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Your guide to American baking ingredients
June 7, 2012
All sorts of delicious ingredients make their way into American baked goods. From plump blueberries to tart buttermilk, crunchy pecans to sweet pumpkin – these are the authentic ingredients that give your bakes a taste of the US!
Pies cooling on windowsills, stacks of gooey brownies, cookies that are chewy to the bite, light cupcakes with swirls of candy-coloured frostings – there’s a lot to love about American goodies. In both The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and our Cake Days book, we try wherever possible to use ingredients that combine to give an authentic taste of American baking. We regularly receive questions from our home bakers outside of America about some of these ingredients. Some wish to know more about the ingredient itself and how it is used, while others wonder if there are alternatives for harder to find items.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the key ingredients that are often used in Stateside cupcakes, cakes, brownies, pies and bars. This is by no means a complete list and the ingredients we’ve included in our guide are not specifically originating from or exclusive to American baking. However, they are often featured in authentic recipes and as such, we think they’re all-important in achieving that indulgent American baked taste!
Originating in North America, sweet and juicy blueberries work wonderfully when studded through muffins or baked into a blueberry pie. These are widely available in supermarkets and fresh markets and are at their peak flavour when in season in the early summer months.
A splash of buttermilk is used in lots of American baking recipes from Red Velvet cupcakes to American pancakes. Made when butter is churned, buttermilk is tart and acidic and reacts with bicarbonate of soda to give sponges and pancakes some added lightness. Although recipes exist for making your own buttermilk substitute, we recommend using the real deal for best results in your baking. You can find it in the dairy aisle of major supermarkets and grocers.
Thrown into cookies, brownies, muffins and more, no chocoholic can resist decadent chocolate chips. There are lots of chocolate chip brands on the market, some of the most authentic being the semi-sweet variety which are available from American food stores and online. However, any chocolate chips will work and it’s a lot of fun taste testing to find your favourite!
One of the trickier ingredients to get hold of, corn syrup can be sourced online or in specialist American stores for use in recipes such as pecan pie. This invert sugar syrup gives glossiness and sweetness to recipes as well as being an authentic American product. We don’t recommend trading in your corn syrup for alternative sweeteners such as golden syrup, as these just won’t impart the same taste to your baking as corn syrup. Glucose syrup is the closest alternative, however, if the recipe calls for dark corn syrup you’ll miss out on its rich, caramel notes by substituting.
Grown widely in several American states, these deep red berries add sharpness, sweetness and colour to baking when used dried. These fruits bring a delicious chewiness when mixed into cookie dough or studded through bars and they complement creamy white chocolate perfectly. Available in the baking aisle or can also be bought in larger quantities online.
A jar of this fluffy stuff is incredibly versatile if you want to mix a little American marshmallow gooeyness into your bakes. Sold as a spreadable marshmallow crème in tubs and available at supermarkets across the UK, Marshmallow Fluff puts the fluffy middle into our Whoopie Pies and goes great on cupcakes as a topping. We love Marshmallow Fluff so much we dedicated one of our Ingredient Guides to it!
A store cupboard staple, the Americans are nutty about creamy peanut butter as a baking ingredient. Peanut Butter Cookies are one of our favourite recipes from our cookbooks, but you can also stir a spoonful or two into everything from pies to bars. The saltiness of savoury peanut butter contrasts well with creamy chocolate, making it an irresistible combination for lots of US-style treats and desserts.
Pecans have found their way to the heart of American baking flavours and are commonly paired with maple syrup and sticky caramel in pies, muffins, cakes and even cheesecakes. Their neat halves also make them ideal for decorating. Hummingbird cake, cookies, brownies and muffins all get some scrumptious nutty crunch from a handful of pecans. But who could deny the deliciousness of warm pecan pie served fresh from the oven with a helping of whipped double cream?
A slice of sweetly spiced pumpkin pie is the classic Thanksgiving dessert. Fresh pumpkin can be used, but with tinned pumpkin puree giving such excellent results, it’s not worth the extra effort unless you’re keen to carve out a jack-o’-lantern. Tinned pumpkin purée also has a lower water content, so it’s quicker to bake with and less likely to turn your pastry soggy. Straight from the can, this autumnal squash can be baked into American style cupcakes, cakes whoopie pies and even cheesecakes in no time flat.
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