I Posted A Question To Dorie Greenspan Re: Flavor

Baking By Norcalhiker Updated 6 Sep 2015 , 2:10pm by Nikujaga

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Norcalhiker Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 6:58pm
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Here's my question & her response.  I'd like to hear your thought on the flavor as its a very important element in all food.

A dear friend from Mexico stated she was not impressed with American baked goods because even in the high-end bakeries, everything lacked flavor and/or was full of sugar. We live in the Napa Valley, considered by many to be a food Mecca. But I had to agree with her. Macarons are tooth achingly sweet; fruit pies lack bright fruit flavor; piecrust and cake is bland. Absent are rich savory pies. For the past few months I have been on a quest to bring not just great texture and feel, but remarkable flavor to my baking. My progress is slow as I must imagine what does not exist, then try to create what I imagine. Are there any principles to flavor in baking? I cannot believe bland is the hallmark of American baking.

What a fascinating question and such interesting comments.  I don't completely agree with you and your friend, but I do find that many desserts are too sweet, too rich or too heavy - sometimes, sadly, they're all three.  

My pet peeve with American sweets is that they are very often pale and underbaked.  I believe that color = flavor and that if sweets (particularly doughs and shortbread-type cookies) don't have deep color then we're being cheated of the nut-like flavor of well baked butter and the caramel of sugar.

I also think that we often don't have enough - and just as often we have too much - salt in our sweets.  Salt brings out the flavor of chocolate, vanilla, butter and caramel.

Finally, I think that the satisfaction we derive from sweets is often a function of proportion - many cakes have too much frosting and/or filling; many pies have crusts that are too thick and/or too heavy and often not flavorful on their own.

Sweets are often made of components and every component should be flavorful.

I could go on and on - this is such an interesting topic.

I'd love to hear from all of you out there.  Thoughts??? 

*Last edited by Norcalhiker on 2 Sep 2015 , 7:00pm
16 replies
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costumeczar Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 7:08pm
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I agree with her on the proportions thing. How many cupcakes are really just a huge mound of icing with a tiny piece of cake under it? And the amount of filling that people put in cakes is crazy to me. When you have the same thickness of fillings as you do cake, that's going to be way too sweet.

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Webake2gether Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 7:45pm
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i agree that most pies I've eaten (with exception of my grandma's and now mine her recipe lol) the crusts are tasteless and only know they are there by the texture. Most custards I've had lack any real noticeable flavor and just taste bland. As far as icing (don't yell at me) I don't like very many at all and I try really hard to balance the sweetness of mine. Most often the cake is lost under the mountain of sickenely sweet icing. I like cake over icing and prefer a small amount anyway. Icing usually ends up at the side of my plate I'm truly an icing snob :( 

for me I like to taste each part of the pie, cookie, cake etc I don't want one thing over powering the other. im not big on fillings in cakes or cupcakes either. I like rich chocolate and do enjoy decadence in small amounts done right. I like simple old fashion sweets myself and don't like a lot of ingredients. Less is more for me and I know not everyone is like that though and maybe I don't really have a sweet tooth :) 

the more I bake the more I find I don't like using anything artificial in anything but I wasn't always like that I know my beginnings came from a box and can......long before I knew I could actually bake lol

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Norcalhiker Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 9:27pm
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Costumeczar & webaketoghter: i completely agree with you.  Refecting back to the first cake class I was in during the last ice age, I was taken aback by the amount of icings and fillings used.  But I thought I was just reacting to a difference in my personal preferences of less is more.  I noticed some years ago at events (weddings, showers, birthdays) many people push the icing to the side, in preference for the cake, or simply left most of the cake on the plate.  its a shame when so much effort and expense is expended on a cake that looks good, but tastes so bad the guests won't eat it.  

I keep striving for balance.  I like what Greenspan said about each component contributing to the whole with its own flavor profile.  I've been trying this approach.  It's rather complex, but when the combinations sync, it's produces incredible flavor. On the flip side is clashing flavors or worst, that odd taste you just can't explain.  Case in point, a spice infused pie crust I recently concocted--I think it was the fresh nutmeg--epic fail

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Brookebakescake Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 9:36pm
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She's right about the use of salt in desserts.  Salted caramel is a novelty, but it should really be salted vanilla, salted chocolate, etc.  I know even myself forget to add the salt into my bc sometimes, but there's nothing like that slight saltiness that brings out the perfect sweetness, and when it's right on, I could eat the whole bowl. 

