- Stephanie Izard was the first woman to win “Top Chef” in 2008, and she’s still working as a chef.
- She spoke with Insider about some of her favorite ways to upgrade baked goods at home.
- The chef suggested balancing sweet and savory flavors and adding textural elements.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Celebrity chef Stephanie Izard made history in 2008 as the first woman to win “Top Chef.” Since then, she’s won the first season of “Iron Chef Gauntlet” and become the executive chef of four restaurants.
She also recently developed the limited-edition Cheez-Itennial Cake for Cheez-It’s 100th anniversary, which features Cheez-It flour, a Cheez-It shortbread crumble, caramel swirls, chocolate-covered Cheez-Its, and strawberry-flavored icing.
While promoting her partnership with Cheez-It, Izard spoke with Insider about some of her best advice for home bakers.
Here are her top tips for making delicious baked goods and taking treats to the next level:
It’s important to balance sweet and savory flavors while baking
Izard is a pro at finding the balance between sweet and savory ingredients, as demonstrated in her Cheez-It cake.
According to the chef, finding notes of sweet and savory will keep your taste buds excited.
“I always think about what each ingredient is going to do to that dish and how does it balance out,” she told Insider.
As you bake, think about how the different flavors will accentuate one another. And before adding in something salty, think about how to balance it with sweetness and vice versa.
Use well-defined layers to keep crunchy ingredients from going soggy
When you start playing with salty ingredients in baked goods, you’ll probably experience some soggy chips and crackers along the way.
The flavor may be OK when you mix crispy, salty snacks into a wet batter, but the crunch may disappear.
To maintain that crispiness, Izard said she likes to build well-defined layers when working with crunchy ingredients.
“If you just put Cheez-Its in, they do get soggy,” she told Insider. “So that’s why we bake them into a crumble that we’ve used.”
She continued, “We use a crumble similar to that same texture in all of our cakes, and they’re sitting on a layer of buttercream and caramel. That helps them from just squishing into the cake. It gives them a nice little place to live but they stay super crunchy forever.”
Play around with spices, especially when you’re making something from a box
Even if you prefer to play it safe and use boxed mixes for your baking, there are easy ways to elevate them.
Izard said that her dad always used to upgrade simple pancake or waffle batter by adding vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
The same can be done for baked goods. If you’re uncertain about adding salty snacks or extra liquids, which can alter the texture of the final product, Izard suggested simply adding in a few spices.
“We actually make an India spice that we add into cakes because it makes it spicy and has that little bit of gingerbread taste to it,” she told Insider.
Fresh fruits are a great way to add natural sweetness and tang to recipes
In both baking and cooking, fresh fruit can be the key to finding the perfect sweet-and-savory balance.
But depending on the dish, you need to keep ripeness in mind. Fruit can taste quite different when it is underripe, ripe, and overripe.
“If I’m using fruit in my savory foods, I always use berries or grapes because they’re sweet and acidic,” Izard said.
She said when using stone fruit, fruit with flesh or pulp enclosing a pit, like cherries, peaches, or plums, she’ll buy them when they’re “hard as a rock.”
” … Then they’re a little bit sweet, but they’re nice and acidic, too, so you’re not oversweetening it,” she explained.
Make sure to taste the food you’re preparing so you can make necessary adjustments
Izard told Insider that when she competed on “Top Chef” in 2008, her motto was “Don’t make anything gross.” But she also emphasized the importance of taking risks in the kitchen.
To balance those goals, her advice is to taste your own food at different stages.
“The people that get kicked off that show, you taste it and you’re like, ‘Too tasteless, did you actually taste this?’ And they’re like, ‘No, I didn’t have time.’ Well, there’s your problem,” Izard said.
Whenever you can, use clean tasting spoons to sample the food, sauce, or frosting. That way, you can adjust with seasonings as needed or figure out how to balance an overpowering flavor before it’s too late.
Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen
Making food doesn’t have to be boring if you’re always adding different flavors, trying new recipes, and playing with fun ingredients that are new to you.
“Have fun experimenting in the kitchen,” Izard told Insider. “Don’t be afraid to mix and match and try new things. And worst case, if it’s not the tastiest thing you’ve ever had, that’s fine. You learned something new, you tried something new. Don’t be afraid to just try some new fun stuff.”