Month: April 2018

The Best Stockpots | Serious Eats

The Best Stockpots | Serious Eats

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, except where noted] While a pot as big as a stockpot isn’t called upon often in home kitchens, when you need to make a big batch of stock from a mess of saved bones and aromatic vegetables, there’s just no way around…

Classic Chiffon Cake With Vanilla Chantilly Recipe

Classic Chiffon Cake With Vanilla Chantilly Recipe

6. To Serve: Combine sugar, salt, cream, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Mix on low for a minute to help dissolve the sugar, then whip on medium-high until the cream can hold stiff peaks; about 4…

How to Make Chiffon Cake Extra Light and Airy

How to Make Chiffon Cake Extra Light and Airy

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Chiffon is a quintessentially American cake, similar to angel food but delicately rich thanks to the addition of both egg yolks and oil. Chiffon was all the rage in the 1940s and 50s, but its popularity waned as American bakers embraced the increasingly rich and fluffy all-butter layer cakes of the modern era.

Now it’s seen as something of a retro throwback, but I think it’s a shame chiffon ever went out of style. I’m all about obscenely rich and buttery cakes, but I also believe that desserts should always work in service of the meal. And when summer barbecues mean loading up on hamburgers, potato chips, and mac and cheese, there’s something to be said for the lightness of chiffon. It’s soft and tender, with a airiness reminiscent of angel food cake, but a sweetness that’s far more mellow.

Like angel food cake, chiffon cake needs to be baked in a pan that gives the batter plenty of room to rise and is designed to allow the cake to cool upside down. For these reasons, it’s often baked in a two-piece aluminum tube pan. But as long as those two needs are met, it can actually be baked in classic round layers, as well—another reason I love baking with eight- by three-inch anodized aluminum cake pans, which are tall enough to support even the most delicate chiffon cake as it bakes and cools (a feat that could never be accomplished in the shallow, tapered, non-stick pans that tragically dominate American kitchens. For more info, check out our cake pan review).

Chiffon is traditionally made much like an angel food cake, with sugar added to the egg whites in careful additions to make an extra-foamy meringue, while the egg yolks are whisked into a thick batter with water, oil, and flour. The two batters are then combined and baked. It’s hard to improve on such a modern technique, but a few subtle tweaks make the process a little easier.

To start, I make the meringue with the same left-of-center technique I call for in my recipe for angel food. I start by combining plain or toasted sugar with the egg whites and vanilla extract up front. Then I whip the meringue in stages, adding salt and lemon juice along the way.

Instead of whipping the meringue to stiff peaks, I stop when the mixture is relatively soft and loose, but still thick enough to run off the whisk and mound up on itself like soft serve in the bowl. It’s a fast and foolproof method that streamlines the process and creates a foam that’s more about stability than fluff. This eliminates the risk of over-whipping, a state of affairs that can cause the cake to collapse, and gives the meringue the elasticity that fluffier foams lack, helping it to rise in the oven like a hot air balloon.

While the meringue is whipping, I prepare the second batter by whisking the egg yolks with water, oil, and flour. But instead of plain water, I use club soda to further lighten and aerate the batter. If you’re feeling fancy, sparkling liquids like champagne, ginger ale, and beer can be used to add a subtle layer of flavor to the cake. Just be forewarned: that nuanced flavor can sometimes turn a little tangy or weird in the oven, so it’s best to start with club soda and save experimental options for a low-stakes occasion.

Because of the batter’s high moisture content, it’s essential to use a low-protein all-purpose flour. My favorite all-purpose flour is Gold Medal, a blend of soft white wheat and hard red wheat that strikes the perfect balance of protein and starch for a light and tender cake. That said, any brand with a similar formula will work well, too. Just steer clear of those made from 100% hard red wheat, a protein-heavy style that will readily form gluten in a high-moisture batter, making the cake dense and tough (this is why most no-knead breads call for lots of water and a hard red wheat flour; those conditions are so beneficial to gluten development, a baker barely needs to stir).

Once the batter is smooth, add a third of the soft meringue and use a balloon whisk to gently combine—other whisk styles may deflate the batter, so use the right tool for the job! Starting with a little meringue will loosen the comparatively stiff yolk-batter, and make it easier to fold in the remaining meringue. For that, you’ll want to use a flexible spatula to scrape and fold the batter. Use a gentle hand and keep at it until the batter has a uniform color, but don’t keep folding more than needed to meet that goal.

