Citrus oil: so rich in fruity flavor

Adds depth, aroma and dimension

April 14, 2004|By Marlene Parrish | Marlene Parrish,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

Has this ever happened to you? As an inveterate reader of cookbooks in bed, you discover a tempting recipe and fantasize about how it might look, smell and taste. Then you turn the page, primed for the next sensory fantasy. Once in a great while, though, you decide you can and, by golly, will pull off that recipe.

For starters, there's that Tangerine Bundt Cake that looks so fabulous and stately on the plate. Shortly after dawn, you assemble the ingredients and begin to measure flour and sugar with enthusiasm.

But wait. You slice into the tangerines and (ick!) they're dry and tasteless. The centerpiece flavor of your cake is almost nonexistent. Fear of failure looms. But wait again. The flavor problem can be solved. The solution lies in the addition of a few drops of tangerine citrus oil. Instantly, the batter is redolent of tangerine.

Never heard of citrus oil?

This magical oil - actually several types of oil - is cold-pressed from fruit rinds. Extracts and flavorings don't come close to the remarkable intensity of these oils. It takes nearly 220 oranges, 330 lemons or 400 limes to fill a 5-ounce bottle with oil, according to the manufacturers.

Citrus oils add depth, dimension and aroma to every manner of baking and cooking. Strictly speaking, they pump up flavor. Once you use a citrus oil, it will become as indispensable to you as vanilla extract.

The labels on the bottles caution that the oils are to be used sparingly in place of peel or zest for savory dishes, sauces, breads and desserts for which you want a natural flavor. But I've found them to also be excellent flavor boosters where citrus is already an ingredient.

I recently experimented with a quartet of oils: orange, lemon, lime and tangerine. I stumbled upon a few guidelines that helped me.

As a general rule, use 1/2 teaspoon citrus oil per cup of dry ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon citrus oil per cup of liquid ingredients. But keep tasting. The flavor should be bright, not overpowering. When possible, try to combine or add the oils with any fat (oil or butter) in the recipe.

Keep the oils refrigerated, and they'll stay fresh a long time.

Citrus (and many other) flavored oils are sold at baking-supply stores and many large supermarkets. Expect a 1-ounce bottle to sell for about $2.50 and 8-ounce bottles for about $20.

Marlene Parrish is a cookbook author and food writer based in Pittsburgh.

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