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In part two of my conversation with the extraordinary bakers Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread and Melissa Weller of High Street on Hudson, we take a deep dive into what makes a proper (and I would say perfect) bagel, keeping wholesale bread fresh and high-quality, as well as the balancing act required to make entrepreneurship, marriage, and parenthood work.
Both bakers have overcome extraordinary hurdles in the process of building their baking empires. Melissa recounts making bread in an outdoor wood-burning oven, without easy access to running water. Amy gets into the importance of crafting a unique product and opens up about the experience of juggling work, motherhood, and marriage—especially difficult when your husband is your VP of sales.
Also in today’s episode, Kenji helps Serious Eater Nate the Greatest answer two egg-related queries. First, he wants to know whether boiling eggs in a flavored broth imparts any flavor, and second, whether marinating the cooked egg in that broth has any additional effect. Kenji, of course, has all the answers.
After Kenji schools us on eggs, we head into our test kitchen to catch up with Stella Parks, who takes us on a brownie-baking journey. “I’ve thought about brownies more than anyone else alive. I think about brownies every day, and I think about how fudgy they should be and how chewy they should be. I test batches side by side, over and over and over again. So join me on this journey as we make brownies from scratch.” It’s hard to argue with that.
So, what makes a perfect bagel? How does a superstar baker manage her personal relationships and grueling hours? Plus, Kenji on eggs and Stella on brownies….Now that’s what I call a perfect episode of Special Sauce.
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Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce 2.0, a Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we begin with Ask Kenji, where Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats chief culinary consultant gives the definitive answer to the question of the week that a serious eater like you have sent us.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: Eggshells are porous. They do absorb some flavors, but not much in the amount of time that it takes to boil an egg.
EL: After Ask Kenji, a conversation with our guests, bakers and entrepreneurs Amy Scherber… You did have a signature roll.
Amy Scherber: Semolina, raisin, and fennel.
Melissa Weller: I love that one by the way.
EL: And Melissa Weller are back with us.
MW: There wasn’t water. There wasn’t a sink. Why did I take this job? Oh my gosh.
EL: And finally on today’s podcast, a teachable moment from the Serious Eats test kitchen.
SP: I mean, this is everything I want in a brownie. I don’t know that everyone is going to agree with me because some people don’t like things that taste good.
EL: First up, our chief culinary consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt. A serious eater who goes by the handle, Nate the Greatest… Kenji and I will decide that…
EL: … wants to know, “Does boiling eggs in dashi or chicken stock impart any flavor or otherwise affect boiled eggs?” And his second question is, “What if the cooking liquid is cooled and the eggs are submerged in the liquid for an extended period after cooking?”
JKLA: Got it. Well, I know a little something about boiling eggs.
EL: He does. You have come to the right place, Nate!
JKLA: I’ve boiled many, many, many, many, many, many eggs, including in flavored liquids. So, the first part of the question, “Does boiling eggs in a flavored liquid such as dashi or stock impart any flavor to the egg?” The short answer is, “Yes, it does.” Eggshells are porous. They let off gasses. They can also let off moisture.
JKLA: Part of the reason why an egg, as it ages, they tend to get a little bit looser and air bubble in that big end gets bigger and bigger, that’s because water from the white is actually escaping the egg shell very slowly. Eggshells are porous, so yes, they do absorb some flavors, but not much in the amount of time that it takes to boil an egg.
JKLA: Boiling an egg will take you, if you’re normal, maybe it will take you 11, 12 minutes. My wife sometimes likes to boil eggs for 45 minutes at a time. There are some Chinese recipes that have you boil eggs for two hours, or maybe some Indian recipes as well. There are recipes, Chinese recipes where you boil eggs in tea for a very long time. And those, you very, very easily see the effect of that. The chemical, the tannins from the tea steep in through the eggshell. It turns the eggs very dark brown. It changes the texture.
JKLA: So, yes. You can change the texture and flavor of an egg by boiling it in a flavored liquid but practically, not really, given the length of time that we boil our eggs for in the Western world.
JKLA: Now, the second part of that question is, “Can you store an egg in a flavorful liquid and have it absorb flavors?” This, definitely yes. Ajitsuke Tamago, which is the Japanese, the flavored eggs that you put into ramen, it literally translates to, “flavored egg.” For that, you take eggs, you boil them and then you soak them and submerge them in a liquid, in dashi, soy sauce, sugar, a flavored aromatic liquid.
JKLA: You know of course, there’s pickled eggs, which are common in the U.S. Those are just eggs soaked in a liquid. Those types of things will work whether they’re in the shell or not. They’ll go a little bit faster when the shell is off, but they will absorb those flavors over time, when the shell is on.
JKLA: Again, this is one of those questions where I think there is an answer and then a practical question that I have in return, which is, “Why? Why would you want to store an egg in the shell, in the flavorful liquid when you could just peel it and store it in that same liquid, and the flavor would transfer faster?” That would be my main question, but I think theoretically, yes, you could. Practically, I’m not sure of when you would ever want to.
EL: Got it. All right, I think Nate will become the Greatest after listening to your advice.
JKLA: All right.
EL: Our chief culinary consultant, author of The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt.
EL: This week, we’re back with Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller. Amy’s bread has been a staple on New York City restaurant tables and apartment galley kitchens in New York City since 1992. And Melissa Weller has returned bagels and bialys to their rightful place in the bread hierarchy in New York City for seven years now? Right? Did you-
MW: Yeah, six, seven years.
EL: So, welcome. Welcome back.
MW: Thank you so much.
EL: Melissa, you were working at Per Se.
EL: Making bagels on Fridays for staff meal.
MW: Correct, yeah.
EL: And then you moved to Roberta’s?
MW: Then, yes, I did. I was pregnant and had my son and took a few months off, and I was looking for something that wasn’t as strict about the 12 hour days. I needed something easier. And Roberta’s wasn’t that far from where my apartment is located. And, honestly, they didn’t care what I made. They just wanted bread for the restaurant. And so I felt like, “Oh, I could work eight hour days. I can make whatever schedule I want. I can do whatever I want.”
EL: So they offered you a lot of freedom.
MW: They offered me tons of freedom. They really didn’t care.
EL: Because, that place was pretty anarchic at this, right?
MW: Exactly. That’s what they were all about. “Just make us some bread. We don’t care. Just make it for us in our wood-fired oven in the backyard.” They likened it to baking in Bulgaria, and it was sort of like that at first. It was. The oven’s outside. I started baking in December. I had a three month old baby at home. I would go and load the bread in the oven outside, and then I’d run into the building on the inside. There wasn’t a mixer when I first started. I think I mixed it by hand and did a lot of folding of the dough.
EL: That’s insane.