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Brookebakescake Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 9:38pm
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I think part of the problem is the overabundance of options we have these days.  Few people truly appreciate home made desserts now, because we see sweets everywhere we go.  Donuts for breakfast, snack cakes with lunch, fried "pies" at fast food restaurants, and probably some candy in their purse in between each meal.

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Shockolata Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 10:44pm
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Having grown up in a country where East meets West and having influences of rich, nutty, flaky, sirupy Eastern desserts and French patisserie, I feel very privileged. I cannot understand how people can eat cake that is bulky and frosted with a very sweet frosting but if that is all one has experienced in their life, that is what one is used to eating, same like going to a MacDonald's and enjoying their burger because nobody cooks burgers from scratch at home. In Greece, if we want to eat cake, we eat plain, undressed cake. No need for icings, frostings, whipped cream, fruits on the side, etc. Just a thin slice of well made cake with a cup of coffee. Our celebration cakes are made with thin layers of pain d'espagne (sponge cake) that have been drizzled with syrup and covered with a thin portion of creamy filling - sometimes a cooked egg custard which is known as creme patisserie, other times whipped cream and sometimes a ganache. I have never met anyone who could not finish a Greek cake! They are not sickening sweet - just the right amount of sweetness. They are not massive. They are not dense. We also have sirupy cakes like walnut cake, semolina pudding (galaktoboureko), ravani (again semolina but in cake rather than creamy form) and they are a joy to the mouth. They are served in small portions. And then we have the flaky pastry and nut sweets which you call baklava although baklava is only one type of these sweets. They are sweet, but you are only meant to have a tiny piece, along with thick aromatic coffee. I would love to bring Greek baking to the world but I am worried that people have lost their sense of taste and what is truly healthy. 

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Webake2gether Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 10:45pm
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@Brookebakescake  I never even thought of that a lot people eat sugar and "desserts" constantly being a part in the lack of appreciation. I make an icing that is spoon only worthy and it has 4 ingredients total in it. My pie crust has 4 ingredients and it stands on its own. I agree with the overwhelming amount of options available and I'm not opposed to them at all please don't misunderstand that I love trying new things but for now we start small simple and grow from there. I won't have an extensive menu with fillings and flavors right off the bat. I will do want sells lol. I have a lot to learn and it's really neat to read things like this hear from others with more sophisticated pallets :)

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Norcalhiker Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 11:43pm
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Brooksbakescake: I was raised in a salt adverse household, so for years I was terrified to use salt.  My gramps swore a tip of the salt shaker would kill all.  Recently I put flakes of maldon salt on a test batch of Belgium chocolate chunk cookies and distributed them, along with cookies from the same batch w/o the salt, to 3 groups of tasters, who in turn shared them with others.  They all raved about the salted cookies.  Interestingly, the salt made such a remarkable difference, they all thought the salted cookie was a different recipe. My youngest son said, "sorry mom, no one else in my house had a change to sample test your cookies because they were so good I decided to eat them all." This is a savory kind of guy who will let sweets just sit around and go stale.  I never thought of adding salt to buttercream--how much do you add?

Also, I never realized just how much sugar we Americans eat--you're correct, it's morning to night.

shockolata: when I was 16, my bother's best friend drove me nearly an hour from home to a hole in the wall Greek restaurant and said you just have to eat this, I can't explain how something so simple can be so delicious. The moment I heard the crunch of the filo, tasted the sweetness of the honey, smelled the aroma of the nuts, I was sure I had just died and gone to heaven. 

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Brookebakescake Posted 2 Sep 2015 , 11:53pm
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I NEED A GREEK BAKERY NOW!! Ya'll are killing me with the teasing!

