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).
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.
4. Beyond chocolate chips
A handful of Scharffen Berger chocolate chunks jazzes up everything from traditional chocolate-chip cookies or congo bars to banana muffins or scones. These rich, dark chunks are made from the same high-quality cacao beans the company uses for its intense bittersweet chocolate. We’ve found they get jostled about when shipped and may look a little dusty; don’t be concerned, as they still taste delicious. Scharffen Berger Chocolate Chunks, $7.99 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods markets and www.chocolatesource.com
5. Sugars in stylish hues
We were enticed by the sophisticated color palette of these decorating sugars, which come in shades like marigold, raspberry, periwinkle, and sunflower. The secret to their elegant hues? They’re created with vegetable juices and other natural colorants, instead of artificial dyes. India Tree Nature’s Colors decorating sugars, $3.99 to $4.99 for 3.5-ounce jars at www.chefshop.com
6. An extract infuses chocolate flavor
For a change of pace, use this extract to add a hint of chocolate flavor to icing. We also added the extract to a batter, and while it didn’t strongly enhance the chocolate flavor, we did notice a subtle boost. Star Kay White chocolate extract, 8 ounces for $12 at deandeluca.com.