MW: There wasn’t water. There wasn’t a sink. Why did I take this job? Oh my gosh. But I fell in love with that oven. It was really the opportunity to bake in a wood-fired oven, and I always felt, as a bread baker, I wanted to challenge myself and continue to grow and continue to accumulate more knowledge about bread and fermentation. And I had worked in deck ovens, large deck ovens at Sullivan Street Bakery, and a smaller French deck oven at Per Se, but I had never baked bread in a wood-fired oven and I felt that’s the true test of a baker. So, that’s why I wanted to work there, initially.
EL: And the freedom must have been appealing.
MW: The freedom was very appealing. I could make my own schedule, so I’d get in there at 4:00 in the morning and I’d work backwards. First, I’d bake the bread from the day before. Then I’d start mixing, fermenting, and shaping the loaves for the next day. So, I could finish everything in eight hours.
MW: And I loved that flexibility.
EL: And you had the little baby at home.
EL: Sometimes at the bakery. Nancy Silverton talks about bringing the baby, her first child, to La Brea Bakery.
MW: Yeah. I think I remember that, when she… I remember reading about that.
MW: Yeah. With my son, yeah, I think he would be at the bakery sometimes, but more often than not I’d just try to make sure that I was back home by about noon, so I had afternoons to spend with him.
EL: Got it. And Amy, you not only have started this business, but you also are a mother. Right?
EL: So, let’s talk a little bit about the juggling act that is your life.
AS: Well, I’m very fortunate that my husband works with me in the bakery now. He came on board in ’95, and he worked with us in the bread kitchen, and then in the office in accounting. Then he left, and in 2002 he came back to do sales, and slowly took on more and more. So, now he’s the VP of the company and he runs the business side and the financial side. And he’s fantastic because he knows the people, he knows our culture, he knows about bread making. He also did sales, so he knows all of our customers and the chefs and everything. So he puts the whole package together.
AS: And we juggle the reality of working together and then being a couple, which is challenging, but we have a son who’s 15, so we understand each other’s schedules and we spend, we try to have time off together, so we can do things together on vacation and have family time. I used to always do the morning drop-off at school and he would do the pick-up in the afternoon, and we’d always share it and split them up. So, I would put in a long day, but I would be home, let’s say by 7:00 PM. He would be already home with our son, and then I would make dinner.
AS: Our son has been a night owl, always, so he’s always gone to bed by 10:00 or 10:30, so he’s adapted to the schedule of a baker, eating dinner later and staying up late and all that.
EL: So you, Melissa, were at Roberta’s, baking bread outside in December with a little baby.
EL: Is that when you came up with the genius business idea of selling bagels at Smorgasburg?
MW: I was at Roberta’s for two years, which is, it’s ironic. I feel like that’s one of my longest tenures, and that wasn’t planned. I always imagined that it would be very much that I would find a place and just stay. But I was at Roberta’s for two years, and near the end of my tenure there, and I had started making bagels at Roberta’s again, and that’s when I started tweaking the bagel recipe. I was getting ready to leave Roberta’s and I said to myself, “Okay, I’m going to open up my own bakery now. It’s the time.”
EL: Ah-ha. It’s the Amy Scherber illness.
AS: Yep. I want to open my own bakery.
MW: Yeah. No, I’ve always felt that way. I’ve always wanted to open up my own bakery. And for whatever reason, it’s always been with a partner or there’s always been a block in the road, where I’ve taken a different turn, for good results but also not anticipated. I always sort of envisioned that I would just open a bakery and then grow it, but that really hasn’t been my career case, and that’s fine. I’m happy with how everything has been turning out.
MW: But for the Smorgasburg and the bagels, really, I turned to my friend Peter Endriss, who had been selling his bread at the Smorgasburg. And we were talking about what sells at the Smorgasburg and what doesn’t. I was going to spend time writing my business plan for my real bakery, that didn’t include bagels. And I said to myself, “Oh.” I said, “What’s a fun project that I can do at the Smorgasburg, that will attract a little bit of attention? It can’t be a loaf of bread. I can’t sell loaves of bread because nobody will buy loaves of bread.”
MW: And I said, “I’m going to make bagels and sell bagels, because that’s a small thing that people can carry away, and it’s something that I’m passionate about, and it’s something that nobody’s doing.”
EL: Because, that’s when I discovered your bagels, and they were sort of life-changing. They were at a time when most bagels were suffering from what I call bagel elephantiasis.
EL: They were all six and seven and eight ounce bagels.
MW: Yeah, they were getting bigger and bigger and bigger, that for sure. I think, I liked making the bagels. I like eating bagels. I didn’t grow up with bagels, but I grew up with pretzels. I feel like there’s some commonality there.
EL: There’s a first-cousin thing going on?
MW: Maybe so, maybe so. They’re both chewy, there’s a chewy factor there. And when I sold the bagels at the Smorgasburg, I started to learn more about bagels and bagel history. I wanted to understand more about them, so I felt… Because, for me, knowledge creates authority, and I didn’t feel like I was an authority enough to be able to sell these bagels at the Smorgasburg. And people were asking me questions about them. And so, I just started to do my due diligence to read about bagels, where they came from, and just sort of develop my own path around bagels.
EL: And quickly, I guess, found out that selling 300 bagels every Saturday was not the stuff that businesses were built on.
MW: It’s not. Those markets, I would love it to be that, but it’s just not. Outdoor markets are fickle in terms of what people want to buy and what they want to eat, and there’s a lot of overhead with any kind of bakery item. And especially when you don’t have your own space and you’re renting a space out, and you have to get your product delivered the right way, you have to rent a stand at the Smorgasburg, you have to pay for somebody to help you sell the bagels. I tried to do it all myself and it wasn’t physically possible.
MW: After a couple of months, I said, “I can either keep going. I’m going to have to go into debt to do this, which I don’t want to do, or I can bow out gracefully,” because at that time I had met my future partners, the Major Food Group. And so, I decided to bow out gracefully.
EL: You bowed out and you opened Sadelle’s with them.
EL: And your bagels, and all your baked goods there, got a lot of attention.
MW: They did, they did.
EL: And so even though you eventually parted ways with those guys, it really was a building block to your business.
MW: I believe so, yeah. Definitely. You know, I partnered with the Major Food Group in 2013 to open Sadelle’s, but we didn’t open Sadelle’s until 2015. So, there were two years there that I felt were almost entirely dedicated to research and planning out the restaurant, and that includes bagel research. I had been baking bagels and tinkering with formulas but I hadn’t really gone out and researched bagel equipment, I hadn’t tested bagels out with different equipment, and I had that opportunity to do that with bagels.
EL: And where did you come up with… Because I remember when Sadelle’s first opened, there was the chant that accompanied the bagels.
MW: Hot bagels.
EL: Yes. So, the servers would literally be chanting, “Hot bagels.”
MW: That’s correct, and that’s part of the theatrics that the Major Food Group enjoys.
