Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we can all focus on the real reason for the season—holiday baking! Seriously, though, the wintry weeks of Christmas and New Year's are the perfect time to get back into the kitchen and whip up some holiday cheer. Work deadlines tend to slow down, parties and celebrations abound, and everyone gets a pass on eating a bit more sugar than they normally would. And, it's also the perfect time to hit up Trader Joe's for all those baking staples you didn't even know you needed—but TJ's did.
It's true: some of the stuff that the specialty grocer comes up with to help spread a sweet, pepperminty dose of Christmas spirit are just ingenious. Plus, the retailer's prices remain some of the best in the business, so dozens of cookies, cupcakes, or candies don't have to be the reason your holiday spending is over the top.
In the spirit of the season, check out these must-have holiday baking picks from Trader Joe's, carefully collected below.
There's one foolproof way to turn a regular cookie into a Christmas cookie, and that's sprinkles! These are one of the first staples to stash in your pantry in preparation for the coming baking bonanza. Trader Joe's is already on it, stocking these very limited-time-only Christmas Sprinkle bags, which contain a red, white, and green mix of snowflakes, Christmas trees, stars, and plenty of standard dots and dashes sprinkle shapes for good measure.
Peppermint-Flavored Baking Chips
Another way to change things up for winter is by swapping out chocolate chips for peppermint ones. Go even farther with it and add some cocoa powder to your standard chocolate chip recipe along with the chip flavor swap for a chocolate mint cookie that will be the hit of the holiday party—or a midnight snack at home. These peppermint chips are also great to fold into sugary loaf cake recipes, mix into fudge batter right before it sets in the fridge, or use to add some extra oomph to the icing for sugar cookies. There can never be too much peppermint this time of year.
Organic Cane Sugar
Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you're going hard in the kitchen this holiday, you're need to stock up on the basics now. Like, right now. How many times have you headed to the store on Dec. 23, or even the morning of Christmas Eve, only to discover the sugar is completely gone—same for flour or baking powder.
Stock up now while there's still staples like sugar to be had, and opt for Trader Joe's organic cane sugar. It comes from sugar cane that's been cut by hand, then milled for its juice. When the liquid evaporates, what's left is golden sugar crystals with a deep molasses flavor. It's sweeter and more flavorful than refined white sugar in this more natural state, which is what will help set your holiday baking apart. Grab an extra bag (resealable for easy reuse) in case your neighbor comes knocking to borrow a cup or two closer to Christmas.
Portuguese Flor de Sal
If you think quality makes a difference when it comes to sugar sourcing, that goes double for salt. The more familiar fleur de sel is the French version of this Portuguese salt, which forms as a thin layer of crystals on top of the sea and is collected by hand. In both languages, the name translates to "salt flowers," and this thin, flaky salt gives a gentle, clean flavor and an incredible texture. Trader Joe's presentation also makes this item utterly giftable. It comes in a small ceramic jar with a cork lid for air-tight freshness. Grab several for your pantry and use the leftovers as stocking stuffers for your foodie friends.
Organic Pure Bourbon Vanilla
There are baking ingredients that you can skimp on and not really notice the difference—vanilla extract isn't one of them. The imitation and artificial vanillas never hit like the real thing. Like sugar, this is another item that likely sits on your shelf relatively unused during most of the year, only to get a workout when celebratory baking rolls around. The Bourbon here is not in reference to alcohol, but to the island of Bourbon, where some of the best vanilla in the world is harvested—that's what's in here. It's a bit more expensive than imitation extractions, but the splurge will come through (and be oh so worth it) when you taste the richer flavor.
Chocolate Peppermint Loaf And Baking Mix
Ah, the power of a loaf cake. Simply mix the batter together, throw it into a greased and lined pan, and wait for the compliments to roll in. This one comes with peppermint flavor already built in. If you added a cup or two of Trader Joe's peppermint chips, it would create some incredible gooey texture, and turn the recipe into something more your own.
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
If you make cookies with any regularity, you probably always have a couple bags of these on hand. Double that for the holidays. Trust me. A 12-ounce bag is just $2.99.
If you're in the habit of making fudge, then these marshmallows are a perfect topping. They might also be called for in the actual mix, depending on your recipe. Or, there's the less baking-oriented use of simply plopping them into steaming hot mugs of cocoa! The uses are infinite, but you do need them. And maybe a couple bags of the peppermint flavor, too? The Trader Joe's brand are gluten-free and gelatin free, making them perfect for vegans and celiacs. Inclusive sweet Christmas treats for the win! (Note: these do contain soy.)
Fleur De Sel Caramel Sauce
What's better than caramel sauce? Salty caramel sauce! Grab a jar of this delicious spread to instantly elevate any other dessert, or simply eat with a spoon when you're in the middle of a marathon baking session. No judgment here! A 10-ounce jar costs $3.99.
Caramel Sea Salt Baking Chips
Stocked up on chocolate chips and peppermint chips already? Throw some caramel sea salt ones in for good measure. These are also perfect to throw in a chocolaty dough, maybe even alongside some chocolate chips? Decadence awaits you.
Organic Buttery Plant-Based Spread
If you are trying to create some vegan sweet treats, this plant-based buttery spread is so close to the real thing it almost scares me. Plus, it's so much easier to scoop out into a measuring cup than the rigmarole of softening up cubes, removing the paper, etcetera. Go with the Trader Joe's brand to get a much nicer price than name brands like Earth Balance—just $3.99 for a 13-ounce tub—but with all of the buttery flavor intact.
Trader Joe's Butter Quarters, Salted
If you're obsessed about butter quality, then you've come to the right place. This is my go-to baking butter forever and ever, amen. I always keep at least one box of it in the freezer, just in case I get the urge to bake. Yes, this is salted butter. I don't know why everyone thinks unsalted butter is better. They're wrong. I will die on this hill.
Pasture Raised Large Brown Eggs
Happy chickens produce better-tasting eggs. Pasture-raised chickens are happier. They're guaranteed at least 100 square feet to roam around in, year-round, whereas cage-free chickens can still be kept cooped up indoors with just about a foot of room to roam. Pasture-raised eggs are the ethical choice and the most delicious one. Trader Joe's also helps keep this choice within your budget, just $4.99 for a dozen. So, make sure to stock up here instead of another store where the same eggs can cost you a pretty penny. And make sure to get plenty, almost every baked good requires an egg or four.
Mini Peppermint Meringues
When you don't actually have time to bake anything, set out a bowl of these mini meringues instead. They're light and airy with just the right amount of minty goodness, and guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser. Made with pure cane sugar and egg whites, like every excellent meringue in the book, these sweet treats are another gluten-free snack that won't break your budget. And, hey, they can also work as cupcake toppers or additions to gingerbread houses and other festive treats. Either way, grabbing a few tubs while they're in season is the way to go.