If you don’t bake much, you might not have the ingredients on hand to make something at a moment’s notice. I love to have ingredients available so I can decide in the middle of a snowstorm to bake something with what is in the house.
First of all you need flour. Most people can get by with all-purpose flour, which is named all-purpose because it is good for everything from cakes to bread. I use unbleached all-purpose flour because it makes better baked products. Let’s face it, I would rather eat flour that is naturally a little off-white than eat something that has been bleached with chemicals. I also keep white whole wheat flour on hand, but I will work to convert you to whole wheat another day.
If you also keep sugar, brown sugar, powdered or confectioner’s sugar (they are the same thing), baking powder, baking soda, salt and unsweetened cocoa in your pantry you are almost set to bake just about anything. A bottle of neutral oil, like canola oil, vanilla extract and whatever spices you like (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves) will get you almost there. A few eggs, butter and milk in the fridge and you are pretty much set.
You can always add more as you find recipes you want to try or ingredients you like. Chocolate chips and bars are always good, as is almond extract, other whole grain flours, various nuts and things like molasses, real maple syrup and honey. But stick with the basics as you get started and let the others find their way into your grocery cart as you go along.