EL: Right. We should say, the Major Food Group is, they have many, many different restaurants, Carbone, Torrisi, they’re all over the place and-
MW: The hot bagels, though, also came from history because, if you know the history of bagels, you know that bagels originally were being baked in the Lower East Side, near the tenements, that the bakeries were located underground, that bakers didn’t sell their bagels directly to consumers on the street. And it took a long time before bagels were sold directly to consumers, so the bagels were never hot.
EL: I see. So, this was a marketing thing, hot bagels.
MW: Yes, correct, hot bagels. And I would say probably in the early ’70s, when the bagel union broke apart and bagels were allowed to be sold on the street, that’s when you find that people were marketing them as hot bagels.
EL: That’s really funny.
MW: Oh, yeah.
EL: So, Amy, what was your Eureka moment when it came to artisanal bread? I guess you did have a signature roll-
EL: … or bread, right, which was the-
AS: Semolina, raisin, and fennel.
MW: I love that one, by the way.
EL: Do you think it’s important to have a calling card like that, when you’re starting a business?
AS: Well, when I first started I thought I was going to just make sourdough breads, and I was making that one on weekends because it was sort of unusual and I didn’t think there’d be a big following for it. But people who had tried it at Mondrian kept on asking me for that bread. It was sort of amazing. I would just have it on Fridays and Saturdays, and chefs would call and say, “Don’t you have this every day? I want to have it as part of my restaurant dinner bread.”
AS: I realized there was a real demand for something unique, so that’s when I started to make it every day, and it became that signature bread for us, and it became that bread that everyone would recognize, the yellow roll, the cornmeal coating. And it took off, and so that was really exciting for us. And there was an article about bread, and that was featured, so it sort of put our name on our map for that thing.
AS: At the same time, I made different sourdough breads, and these are some of my original formulas, but I have kind of tweaked them over the years and fixed them, and now I love them even more than I once did, but I still feel like that sourdough bread is at the core of all of it.
AS: But I want to say something about, beyond bread, this bagel thing. Since we’ve been talking so much about bagels, I have to give Melissa credit because a few years ago, two years ago or something, there was the Bread Bakers Guild event up at Johnson and Wales and she was doing this class on bagels. I was teaching a class down the hall, two different seminars, one about starting a bakery and one about running a mature bakery. It was like a two day set of seminars. They went on and on.
AS: So I needed food and inspiration, and I was with my colleague who was walking around, and he took your bagel class, or he had… Everyone was outside the door, eating your bagels, and I was tasting. I’m like, “You know what?” Bagels, I just have always thought that people make bagels because they’re a specific thing for specific kinds of bakeries, and I’m not a bagel baker. I’m never going to say I’m a bagel baker, but you know, fun, amazing bagels are special and there is a demand for them.
AS: So I finally said, “I’m going to make, test out some bagels,” following your inspiration. And I made a semolina, raisin, fennel bagel, which is in that bag.
MW: Oh, wow.
EL: Oh, that’s cool.
AS: That was the lunch. It was like, “Okay, I have to make my signature bread as a bagel.” It has durum wheat flour, so it’s pretty chewy and everything like that, but…
EL: So, I know you referred to this semolina raisin bagel, and you brought one.
AS: I did.
EL: And Melissa was going to bring bagels, but she forgot it was a Jewish holiday and so she sold out.
AS: Right—taste it.
EL: But I’m going to take a bite.
AS: I mean, it’s chewy. It should be… I love it toasted at this point in the day.
MW: Oh, look at that.
AS: It’s a sourdough bagel.
AS: We roll them all by hand and everything, and it’s got a nice taste.
EL: It tastes like one of those rolls.
MW: Oh, that’s great.
AS: They’ve been fun. I mean, it’s been a lot of fun. We still have work to do and learn, but I mean it’s been a lot of fun getting them off the ground. We do a long fermentation overnight in the refrigerator, so we keep the dough and develop the flavor, and then shape them and bake them at the last minute, before the morning.
MW: Oh, wow.
EL: You know, Melissa, you should try Amy’s bagel. You shouldn’t judge it too harshly, given the rainy weather.
AS: It’s chewy, right?
EL: But it, you know…
MW: Thank you. It’s got…
EL: It definitely is reminiscent of your classic.
AS: Right. I mean, with the sourdough in it, it adds that little something, like the long-
MW: It’s the anise, right? It’s fennel seed. Fennel seed, I’m sorry. Yeah.
AS: Yeah, the fennel seed.
EL: So, Melissa, what do you look for in a bagel, if people wanted to know what they should look for in a bagel? I mean, I can tell them. I once wrote a piece, a 3,000 word piece on bagels for the Times, and so I have my definition but I’d love to hear yours. What do you look for?
MW: A bagel. Well, it shouldn’t be too big.
EL: Okay, like three ounces?
MW: I think my bagels are about three and a half ounces. I’m okay if they’re a little bit bigger. I think that’s okay.
EL: They shouldn’t be more than four.
MW: They shouldn’t be more than four ounces, that’s size. They should have a shiny exterior that’s brown, that shows signs of fermentation. It should have a crisp, crackly crust but not-
MW: … exterior, not too thick, just the right amount. The inside has to be properly proofed, so a little bit spongy.
EL: Yeah, and should have a hole structure similar to one of Amy’s baguettes.
MW: Exactly. It shouldn’t be so tight that it’s so dense that when you eat it, it feels like you’ve eaten something and it’s leaden in your stomach. And it has to be properly baked, too. There are so many factors. It’s not just the recipe itself, it’s the proper proofing of the dough. It has to be proofed enough, so it’s not so heavy.
MW: And it has to be baked properly because, if you bake it like a loaf of sourdough bread, it’s going to be really dark on the outside, but this is a small, squishy thing that has to be eaten when it’s fresh. And if you’re baking it too dark as a baker, because I think bakers have a tendency, especially artisanal bakers, to bake it too dark-
EL: Especially if you’ve worked at Sullivan Street Bakery, where his bread is almost black.
MW: I love black bread.
AS: It does taste great.
MW: But no, there is a certain degree of doneness, when you’re baking a bagel, that’s different than just a regular, let’s say artisanal, loaf of bread. You have to be mindful of all of those factors.
EL: Yeah. It’s hard, isn’t it?
MW: It is. I think it’s an art, to a certain degree.
EL: But yeah, and you boil them first.
MW: They have to be boiled.
EL: Although, there is the guy at Orwashers is spraying them and steaming them. Right?
MW: There’s a pragmatic aspect for every baker, that you have the equipment that you have. And so if he has equipment or a production schedule that is what it is, then it’s important to work with what you have. So I’m always, always very accepting of other people’s methods. But for myself, I think I hold myself to a strict standard of, traditional bagels are boiled and then baked.
EL: And what about you, Amy? What do you look for in a baguette or an artisanal bread, where I’m staring at three beautiful breads that you brought.
