A couple of years ago I read a review on–and subsequently purchased–a book called Baking by Flavor, by Lisa Yockelson. In it, she argues that flavor intensity isn’t achieved by simply adding ‘more’. Rather, it is achieved by layering or building level upon level of similar flavors that can work together, resulting in something that is far more than simply the sum of its individual parts.
Let’s look at something as basic as a creating a lemon scone. You could simply add some lemon extract to your dough and call it done. This rarely gives you the lightness and brightness we’ve come to associate with lemon flavors. To achieve that brightness, you can zest a lemon, and add the zest to the dough. If you want to kick it up a notch more, you can soak the zest in some lemon juice for a few minutes before adding it to the dough. Buttermilk (a standard ingredient in our scones) also helps intensify the lemon flavor because it has an acidic bite. Brush the warm-from-the-oven scones with a lemon glaze–or sprinkle with lemon-flavored granulated sugar–and now your taste buds can’t help but notice that with every bite, they have a pop of bright, fresh lemon flavor.
Chocolate is another flavor that layers well. Different types and forms of chocolate include cocoa powder, semi-sweet chocolate and bitter-sweet chocolate. Add a jolt of vanilla to chocolate and you intensify and develop the final chocolate flavor. Think a rich, moist chocolate cake filled with a chocolate mousse and glazed with a rich (and not too sweet) chocolate ganache, and you’ve got the picture.
Her book is a wealth of information. It includes charts of flavors and suggestions about what partners well with what. There is also a section on kitchen tools, along with tips and recipes. She explains everything well enough that you don’t have to be a trained pastry chef to enjoy the book.
It’s fall–and it’s time to bake!