Pour the batter into one 10-inch aluminum tube pan, or divide it between two eight- by three-inch anodized aluminum cake pans. Do not grease or line the pans in any way! The cake needs traction to both rise and cool, so we don’t want to do anything that would help it slip free, which would cause it to lose volume as it bakes and when it cools.

Bake at 350°F until the cakes are puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch, but with an outer crust that’s still a little soft and puffy rather than dry; about 55 minutes for the tube pan, or 40 minutes for the eight-inch layers.

In either case, flip the pan(s) upside down to cool. That’s why it’s essential the layer cake pans are at least three inches deep—shallower pans will allow the batter to dome above the rim and prevent this essential cooling technique. Tube pans should have little stilts to support this cooling procedure, or else an extra-long tube that can be fit over a bottle to loft it up instead.

Once the chiffon has fully cooled, removing it from the pan takes a little care. For a tube cake, you’ll want to run an offset spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, and then lift it out by the center tube. You can loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan in the same way, then invert it onto a serving platter and free it from the center tube with a gentle tug.

To remove layer cakes from their pans, use an offset spatula to gently pry the cake away from the bottom of the pan, working bit by bit to loosen small sections at a time. Once you’ve made your way around the pan, the whole thing will fall out on its own when inverted; if it’s stubborn, you can gently pull it out by hand.

Because chiffon is so soft and delicate, it’s best served plain, à la mode, or with a simple whipped cream frosting. Merely trying to apply a heavier buttercream style can crush the cake flat—chiffon is just that delicate.

Whatever the presentation, I like to keep things simple and serve chiffon with nothing more than a pile of fresh fruit, a handful of sprinkles, or a scattering of candied citrus or crystallized violets.

Chiffon cake is best served at room temperature soon after assembly, and should be cut with a serrated knife. If you use a gentle sawing motion and almost no downward pressure, it will be as if the weight of the blade itself is causing it to fall through the cake. Applying strong downward pressure can crush and compress the cake, especially if the knife is even slightly dull.

But with a sharp knife and a gentle touch, you’ll be cutting and serving the dreamiest pieces of airy chiffon.

Wrapped in plastic, leftovers can be kept a day or two in the fridge, but be sure to let the chiffon cake come to room temperature before serving, or it may seem dry and dense. Better yet, seize the day and don’t let the sun set on your chiffon—devour it before bed.

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Special Sauce: Elise Bauer on Turning a Food Blog Into a Business

Special Sauce: Elise Bauer on Turning a Food Blog Into a Business

[Photograph: Courtesy of Simply Recipes. Misticanza photograph: Vicky Wasik] At the end of part 1 of my Special Sauce interview with Elise Bauer, she had just described starting Simply Recipes in 2004 after coming home to live with her parents in Sacramento to recover from…

No-Bake Cheesecake with Freeze-Dried Fruit Recipe

No-Bake Cheesecake with Freeze-Dried Fruit Recipe

2. For the Filling: In the bowl of a food processor, grind sugar and freeze-dried fruit until powdery and fine, about 1 minute. Combine the cream cheese, strawberry-sugar, lemon juice, five-spice powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle…

No-Bake Flavored Cheesecake Is Easy as Adding Freeze-Dried Fruit

No-Bake Flavored Cheesecake Is Easy as Adding Freeze-Dried Fruit

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]


All About Cheese

Everything you need to know about eating and cooking with curds

However delicious, the world of baking can, at times, seem mighty beige. From flaky pie crust and toasty meringue to angel food cake and chocolate chip cookies, so many of our favorite desserts are monochromatic, to say the least. For that reason, few desserts feel more joyful than those that bring a natural burst of color and flavor to the party.

And trust me, there’s gonna be a party wherever these colorful and fruity no-bake cheesecakes turn up. The underlying recipe is essentially the same as my no-bake cheesecake, with the same cookie-crumb crust, but all dolled up with the addition of freeze-dried fruit.

Unlike fresh fruit purée or jam, freeze-dried fruit has no water or added sugar, so it packs a concentrated flavor that won’t throw off the consistency or sweetness of the no-bake cheesecake filling. And thanks to the low-temperature processing method, freeze-dried fruit has the same bright flavor as fresh, not the semi-caramelized profile of a stovetop reduction.

