The little professional tips that make a huge difference in your desserts

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(ARA) – Ever wonder why your meticulously crafted, measured and rolled cookies are just slightly off – whether it’s the way the texture feels in your mouth or the buttery taste that is yearning for a little something more. It could be that your desserts are rebelling against the ordinary ingredients you are using.

Even the most experienced home bakers use ingredients that do not enhance the flavor and texture of their decadent desserts. All baking ingredients aren’t created equal. It is a misconception that vanilla is vanilla and that all-purpose flour works for everything.

The granular texture of sugar, the fat content of butter and the gluten content of flour all make a difference in the taste, fluffiness and moisture of the baked good. It’s the blending of these ingredients that result in a spectacular, uncompromising taste.

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To help bakers save their desserts from protest, Spice Islands partnered with bloggers Caroline Lubbers of “Whipped” and Gaby Dalkin of “What’s Gaby Cooking?” to break down the myth that baking ingredients are all the same, and to share indulgent baking recipes that rely on high-quality ingredients for superior, unparalleled treats.

“Being a private chef, I am always looking for where I can buy the freshest and highest-quality ingredients,” Dalkin says. “I’ve been known to trek across town just to find a perfect ingredient for my recipes, especially when it comes to what I consider the hero flavor in many desserts – vanilla.”

“I look for bourbon vanilla beans that are sourced from Madagascar, like those from Spice Islands, which are known for being the world’s finest. Quality vanilla provides purity in taste you can’t achieve with lesser-quality vanilla beans.”

Choosing the right flour is a bit more complex. Understanding gluten content is most important when selecting the right type of flour for a particular baked good or dessert.

“All-purpose flour can be used in most baked goods, but the end result may not have the perfect texture the baker is trying to achieve,” Lubbers says. “I think it’s important to keep a few different flours in a pantry in addition to the standard all-purpose.”

“One with very high gluten content for breads, usually over 12 percent protein, to achieve a more structured texture; pastry flour that has around 8 percent protein; and one of the most underestimated flours that is lowest in protein, cake flour. The delicate tenderness it gives to cakes is absolutely unmatched and can’t be achieved with all-purpose flour. Bakers won’t believe the difference it makes in their cakes.”

Many bakers prefer wheat flour and it can be used for any baked good if the baker wants to achieve more grainy texture.

“I like to use wheat flour in anything with nuts to complement the nutty flavor,” Lubbers says. “I also like to use wheat flour as a topping for streusels to provide added texture.”

When it comes to making sure desserts are creamy, the butter makes all the difference.

“For baking, especially when the dessert relies on the distinct taste of the butter, such as in pound cake or butter cookies, I use a very high butterfat European butter,” Dalkin says. “The higher butterfat intensifies the flavor of the dessert considerably.”

To ensure desserts tantalize the taste buds, selecting cane sugar that is less processed or organic creates a purer, sweeter flavor when used in baking.

“I like to use cane sugar, but I really think bakers underuse brown sugar,” Dalkin says. “I use brown sugar in almost everything I bake. It does give the desserts a brownish color, but using a muscovado sugar adds another layer of taste, depth and complexity you can’t achieve with ordinary cane sugar.”

The same purity factor applies to salt.

“I use a fine sea salt for baked items,” Lubbers says. “It has a much cleaner flavor without the aftertaste of table salt. It blends better with the other ingredients.”

Sea salt from the Mediterranean, like Spice Islands’, is not only rich in trace minerals, but it is flavorful without being overpowering or too salty.

The combination of all of the ingredients working together is what makes the flavor spectacular. That’s why learning a little bit about each ingredient and the function it performs in the finished product is essential in making the right ingredient choices for the right baked goods.

“You don’t have to be a professional baker to be mindful of your ingredients,” Lubbers says. “When you put that much time into creating luxurious desserts, take the extra step to use the right ingredients.”

For more tips from food bloggers and recipes, visit