Apr 05 2013

A Baker’s Secret Ingredients

I have a number of little secret tips and tricks in my arsenal that I’ll use to kick a dish up another level or two. I mention them individually in recipes, but I figured a post with some of them listed out could be helpful. These are all small adjustments you can make to almost any recipe, I’d just recommend thinking through what you’re adding, what result you’re looking for, and not change TOO much at any given time.

Note – most of the product links go to King Arthur Flour’s website because I am a huge fan, but I HIGHLY recommend price comparison shopping before deciding where to purchase.

  • Dutch Processed Cocoa – “Dutched” cocoa powder is darker and has a deeper flavor than regular American cocoa powder, as well as a much higher acidity level (for the nerds among us, I believe it’s around 7.5 for dutch to 3.5 for American, which is a big difference). If a recipe specifies a certain type of cocoa, it probably does so for a reason, due to the higher acidity of dutched powder, other ingredients have to be altered in order to make it work. I personally tend to only use dutch cocoa, I simply like the taste a lot better, and always question why a recipe would want to use anything else.
  • Espresso Powder – You can buy actual espresso powder intended for baking, or use instant coffee granules or plain old brewed coffee. Coffee makes anything chocolate taste more chocolate-y. So, next time you’re not happy with how chocolate your brownies are, instead of adding more cocoa powder, add some coffee! You won’t taste the coffee, but you will get a nice, dark chocolate flavor.
  • Extracts – Every baker has to own at least one bottle of real vanilla. I don’t mean that you have to go buy madagascar hand scraped fancy schmancy “plucked by babies and cleaned by angels” vanilla (although I do think high end vanilla can be well worth it), but you do have to at least get McCormick’s grocery store real vanilla (not this stuff!) vanilla. Yes, it’s much more expensive. But think about it…imitation vanilla extract is a by-product of wood working and paper mills. Real vanilla comes from a plant. Even if taste wasn’t an issue, that alone should help you decide to use the real stuff, but the taste really is the reason. Real vanilla blows imitation away, there is absolutely no comparison.
  • Don’t stop the extract journey with just vanilla! There are more flavors out there to play with. A teeny bit of almond extract in vanilla cakes and frostings will have people wondering why it tastes SO good. Peppermint (I prefer oil, but extract works too) makes your chocolate and vanilla desserts extra special. Orange, lemon, butterscotch…. I also have a couple “special” bakers emulsions I love to play with – Buttery Sweet Dough flavor is a nice way to make something taste a bit buttery without actually getting the calorie hit of butter, and Princess Flavoring adds that citrusy flavor you taste in bakeries but can’t ever identify. Ya know, the one that just tastes GOOD. I also love it in white sugar glazes, I can’t explain why.
  • Buttermilk – Seriously. Nearly all of my cakes, doughnuts and muffins use buttermilk instead of milk, and always powder. I like the powder because I never have buttermilk around – who uses it for anything other than baking – and powdered milk has been proven (by America’s Test Kitchen) to work just as well as scalded liquid in all baked goods.  Buttermilk will give a thicker, fluffier, softer crumb from buttermilk, and gives doughnuts that back of the throat homey taste that nothing else seems to include.
  • White Whole Wheat Flour - why is this a secret ingredient? Because even my white bread tends to include a little bit of whole wheat flour for flavor. Just a couple of tablespoons will give the bread a nice wheaty flavor that white flour alone cannot convey, and white whole wheat hides the fact that it’s in there even better than the brown stuff.

These are all tiny changes you can make to established recipes you have that will make a big impact. Give them a try, see what you like, and always, have fun baking!!

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