Three Secret Ingredients to Take Your Bakes to the Next Level

This article will share the 3 secrets to level up your cookies.

I LOVE cookies! I’m talking, love them. As a kid, I remember going to the Christmas programs at our church, which was great, but what I really looked forward to was the Christmas party in the gym afterwards. There would be tables upon tables of sweet & savory goodness. As I walked around, taking it all in, I would try to decide what was going to go on my plate. Cucumber sandwiches? No, thank you. Veggie tray? No way. Pimento cheese? I think not! Then I would come to the cookies, and that was my jam. I would pile my plate high with sugar cookies, Russian tea cake cookies, chocolate chip cookies, no bakes- you name it, it was on my plate! 

And so began my lifelong love of cookies and my ability to eat a ridiculous number of them in one sitting.

Now, for a little truth time. Have you ever made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and when they finally come out of the oven and have cooled enough to scarf one down (or savor, if you’re that kind of person), you realize after you’ve finished eating it that it wasn’t actually all that fantastic. It was just a mediocre chocolate chip cookie. Good, but not great. Chocolatey, but maybe not chocolatey enough. A back of the bag recipe type cookie. Nothing you’d write home about, right? 

Well, let’s change that! 

I’m going to share with you three of my very favorite “secret” ingredients. I use these ingredients on the regular in so many of my recipes and they ALWAYS take my bakes to the next level. In fact, I believe they are the difference maker between, “these cookies are pretty good” to “these are the best cookies I’ve ever had!” 

Sounds pretty fantastic, right?

Secret Ingredient #1: Coarse Sea Salt

So, several years ago I was trying to create a fabulous chocolate chip cookie recipe. And friend, there are so many chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, so at times it seemed like a daunting task. I realized a couple of things though- sweet and salty are a match made in heaven, and that was what I wanted out of my chocolate chip cookies. 

Cue the course sea salt (and actually my next two secret ingredient as well, but we’ll get to that). My chocolate chip cookies went from being really good to fabulous. In fact, my dad who considers himself a “chocolate chip cookie connoisseur,” was having a birthday so I made him a batch of my new chocolate chip cookies. After one bite, he was completely sold and exclaimed, “Those are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had!” Birthday success.

Coarse sea salt is literally the stuff my dreams are made of and pairs perfectly with sweet desserts like cookies, brownies, rice krispie treats or as a garnish to finish off cakes or cupcakes. 

Ideas for use:

  • Cookies & Brownies: Try using coarse sea salt instead of fine sea salt in your cookies. Start with 2-3 teaspoons of coarse salt for every 1 teaspoon of fine salt. This can be adjusted to your liking. 
  • Rice Krispie Treats: The best rice krispie treats will have extra butter, extra marshmallows, and you guessed it- coarse salt! To keep the salt from melting (you don’t want to lose that bite), add it as soon as you’ve taken the pan off the stove, but right before you add your cereal.
  • Garnish: Sprinkle a little coarse salt on top of your cupcakes- my favorites are on top of a salted caramel or margarita cupcake- it’s a great way to cut the sweetness of your buttercream!
  • Crusts: Try exchanging your fine salt for coarse salt the next time you make a graham cracker crust or a classic pie crust. It really makes all the rest of the flavors pop! Better yet, roll your pie crust out, spread softened butter over it, slice it into strips with a pizz roller, and then sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar/coarse salt mixture over the top and bake. That’s a treat that takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen!
Pro tip: When baking cakes or cupcakes, stick with fine (or table) salt in your batter. Coarse salt doesn’t dissolve as quickly and isn’t a good substitute in cakes. If you want to get that bite of the coarse salt, use it as a garnish to finish off your decorated cupcakes/cakes.

Secret Ingredient #2: Espresso Powder

Espresso powder is another flavor booster that will give your treats that little bit of something extra! I began using espresso powder when I started working on my chocolate cakes. I had tried several recipes that utilized black coffee in the recipe and loved it, but needed a cake with a little less liquid that would hold up better in a bakery setting while still being the most delicious cake ever. I loved the way the coffee flavor brought out the flavor of chocolate without making the cake taste like coffee, so after a little bit of research, I discovered espresso powder. It was the answer to everything I was looking for and I love it so much! This one from Hoosier Hill Farms is my favorite.

Ideas for use:

  • Espresso Buttercream: Mix equal parts heavy cream and espresso powder, stirring until it dissolves, then add to vanilla buttercream (to taste) for the most fabulous “latte” buttercream ever! Tip: A little goes a long way. If you use too much cream, your buttercream will become too soft. Start with a small amount and increase to desired taste/texture. This one reminds me of coffee ice cream. Add it to a vanilla cupcake for a vanilla latte cupcake or to a chocolate cupcake for a chocolate mocha cupcake. Or try sandwiching it between two chocolate chip cookies for the most delicious chocolate chip cookie sandwich ever. YUM!
  • Cookies: Add a half a teaspoon or so of espresso powder to your dry ingredients when making chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies. It will amp up the flavor in the best way!
  • Chocolate Cake/Cupcakes: Adding a little espresso powder to your chocolate cake batter won’t make it taste like coffee, rather it will bring out the chocolate flavor to give you a richer, chocolatier cake. Try adding 1- 1 ½ teaspoons of espresso powder (per dozen cupcakes) to your dry ingredients before mixing your batter. 

Secret Ingredient #3: Browned Butter

There just isn’t anything quite like browned butter. It smells amazing, tastes amazing, and brings the wow factor to everything it touches. It’s a phenomenal addition to baked goods, but also just to cooking in general!

Ideas for use:

  • Cookies: Browned butter is an amazing addition to cookies. It gives them this incredible almost nutty (but in a good way) and savory flavor. 
  • Rice Krispie Treats: In a large pot, melt your butter until its nicely browned, but watch it closely becuase it goes from browned to burnt very quickly! As soon as it is browned, add your marshmallows and begin stirring until they are melted. 
Pro tip: Have everything measured out and ready to go, so that you aren’t scrambling to get your ingredients in. This will reduce your stress level, because once the butter is ready, everything else moves very quickly!
  • Buttercream: Browned butter buttercream sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? When making your buttercream, replace your regular butter with browned butter, but be sure to allow the browned butter to solidify before using. Melted, warm butter will give your buttercream a weird consistency and be difficult to work with.
  • Glaze: On the other hand, if you want to make a glaze with a little browned butter, keep it in its liquid state and wisk in enough powdered sugar, cream, pinch of salt, and vanilla to taste before drizzling it over the top of your baked goods. This would be delicious on a donut or a scone!
Pro tip: When baking, I always start with unsalted butter, because I prefer to add my own salt to taste. If you use salted butter, just be aware that you may want to dial down the additional salt that you use in your recipes.