The Essential Cake Ingredients I Always Have on Hand

Starting the new year off with a new series: Cake Basics. I know many of you are well-versed in cake baking by now, but I also know many of you are still trying to figure it all out. I want to help! There is a ton of content this month that I want to share with you to help you get started and/or to help you troubleshoot some of the things you’re struggling with. And for my expert bakers, these Cake Basics posts will be good refreshers 🙂

To start us off, I’m sharing The Essential Cake Ingredients I Always Have on Hand. These are the main ingredients in some of my favorite, go-to, easy cake recipes. So no matter the day or the time, you’re ready to whip up a homemade cake with less stress and more confidence.

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The Essential Cake Ingredients I Always Have on Hand

When It All Started

What feels like a lifetime ago, I used to do focus group moderating for media companies. Basically, I interviewed people about their viewing behaviors, day-to-day behaviors with media, thoughts on new television shows, thoughts on talent, etc.

One of the projects I worked on was for Martha Stewart Omnimedia. I was in Minnesota doing interviews to learn more about the Martha Stewart consumer. In one discussion, a woman told me she always had ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on hand. Always! So no matter what day it was, or what time it was, she could whip up a batch of her favorite cookies for any occasion, or no occasion at all.

I loved that idea and went home to immediately implement it in my own life. Since then, you can always find dark chocolate chips, flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, eggs, and unsalted butter in my house.

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Cookies to Cakes

Not too long after that, I started doing this with cake ingredients. I picked two of my favorite easy recipes (yellow cake and chocolate cake) and started to ensure I always had the basic ingredients on hand to make either of them at any given moment.

The best part of this is that these ingredients cross over to other cakes, like my vanilla cake and my classic white cake. And with the addition of just a few more ingredients here and there, you have everything to make so many more cakes.

So here it is! My list of ingredients I always have on hand:

Dry Ingredients: Flours

  • All-purpose flour: as you may have noticed by now, some of my cakes have all-purpose flour and some have cake flour. I have an entire POST about the differences between the two, and while I think you should always have both around, you can get by with just all-purpose flour since that’s the more popular, less expensive option. Remember, you can turn AP flour into cake flour with a little cornstarch. I get my all-purpose flour from Costco. It’s the Lehi Mills unbleached brand.
  • Cake flour: I do also really like having cake flour around too. Cake flour is a lighter flour, with a lower protein content than other flours, mostly used in white and yellow cakes. Make sure to read the post I referenced above to learn how to make your own cake flour if necessary. If you want to buy cake flour, I like the Softasilk brand.

Dry Ingredients: Cocoa Powder

Dry Ingredients: Leavening Agents

  • Baking powder: baking powder is a key leavening agent and something you can’t skip in a recipe. The thing to know about baking powder is that it expires! Don’t use anything over 6 months old, from the day you buy it. I always get smaller containers of baking powder, like THIS ONE. I don’t ever buy baking powder (or baking soda) from Costco. You won’t go through it quickly enough.
  • Baking soda: same goes for baking soda. Keep it small and keep it fresh.
  • Salt: I think this might be the easiest one for everyone to keep on hand at all times. We need only a little of it here and there and the shelf life is about 5 years.

Dry Ingredients: Sugars

  • Sugar: granulated sugar is another must-have at all times because it is used in every recipe. This is an ingredient I get at Costco in the 5 lbs. bags. I don’t buy the bigger 25 lbs. bags because I don’t have room to store it.
  • Powdered sugar: I use powdered sugar in every single one of my buttercream recipes, so it’s another ingredient I get from Costco. Again, I’m only getting this one in the 5 lbs. bags. I noticed the larger 25 lbs. bags have more clumps in them and are harder to sift for some reason. I like the C&H brand.

Wet Ingredients: Refrigerated

  • Eggs: I go through a lot of eggs, so this is another Costco item for me. I always get large or extra large eggs. If you’re using a lot of egg whites in recipes, you can also get the egg whites in cartons too.
  • Buttermilk: buttermilk isn’t sold at my Costco, so I buy it from my local grocery store. I use this in nearly every recipe. If you don’t want to get buttermilk or don’t have it on hand, here are a couple options for creating a substitute:
    • Half part milk and half part plain greek yogurt (my favorite sub)
    • 1 cup milk + 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice (make sure to let it sit for 10 minutes)
  • Unsalted butter: since butter can get expensive, I also go to Costco for this one. I like their Kirkland brand unsalted butter.
  • Sour cream: sour cream is a great ingredient to add to cakes to create moisture, especially if it’s a cake with a lot of egg whites. Keep this one on hand for my yellow cake!

Wet Ingredients: Shelf

  • Vegetable oil: this is an inexpensive ingredient that I don’t mind using a non-brand version of. Again, it goes into most of my cakes, so it’s a good one to have around.
  • Vanilla extract: I know vanilla prices have gone way up, and it’s hard to swallow those steep prices for the real deal, so it’s ok to use an imitation brand. I actually use both real and imitation. You won’t really pick up on the pure flavor of vanilla in your cakes, so I say use imitation in the baked goods and save the pure vanilla extract for your frostings.

I think getting used to having these ingredients stocked in your refrigerator or pantry will make your baking life so much easier! Follow me on Instagram @cakebycourtney for more helpful tips and recipes on all things cake!

Other Helpful Tips You’ll Enjoy

Courtney Rich

I’m a self-taught baker, obsessed with cake.

I long ago ditched box mixes in pursuit of melt-in-your-mouth, to-die-for flavor combinations, fillings and textures. I believe cake must be decadent, life-changing and worthy of celebration! And I believe anyone should be able to bake that kind of cake – and I’m here to teach you just that!

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Leave a Comment


  1. With so many food allergies, I’m wondering if you have recipes that include dairy free options. Obviously I can simply swap out butter for plant based butter, but I’m always scared it won’t turn out the same. Have you dabbled in this at all? If so have you come up with any good solid recipes that are dairy free? Especially icing- everything has butter! I haven’t yet, but I’m about to search through your recipes and try one out for tomorrow.

  2. We are not vegan but vegetarian and do not bring eggs in the house. I typically substitute the egg with sour cream. What do you suggest??

  3. I love the way yo explained everything, it sounds so easy.
    Thanks for taking the time to give us this very helpful tips.
    Greetings from Mexico 🥰

  4. I was just looking at your flourless chocolate cake. Thank you for having European measurements!
    But please, can I have a version half or third of that, and with chocolate powder?
    Thank you for being on “all in”. That’s how I heard your story and about your work. Thank you!
    Regina in Italy

  5. Hi! What brand and kind of milk powder do you use?
    Also, I made a cake and i have a circle in middle. Do you know if that is because of the temperature in my oven?

    Thank you.

    1. I just use the store brand! You could be overmixing! That’s what can make cakes fall in the middle.

  6. Hi! This post is so helpful! For keeping milk on hand, have you used powdered buttermilk or powdered whole milk? I want to be able to make cake at any time but don’t use milk except for cakes!

  7. My first foray on your site: I’m planning on making your classic yellow cake and see you call for clear vanilla extract. I have just regular vanilla extract. Will it make a difference?

  8. Hi Courtney! Thanks for all you do!! I am looking to make one of your recipes in a 12x18x3 pan and will need need to make around 5 batches…I have two KA mixers…will your recipes be okay to sit on the counter while I make all the batches as it will take some time to make and fill the pan? I know some people say their batter doesn’t do well sitting out room temp while pans are in the oven.

  9. Love the blog post! Do you know what the conversion from eggs to tbsp/cups in an egg white carton would be?
    Thanks Courtney!