November 29, 2012
So technically I mentioned emulsions in my opus to the humble Cinna-Bum Cookie in the last post. I don’t know about you but I’m still exhausted by it all. Anyway, this seemed as good as time to give a little look at extracts, emulsions, oils, and flavorings.
Just so you know (because I tell you everything and hold nothing back as my spouse likes to remind me) this is only about one-third of what I have in the way of extracts, emulsions, oils, and flavorings. Have I also mentioned we have a kitchen pantry the size of a gerbil cage? The upside of this is that what I lack in impulse control (cookie cutters, flavorings, candy cookie bling) I make up for in an innate talent for efficient storage management. It’s a Swiss thing. That and I’m always punctual. And I love chocolate. Particularly Toblerone. Seriously, who but the Swiss would design a three-edged precision formed bar of chocolate packed with honey and nougat.
My dear yodeling brothers and sisters, I love you.
Wow. I kind of went off the rails there so let’s get back on the flavor train.
Did we not all grow up with Schilling’s extracts in those cute little red and white boxes? Lynch’s Market, where we did all our shopping didn’t have many options back then. Just vanilla, lemon, rum, peppermint, orange, and almond but what Lynch’s lacked in consumer options they made up for in being the only grocery store in town where our family had an honest-to-goodness Oleson’s Mercantile store credit account. Have you had a chance to make a reference to Little House on the Prairie today? Don’t worry. You still have time. Anyway, what that meant is I could go to the store without a penny in my corduroy bell bottom pants pocket, walk up to one of the two check out counters clutching a box of Cracker Jacks and a copy of Tiger Beat magazine, scribble my first name on the receipt and walk out the door munching caramel popcorn while swooning over glossies of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.
In our house the pure vanilla extract was about the only flavoring that got any use and to this day I’m still not sure why Mom ever bought the rum flavoring given that anything that even suggested alcohol was verboten and anathema in our household but it was right there on the corner cupboard shelf with all the other flavor soldiers. Good memories in that kitchen. Best because Mom was there. She was a sweetheart. Love her, miss her, wanna hug and kiss her.
So here’s the story about liquid flavorings and how I use them in random bits and pieces.
Extracts come in pure and imitation varieties. Imitation isn’t quite as strong as pure but it’s usually clear which is a plus when you don’t want to have the color of your icing to be altered. Both imitation and pure are alcohol-based which means that the flavor will be slightly weakened in baking. I do NOT use clear imitation vanilla extract because I don’t like it. Instead I add a squirt of white coloring gel to my icing to offset the brown of the pure vanilla extract. And besides . . . pure. It sounds so virtuous and don’t we all want to make cookies without spot or wrinkle. Mid-sentence in a blog post my mind takes me to an old gospel hymn. That’s how my brain works and no one is more frightened by it than I am.
Natural flavorings are just what they say they are, natural flavoring made without the addition of fats or sugars, water-based no alcohol. The flavor potency is about the same as with extracts and so I tend to use them in equal measurement in recipes that call for extract.
Flavor oil, also known as candy oil, contains no oil. Let that marketing blunder wash over you for a minute. The reason it’s called oil is because it’s an undiluted concentrate. That means candy oil is aggressively strong and needs to be used sparingly. I tend to only use 3 or 4 drops when replacing a teaspoon of extract. Here’s a little tip from my kitchen to yours when using flavor oil in the cookie dough. Stand back a little when opening the oven door to remove your cookies because the oven heat does something to release the oil essence and so that first blast of oven air filled with peppermint or cinnamon oil can send you and your eyeballs reeling. When that happens don’t fear that your cookies are over-flavored and need to be tossed because to modify a familiar saying, the smell is worse than the bite. My personal impression is that a cookie flavored with oil rather than with extract is more close in taste to the pure flavor it represents such as a lemon, mint leaf, or cinnamon stick.
