Zingerman's Bakehouse's better baked goods

Issue No. 94: A dozen ingredients we use that make for better baked goods

1. Butter tastes better

You can’t tell just from looking at a cookie or a piece of cake whether it’s been baked with butter or shortening. The bottom line on baked goods’ flavor is that butter tastes better. It’s also about ten times more costly, so many bakeries make the choice to use less expensive shortenings or margarine. You can taste and smell the difference—pull apart a Bakehouse cinnamon roll and stick it right up to your nose. The sweet, rich scent of butter is right up front, followed by the soft smell of the cinnamon. Shortening, on the other hand, has no aroma to speak of. Good pastry should smell good.

2. Better butter

The Bakehouse doesn’t just use any butter. Many of our baked goods start with sweet butter from Grassland. It tastes better, has less water, and more flavor. There’s no way around it—the better the butter the better the baked goods.

3. Belgian chocolate

There’s chocolate. And then there’s Belgian chocolate. Our chocolate chunk cookies are loaded with big bites of great chocolate, including Callebaut Belgian chocolate. Higher in cocoa content, Callebaut is chocolatier, richer, more delicious than the inexpensive, mass-produced chocolates you’ll find in most baked goods.

4. Real maple syrup

Not Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth’s—we use real 100% pure maple syrup from northern Michigan to sweeten our oatmeal raisin cookies. Sugar sweetens. But maple syrup adds depth, flavor and character to a cookie.

5. Country-style sour cream

I’m a sour cream addict from way back. And the sour cream we get from down the road at Guernsey Dairy is the best sour cream I’ve ever eaten. So thick we’ve had guests think that we’d given them a dish of butter by mistake. (Standard issue sour cream is thin and watery by comparison.) It adds enormous richness and flavor to our sour cream coffee cake.

6. Real vanilla

Real vanilla is a the first thing that big bakeries eliminate. You can use industrial, imitation vanilla for about a twentieth of the cost of the real thing. And, by proportion, you use so little vanilla in a batch of baked goods, it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that no one will notice. But… you can clearly taste the difference. Real vanilla is literally almost 150 times as complex in flavor as artificial vanillin. Take away anything else, but please, please don’t take away my vanilla—it adds incredible aroma and flavor to anything it’s used in.

7. Red Flame raisins

Thompson raisins—the ones in the little red boxes—are such a standard that many people have never had the chance to try anything else. But there are other raisins out there, and not surprisingly, some taste a lot better. Red Flames are plump, juicy, joyously flavorful. They’re the star in our Bakehouse’s oatmeal raisin cookies, pecan raisin bread, and cinnamon raisin bread.

8. Organic unbleached & unbromated flours

The better the flour, the better the baked goods. We use organic AP flour for practically all of our breads and baked goods.

9. Fresh eggs

The norm nowadays for commercial bakeries is to use frozen eggs that come in white plastic buckets. We stubbornly stick to old-fashioned eggs in the traditional oval-shaped white shell, the way they made ’em “back in the old days.”

10. Toasted pecans, almonds, and walnuts

Toasting takes time and time is money. But it also adds a lot of flavor to nuts. So we do it. Toasting brings depth to sour cream coffee cake, brownies, cookies, and everything else we make with nuts in it.

11. Indonesian cinnamon

Cinnamon is such a staple in baked goods that a simple switch from one cinnamon to another can make an enormous difference. We stick with Korintje cinnamon from Indonesia, which has a rich flavor with a tongue-tingling tickle to it.

12. Love

The crew at the Bakehouse is adamant that everything that enters and emerges from their ovens does so with the same personal seal of approval—the kind you’d get if you went over to your grandmother’s for a cold glass of milk and a brownie right out of the oven.