Norcal: I put about a pinch or two in a batch, just to taste.  And you'll taste the difference :) Alton Brown did an episode on salt, very interesting watching.  He mentioned that if you salt sweet things, the salt blocks your taste receptors from any bitterness that could be in the item. Salt works so well in sweet things because, apparently, it works on the molecular level.

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Norcalhiker Posted 3 Sep 2015 , 3:37am
post #11 of 17

im definitely going to try a pinch of salt in my next buttercream. While I knew what it could do for my cookie, it never occurred to me to salt anything else.  I love that Alton Brown--geeky food people are so cool. 

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Shockolata Posted 3 Sep 2015 , 5:32pm
post #12 of 17

Are there not a lot of Greek bakeries in the USA then? I wonder if there is a mail order opportunity there. Not from the UK of course as customs can be a killer. Maybe Norcalhiker would be interested in exploring the market. If the USA was not so far from home, I would consider coming there to open up a business. It is a lovely country and so diverse but that ocean is too prohibitive for fast travel...

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-K8memphis Posted 3 Sep 2015 , 6:36pm
post #13 of 17

i agree with dorie about browning things properly -- a lot of the baked goods i get even pizza is maybe 'done' technically in that it is no longer raw but it needs more color which intensifies the flavor --

an interesting note regarding flavors -- i got to go to the world pastry forum one year -- it was heavenly -- and one of the chefs told this story where he had worked tirelessly and tried everything he could think of to please his head chefs palate with the strawberry ice cream all to avail until he added in some nestle strawberry drink mix -- and that worked chef loved it and it was a hit -- because he said a certain percentage of flavor has to be known flavor -- then he added some 'new' flavor to that -- bam

also we were given the palate test where you detect certain really subtle flavors but they had just served us dessert prior to that too so the timing was off a bit there but it was the best time -- learned a lot --

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Pastrybaglady Posted 3 Sep 2015 , 7:19pm
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I completely agree about the salt.  Just a small amount is the difference between meh and amazing in so many different foods. I hate stuff that just tastes like sugar.  I think I passed that on to my youngest (she's 14) who hangs out with me in the kitchen and actually has an interest in cooking and baking.  I always have her taste desserts and tell me about them before I try them.  She's very accurate with her descriptions.  If she doesn't give it the thumbs up I taste hers, usually agree with her and then leave it alone.

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Norcalhiker Posted 4 Sep 2015 , 6:34am
post #15 of 17

K8Memphis, the example of how we detect flavor is really fascinating if I understand it.  Through experience we have a memory catalog of flavor; we then associate a particular flavor to a specific food.  But the more familiar it is, the less detectable or intense. But a slight change in the flavor profile will intensify our ability to taste the flavor.  That actually explains a lot. I was recently talking to a salesclerk about honey.  I wanted to know which brand of local honey "had that deep honey taste."  I told her the last few jars of honey I purchased didn't have that real honey taste. oddly, she understood what I meant.  The brand she recommended in fact tastes the way my brain receptors expects honey to taste like.  It explains why people are so brand loyal and why they can detect changes when a manufacturer changes a product.

this is so helpful! A critical key to flavor is enhancing the flavor profile of what is familiar.

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Norcalhiker Posted 4 Sep 2015 , 6:41am
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Pastrybaglady: I'm amazed that so many of you understand the value in salt in pastry.  I've taken a mind boggling number of cooking and baking classes and salt was never discussed.  I was so intrigued I put a few shakes in my apple pie filling today.  I was so surprised at the improved flavor, and with only 2 oz of sugar instead of 6 oz.  

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Nikujaga Posted 6 Sep 2015 , 2:10pm
post #17 of 17

In most aspects I totally agree. To the poster "Shockolata" Greek desserts are very delicious, however keep in mind that every country has their own delectable treats; North American style buttercakes can be incredibly delicious when done correctly and that goes for everything. A convenience laden lifestyle has affected people's perceptions, I believe. So many out there depend on so-so bakeries and grocery store cakes that they have become the norm, unfortunately. I have been baking since I childhood, technique, balance and knowledge goes a long way in creating all kinds of delectable confections even our North American butter cakes with old fashioned buttercream or swiss buttercream(my favourite)....balance is a key.

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