9 Secret Ingredients for Baking

April 13, 2021

One of the best feelings in the world is when someone takes a bite of one of your tasty treats and can’t help but sigh and say, “This is so good. What’s your secret?” Since I’m a pretty firm believer in sharing the love when it comes to recipes, I’ll spill all of my secrets right here. These are my nine favorite secret ingredients to use in your baked goods, plus a couple recipes to try!

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Espresso Powder

It’s essentially just super finely ground espresso, which can be used in a pinch to make an instant espresso. However, espresso powder also holds the secret to the richest chocolate flavor you’ve ever tasted. It also does well standing on its own, like in these espresso chocolate chip muffins.

Try it paired with: Chocolate, vanilla, banana, chai spices, hazelnuts, caramel, and butterscotch.

Caramel Macchiato Cake
From The Simple Sweet Life
Mini Chocolate Bites
From The Spice Train


Cardamom is the missing apple pie spice. For some reason, it’s missing from most pre-mixed blends of the seasoning, but don’t skip on it. This aromatic spice has a flavor that perfectly accentuates orchard fruits, like in this phyllo apple strudel. But its versatility expands so much beyond that.

Try it paired with: Cinnamon, apples, pears, peaches, citrus fruits, cream, and vanilla.

Peach Cardamom Cobbler
From Cardamom and Coconut
Chai Spiced White Chocolate Brownies
From The Copper Table
Lemon Cardamom Cake
From The Spice Train
Cardamom Rose Cupcakes
From Amanda Wilens

a whole loaf of brown butter banana bread

Brown Butter

You just can’t beat the nutty and toasty aroma that comes from making brown butter. Plus, it adds an amazing depth to nearly every treat that uses butter anyway. I love how it took my banana bread from a sometimes snack to an essential that I ended up baking weekly last spring!

Try it paired with: Brown sugar, banana, vanilla, nuts, bourbon, cream, rye, and sesame.

Almond Extract

The easiest swap on this list, for real. I love adding a dash of almond extract into anything where I am already using vanilla. Or sometimes, you can replace part or all of other extracts for a little extra oomph. It accents unexpected flavors, like the tangy citrus in this mandarin orange tart.

Try it paired with: Vanilla, citrus, berries, cherries, chocolate, maple, banana

Quick Slice Cake
From Simply Stacie
Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes
From Celebrating Sweets
Mexican Sprinkle Sugar Cookies
From The Six Figure Dish
Vegan Thumbprint Cookies
From Vegan Huggs


This is the secret you’ve been looking for when it comes to plenty of nutty flavor, but without having to worry about nut allergies. Tahini is essentially toasted sesame seed butter, which means it has no nuts, but the flavor will have you fooled. Try it in these sesame butterscotch rice krispies treats for a super tasty snack.

Try it paired with: Caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, and brown butter.

Toasted Sesame Cheesecake with Black Plum Coulis
From Straight to the Hips Baby
Grain Free Mango Cookies
From My Chef’s Apron


By far, bourbon is my favorite liquor to drink, but it’s also the ingredient I go to first when a baked good needs a little something extra. Many varieties are sweet and syrupy, which makes a perfect addition to your favorite treats, and it can easily replace other liquid ingredients, like in this apple tart with bourbon rye crust.

Try it paired with: Apples, cherries, pecans, walnuts, chocolate, vanilla, and rye.

What’s your favorite secret ingredient? Try out these nine that will take your baking to the next level!

These next three are a little bit less common in baked goods, but I just love the additional depth you get from including a traditionally savory ingredient into a sweet dessert. I wasn’t able to find as many recipes to share for these, but I still recommend experimenting on your own!

Soy Sauce

Similar to miso paste, the fermented sauce that you are familiar with for dipping sushi also provides a well-rounded salty flavor with the depth of earthy umami. Think about what salt does to all your favorite sweets. It really highlights the flavors, like in these soy-sauce caramel filled chocolate cookies.

Try it paired with: Chocolate, caramel, brown sugar, white chocolate, mango, and coconut.

White Miso Paste

This is one that will definitely have your friends and family tilting their heads to the side in wonder, but also reaching for yet another miso peanut butter cup cookie. Miso paste is known for adding a somewhat salty and umami flavor, which can add amazing depth to your sweets.

Try it paired with: Peanut butter, almond, chocolate, caramel, blueberry, apple, banana, and shortbread.

Balsamic Vinegar

You may think of balsamic vinegar as the main ingredient in the dressing on a caprese salad, but its sweet and tangy flavor works so well with berries and chocolate in desserts, like these strawberry balsamic tartlets. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be reduced and thickened or mixed as is.

Try it paired with: Strawberries, cherries, blueberries, chocolate, cheesecake, and vanilla.

Strawberry Balsamic and Black Pepper Popsicles
From Keep Calm and Eat Ice Cream
Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake with Balsamic
From Chocolates and Chai
Milk Chocolate Miso Macarons
From Food Nouveau
Rosemary Peach Balsamic Scones
From Celebration Generation

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