I am the victim of my own worst tendencies sometimes. I’m a borderline cheapskate oddly frugal, and can become randomly incensed about the costs of things. Add to this the fact that I can display a borderline snobbish curiosity for the exotic.
So when I was shopping online for yeast the other day, a little box popped up on the screen, and within ten seconds I knew that I’d been had. The message had this… tone. It simultaneously implored me to add to my order while sublty scolding me for spending so much for shipping. The box even made suggestions: add this strange little $8 bottle to your order, and it won’t change the total shipping price. To sum: Obscure bottle? “Free” shipping? The battle was over before my wallet hit the table and the bank card flew out.
Three days later, a carton arrived on my doorstep containing my package of instant yeast and the Mystery Vial. It was a mini-bar sized bottle, sparsely decorated, and very securely capped. I peeled back the outer plastic, gently twisted the cap to try not to spill a single drop, cleared my sinuses, took a whiff, and allowed the dizzying, rich, bright aroma to perform a funky tarantella all the way up my nasal cavity and into my heart. EVERYTHING I knew had changed.
I learned that Fiori Di Sicilia is an extract often used in Italian baking. Essentially it’s a citrus-infused vanilla extract, but the combination of flavors and the subltetly of their integration makes for something really special. The first thing you notice is that the “citrus” flavor isn’t easily pinned down. It’s predominatly lemon, but you can almost taste a bit of orange and the “feel” of it lacks any of the sour harshness of simple lemon extract. You also notice that FdS still has the rich, almost “creamyness” of vanilla but doesn’t have that palatte-coating, comittal heavyness that vanilla sometimes imparts. It’s nothing less than the perfect balance of richness and “bright.”
And I think it is my new favorite smell. Seriously. I don’t know if any other new ingredient has ever just put The Whammy on me the way this has. One whiff and I was wandering through a lemon grove with Monica Bellucci. It’s THAT good.
So the key was to find a couple of things to take advantage of the flavor. Chocolate was out, and I’m not adventurous enough yet to try it in tea, and I didn’t want to make anything containing fresh fruit (like muffins), so as not to clash with the lemon.
The first thing I tried was a batch of pancakes. And I’ll confess something: my pancakes are usally mediocre. I tend to like “puffy” ones, and unfortunately I usually get the heat wrong. So by the time the outside is burned, the inside has yet to finish cooking, and no amount of Grade-A fancy is going to solve that problem. So, this time? I let the dough “rest,” which sacrifices a bit of volume in lieu of a tender crumb.
(This is another one of those “honor system” recipes. I know you all know how to make pancakes, but I happen to use the recipe from my ancient Fannie Farmer cookbook, which calls for a cup of AP flour, 2t of baking powder, a half teaspoon of salt, combined. Mix separately one beaten egg with two tablespoons of butter, and a cup of milk. Bring together the wet and dry ingredients just enough to combine. Cook on a hot skillet, flip with the edges just set and several bubbles form on top.)
Anyway, I added 1/4 of a teaspoon of Fiori Di Sicilia to the pancake batter before cooking. They tasted amazing. The batter tasted simultaneously richer AND more floral, without imparting any heavyness or sourness. I BARELY needed to add syrup, let alone garnish, but, hey.
I also managed to make a pound cake. I’m still enamoured by Jessie’s recipe because it’s so easy to remember and works well. I did, however, substitute Fiori Di Sicilia for the vanilla extract, and I added a little bit of orange zest because I was feeling sassy. Again, the addition was quite worth it.
I’ll point out that it’s handy to have frosting recipes memorized. I keep two in my head and this quasi-buttercream is one – a little less than a stick of softened butter whipped, and add one cup of confectioners’ sugar. (the other being a royal icing, which is one egg white and one cup of confectioners’ sugar, along with vanilla extract). I am quite sure that Martha Stewart Omnimedia would fire my sorry butt if I tried making that in their test kitchen, but I actually do like the gritty simplicity. And it spreads well.
Note my fancy caramel-sauce/cocoa garnish.