The Salty Citrus Ingredient You Should Try Adding To Cake

Once in a blue moon, one crucial ingredient can completely define the wow factor of a cake recipe. Ina Garten claims coffee — whether it be espresso granules, hot brewed coffee, or Kahlúa liqueur — makes her chocolate cakes the best they can be (via Redbook). King Arthur's Secret Ingredient Apple-Spice Cake includes the surprising addition of tart cherry concentrate, helping to accentuate the bright apple flavor. These "secret ingredients" make a certain kind of sense, but there are some imaginative ones that can surprise even the seasoned baker. 

The classic chocolate mayo cake tells the tale of a Great Depression dessert that tapped into the power of moist mayonnaise when eggs and oil were too expensive, explains I Am Baker. Oddly enough, this savory condiment works wonders in adding tenderness to the cake, but remains undetected to the taste buds.

With this weird yet wonderful flavor combo in mind, let us introduce you to another salty condiment that pastry chefs have been encouraging bakers to use in their cakes. 

The salty star power of preserved lemons

A salty and savory citrus condiment, preserved lemons are a Moroccan pantry staple, often cured in salt before being suspended in a briny syrup. Martha Stewart writes that curing fruit in salt was both a delicious and practical innovation, as the salt helped preserve the fruit in the withering North African heat. Though traditional recipes rely on salt alone, MasterClass notes that more modern recipes can include sugar and sweet spices like cinnamon or the fiery heat of dried red chilis.

Finding preserved lemons at specialty grocery stores can be hit or miss, but making them at home is easy enough. The only thing to count is some extended prep time. Chef Floyd Cardoz's recipe for preserved lemons requires two weeks of curing plus two days of soaking, but the ingredient list is simple: lemons and salt. With this new condiment on hand, MasterClass recommends you use it to brighten the flavor of everything from creamy ricotta to vinaigrettes.

That all sounds good, but what does it have to do with cake?

Preserved lemons will take your cakes to the next level without the bitterness

Take a page from the experts: Preserved lemon brings floral lemon flavor without additional mouth-puckering acidity. Zaynab Issa claims that preserved lemon in her tea cake recipe helped secure her job as a food editor at Bon Appétit. During her edit test, Issa pitched an idea for a cake recipe that tapped into the luscious flavor of preserved lemons. She swears this genius combo of savory and sweet landed her the job. And Issa isn't the only baker who uses preserved lemon to elevate her desserts. New York Shuk noted that superstar chefs like Yossy Arefi and Claire Saffitz included preserved lemons in their ice cream and lemon meringue cakes, respectively. 

In Saffitz's recipe for Preserved Lemon Meringue Cake (which can be found in her cookbook "Dessert Person," via Food52), she discovered that incorporating the chopped rind of a few preserved lemons into the cake batter brought intense lemon flavor without the pitfall of added acidity. She notes that as preserved lemons have been cured in salt, you should be careful adding extra salt to the recipe. There are a few other things to consider before using preserved lemon, like sticking to just the rind for your baked goods (pass on the brine and the pulp), but the main caution is to keep an eye on the salt content. 

If you're ready to level up your citrus cakes, consider reaching for this umami-packed powerhouse ingredient.