AS: The same thing. The beginning is the appearance and the crust. If it looks beautiful color, if it’s deep color, if it has the look of fermentation and that kind of crackly look. These have bubbles and things because you can tell their sourdough, scoring that looks attractive. And then it’s really cutting it open and smelling it, and smelling that aroma. Do you smell that fermentation smell? Do you smell the crust? Do you smell grains? It’s not too sour, too acidic, you just have this nice balance of aroma that’s just so transporting.
EL: And texture-wise, it’s really the same thing.
AS: Yeah, it’s chewy and wetness on the inside.
EL: …chewy giving way to tender, but baked through with good hole structure.
AS: Good hole structure and a nice outside that’s crunchy, if it’s not pouring rain, like today.
EL: It is the hard thing about bread, in any form, whether it’s bagels, baguettes, or loaves, is that… My friend, Chris Bianco, when he was telling me about pizza for my pizza book, he said, “I could teach a monkey how to make one perfect pizza.” He said, “The hard thing is to make 100 perfect pizzas in the evening, when all the conditions are changing by the minute.”
AS: That’s it. That’s so true.
EL: Is that true with bread?
AS: I mean, you have every day the temperature changes in your bakery, and then you have the humidity and that kind of moisture in the air, even when you mix the dough, and little variations in timing. If it’s busy, you shape it an hour later than you’re supposed to. Everything can kind of get in your way, so it’s hard to get it to be just perfect every day.
EL: And have you both gotten to the point where… You, Amy, obviously have gotten to the point where you’re not making every piece of bread that you sell.
AS: That’s true. I have help, definitely. I have help, so thankfully I have a great team, but I still get involved. I really do help them, and I spend a lot of time with the staff, baking and mixing everything.
EL: Oh, so you still keep your hands in the dough.
AS: Yes, I try to.
MW: I remember walking past Chelsea Market no so long ago, when you were there. And seeing you involved in the mixing and actual making of the bread, I’m like, “Oh, wow. Look, there she is.”
EL: Now, what about you? So, you ended up leaving Sedelle’s and eventually going in with the High Street on Hudson folks in New York. They actually started in Philadelphia.
EL: And do you still have your hands on every bagel?
MW: Not as much today. Well, I started at High Street on Hudson in November. And I essentially started with a clean slate again. And I said, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I can do this.” And I started by switching out the pastries and the breads. And at that point, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to do… Bagels are really special to me. I’m like, “Do I want to do bagels here? Is the message clear, to have bagels at High Street? Because, I feel like High Street is definitely about bread. Should bagels be separate, or can I just combine them with bread?”
MW: And then, at a certain point, February or March, I’m like, “No. I love bagels too much. I’m just going to make the bagels.” So, I was the one making the bagels for the first couple of months, and then I’m like, “Okay.” I gradually brought my team in too, at a certain level of training, and they started making them then.
EL: So you tried to quit bagels cold turkey, but it didn’t work.
MW: I did. No, I love them too much.
EL: Yeah. You know, every daughter of Methodist ministers, I find that they can’t quit bagels. So, let’s talk about reconciling tradition with modernity, in terms of bread, because I think you’re both straddling… You both have great respect for the traditions that you grew up learning, when you were growing up in the business, and yet you have to reconcile it both with business realities and just contemporary life in general. So, talk a little bit about that, Amy, because that must be an ongoing process.
AS: It is. You have to kind of evolve with when your products have to be delivered to places. We do wholesale business, and so we have distributors that come at midnight and 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning, so I have to have a lot of different breads available to them and finished and packaged, bagged up, whatever their routes are on all of them. So, that takes the fun out of some of it, because it’s not.
AS: To me that’s like, well, it’s baked at 9:00 or 8:00 at night or 10:00. Once it cools, then we pack it. You know, I want it to be fresher. There’s that whole thing, along with making things that people want to have in this country, and what tastes they like versus what I would love to eat. And so you have to kind of have a product for the person that wants the tender crust that is not sour, and the crusty thick sourdough crust that’s dark.
AS: And I have both things, luckily. I have a broad range of products. But, you have to find that New Yorker’s palate and the local palate, and then evolve with what the marketplace wants, which today is more sandwich bread for my wholesale customers. I used to love to make all loaves of bread. Now it’s like, “Oh, well all we want is sandwich bread. We want an artisanal burger bun. We want this sliced whole wheat loaf for our sandwiches and for our toast and all this.”
AS: And it’s like, “Pan loaves is the most depressing thing ever.” Here we are making hundreds and hundreds of pan loaves with really good flour, really nice fermentation, all this shaped by hand, but it’s still like, “Well, it’s a pan loaf.” So, you have to adapt to that.
AS: But the one thing I’ll say about these three breads, just sort of funny, is that there’s a lot of interest in sourdough again. That’s what I started with. And then in the middle it became, people wanted crusty baguettes and all these ciabatta and rustic Italian kind of a Sullivan Street type bread. And I think today, they’ve gone back to the tartine sourdoughs and the big huge miche and the dark crust on all these breads that many bakeries are doing. And I love that. My passion is for that kind of bread.
AS: But I had to do this bread that I had to finish baking by midnight, so I started taking chunks of the dough and just leaving them to retard throughout the whole day, and then getting them to be very bubbly and airy, then shaping them in the evening, and then retarding them overnight in baskets and baking them the next morning for our late bake, to get the bread into the store at 9:00 in the morning, after it was just baked.
AS: So, that’s what this is. And it’s the same bread, but I’ve figured out how to sort of let it have that long fermentation finally, and get it to be the way I want it to be again. So, it’s like, you have to keep on. The engineer in you, it’s like, “How can I fix this, to make it be what I want it to be, but still use the dough and the process and the time and the space and the delivery drivers and everything that I have?” So, I feel happy about that, but I still want to do more of that, but my new passion is just figuring out how to work with the constraints of time and what people want and still make things that are fantastic and delicious.
EL: What about you, Melissa? We’ve talked about this, you and I, about you’re not really reinventing the bagel. You’re just bringing your sensibilities to classic bagels.
MW: Yeah. I don’t feel like I’m making a new bagel. I think I’m just, I’m making a classic bagel the way I imagine it to be, or imagine it would have been. And so I think, I guess this is where my scientific background comes into play, and I think about the qualities and the characteristics of what that classic old school bagel might have been like.
MW: So I think about sourdough starter and putting it in the bagel. I think about how much salt is in the dough. And that was something that I learned from Jonathan Benno at Per Se, when I worked at Per Se, was to really season everything. And so I’m very mindful of having enough salt. So, maybe my bagels have more salt in them than is traditional.
EL: I like those.
MW: Yeah. I think that’s part of it. And then for me, also balancing… So, a traditional New York bagel has barley malt syrup in it.
EL: Right, to sweeten.
