet. 

Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is an excellent product to have in any pantry –- and it gets a lot of use around the holidays. There are many different types of cocoa powder, including natural cocoa powder, which has a high acidity, and can amplify the rise of your leavening agents. If you're serving fudgy brownies or cake with your holiday dessert spread, consider buying Dutched cocoa powder instead. This variety has a milder flavor, and darker hue.

Kitchen scale

If you don't already weigh out your dry ingredients, now is the time to start doing so. A scale is particularly beneficial if you're trying new recipes during the holiday season (and you don't have any prior references to recall regarding the proper consistency). It also ensures your version of "one cup" is the same as the recipe developer's. In that vein, when selecting recipes for the holidays, we recommend finding reputable ones with the weights listed. 


No gingerbread would be complete without sticky, syrupy molasses. In fact, if any ingredient is the "I only use it during the holidays" one, it's going to be molasses. 

Luckily, molasses is pretty well-protected against spoilage. Unopened jars can last upwards of a year, while opened jars should be used within six months or so. However, some believe molasses can last much longer than a single year if you store it in a dry place.

Cookie cutters

It's almost time to pull out that box of holiday cookie cutters you forgot was hiding in your basement. Of course, the exact type of cookie cutter you'll need depends on the type of cookie you're planning on making. Gingerbread men, stars, Christmas trees, and the like are all common holiday options. And if you don't have a stockpile of these cutters on hand, fear not! A trip to your local thrift store will lead you to bargain-priced cookie cutters. 

Food coloring

Food coloring — because how else would your baked treats become bright shades of red and green? There are many options on the food dye front, including gels, liquid-based droppers, gel paste, and powder. If you're avoiding synthetic colors, you can opt for natural food dyes — like beet powder or freeze-dried strawberries — as a red food coloring substitute, or matcha for shades of Christmas green. Regardless of the product, always add the dye incrementally, since it's easier to darken the hue with more dye than it is to soften it with other ingredients

Stand mixer

The stand mixer is the workhorse of your kitchen. It might give off cute homemaker vibes to stir your cookie batter by hand, but it gets very, very old after two batches. 

The best stand mixer brand, by far, is KitchenAid. Although a machine will cost up to $500, there are tons of beautiful colors to choose from, and it's the type of appliance you're likely to pass down to future generations of bakers. You can also outfit your stand mixer with different attachments for bread, batter, pasta — and even grind meat. 


We can't underscore the importance of having several different types of spatulas in your kitchen. Not only should you have a silicon spatula (or two ... or three) for wiping down your bowls, but you should also invest in a metal one to pull your baked treats off of a hot pan. If you plan to bake a lot of cakes, we recommend buying a sturdy offset spatula to make decorating a breeze, as well. In short, you really can never have enough of these handy kitchen tools. 

Heavy cream

Heavy cream and whipping cream are common ingredients in many recipes. You can whip it in your stand mixer to make whipped cream for your homemade pumpkin pie, or add an unctuous flavor to your no-bake cream pies. Both opened and unopened containers of this high-fat dairy product can be kept in your fridge for upwards of a month, which means you have ample time to find out what to do with the leftovers (besides simply pouring it into your coffee).

Parchment paper or pan liners

Building out your holiday baking selection isn't just about ingredients and pans — it's also about the small items you forget about until you really, really need them. One of these tools is parchment paper, which can be used to line cake pans or cookie sheets, or even moving excess powdered sugar back into the bag.

You can line the bottom of your cake stand with parchment paper to help keep it clean as you're decorating your dessert centerpiece, too. It's a mess-free cake-decorating trick that will change the way you bake going forward. 

Wire cooling rack

Every baker should have a couple of wire racks on hand for their baked goods after cooking. For many baked goods (including any number of cakes and cookies), lingering on a hot pan or baking sheet can cause the bottoms to brown more than you intended — which can change the fate of your entire recipe.

Per the presumed recipe directions, then, move your baked goods to the wire rack after you pull them from the oven. Then, just pop your wire racks into the dishwasher for easy cleaning. 


From pecan pie and peanut brittle, to classic snowball cookies, holiday recipes seem to use an inordinate amount of nuts. It's one group of items that you'll want to stock up on before the holiday baking rush — as long as they aren't hanging around in your closet. In fact, you shouldn't store nuts in the pantry because the high-fat content causes them to go rancid quickly. Although you might not get sick from eating these nuts, the quality won't be up to par. So instead, store unused nuts in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer.

Cookie or ice cream scoop

No one wants to be the person at a cookie swap with small or uneven cookies. To avoid this fate, invest in a good-sized cookie or ice cream scoop, which also ensures all your cookies bake evenly. You can buy products ranging from one tablespoon to three tablespoons. Plus, it's bound to keep your kitchen mess-free this holiday baking season (at least for the cookie-baking part). You can also use these items for other culinary uses, too, including shaping and measuring meatballs. 

Cream cheese

The amount of cream cheese we go through every holiday baking season is absolutely incredible. This fatty staple is our secret to making perfect cream cheese Christmas cookies, and a seasonal gingerbread cheesecake recipe.

When you're baking, you'll always want to opt for the blocks of cream cheese rather than the whipped stuff in the plastic tin. Since the whipped variety contains more air, it can mess up the texture of a recipe where the block version is intended. In addition, don't go for a low-fat variety, as this may also alter the texture of your bake. 

Measuring utensils

Every good baker should have a set of measuring tools on hand (even if their preferred way to measure dry ingredients is by weight). You can usually purchase a set of measuring spoons or cups for less than $10, which can be used for sweet and savory recipes. You can also purchase nested tools for easy storage, or go for classic glass pieces for a modern flair. Simply, they're a must-have item for any home cook year-round. 

Baking pans

There aren't any exact baking pans that you have to have for holiday recipes, since the pan you'll uses is entirely dependent on what you're making. Still, we recommend keeping a sturdy sheet pan handy for roasting or baking cookies; a standard 9-inch cake pan for all-purpose use; and a glass or ceramic pie tin for baking your Thanksgiving staples. Beyond that, you can fill your cabinets with seasonal Bundt pans, loaf pans, or uniquely-shaped tins for baking elaborate cakes. 

Nut butters

Peanut butter cookies are always a delicious addition to any cookie swap. But this — or any — nut butter can be used for other holiday desserts, as well. In fact, almond, cashew, or tahini butters can make extra-special chocolate chip cookies, or increase the density of your cakes. You can even add it to frosting for a flavorful buttercream. Oh, and don't forget a tray of classic buckeyes (which can be made festive with the addition of sprinkles).