Look for pouches of freeze-dried fruit in the snack-food aisle of major supermarket chains like Kroger, or else try shopping online. I go through a lot freeze-dried fruit at home, so I like to buy in bulk from brands like Mother Earth and Augason Farms, but if you won’t use it up in other recipes (or as a snack) pick up smaller pouches from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Karen’s Naturals, or Crunchies.

The selection of fruit will vary by brand, but use whatever you like—the basic technique for each is the same even if the fruits may differ. The crusts are flexible, too. A graham cracker crust tastes amazing no matter what, but chocolatey Oreo wafers really pop with strawberry; caramelized Biscoff taste great with banana; spicy gingersnaps pair nicely with mango; and so on. Let your cravings be your guide!

Whatever cookies you choose, pulverize them in a food processor or in a heavy-duty ziptop bag that can withstand a few whacks from a rolling pin, then moisten the crumbs with butter that’s melted but cool. Hot butter may dissolve the crumbs and make a sticky paste that’s more likely to bond with the pie plate. If needed, season the buttered crumbs with a pinch of salt.

Press the crumbs into an even layer with a ramekin or drinking glass, then use your hands to sculpt the crumbs into a border around the edge of the plate. Once formed, stash the crust in the fridge until needed; if it’ll be a few hours, be sure to cover it in plastic, otherwise the crust will be fine uncovered while you make the fruit filling.

For that, start by grinding the sugar and freeze-dried fruit into a fine powder in a food processor.

If you don’t have a food processor, get old school on it with a mortar and pestle. The “how” isn’t important so long as the result is a fine, free-flowing powder. Next, combine the fruity sugar with cream cheese, a splash of lemon juice, and a pinch of spice or other aromatics. The idea isn’t to make a spiced cheesecake, but to use sympathetic flavors to coax out a stronger flavor from the fruit.

From my experience with other recipes, I’ve found that a pinch of Chinese five-spice powder works wonders for strawberry, orange plays up cranberry, coriander brings out the best in blueberry, almond intensifies cherry, cloves heighten the flavor of banana, and cardamom amps up mango. If you’re not sure what pairs best with the freeze-dried fruit you’ve chosen, it can help to consult a book like The Flavor Thesaurus for ideas.

Beat everything together on a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until creamy, smooth, and totally homogenous, then add the heavy cream. Switch to the whisk attachment, and whip until the cream cheese mixture is fluffy and thick enough to hold stiff peaks.

Scrape into the prepared crust, and spread into an even layer.

Now for the hard part—waiting. The cheesecake needs to chill down to an internal temperature of around 40°F before it will be cool or thick enough to slice, and that takes about 6 hours. On the plus side, it will keep for more than a week in the fridge. The way I see it, that makes no-bake cheesecake the ultimate make-ahead dessert.

Whip it up on a Thursday and forget about it till you’re reaching for that dinner party dessert on Saturday.

To serve, pile it high with fresh fruit and cut with a hot chef’s knife (rinse it under hot running water between each slice). Loosen the crust from the pie plate with an offset spatula or cake server. It’s always tricky excavating that first slice, but it’s also a convenient excuse to claim the first bite.

While freeze-dried fruit gives this recipe year-round potential, the no-bake format makes it a particularly useful trick in the warmer months when a topping of fresh, seasonal fruit can multiply its flavor and color. So head to your favorite supermarket or hop online to find your dried fruity foundation, and get ready to taste the rainbow.

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A Guide to Clam Types and What to Do With Them

A Guide to Clam Types and What to Do With Them

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, unless otherwise noted.] From the pinhead-size specimens used in Vietnamese cooking to the giant guy that gave up its ghost to serve as decorations for Ivanka Trump’s Thanksgiving table, there are thousands of different species of clams that range in size, shape,…

Salteñas (Bolivian Hand Pies Filled With Chicken Stew) Recipe

Salteñas (Bolivian Hand Pies Filled With Chicken Stew) Recipe

5. Add diced onion and minced garlic to pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the chicken, until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add aji panca or cayenne, cumin, paprika, oregano, and black pepper and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Source…

How to Make Salteñas (Bolivian Hand Pies) From Scratch

How to Make Salteñas (Bolivian Hand Pies) From Scratch

[Photographs and video: Vicky Wasik]

There’s a lot riding on your salteña-eating game.

