Have you ever followed a baking recipe exactly only to wind up with a total flop? Chances are it’s because you used an ingredient that was past its shelf life.
No matter how well-sealed your pantry’s canisters and zip-top plastic bags are, your baking ingredients will start going bad once they’re opened. To prevent your next baking project from turning into a frustrating disaster, we’ve put together a quick checklist of common baking ingredients and when you should replace them.
If your cake tastes dense or your muffins are falling flat, you baking powder is probably to blame. Baking powder is a substance that causes your baked goods to rise and taste light and fluffy. But once you open a new can of baking powder, the humidity in the air starts to take effect and will eventually render your baking powder useless.
It’s hard to say when exactly you should throw out old baking powder, but it seldom lasts more than about 9 months in the pantry. If you’re unsure about how long you’ve had your can of baking powder, a simple test can reveal whether it’s still good. Add a teaspoon of the baking powder to a cup of hot water; if it fizzes, it’s good.
Like baking powder, baking soda helps make baked goods rise, but it lasts a little longer — up to 2 years when stored in a cool, dry place.
Used as a binder and a thickener, cornstarch is often called for in recipes for custards, pie fillings and cobblers. It’s especially useful in gluten-free recipes because it shares flour’s ability to bind ingredients.
If you haven’t gone through your container of cornstarch in about 18 months since the day it was opened, replace it.
Most flour comes from wheat, but alternative flours (like rice flour) have gained traction in the last decade. As a rule of thumb, all-purpose white flour lasts only about 6 months in the pantry, whether you’ve opened the bag or not. Whole wheat flour and all other flours should be stored in the refrigerator, and they last about 6 months there. One of our top baking secrets is to always use fresh flour in your recipes.
Regular old white sugar lasts about 2 years when it’s stored in a cool, dry place. Brown sugar, on the other hand, becomes unusable after about 6 months in the pantry — you’ll know it’s old when it solidifies and becomes hard as a brick.
Salt is a stable substance that lasts indefinitely and doesn’t expire. The other ingredients in seasoned salt, however, lose their flavor after about a year of storage.
Baking chocolate is formulated with less cocoa butter than regular chocolate, which means it also can last a long time in the pantry. There’s no hard and fast rule about when you should chuck your chocolate, but milk chocolate does have a shorter shelf life than dark chocolate.
If you want to know whether your age-old bag of chocolate chips or dusty box of baking chocolate is still good, melt some in a pan and add a little sugar if the chocolate is unsweetened. Let it cool, and if it tastes good to you, it’s good to use.