Flavor pairings range from the common place but delicious vanilla that brings out the buttery taste of cakes and cookies to the refreshing taste of lemon and other fruits in pies. The most basic and essential pairing in baking is salt added to any cake, cookie or bread, which not only heightens any other flavor present, but also keeps bread from rising too quickly.
Pairing to Balance Flavors
Balancing flavors in baking isn't about getting the same proportions of each flavor, but rather, having the four elements of flavor working in harmony. Spicy, bitter jalapeno peppers, for instance, balance the sweetness in corn muffins. And roasted walnuts, with their savory, umami flavor, balance the sweetness and fat in apple cake. You can even add acidic or savory elements to cut the buttery taste of pastry by adding lavender or lemon zest to the dough.
Pairing to Heighten Flavor
Heightening flavors means intensifying a taste; it also means adding flavors before and after the primary taste. Sugar does this by bringing out the flavor in fruit pies. Add a bit of brandy to pie filling or cinnamon to a peach pie, and you'll get rich undertones of flavor as well. If you add minced candied ginger to molasses cookies, the molasses stands out, plus you'll taste a hint of ginger after you finish eating the cookie.
Tried-and-true food pairings really do work. Use the cherry-almond affinity by adding a layer of almond paste over the bottom of a cherry pie crust and a drop or two of almond extract in the whipped cream topping. Regional and ethnic cuisines also show the power of food pairings -- think of spicy chili powder and beans in enchiladas, pungent Swiss cheese in egg quiches and walnuts in baklava to cut the sweetness.
Coffee is the classic pairing with chocolate, with its bitterness intensifying the chocolate taste in cakes and cookies. Add anywhere from 1 cup of brewed coffee or a smaller amounts of espresso in place of other liquids, but add cool, not hot coffee. Other chocolate pairings include chiles for a kick to chocolate muffins, candied or fresh grapefruit to garnish a cake or dark beer added for some of a cake's liquid.