This Little-Known Italian Extract Is So Good, You Might Kick Vanilla to the Curb
You've got to give it a try.
Forever scouting grocery shelves for different ingredients to play with, I once came across a tiny bottle in a spice store that was labeled Fiori di Sicilia. Flowers of Sicily. It said it was an extract for baking. Deeply intrigued, I bought it. When I got it home and gave it a whiff, I was pleasantly surprised: floral but not perfumy; citrusy, but not overwhelmingly so; some hints of vanilla, but muskier.
I began experimenting and quickly found that there is a reason the bottle is so small: This is a powerful and pungent extract that should measured in drops, not by the spoonful. But once you start playing with it judiciously, this Italian extract can bring a unique flavor to your baking. Sort of like if a vanilla pod had an affair with an orange on a bed of lavender and apple blossoms.
While Fiori di Sicilia isn’t used much in the U.S. (at least not yet), it stars regularly in traditional Italian recipes like panettone, biscotti, and ricotta cheesecakes to name just a few. And it used to be very hard to find. But now you can buy a very good version from King Arthur, so let the Sicilian games begin!
How to Use Fiori di Sicilia in Recipes
Fiori di Sicilia can swap in almost anywhere you would use vanilla extract, but is especially lovely in creamy desserts, poaching liquid for fruits, and simple baked goods where the flavor can really shine, like shortbreads or other simple cookies. One of my favorite places to use it is in rice pudding, where it immediately elevates a basic nursery food to a stunning dessert good enough for guests.
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Be warned: Once you start experimenting, you won’t want to stop. Fiori di Sicilia can be a wonderful addition to teas, cocktails, jams, and preserves; even certain salad dressings can stand up to the complexity of its flavor profile. I sometimes use it in combination with saffron for a heady mix that is romantic and sensual that works beautifully in a pot de crème, or to flavor an ice cream to serve with toasted almonds, or in whipped cream for the top of a pear tart or apple pie. In the cocktail world, it works nicely with brown spirits. I like a tiny drop in an Old Fashioned, but it is also good with Italian bitter liqueurs like Campari.
How Much Fiori di Sicilia to Use
To begin experimenting, take a vanilla-forward recipe you love and swap out half of the vanilla extract for Fiori di Sicilia and see what you think. If that distinctive flavor doesn’t come through enough for your taste, try a 1:1 swap the next time and see how that goes. If you overdo it, it can be easy to take your desserts into what I think of as “Yankee Candle Territory,” so take baby steps until you get a sense of how potent your bottle is, and how much you and your family appreciate the unique flavors it imparts.