In this section, I don't want to give a lot of recipes. I'd rather stand back and let you be creative. Don't forget that baking is a science, so don't mess around with your structural elements, unless you have a lot of time for experimentation. You can, however, play around with additions such as fruit (toss some frozen blueberries with a bit of flour and mix them gently in to your white cake--there's an idea), chocolate (chips, maybe), spices, extracts and liqueurs. I'm also a big fan of citrus zest; those flavors play well with many others. So, I'm just going to throw out some ideas and begin the brainstorming. You take the ball and run. Some of your attempts may be more successful than others (I know), but just run with it and have fun. Have any notable successes? I'd love to hear about them. Send me an e-mail here, and if you give your permission, I'll post your success for everyone to read. Send a picture, and I'll post that, too. You can also swing by to give--or get--inspiration on the Pastry Chef Online facebook fan page.
Coming up with unique variations on basic/classic recipes is where the pastry chef can assert their creative side and make a recipe his/her own. A variation can be a simple as using some almond extract in place of vanilla extract. If you're making puff pastry or croissants, make a compound butter to roll in instead of just plain butter. Imagine cinnamon puff pastry or cheese croissants. For cinnamon puff, just soften your butter, mix in some cinnamon and superfine sugar to taste (go very easy on the sugar) then chill to firm up. For the croissants, use a fine microplane to shave parmesan cheese into softened butter then chill. I literally just thought of these ideas. Just now. You can, too.
For any of your doughs--sablé, pâte brisée, shortbread--you can always zest in some citrus: lemon, orange, tangerine, etc. Add some spices--not too much. A bit of cinnamon, maybe some nutmeg. Oh! Try orange zest with cardamom. Yum. Take some herbal tea that you really like and that will complement whatever your filling is, whir it up into dust in your coffee grinder and mix that in. Again. I just thought of that.
Zests are great additions to any of the cake recipes, as well. Spices, too. I love to grate a little fresh nutmeg into yellow cake batter. People can't really tell it's nutmeg; they just think it's the best yellow cake they've ever had, and that's fine with me.
Meringues are generally made to be fairly neutral, but depending on what you're going to do with it, I've found that a little citrus juice is excellent in meringue. Add a bit of liqueur or an extract towards the end--that could be good, too.
Buttercream is kind of a blank canvas. Have a ball. Almost any liqueur, or mixture of liqueurs, will work in a buttercream. For a wedding cake I made recently, I made a buttercream flavored with Absolut Raspberri, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur and Grand Marnier. It was delightful, and just the alcohol mixture alone would have made a great girly martini drink! Add melted and cooled bittersweet chocolate. Beat in some praline paste. Mix some espresso powder with a little water and beat that in. Now, you can make mocha, or chocolate hazelnut, or coffee hazelnut.....See?! Beat in some intensely flavored strained fruit puree.
Pastry cream is a wonderful, neutral background for adding flavors. Almost anything that has dairy in it is, because you can steep so many different flavors into your dairy before beginning. Layering on top of that, you can use extracts, zests or chocolate also. How about roasting some bananas, pureeing and straining them and mixing those into your pastry cream along with a bit of banana liqueur? Now you're talking! For a variation on the frangipane, try making it with an equal amount of hazelnuts or pistachios.
Now that your creative juices are flowing, click on the Recipes button up top and see what kind of variations you can come up with for those recipes! Don't forget to have fun, either, or I'll hear about it. Trust me.
If you're still not feeling inspired, try searching by flavor like "Amaretto recipes" or "basil dessert recipes."