Adding Flavor

I received an e-mail from a YouTube viewer asking me how she could incorporate flavor into chocolate and cake.  I put a lot of thought into my response and I wanted to share it with you!  How do you incorporate flavor into your recipes and cakes?

Dear viewer,

There are tons of different ways to flavor chocolate!  Chocolate is one of the easiest things to pair flavors with and all you have to do is use a little creativity and a clever use of milk, white, and/or dark chocolate.

Depending on how your cake is made depends on where you can infuse flavor.  For the sake of this e-mail I’m going to assume you’re using a cakey cake (like the chocolate cake on my site) as opposed to a dense flourless cake.

Citrus zest is the easiest way to add a fruit flavor to your recipes. The zest contains fragrant oils which helps stimulate your taste buds and your sense of smell.

First and for most you CAN use orange zest!  Zest from any citrus fruit (lemon, lime,

orange, grapefruit – but especially orange goes well with chocolate) can be added to anything for flavor.  Zest contains oils which are more fragrant and flavorful than juice.  Zest is also easy to use because it doesn’t alter the recipe – just the flavor.  If you were to use juice for example you would alter the liquid content of your cake which could change your cake completely.  Stir in the zest into the flour or add to the butter and sugar during the creaming

Oils are commonly made from natural sources. Their fatty nature allows them to be used in products, like chocolate, that don't take well to liquids like water, extract, or alcohol. They also have a very concentrated flavor.

process – or add it in the end.  I like to add it during the creaming process so the orange zest gets “beaten up” and more of the oils come out.

Second, see if you can get your hands on flavoring oils.  I’m not super experienced at flavoring chocolate with oils but candy makers use oils all the time for candy and chocolate.  Oils are natural but a little expensive – good news is a little goes a long way.  And remember that you have to use food safe oil!  Here’s a link to a company that makes food safe oils: If you cannot get your hand on oil, you can try and make your own flavoring oil the same way you make garlic oil.  Take your herb, spice, or flavoring agent and put it in oil on the stove (you don’t need a lot, and avoid using oils that have flavor like peanut or corn).  Turn the stove on a low setting.  This will infuse the flavor of the spice or herb or whatever you used into the oil.  Infuse for a short time or for a long time!  The longer you infuse flavor the stronger it gets.

That’s the third way to incorporate flavor: infusing.  If the cake recipe has a liquid component, such as whole milk or water, then you’ve got a ticket for a flavoring vehicle.  Using the same process as flavoring oil you can place the liquid on the stove (always use more than what the recipe calls for, infusing can evaporate some of the liquid changing it’s weight, measurement, and liquid content), place the spice or herb into the liquid, and bring it to a boil, and then put a

Tea can open a whole world of flavors to you. For example, Earl grey is very floral.

lid on the pot, and turn off the heat or reduce it to its lowest setting and let it sit.  You can infuse tea, herbs, spices, zest – just about anything edible.  After you finish steeping strain your liquid and remeasure it to make sure it’s still the same amount you need for the recipe.  Be careful if you use tea though.  Steeping tea for too long can create a bitter taste.  For a stronger flavor, use more tea bags for the same amount of steeping time.  To make a coffee flavored cake make instant coffee right into the liquid component!

Visit a foreign food market for inspiration. Try something you've never heard of. You might like it!

The fourth way of incorporating flavor is reduction.  If you have a pulp, nectar, puree, or fruit juice that you really want to use because you can’t use its zest (such as mango, carrot, or raspberry) then bring it to a boil on  the stove and boil out as much water as you can. You will create a reduction sauce.  This reduction sauce has concentrated flavor and will have less impact on altering your cake’s texture.

The fifth way of incorporating flavor is seasoning.  Simply just add in dried herbs or spices into your cake.  This is the easiest method and you can create as many flavors as your pantry has spices.  Spicy cakes that have chili powder (do not use paprika!) are very Mayan and Aztec, while cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and all spice have roots in Europe and the Caribbean.  To predict how something will taste with a dry herb or spice, take a piece of chocolate and eat it – then take a big whiff of the spice in question.

