Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Five Favorites: Secret Ingredients

I realized something recently that I already innately knew, but it bears repeating. It took reading a post from Will Write For Food followed by a note from my friend Jaime K: You don't always have to post a recipe.

Of course not. (Slaps forehead with palm of hand.)

I have been on a recipe treadmill over here, because I want to master things. So what I have decided to do is start a regular feature on Fridays where I share with you five of my favorite things. They may be things that help me make kitchen magic. They may be five favorite people, places, or things that I love that are food-centric. We're making this up as we go, people. The sky's the limit.

Let's talk about ingredients, because those make a big difference. I learned something about myself as a cook/baker years ago. I almost always up the spice/herb/citrus zest quotient when I look at a recipe. Most of the time you can do this with pepper, but not always. (You cannot, however, do this with salt in baking. But most people undersalt their food. That's another story.)  Nowadays, I just add these elements without much measuring, but based on tasting, tasting, tasting, as I go along. (Yes, I even do this with cake batter. Who says baking and cooking are such terribly different animals? You think I'm crazy? I wash my hands, don't worry.) I honestly don't see the point in eating something that has a weak flavor. It's gotta be assertive, stand up and announce itself. "Hi. I'm lemon. Nice to meet the tastebuds on the sides of your tongue." You get the idea. Otherwise, what's the point?

So when I bake, I layer the flavors at different stages of the game, which is not too different from cooking. Here are some of my favorite secret ingredients. 

1. Powdered lemon peel. You can certainly use this instead of zest or juice or extract or oil. I get mine from the fine folks at Penzeys. But why not use it in conjunction with those items, like in lemon cupcakes (wish I had a URL to insert here)? It's all the outer peel, so you get no bitter pith. Add it to the dry ingredients, when whisking or sifting, and you have an instant citrus hit. I usually use about 1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. per cup of dry ingredients. Or more if I'm feeling sassy or making a large batch of something.

2. Black cocoa powder. This one is a new addition to the team. The instructions on the package are not to be disregarded. The smart people at King Arthur Flour (I promise I'm no shill for them; they just make stellar stuff) warn you to use this sparingly. This is one of those cases where I pay attention, because they know what they're doing when it comes to baking. It makes things darker and more intensely chocolatey. You may find that when you add in a tablespoon or so at a time, substituting for regular cocoa powder, you may need to add a little more sugar (a tablespoon or so at a time), to balance it out. This is what I did with the Black and White Overdrive cupcakes.

3. Boyajian lime oil. These things are concentrated, and you only need a little bit; 1/2 tsp. per cup of dry measuring and 1/4 tsp. per cup of liquid measuring I usually add this to almost everything I make in the spring and summer that contains citrus, but especially margarita cupcakes. Boyajian sells lemon, orange, and tangerine oils, too. They last quite a while provided you take care of them by keeping them refrigerated.

4. Espresso powder. You can get this online pretty easily. I add it, automatically, to anything that's strictly chocolate-based. It also rocks in Joy the Baker's Cappuccino Cookies with Espresso and White Chocolate. Add 1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. per cup of flour, depending on how pronounced you want the flavor to be. I also add it to my whoopie pie recipe, which I don't believe I've yet published here. Must. Get. Bizzay!

5. Vanilla soy milk instead of regular milk. In general, this a pretty safe swap in any case that calls for milk. I do this in frosting pretty regularly, because it adds a little sweetness without the cloying sweetness that you sometimes get from confectioner's sugar. Or go crazy and use chocolate soy milk in a chocolate cake instead of regular milk. You can experiment in baking. Don't let those savory people tell you otherwise.

What are some of your favorite secret ingredients in cooking and baking? Inquiring minds wanna know! 

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