MW: And so, a sweetener. Bagels are sweet, and you have to remember that. A sourdough, a sourdough loaf of bread, its sweetness is from the grain and the fermentation that’s happening, but bagels actually have some kind of sweetener added to them.
EL: Right. And in Montreal, of course they sweeten them with honey.
MW: Honey, exactly. And so I tinkered with, “Well, how much barley malt syrup should be in it? How much sugar? Should it be all barley malt syrup? Is it sweet enough that way, or is it too malty that way?” And I was just taking cues from my palate, really. Like, “Is this too malty? Yeah. So let’s cut the malt with half sugar.” So there’s half sugar and half barley malt syrup in my bagels.
MW: And even too, in terms of hydration, a bagel is not hydrated. It’s a pretty low hydration bread product. So, hydration is really the ratio of water to flour in the dough. The ratio is compared, based on the amount of flour. A baguette is usually, what, in the 70s?
MW: 75 to 80% water to the ratio of flour.
MW: Well, a bagel is more like 45 to 50%.
MW: And so it’s not hydrated, and so when I started making them with a sourdough starter, well, sourdough starter has water in it, so it adds moisture to the dough. And so then I was left with this wet bagel product. And I’m like, “Well, this is not really what I think a bagel should be, so I’m going to reduce the hydration of my bagel dough to balance out the sourdough starter that I’m using in it.”
EL: This is getting back to your engineering days, man.
MW: I’m sorry. I just go there.
EL: You know, she’s speaking in tongues. I feel like both of you are speaking in tongues when you talk about bread. What would be the one thing, Amy, that you would tell someone who, A, wanted to become a professional baker and pastry chef and, B, wanted to open their own business and become their own boss? What’s the one piece of advice? It could be two pieces, since they’re—
AS: Yeah. Well, I mean first, as far as learning to bake, I think you have to have the passion and allow yourself to work doing it for several years in different places, like Melissa did. I mean, I didn’t work in enough different places but, you think you know stuff, but you really need to have the seasons and the different styles of bread and equipment. And it’s a lot about the ingredients that you have available to you. So, learning about the flour and the fermentation-
EL: But mastering the craft.
AS: Mastering the craft. It takes time, and you need to give yourself that time, at least five or six years, of just really being a baker and understanding fermentation, to be good at it, to make a product that’s going to stand out in the marketplace. And the second thing then is to really be sure you want to do it. Today’s marketplace is so hard and so much more challenging than it used to be. And I think there’s nothing friendly about it, that encourages you to do well, especially, well, in New York City.
AS: I mean, maybe if you open up somewhere else, it might be a possibility, but here it’s like everything is against you. And that one, that pushing, that burning desire to do a business, it has to be incredibly strong and you have to be very resilient and have money behind you-
EL: Oh, yes. I’m familiar with this! I’m familiar with this.
AS: … because you can’t. Yeah, I can’t do it. It’s too hard today.
EL: You know, because I know passion drove me to start Serious Eats. I had a business plan but I really didn’t know what I was doing. And maybe that’s why it almost tanked a zillion times. But it’s one of those hard things. It’s almost impossible to anticipate everything you’re going to confront. Right?
AS: Exactly. You cannot anticipate, especially over the years. You might anticipate the first five years but, then by the year 15 or 20, different weather things happen, and the economy and the minimum wage and workers compensation costs and things, you could never predict where they were going to go, what’s going to happen in the world politics and the utility costs and all this stuff. You never know this stuff until you finally are in that year, and then you have to work on dealing with it.
EL: So, even though you brought those breads over in the rain, Amy, could you take one of the breads and try to tear it, and see if we can get some sound?
AS: Oh, sure. Of course.
MW: That’s a great sound.
AS: I love it.
MW: Still love it.
AS: Yeah, it’s very crusty. Here, I’ll give you a hunk of it there, if you want to smell that.
MW: Oh, nice.
EL: Thank you.
AS: I’ll give you one of those. I’m getting flour all over my clothes. Here, there we go.
MW: Oh, wow. It’s great.
EL: So, now, remind me. Welcome to my life. I get flour all over my clothes all the time.
MW: It smells like a bakery.
AS: Yes, doesn’t it though? Yeah.
EL: Yeah, it’s great. What makes it sour? What makes a sourdough sour?
AS: Well, the sourdough starter in it is a wonderful starter that I started myself, and then I got one from someone that had an old starter. I merged the two together. It’s perpetuated every day. We feed it. We take care of it at the right temperature. There’s that part of it, plus we always keep a piece of the dough from the day before. We put that in there. So you have different kinds of… Actually, there are three different starters in this dough, to give you the different complexities of flavor.
AS: And then, that time that it takes also, the time and temperature is your key. So you have to keep it at that certain range of temperature for part of the time, to give you the flavor and the fermentation without it being too acidic and without it being too—
MW: Sourdough starter, by the way, it’s not just yeast, it’s also bacteria. And the bacteria that live in conjunction with the yeast are what help to contribute to the sourness that you’re tasting.
EL: Got it. See, that’s her engineering coming out.
AS: It’s the scientific side of it. Right. But you have to have the balance of the sour, but the taste of the salt and the crust and all the other toasty flavors have to come through it, as well.
AS: It can’t just be all acid.
EL: So, Melissa, what would the advice be that you would give to an aspiring baker or pastry chef who wanted to start their own business?
MW: I agree with what Amy said. You really should work at different places because you need to find your own voice in such a competitive market, and you can only find your own voice by trying out different voices and different jobs and different experiences. So you should spend a few years working in different places and travel and eat, but you also need to be super resilient because it’s really hard.
EL: Oh, yes! I’m familiar with resilience.
MW: Yeah. It’s so hard. You have to be ready for failure. You’re going to fail. Somewhere along the way, something will happen that you didn’t anticipate, and it’s going to trick you up and stop you, and then what do you do? Do you keep going forward with what passion you have for baking? Because I think that’s what has kept me going forward is that at the end of the day, if things don’t work out, and fail, I say, “Hey, I’m so passionate about this. I can’t imagine doing something else.”
MW: And I think that’s really what you have to remember when you’re starting out. It’s going to be hard, and that you have to be super passionate about it, otherwise you should look at it as more of a hobby and not as a career choice.
EL: Yeah, yeah. So, Amy, you’ve been in business for, I believe 27 years if I do my math correctly.
AS: That is correct. Yes.
EL: Melissa is just starting out.
AS: But she’s been baking for a long time.
EL: Yes, she’s been baking but she just-
MW: That’s right. I am just starting out at High Street on Hudson.
EL: Yes. So what’s the one piece of advice you would give her, beyond what you’ve already told me.
MW: Should I do wholesale or not?
AS: You know what? I mean, the wholesale business has become much more challenging. So, if you keep it on a small scale where you can collect from the people you sell to, and you have somebody managing that tightly.
MW: Yeah, that’s a good point.
