SaffronQuality Baking ChocolateExtra-Virgin Olive OilMaple SyrupImported OlivesFrench CheesesWalnut OilPure VanillaProsciuttoMiso Paste
At over $100 a pound, super-aromatic Saffron is the world's priciest spice. Thankfully you'll need less than $5 worth to make these classic holiday buns.
Recipe: Lussekatter (Saffron Buns)
Everyone knows that quality counts for out-of-hand-eating chocolate, but what about the baking variety? Typically, the price tag directly equates to the quality of the cacao beans used to make it and the time and care spent producing it. If you want truly stellar cakes, cookies and baked goods, use a baking chocolate that is stellar to begin with.
Recipe: Coca-Cola Cake
Extra-virgin olive oil comes with a heftier price tag than its less virginal counterparts, but in certain dishes, it makes a night-and-day difference. The famously fruity oil is derived from the first cold-pressing of the olives, making it less acidic. Its pristine flavor makes it perfect for salad dressings, pasta tosses or drizzling over a simple bruschetta.
Recipe: Bruschetta with Tomato and Arugula
Classy maple syrup can get pretty pricey, but a high quality mix is worth every penny. We love using the pure and tree-tapped variety in buttercream icing.
Recipe: Banana Cupcakes with Maple Buttercream
For a stellar appetizer, good quality olives can be served alone or accompanying little else. But we suggest throwing them in an delish mix of penne and spinach for something really special.
Recipe: Penne with Spinach, Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
French cheeses are not so much dairy products as they are works of art, subjected to a loving and long hands-on production process. Comté is one of our favorite stand-outs; an aged, nutty cheese with a hint of sweetness, similar to Gruyere, but with more complexity. A little pricier than Parmesan, comté boldly flavors whatever it's used in, including our fondue. Stretch the value by saving the rinds and adding them to simmering soups and sauces for mega-flavor.
Recipe: Artisanal Fondue
Walnut oil is a little more expensive than your typical supermarket fare, but then again, a little goes a long way with this flavorful fat. It's also packed with omega-3s, making it an uber-healthy addition to your diet. Use it on fish, pasta or, as we do, substitute it in simple vinaigrettes that call for olive oil.
Recipe: Beet Salad with Red Onions, Apples and Walnuts
Second only to saffron in cost, pure vanilla is absolutely worth the extra pennies. Flavorwise, it isn't even in the same ballpark as inexpensive extracts. Use it once, as in our chocolate torte with vanilla custard sauce, and you'll know why.
Recipe: Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Rum Torte
Italy's famed salt-cured ham is delicious with a simple side of melons or figs, but it's also ideal for a pastas, pizzas or wrapped around an herbed oven-broiled chicken breast.
Recipe: Crispy Herbed Chicken with Prosciutto
Miso, (pronounced MEE-soh), is fermented soybean paste, and it's not the cheapest item in the market. That said, a single tub will keep for ages if stored properly in the refrigerator, and when you need it for a special dish, there simply is no substitute.
Recipe: Hearty Miso Cabbage Stew