I was thinking about why Mom's baked goods were so delicious and I think there are some keys to making flavorful goodies.
One is to bring out the most flavor from the ingredients. The biggest example is toasting nuts before using them to bring out the oils. Someone once asked me why my pecan pie was so good and the answer was toasting the pecans.
You can toast them in a dry pan or in the oven or toaster oven. Just be sure to watch them carefully so they don't burn. Using the best chocolate that you can afford will add flavor as well. Make sure that your ingredients are fresh also. Spices will tend to lose their flavor after a year so buy smaller quantities and replace as needed.
Another key to flavor is using real butter. I know, it's not exactly the best for your health as it has a lot of saturated fat, but holiday baking is a splurge. Cut the fat in other areas and use a little moderation in how much you eat -- I'd rather have one really good cookie than three ok cookies.
A third key is pumping up the flavor volume with little additions. Adding a little orange zest to sugar cookie dough (even the premade type in a tube) can make your cookies go from ordinary to the ones everyone chooses first.
Pure vanilla, almond and other flavorings (instead of imitation) also make a difference. Add almond extract to canned cherry pie filling before spooning over cheesecake to perk up the flavor and make it taste more homemade. Instead of adding water to a quick bread recipe, try adding orange juice.
Chocolate recipes benefit from just a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor. Raisins, dried cranberries and other dried fruits are a great addition to scones and breads and add flavor and nutrients without a lot of fat. Coat your nuts or dried fruits with just a little flour before mixing them into your batter to keep them suspended.
With these tips you can make convenience products taste more homemade or make your homemade baking even better. Happy baking this holiday season!
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon sugar, preferably coarse sugar
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and orange zest in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly, leaving some big lumps of butter. Combine egg, buttermilk and orange juice. Add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Put dough on a lightly greased baking sheet and pat into an 8 inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges (do not separate). Brush with milk and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve hot.