AS: That’s the one part of it that’s really, really important, and that you are able to manage their orders coming and going, and it’s not too complicated. And then deliveries. Well, now that all the streets have only one lane-
MW: The streets, yes. Please give me some advice about that.
AS: … and a bike lane, you can’t park anywhere. You can’t every deliver your bread because there’s nowhere to park, because they’ve gotten rid of all the sides where you can park.
MW: Oh, wow. I hadn’t even thought about that.
AS: So, this just happened recently.
EL: And I’m a bike rider. I don’t know if I should feel offended.
AS: No, but no, you just have one lane and you have to park on the left side. You can’t even fit your truck off to the side, in front of a business. So you can’t. You have to park blocks and blocks away and walk it there. Your drivers have to be angels that came down from somewhere to help you, because it’s not fun at all to be delivering in the city. It’s very, very hard.
AS: So, all of those things are fighting against you, so that if you can make a sustainable business without doing wholesale, you’re going to have a lot more pleasure in it, and you’ll have a lot more satisfaction in managing what you have to sell in your particular location where you are.
EL: But you know, I have to say it’s really annoying that I have to go all the way down to High Street on Hudson from my apartment on the Upper West Side to get her bagels. And we have even talked about her bialys, which are inspired.
AS: Maybe you could have like two wholesale customers that are fantastic—deliver to them.
MW: Oh, that’s something. We have a new wholesale customer we just started today.
EL: Oh, you do?
MW: Maybe you’ve heard of them. It’s called Jean-Georges.
AS: Excellent. Well, there you go.
EL: Oh, I see. You decided to start at the top.
MW: They did a bagel tasting, and they liked our bagels. Our bagels passed.
EL: But now you’re going to have to deal with Amy’s questions about wholesale.
MW: I know, exactly. No, that’s where we’re stuck right now is, how are we doing wholesale, and how are we doing the delivery component? Because it’s tricky, it’s not an easy answer.
AS: It’s very hard.
MW: Especially starting out, and only having a few customers instead of-
AS: Right. It’s a very costly thing, to have a vehicle-
AS: … and figure out what to pay.
EL: You might consider doing a bagel drone delivery Kickstarter campaign.
MW: Oh, that’s a good idea. I like that idea.
EL: So, the drones don’t worry about parking.
EL: They just…
AS: Drop them down.
MW: That’s good.
EL: They drop them down, and then they come back to High Street on Hudson and you send them to the next place.
MW: I like this. It’s great.
EL: But we haven’t even talked about bialys, which you’ve probably never even experimented with.
AS: I have never made bialys.
MW: Oh, yeah.
EL: Bialys were once described to me by a waiter at Barney Greengrass as the Jewish English muffin.
MW: Oh, yeah. I love that. That’s a good one.
EL: So, a bialy, the dough is different.
MW: Yes. It’s not the same dough. It doesn’t have sugar or sweetener in it.
EL: Got it.
MW: It’s more like bread. It’s not boiled. And it’s dimpled, traditionally with an onion-poppy seed filling, and then baked in the deck oven.
EL: Got it. So, it’s really like a completely different thing.
MW: It’s a different thing, but it’s related to, in terms of where it came from and its origins, it’s related to the bagel.
EL: Got it. Yeah.
MW: It came from Poland.
EL: It’s interesting. Most bagel bakeries in New York sell bialys that aren’t bialys. Right? They’re just made with bagel dough, to look like a bialy.
MW: That’s true.
EL: So what’s weird is, and what’s so wonderful about your bialys… I’m not just saying that because you’re here… is that even though there are very few wholesale bialy places left in New York.
MW: Yeah, that’s true.
EL: There are two, right, Kossar’s and Bell’s, in Brooklyn, but that’s it. And by the way, they’re not great. Your bialys are so much better than either of those.
MW: They are.
EL: I guess the problem then becomes, how do you scale?
MW: How do I scale up?
AS: Yeah, to make that great quality and still be able to do it on a larger scale, and then transfer it around to other places in the city.
MW: It’s true. I think it’s smart to have some type of, as much as you can, some type of plan, like a scale-up plan. Like, “Okay, well now we’re making this much.”
EL: In steps.
MW: In steps.
AS: In steps, and you can have a limit, too. I can get to this much, and then I can get good at it, and then I’ll go to the next—
EL: Because I would be a second wholesale customer, besides Jean-Georges.
MW: Oh, wow. Okay.
MW: Oh, wow. That’s great. I like it.
EL: But that is the hard part, right, for bread bakers or for anybody, is how to scale their business to make it self-sustaining, which presents an endless set of challenges, more so now than ever before. Right?
AS: You need a great staff if you’re going to do it every day and every hour, and delivery at certain times, and really trust all your people to come in and do everything you need to do.
AS: They’re showing up on weekends and holidays and in the middle of the night to do this work that you need them to do, so you have to build a business with a team. It’s not a singular. You can’t do it all yourself.
EL: And it’s still something that’s made by hand.
MW: Yeah, it is.
AS: It’s costly. Labor costs are high.
MW: It’s definitely a labor-intensive item. You have to make the onions. Most of the labor comes in shaping the bialys before they get baked. You have to dimple them and then put the onion mix in. I feel really fortunate right now. I have an amazing team, and they’re really very eager hard workers who are just doing everything how I like it to be done. We talk a lot. It’s such a small team right now too, but we talk about the products and we talk about, “Well, why is it some bakers are making it one way? It looks different?” And so we talk about why, so we can all get on the same page, so we’re all making it the same way.
EL: I have to get to the Special Sauce All You Can Answer Buffet, but I’m left with one hanging chad of a question, which is, does hand rolling really make a difference?
MW: I think hand rolling is because we don’t have equipment, because equipment is expensive. Honestly, I think-
EL: This gets back to reality.
MW: Yeah. You can definitely find equipment. If you’re smart about it, you can find equipment to make your product. It’s just about scaling up and finances and expenses.
EL: So, the thing, that it has to be hand rolled to be a great bagel, is probably more romance than reality?
MW: I think that’s part of it, absolutely. Yeah.
EL: Yeah. All right, so now it’s time for the buffet, so you guys can each answer these questions, but you just don’t have a lot of time because there’s two of you here.
EL: So, who is at your last supper, Amy? No family allowed.
AS: No family?
EL: Yeah, no family, because everyone would always give family answers. So then we were like, no family.
MW: I want Michelle Obama. Can I say that?
EL: Yeah. Okay, start with Michelle.
MW: I want Michelle Obama. I’ll start.
EL: Okay, that’s good. Keep going, keep going Melissa, because we’ll give Amy some time to think.
AS: Yes, thank you.
MW: Got it. Who else would I want at my dinner? A strong, powerful woman, so who else would that be? The French President’s wife.
EL: Macron’s wife?
MW: Yes. She’s fascinating-
EL: That’s fascinating.
MW: … to me. That is just such a fascinating dynamic.
