No longer relegated to holidays or special occasions, the pandemic has had us all staying busy in our kitchens, specifically baking. And once you’ve perfected that chocolate chip cookie recipe or made your thousandth lemon loaf cake, you may feel as if your baking skills have hit a plateau.
Enter bitters. Yes, those things you put in cocktails can actually breathe new life and bring a mouthful of new flavor possibilities to your baked goods.
“I did a bit of research and found that bitters can be used for baking and it’s pretty amazing,” says Laura Sorkin, co-owner of Runamok Maple, which just launched a line of maple-based bitters. (“They’re maple-based but they are still very bitter,” adds Sorkin.)
She likens baking with the ingredients to using them in their mainstay — cocktails. Adding bitters to cocktails brings a new level of flavor to the palate, one that would certainly make tipples less interesting if left out.
“If you add bitters, it gives it that little extra kick,” she says.
Sorkin explains that using the bitters is just like using extracts, like almond or vanilla, acting as a background note and part of the complexity of the dough or glaze.
“It’s like vanilla in a cookie. You can’t exactly pinpoint it, but you know that without the vanilla, the cookie would be very bland and you would miss it,” she says. “Same thing for the bitters. Adding a little bit of bitterness to a bread dough or a cookie dough is delicious.”
Sorkin says that she uses bitters exactly like she would use vanilla — in small quantities like 1/2 teaspoon or a teaspoon, depending on the flavor. She also explains that you also shouldn’t be afraid to use them in your glaze or frosting, either, kicking the flavor profile into high gear.
Sorkin’s top picks are adding orange bitters to a bittersweet flourless chocolate cake or to a lemon cake; and floral bitters to a jam filling for Linzer cookies.
“You’re getting a ton of flavor in an intense quantity. It gives it more dimension and flavor to it,” she says.
And, if you’re feeling savory, Sorkin says that experimenting with bitters in a marinade or vinaigrette would add new depth of flavor as well. But, she says, scale it back to 1/2 teaspoon as to keep the mixture balanced.
But Sorkin says while bitters are an amazing way to experiment with flavor profiles, they shouldn’t make their way into a beloved family recipe.
“If you’ve got your favorite recipe with vanilla in it, I would leave it alone. This is for trying new and different things,” she says.