Welcome to Short Order, Tasting Table's column for the next generation of adventurous food lovers.
As I was perusing blogger Molly Yeh's delightful Valentine's Day almond cake last week, the ingredients gave me pause for many reasons—marzipan, gold bling tiny heart sprinkles—but one really stopped me in my tracks.
Princess Cake & Cookie emulsion. Um, what?
I turned to Google for the answers (duh): It's a King Arthur Flour product. It costs $6. It's an emulsion, similar to and used like an extract (vanilla, almond, etc.), but instead of the flavor molecules hanging out in alcohol, they're suspended in water. This is supposed to make the flavor stronger and prevent it from baking out, because water takes longer to evaporate than alcohol. Put a crown on it, and it becomes Princess Emulsion.
Other than that, it's still unclear as to what's actually in the bottle. There's xanthan gum, a hydrocolloid, which is a fancy word meaning "thing that turns other thing to goop." It stabilizes the emulsion, giving it a thick milky look and texture. The exact "natural and artificial flavors" it contains are ambiguous—a princess never reveals her secrets. As one KAF employee responded to a customer inquiry, "Like any princess, it's sweet and mild mannered. The light, nutty taste also has overtones of citrus and rich vanilla." This person has clearly never seen Frozen.
The first thing I did when it arrived was give it the smell test. It smells like vanilla, lemons, almonds and royalty. I've never sniffed a princess, but I think that sounds about right. But the real test—how it stacks up in baked goods versus plain old vanilla extract—was about to begin.
The test: Jacque Torres's giant chocolate chip cookies seem like a recipe that a princess would love, so I made a batch using the princess emulsion in one half and common folk vanilla extract in the other. I figured I'd put my bachelor of science to work and labeled them A (the princess version) and B (standard vanilla extract) in order to construct a blind taste test.
Photo: Courtesy of areisner via Instagram
The verdict: I rounded up the TT editorial team and made them each eat a cookie. No one objected. So in the name of science, I made them eat two. I asked them simply to tell me which one tasted like a "normal" chocolate chip cookie and which was slightly different. Almost everyone could taste the difference between the baked cookies. But when we tasted the raw dough, it was clear to everyone which one contained the emulsion. This showed me that the flavor actually does bake out a bit. But that's fine by me: I wouldn't want my cookie to taste predominantly like unicorns and fairy dust, just slightly. The biggest surprise to me, though, was that the two actually look different. All other factors were equal, so this remains a partial mystery.
If you ate a princess-ified cookie on its own, you'd be able to tell that something was different. In a good way. You wouldn't necessarily know exactly what that something extra was, though, making it more of a subtle secret ingredient rather than an overpowering star of the show. It's the Cady Heron, not the Regina George; you're not hit in the head with princess-y sass, but it'll sneak up on and pleasantly surprise you.
We will never be royals, but we can at least pretend with cookies. And live happily ever after.
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