EL: Yeah, because she’s significantly older. Right?
MW: She is, and that would be fun.
EL: My crack research team has told me that it’s Brigitte Macron.
MW: There? Okay, got it. I was close. Okay. Okay, very good.
EL: Well, you’re not off the hook for the last person, though.
MW: I’m just going to say Martha Stewart. I know she’s… She was somebody who I looked up to when I was in my 20s, for the business that she created. I think she’s very savvy, that way, and I think that she would be an interesting person to just have a dinner with.
EL: Yeah. Yeah, and she’s obviously a polarizing figure.
MW: Polarizing, that’s the word I was looking for.
EL: What are you eating? What are each eating? What are you eating, Melissa, at your last supper?
MW: Oh, I’m going to eat a slice of pizza and maybe a cheeseburger and some vanilla ice cream-
EL: Oh, I love this!
MW: … and then some wine.
EL: All right. What about you, Amy?
AS: Definitely some wine, and just an amazing, delicious, multiple-course tasting menu of light foods that are not extremely rich but just really satisfying, just delicious.
EL: So give me one example. I’m not going to let you off the hook.
AS: Oh, well I just went to, last… This past winter we went to Arpège in Paris and we had the vegetable tasting menu. It was a 19 course. Each bite was exquisite, tiny, perfect. And they were just delicious bites, beautiful colors, fresh vegetables, and it was a vegetarian menu. It was phenomenal.
EL: Wow. All right, that’s good.
AS: And the delicious little breads that went with it, they were amazing.
EL: This is a good question for pastry chefs and bread bakers. Do you have guilty pleasures? What’s a guilty pleasure that you have. You have to limit it to one. Yeah, eating. Yeah.
AS: Eating guilty pleasure. Well, I mean, I like making ice cream sundaes with lots of things on top of them, lots of sauce and nuts and toppings-
EL: You want lots of toppings.
AS: … and ice cream, really good ice cream in there. And just take it-
EL: It doesn’t have to be homemade?
AS: No. I do like homemade ice cream a lot, but it could be—
AS: Yeah, Häagen-Dazs could be okay, but with the really perfect fudge something.
EL: And will there be M&Ms and all kinds of toppings?
AS: No, it would be more like salty nuts and things like that. Not super sweet, you know.
EL: Okay, all right.
AS: More sophisticated, maybe, like a really delicious little caramel on it, and some—
EL: Like a salted caramel sauce?
AS: Yes, something like that.
EL: All right. What about you, Melissa? what are you eating?
MW: Swedish Fish.
EL: Swedish Fish.
MW: I love them. When I feel I’m having a bad day, I get a big bag of Swedish Fish at Duane Reade and I eat the whole bag.
EL: So, three things in your kitchen that you can’t do without, Amy.
AS: Well, the tool that I use the most is the tongs.
AS: Every time I cook, I always have to have the tongs, the metal-
AS: Yeah, spring tongs just, no matter what. And then I really love a little nonstick spatula for everything. I just use it to scrape everything and saute and do everything with that. And then I guess the third thing, as a baker I really like having a dough knife, a scraper.
EL: A scraper. All right, I like that. What about you, Melissa?
MW: Are they things or food? It’s things.
MW: Okay, a scale, a scale in metric weights, absolutely. I agree with the tongs. I have to have tongs and a little serrated knife.
EL: Got it. I like this. So, what do you each cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat, like leftovers or anything like… What’s always going to be something you can rustle up?
AS: Usually, I always have a can of some delicious organic garbanzo beans in my cabinet. I always have grains, no matter what.
AS: So I could always make quinoa or brown rice. I have maybe five or six different type of grain in my cabinet, so I could always cook those, no matter what happens. And then usually I’ll have some scruffy little vegetables around, or else I’ll just saute those together with toasted sesame oil and some different condiments that I have in the fridge. I mean, it would be sort of boring, but at least I could eat a grain and some beans, but I would love to throw a vegetable in there.
EL: All right, what about you, Melissa? What do you cook?
EL: Eggs. Me, too.
MW: Like, sunny-side up or over easy, and then I usually have either some kimchi or some type of sauerkraut in my refrigerator, and I would just top the eggs with that. Or, if I have leftover vegetables, I’ll throw those in with the eggs.
EL: All right. So, Amy, you’re not off the hook, by the way.
EL: So, you still got to hit three people.
AS: Aye-yi-yi. All right, so I think I would have a famous woman artist, Frida Kahlo, maybe. I like her. And maybe Georgia O’Keeffe.
EL: Ooh! It’s a very, very artistic table.
AS: Bring some, yeah, artistic women together. And then maybe, finally-
EL: You can have one guy, if you want.
EL: I mean, I’m not representing my gender.
AS: You can be there. Right.
MW: Well, there we go. It’s you, Ed.
AS: Yeah, I’ll have Ed join me. And then maybe I’d invite my dear friend who’s running for president, Amy Klobuchar.
MW: Oh, wow.
EL: Whoa! Dear friend—Talk about dropping a name, dropping a bomb.
AS: I know, but you know what? It would be great fun to have her there. She would be the person I would love to have there.
EL: Wow, that’s cool. So, it’s just been declared Melissa Weller day, all over the world.
MW: Oh, God.
EL: What’s happening on that day?
MW: What’s happening on that day? Everybody gets up early, no sleeping in.
EL: Okay, all right.
MW: We all have bagels or croissants for breakfast.
MW: Then we take a really long lunch break, go outside where there are trees, and then we finish work early. And what do we do? We just, we do whatever it is. We listen to some music and do whatever it is that makes us happy.
EL: All right, that sounds cool. What music do you imagine yourself listening to?
MW: Oh, it varies. Right now I’m listening to ’70s Italian music.
EL: ’70s Italian music, that’s a shocker.
AS: That’s interesting.
MW: Claudio Baglioni.
EL: All right. What about you, Amy? What’s happening on Amy Scherber day, all over the world?
AS: Well, everybody could sleep in on that day.
AS: They don’t have to make… Yeah.
EL: Whoa. See? This is where you deviate.
AS: We totally relax, and it’s a day off from work, definitely. People gather or they have a huge picnic. It’s a potluck and everyone brings all different foods from all over the world and shares all these different meals, and you’re outside and enjoy the weather if it’s nice. It’s in the summer, so it’s nice outside. And then everyone knows some songs that they share. They sing together, like some traditions.
EL: What songs?
AS: Like, old traditional songs that people-
EL: Like, folk songs? Like, If I Had a Hammer?
AS: Ooh, I guess sort of like that, but more like-
MW: Where did that one come from?
AS: Like, songs from our American history, songs that you learned when you were in school a long time ago, that kids don’t learn anymore.
MW: Yeah, exactly.
EL: Yeah. My mother used to sing from the Fireside Book of American Folk Songs, because she was old lefty and that book was full… You know, that was like coming from the Pete Seeger tradition.
