Alice Medrich's Magic Ingredients

May  5, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: This is what your dessert has been missing. 

Alice Medrich's Magic Ingredients from Food52

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Does your best chocolate mousse seem a little plain? Brownies need a bump? Biscotti, ice cream, strawberries simply too boring for words? Here are the inspired finishing touches -- all from your pantry -- guaranteed to make good things even better. 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Serve over vanilla ice cream, drizzle over almond or hazelnut biscotti, or toss with warm croutons and add to a sundae of strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce. 

Black Peppercorns
A grind of fresh pepper adds panache to a dish of ripe figs with fresh cheese and honey, or a bowl or strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar, or a bowl of chocolate mousse.

Blossom Waters
Sprinkle drops of orange flower water over orange slices or toss rose water with sugared strawberries or raspberries. Use either to sweeten whipped cream; serve with fruit or use to top a chocolate dessert.

Whole Nutmeg
Grate over brownies just before serving, or over the whipped cream topping on any chocolate or fruit dessert, or over rice pudding.

Alice Medrich's Magic Ingredients

Flaky Sea Salt
A tiny pinch lifts any rich creamy chocolate dessert from pudding to mousse. Sprinkle some atop a caramel sundae or vanilla ice cream drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Cinnamon Sticks
Use a microplane zester to grate a little cinnamon over any dark chocolate dessert, from brownies to chocolate chip cookies to chocolate pudding, or even over home made cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles. Grate over peach or nectarine slices, or a fruit salad or a dish of rice pudding. 

Grate zest over fresh fruit and squeeze the juice over all. Grate the zest over a bowl of cocoa-dusted truffles along with freshly grated cinnamon just before serving. Grate zest over warm gingerbread

What are your magic ingredients? Tell us in the comments! 

Alice's new book, Seriously Bitter Sweet, is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 


Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kevin McCarthy
    Kevin McCarthy
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    Lisa M M
  • Judith Fine-Sarchielli
    Judith Fine-Sarchielli
  • Gaia Goodness Natural Foods
    Gaia Goodness Natural Foods
  • M Taccia
    M Taccia
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Kevin M. September 5, 2015
Replace butter in baking recipes with 55% butter, 45% leaf lard. This works both when using butter to cream with sugar and when using ice cold butter to make flaky pie crusts.
Lisa M. August 13, 2015
I like to add instant espresso powder, malted milk powder, vanilla powder, booze (whiskey, rum, cointreau, madiera, etc.
Judith F. June 15, 2014
i make homemade food gifts from a mixture of various nuts and raisins. dried cranberries, apricots, figs, or a mix of all. I use only organic nuts and fruit and soak the nuts and seeds to bring out their essence. I air dry the nuts and mix them with the dried fruits. I then package them with a label that says "soaked and raw". Sometimes, I roast them with xylitol, ( I don't eat sugar), pink peppercorns, and 5-spice powder, or organic rosemary , sage and other herbs,
Gaia G. May 15, 2014
The lime zest grated over truffles sounds incredible. I love all of these suggestions. I will definitely try these out. I love to make fruit salad with balsamic, honey, and Chinese Five Spice. I also add nutmeg to all my creamy sauces and soups including the bechamel sauce for my mac n cheese. I will definitely be sharing this post with my followers. Thank you.
M T. May 7, 2014
I love the old Italian secret of adding nutmeg to Alfredo Sauce, not much, but it enhances the cheese wonderfully. Also, nutmeg is wonderful on nearly every vegetable - especially green beans with crisp bacon.
Posie (. May 6, 2014
Nutmeg! So smart, I always overlook that as a finishing spice.
Kathy J. May 6, 2014
Yes! Especially that orange blossom water. So good in glazes. I'd likely add bitters to this list. I'm starting to use them beyond the cocktail and I have a feeling their uses will be mind blowing.
rachaelmr May 6, 2014
Nutmeg on hard cheeses, cinnamon in tomato based goodies, ginger & apples, chili in chocolate. And yes, I love ice cream with olive oil & sea salt. My husband & child love powdered garlic & cinnamon on scrambled eggs.
Merrill S. May 5, 2014
What great ideas! AJ, love that allspice trick too.
AntoniaJames May 5, 2014
You must try it, Merrill. I've started adapting my recipes to include the addition of allspice where pepper is a featured ingredient. Especially with a really nice black pepper (e.g., Oaktown Spice Shop), it adds the most beautiful flavor dimension. In fact, Provisions should bundle the two for this purpose. ;o)
Liz B. May 5, 2014
I love this post, especially the inclusion of olive oil and nutmeg. I'm not much of a dessert person, but I've found nutmeg is often an amazing "secret ingredient" in pretty much everything--doughs, stews, and cocktails! Now you've got me thinking about blossom waters... - a clean eating bento blog. Japanese or Asian-inspired!
AntoniaJames May 5, 2014
A trick I picked up from one of Edward Behr's early books ("The Artful Eater," if I'm not mistaken), which works real magic but not just for desserts, is to put allspice berries in with your peppercorns in your pepper grinder. I cannot remember if he recommends an actual ratio; as a general rule, I put in about a half tablespoon or so of allspice berries to the -- I'm guessing here -- 1/4 cup of peppercorns that fits in my grinder. You can't identify the allspice; you just know that something wonderful has happened. I'm sure this would apply with equal force when using pepper in the instances you describe above. ;o)