Pictured here is fennel (in the bottle) and lavendar flowers. How can you use a savory seasoning in a sweet dish? For example: Thyme goes great with lemon.

Taste is all about your sense of smell so this technique works perfectly.  What happens is the taste of chocolate goes up to your nose while the smell of the spice goes down your nose and BAM they collide giving you the flavor they will get when combined in a recipe.  Remember to use ground spices to prevent adding an adverse texture to your cake (like if you were going to use fennel) and avoid using herbs like bay leaf (bay is edible but not always practical.  Infuse bay instead).

The sixth way of incorporating flavor is extracts, alcohols, and flavored water.  Just add in a tablespoon or so of your favorite extract, liquor, or flavored water into your recipe – typically towards the end.  Avoid using

Extracts can be natural or artificial in nature. You can create your own extract by infusing vodka with a spice, herb, or tea on the stove. You can cold infuse it in the fridge infinitely. Make your own vanilla extract by putting used beans in a plastic container of vodka and leave it in the fridge.

too much of these to prevent altering the texture of your cake.  Flavored water, such as rose water or orange blossom water, is a great and inexpensive method of adding rich complex flavors to your cake.  I noticed you were in India (and thanks for favoriting my videos!) so rose water should be very easy for you to find.  Orange blossom water I believe has European roots so check in German, French, and English marts for it.

The seventh way of incorporating flavor is a trick I learned in a cookbook and is unique to chocolate (but could be used for butter) – you infuse it directly with smell.  Take some chocolate (melted or solid) and place it in a large jar.  Then inside the jar place something fragrant inside such as a pouch of lilac and dangle it above the chocolate – say like create a pouch and have the ribbons that seal the pouch caught in the lid.  Then let it sit for a couple days.  Your chocolate will have absorbed the smell of lilacs.  This is a great way to infuse flavor of inedible flowers or non-food safe flowers.  You can also do this with ground coffee!

I noticed that the videos you favorited were the chocolate mousse videos.  Chocolate

You can find unique extracts in baking supply stores and foreign markets. In regards to spices and herbs, try using toasted ground nuts for flavor.

mousse is a little more difficult to flavor because it is so temperamental.  You do have several options. You can add flavor to the small chocolate cake layer using the above methods.  You can use a different kind of spread (nutella, fresh fruit, jam).  Or you can infuse the heavy cream with flavor by boiling it on the stove, and then cooling it off in the fridge before using.  You can add most flavorings to the egg yolks in the recipe as long as you beat them in.  Egg yolks are great for this because they are full of fat which is what makes things taste so good.  You don’t really want to add anything to melted chocolate, especially a liquid, because you could change the temperature or worse cause it to seize.  Seizing is what happens to chocolate that has been over heated, over worked/whipped, or has had water added to it.  It will get hard and chunky like a very unappealing brownie.  If your chocolate seizes – it’s gone.  You can use it to make a ganache (by adding a ton of liquid and pureeing it in a food processor) to try and save it but depending on how it got seized depends whether or not it can be saved.

In the end, you have to think creatively and try to work around the recipe to try to get the flavor you are looking for.  Experiment with different tastes, different methods of incorporating flavor, and learn from those experiments.  You may fail, but every baker knows that failing is just as important as succeeding.  We learn from our mistakes and we grow stronger as a baker because we learn what not to do.  I hope I’ve given you the tools you needed to flavor your cakes!  Let me know how it goes and what methods you decided to use!  Good luck!

Thanks for watching and writing!


There is another important way to add flavor that I completely forgot – and this method is great because you can add flavor AFTER that cake is baked!  It involves simple syrup.  Remember that simple syrup is equal parts granulated sugar and water brought to a boil on the stove – no need to boil it down or reduce it.  When you boil your simple syrup you can infuse flavor of herbs and spices.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat and put a lid on it and the flavor will infuse – just like with any liquid.  You can also add extracts, wine, alcohol, juice – whatever to the finished simple syrup.  Just keep in mind that you may need to reduce the simple syrup by boiling it again if you add too much liquid.


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