AS: Those great songs, or a lot of old songs that people don’t know anymore, and then for the rest of the day would be… Oh, maybe there’d be some fireworks at night, and then you’d go home and go to sleep.
EL: All right, that sounds good.
MW: I want to come to your day. Forget my day.
EL: So, thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce with us, Amy Scherber and Melissa Weller. Really, it’s been so much fun hanging out with you guys. If you want to find out what a perfect bagel tastes like in 2019, stop by High Street on Hudson in New York City and maybe some Jean-Georges restaurants too, coming soon. And do stop by one of the… how many locations, now?
AS: Well, we have about seven different possible outlets for our products between our two locations in the libraries, the Museum of the City of New York, and our four stores.
EL: Got it. So, the seven locations of Amy’s Bread in New York City, or buy some of her incomparable breads, including that Raisin Fennel Semolina Roll at many of New York’s best food stores. Right?
EL: It was such a pleasure having you both. Thank you. Thank you for devoting this time to Special Sauce and me.
AS: Thank you. It was really fun to be here.
MW: Thank you so much, Ed.
AS: It was wonderful.
MW: It was.
AS: It was a pleasure.
EL: It’s time to head over to the Serious Eats Test Kitchen, where our pastry wizard, Stella Parks, author of BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, will lead us through the creation of a killer confection. By the way, no need to take notes. Her detailed recipe is at SeriousEats.com, along with a video.
Stella Parks: I’ve thought about brownies more than anyone else alive. I think about brownies every day, and I think about how fudgy they should be, and how chewy they should be. I test batches side by side, over and over and over again. So join me on this journey as we make brownies from scratch.
My brownies are super chocolatey. They’re chewy. They have a glossy, crackly paper top. They’re really intense. You need to sit down to eat these brownies. I use two kinds of chocolate, dark chocolate and cocoa powder because, when you use cocoa powder, which is a powerful starch, you don’t have to use as much flour. Only one of them tastes like chocolate.
I like to bake in an aluminum cake pan because aluminum conducts heat quickly and effectively. In glass or ceramic, they’re going to bake a lot slower. In fact, they might even take twice as long. Now I’m going to line the pan with a little bit of aluminum. Just nestle it in, push it into the corners, and then fold it back. This means later on you’ll be able to easily lift the brownies out of the pan. It’s the most satisfying part of that.
For this recipe, we’re going to need six ounces of chopped dark chocolate. Definitely don’t want to use chips. A, they’re not dark enough and, B, they’re not good enough. This is a 77% dark chocolate. I would definitely recommend using anything dark in the 70% range. The butter is going to hiss and pop as the water cooks out. When it starts to get really quiet, that’s how you know you’re almost done.
Here’s the six ounces of chocolate I chopped up earlier, just going to whisk it in. We’re just sifting together Dutch cocoa powder and all-purpose flour. Part of the goal of sifting, beyond just removing lumps, is getting these two things combined very homogeneously, which is really hard to do in a mixer in just a few seconds.
I like to use a mix of white and brown sugar. The white sugar helps form that papery-thin top crust and the brown sugar adds a little bit of butterscotchy depth of flavor. Lots of vanilla, a whole dang tablespoon, and six large eggs because we’re making a lot of brownies.
This mixture starts out as extremely goopy-goop that is not delicious-looking in any way. I’m going to whip this on medium-high to aerate the egg and sugar mixture. On a KitchenAid Pro, that’s about eight. We’re just going to mix it. So, I’m going to now reduce the speed and pour in the chocolate butter situation. After mixing in the flour and cocoa powder, I like to fold the batter just a couple times by hand.
So, we’re just going to scrape the batter into our prepared pan. Bake it. Okay, so the brownies are pretty cool. I’m just going to loosen them from the edges with this knife. Use a butter knife or a dinner knife for this, not a sharp stabby knife because you will dull it. And then what I do is, I take a little bit of foil on this side and just kind of lift it up, and then a little foil on this side, and now your brownies will cool faster because the hot pan is being removed.
They’re so great. I mean, this is everything I want in a brownie. I don’t know that everyone is going to agree with me, because some people don’t like things that taste good.
EL: You can find that recipe, along with a video, on SeriousEats.com. More from our test kitchen, next time. That’s it for today. Next week on Special Sauce, Kenji will be back to answer, with his usual scientific precision, your Culinary question of the week. Do send in your questions to Special Sauce at SeriousEats.com. So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.
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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik.] Along with perfectly formed pats of butter and cloth napkins shaped into impossibly neat swans, Champagne flutes were mainstays of the brunch buffets I enjoyed at the posh hotel my grandparents stayed at when they came to visit. The waiter would come […]
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] Prime rib is an iconic holiday centerpiece that doesn’t need much gussying up; the beauty of a beef roast lies in its simplicity. Here at Serious Eats, Kenji has covered this cut exhaustively, making it so that nobody should feel intimidated by […]
Shio koji is a funky, salty, and slightly sweet fermented Japanese marinade made with koji, the delicious mold that also gives us miso and soy sauce. Rich in protease enzymes, shio koji is able to season and tenderize large cuts, unlike other marinades that only achieve surface-level flavor. For this recipe, we use it in the same way that we would deploy salt for a dry-brined roast—spreading shio koji over the surface of the prime rib and letting it rest uncovered in the fridge overnight before cooking.
The salt in the shio koji seasons the roast, which is then cooked in a low oven using the reverse-sear method before getting a final blast of intense heat to produce a crisp, well-browned crust, thanks to the sugars in the marinade. Served with shio koji-spiked beef jus, this is the next chapter in the Serious Eats prime rib canon.
With Christmas and Hanukkah just around the corner, we’re here to ease your last-minute holiday-shopping stress. Step one? Find something you can buy in bulk and give to pretty much anyone—an object with universal appeal that still has a personal touch. Enter the digital thermometer—an […]
Troubleshooting: While the approximate cooking times for the water bath are estimations and will naturally vary from kitchen to kitchen, substantially missing the mark in terms of timing indicates heat levels that are vastly too high or low. When the meringue cooks much too fast, it is prone to scrambling, regardless of how thoroughly the bowl is scraped, resulting in a lumpy texture and eggy flavor. When the meringue is cooked too slowly, excess evaporation will dry the meringue, making it grainy and dense. In either event, adjusting the heat as needed will prevent the issue from arising in the first place.
Chocolate that has been melted but not tempered (or chocolate that has been badly tempered) may fail to set at room temperature. In this case, cover the tray of assembled mushrooms in plastic, and refrigerate until the chocolate hardens. Transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate until needed (up to one week).
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] I love meringue mushrooms. I’ve been making them to garnish my annual bûche de noël, or Yule log, since I was a little kid, and my love for them has only deepened over time. Slowly, they’ve transformed from the clumsily assembled, hyper-sweet, […]