Emulsions are flavor stars in the baking world. That’s because emulsions are made specifically for baking and are developed in a way that prevents the flavor profile and strength from being altered by heat. Emulsions are water-soluble, contain no alcohol, and are used in equal measurement with extracts. Again, this is just my thing but given the choice between lemon extract, lemon oil, and lemon emulsion, I’ll go with emulsion every time. The reason is because the taste seems more rounded or balanced than from the other options. This could only be in my mind, or taste buds as the case may be, but it just seems to impart a flavor that’s less “LOOK AT ME DUDE! I’M A LEMON COOKIE!” and more “Hey there friend, how about a bright little taste of lemon to start your day?”
You probably noticed I refer to using all the flavorings in cooking dough rather than in icing and that’s for good reason. My approach in baking cookies is that I want the cookie dough to hold the cookie flavor and the icing to enhance the sweetness. That’s what I love about glaze over royal icing. When just a little vanilla and/or almond extract is added to glaze, there’s more sweetness than noticeable flavor added to the cookie. On the other hand, and this is just my personal opinion so don’t take them as fighting words, but when I bite into a decorated cookie with royal icing, I end up with an underlying taste of royal-icingness along with the taste of the cookie and whatever flavoring was added to the icing. Some people like that taste. I’m just one of those who doesn’t because that’s the final taste I end up with in my mouth instead of the chocolate or vanilla bean or whatever the prominent flavor was intended to be. The other big advantage for me is I’m able to re-use icing from one batch of cookies to the next without needing to track what color of icing is what flavor. All my glaze is flavored with a little vanilla and a little almond. Period, end of story . . .
EXCEPT when the cookie itself calls for layers of flavor. In making my Cinna-Bum cookies I want to replicate as closely as I can the flavor of a similar sounding shopping mall available cinnamon roll and what stands out to me about those rolls is that there’s a chewy, buttery sweet dough punched with cinnamon and then topped with a tart sweet hit of cream cheese icing. Layers of flavor Baby. Up until last night at 6:45 p.m. I still hadn’t found a way to get that layer of cream cheese on the top but with the knock of the UPS man at my door all that changed! Go right now and order a bottle of LorAnn Oil’s new Cream Cheese emulsion. It’s insane and by that I mean insanely cream cheesy! And in the sweet glaze. . . I weep. So yes there are exceptions to my rule. This is one.
The other thing about me, cookies, and flavorings is that I try to not rely on the liquid flavorings as the primary flavor source. If I’m going to make a coffee-flavored cookie, the primary flavor source will be real coffee/espresso but then I’ll add a little coffee emulsion to lift or enhance the flavor. You’re going to see that more and more as I share recipes with you. I try whenever possible to use the real flavor, or something that contains the real flavor, as the primary source and then the extract or emulsion is added as a flavor enhancement. My intention is to create recipes I can share that don’t depend on everyone having a gerbil-cage size pantry full of brown bottles. I want someone without Cinnamon Roll, Vanilla-Butter and now Cream Cheese emulsions in their cupboard to still be able to make yummy Cinna-Bum cookies without waiting 24 hours for overnight shipping. So what I’m encouraging you to do is that while you take advantage of quality emulsions, oils, and extracts, that you also think creatively in considering other flavor sources for your baked creations. You and I will be talking more about more about this as we move ahead.
Ten Most Commonly Used Flavorings in Anita’s Gerbil-Cage of a Pantry
Pure Vanilla Extract
Pure Almond Extract
Vanilla Bean Paste
Vanilla – Butter Emulsion
Princess Cake and Cookie Emulsion
Cinnamon Roll Emulsion
Cream Cheese Emulsion
Citrus Emulsions (orange, lemon, lime)
Assorted Oils (lemon, orange, lime, peppermint, cinnamon)
So do tell. What are some of your favorite flavorings? How do you use them? Have you ever dabbed any behind your ear, and if so, which flavoring do you find is best to wear for dinner out on the town?