We use vanilla extract to complement other flavors in baking all the time. It can enhance the floral and fruity notes in chocolate, give banana bread that little extra oomph, or make whipped cream taste even creamier. Bitters serve a similar purpose in cocktails, adding depth and complexity, enhancing the natural flavors in our spirits and mixers. So why not use them in cooking and baking?
I’m always on the lookout for interesting new bitters, whether for enhancing cocktails or just to add a splash of flavor to seltzer. When I came across Miracle Mile Bitters Co.’s Toasted Pecan Bitters, El Guapo’s Summer Berry Bitters, and Woodford Reserve’s Spiced Cherry Bitters, I couldn’t help but wonder how each of these could be used beyond their intended purpose.
I started small, with a splash of bitters in my morning coffee. I like dark, chocolatey roasts, so it was inevitable that bitters would make their way into a mug of hot chocolate. And that’s what made everything click: Why not see how bitters would be in a chocolate dessert, like pudding?
There’s really no limit to the types of bitters you can use in this recipe. Each kind uses at least a couple of warming spices used in baking—think cinnamon, clove, anise, and our old friend vanilla—all things that go well with chocolate. Berries and nuts are my go-to flavors, but orange and ginger are also great options, as are floral varieties like lavender or elderflower. If it’s something you think would pair well with chocolate, it’s pretty likely to work well here. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try combining a flavor or two. Equal parts spiced cherry and toasted pecan is a particularly favored combination in our kitchen.
With so many small businesses popping up all over the place that specialize in making bitters, there’s no shortage of exciting flavor possibilities. Our local cocktail supply shop has more than 100 different bitters available, which honestly sounds like a challenge (one I’m very much willing to accept).
Test Kitchen Notes
Start with 1/2 teaspoon of bitters and taste your way up to 2 teaspoons—some brands are more powerful than others. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 5 minutes
- Serves 4
light brown sugar
unsweetened cocoa powder
dark chocolate, roughly chopped (at least 70% cacao)
1/2 to 2 teaspoons
- Combine the cornstarch, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium saucepan, whisking thoroughly until no lumps remain. Transfer the chopped chocolate to a large bowl and set aside.
- Pour the milk and heavy cream into the saucepan and whisk until smooth. Bring to a low boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until thickened, while still whisking, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Set a fine mesh strainer over the bowl of chopped chocolate. Pour the pudding mixture through the strainer, using the whisk to help push the mixture through. Discard any lumps that get stuck in the strainer. Let the pudding sit for 5 minutes to allow the chocolate to melt, then whisk until smooth.
- Add your preferred bitters to the pudding mixture, starting with 1/2 teaspoon, then whisk to combine. Taste and add more bitters as needed 1/2 teaspoon at a time, whisking thoroughly and tasting between each addition. Serve warm or cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. If serving chilled, whisk until smooth immediately before serving.