1. Extreme vanilla
Made from vanilla beans harvested in Mexico's Veracruz region, Zeron Double Intensity vanilla extract has a powerful floral aroma that shone through in our tests of desserts like biscotti, pound caked, muffins, and butterscotch brownies. Use the same amount as you would regular vanilla. Zeron Double Intensity Pure Vanilla Extract, $16 for 100 ml at zeronfinefoods.com.
2. Deeper, darker cocoa powder
We put this black cocoa to the test by adding it to brownie recipes, and we were impressed by the results. The cocoa produced an exceptionally dark chocolatey color and a deep, rich flavor. Be sure to use black cocoa in combination with natural or Dutch-processed cocoa; using the black version solo will flavor your cakes and cookies too strongly. Black cocoa powder, $5.50 for 1 pound, at King Arthur Flour's Bakers Catalogue (bakerscatalogue.com).
Photo: Scott Phillips
3. One-step pan prep
Baker's Joy is our favorite of the new style of nonstick sprays that contain both oil and flour (their aim is to grease and flour a pan in one quick spray). Cakes, bar cookies and quick breads all easily released from pans we treated with Baker's Joy. Although the directions say to simply apply it to the bottom and sides of your baking pan, we prefer to blot the sprayed pan with a paper towel to ensure the spray is evenly distributed. Baker's Joy, $2.49 at supermarkets nationwide, or for more information, call 800-333-0005.