The Essentials: Part 1, Mission Dessert – pantry staples and shortbread

Yesterday’s emergency made me realize something. I had been so excited to start telling you about the wonderful and delicious food you can make in your tiny kitchen, that I forgot to go over some basics.

We covered kitchen equipment, but I completely left out pantry staples.

If I didn’t have a well-stocked cabinet and fridge, I would have had to make a stop at the store (which I didn’t have time to do) or, worse, a stop at the bakery. Now, we have a fantastic bakery near our apartment. But 1. I couldn’t bare the thought of ordering takeout pizza AND giving ┬ámy guests store bought baked goods, no matter how homemade they may taste and 2. while our bakery is probably one of the cheapest in Manhattan and the occasional cupcake or banana pudding for two doesn’t break the bank, the cost adds up when you’re getting into the dozen zone.

I break my pantry into two categories, dessert staples and quick dinner staples. I’m going to start with dessert staples for now and then cover dinner in another post. But some of these things, like butter, eggs, vegetable oil and heavy cream really live in both worlds.

So, here are the things I keep on hand so I can always whip up some sort of a dessert.

  • Box cake mix
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking Soda
  • Baking Powder
  • vanilla
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Heavy cream
  • Chocolate (I prefer bar over chips because bars melt more easily due to stabilizers in chips and you can easily chop up the bar to use as chunks in cookies. I like to get one item that can do double duty instead of two when I can.)
  • vegetable oil

I know eggs, heavy cream and butter have shorter shelf lives than the other items. But, if you’re like us, you always have eggs on hand. I make egg sandwiches to take for lunch, he makes eggs on Sunday mornings and eggs find their way into dinner at least once during the week. Butter lasts in the fridge for a while. Or can be frozen.

I go for unsalted butter always. It’s better for baking and if I am going to use it in my cooking, I’d prefer to have complete control over the salt content. Only child. Control issues.

Heavy cream may seem like the only odd ball thing to have. But I end up using it more than you’d think. Adding creaminess to soup, a splash to a smoothie for some richness, and who doesn’t love some homemade whipped cream on ice cream or cake or a brownie?

It may seem like a lot to buy flour and baking soda and baking powder, but it will just be the initial stock up purchase that will hit your wallet hard. Baking soda and powder last me a good six month or more. Flour can go for a few months before needing a restock.

Chocolate never lasts. Ever.

It may seem like a pain to buy all of this stuff, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

With the above ingredients, you can whip up cupcakes or a cake with homemade butter cream frosting, cupcakes or a cake with a homemade and oh-so-fancy-shmancy-but-secretly-super-easy chocolate ganache, shortbread cookies, shortbread cookies dunked in chocolate ganache, chocolate chip shortbread cookies, ┬ásugar cookies, glazed sugar cookies, chocolate dipped sugar cookies, a cake or cupcakes with a glaze… oh, and of course, yesterday’s emergency whoopie pies!

Yup. All that. From those 11 ingredients.

There’s more too, but that’s what comes to mind because those are the things in my arsenal.

The easiest one really, and the one I’ve found to be the biggest crowd-pleaser, is shortbread.

It is so deceptively simple.

It tastes like you’ve spent hours slaving away.

It also tastes like you will need to spend hours slaving away in the gym.

Only the latter is true.


  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 10 oz flour
  • (1 oz corn starch- the recipe calls for it, but I’ve left it out and they taste fine. I have it on hand for thickening soups or for making puddings, but don’t panic if you don’t and if you know you will never use it again)

Preheat oven to 300

Cream together the sugar and the butter.

When smooth, stir in the flour.

Press into a round or square greased baking tin. I use my square pan I use for brownies.

Prick holes in the top with a fork.

Bake for one hour.

Cut into squares upon removal from oven, when shortbread is still soft.

Place the bars on a plate to cool.

Your kitchen will smell like butter. And warm sugar.

Your defenses will be down.

You will be worried about whether your aunt will notice the dust on the TV, or if your boyfriend’s grandma will judge you for ordering mezze from the middle eastern restaurant down the street instead of spending the day in the kitchen making hummus and babaganoush and lamb kebabs (you had to work!) or if you can crack open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass without anyone noticing how much liquid has gone missing….

But then you will look at your shortbread squares arranged daintily on the plate.

And you will realize that no one will notice if one of those has gone missing.

Butter and sugar will dissolve in your mouth.

And all will be right with the world.