Salteñas are the Bolivian version of an empanada, but unlike empanadas, these chubby football-shaped pastries are overflowing with brothy stew. They feature the geyser-like qualities of a soup dumpling, all wrapped up in a sweet and tender crust. One wrong bite will leave hot broth bursting through the pastry, both scalding your fingers and threatening to stain your reputation. In Bolivia the first to dribble is stuck with the bill, while excessive spilling means you’ll be haunted by five years of bad sex. I usually smash the whole thing in a bowl and dig in with a spoon—I wonder what that says about me?

The key to packing the pastry with maximum soup-age is a sticky and concentrated gelatin-rich broth which sets like a wiggly Jell-O Jiggler when chilled. Once baked in a hot oven, the filling melts and gurgles inside its buttery shell, waiting to spurt out. The stew can be made with chicken, beef, or no meat at all; I’ve opted for the chicken version here, with all the traditional seasonings. The pastries get their signature flavor from a savory combination of oregano and aji panca (a mild, fruity Peruvian pepper) that complements the sweet crust. The stew is studded with peas and golden raisins, which plump with broth as they cook. Each salteña also has a surprise sliver of hard boiled egg and a black olive tucked into it before it’s swaddled with pastry.

Making salteñas is a long, multistep process that might require you to clear out a weekend to tackle in stages. Luckily, once they’re filled and formed, you can park them in your freezer, after which they require as much effort as a Hot Pocket to bake. Make enough (this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled) and you’ll be reaping the rewards of your hard work for a long time to come.

Step One: The Broth

Broth is the foundation to a good salteña, so it’s important to start building flavor right from the start. Traditionally, beef marrow bones or chicken feet are slowly simmered to extract their collagen, which sets the filling into a gel. That said, you’ll often find recipes that take a bit of a shortcut by combining boxed broth and powdered gelatin to recreate that long-cooked extraction. Because salteñas are already such a labor of love, I think it’s worth it to put in the extra inactive time of making my own broth.

I reach for tried and true chicken wings for my broth. Daniel’s chicken stock testing has already revealed that wings have the best flavor-to-cost ratio. Chicken wings also offer up enough gelatin to set the broth, while being easier to track down than chicken feet. For a prominent chicken-forward flavor, I roast the wings in a hot oven before simmering them in water—the same method I used when creating my ultimate chicken noodle soup. Unroasted white chicken stocks are excellent chameleons that can sneak into a pan sauce for seared duck or stand-in for the beef broth in French onion soup, but chicken should take center stage in this recipe, and the browned flavors from roasting will help it get there.

To roast the wings, I spread them directly on an unlined roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet and pop them into a hot oven. Once golden brown, I pour off the rendered chicken fat and reserve it for cooking the stew. The area where each wing was in direct contact with the pan will develop a dark and crackly fond, which I deglaze with a splash of water and scrape up with a wooden spoon.

I simmer the wings, with just enough water to cover them, for about three and a half hours before adding the vegetables. (Alternatively, you can cook it in a pressure cooker for one and a half hours.) I add my vegetables toward the end because their flavor quickly grows muddy after about 30 minutes of simmering. Instead of the more common combo of carrots, onion, and celery, I finish the broth with red bell peppers, onion, and garlic to echo the latin flavors of sofrito.

The strained broth should be reduced to just about five cups to ensure that the gelatin is concentrated enough to set. I find it’s easier to slightly over-reduce the stock and dilute it with water to achieve the correct volume—otherwise, you’re stuck returning it to the pot to keep simmering it down after straining.

Step Two: The Stew

The filling will essentially be cooked twice—first as the stew simmers on the stovetop, and again as the pastry browns in a ripping hot oven. That’s why I like to use bone-in and skin-on thighs, which remain tender and juicy despite the double dose of heat. As a bonus, those bones also add even more collagen to the already rich broth.

I start by lightly seasoning chicken thighs with salt and searing them in the reserved chicken fat. I prefer to do this in a Dutch oven, which provides even heat and browning, but any heavy bottomed pot will work. Once the thighs are browned, I set them aside, pour off any excess fat, and add diced onion and minced garlic, cooking until they’re translucent and tender. Next, I toss in the spices for a quick bloom in oil, followed by the chicken wing broth, diced potatoes, and raisins. After this mixture comes to a simmer, I return the thighs to the pot, cover, and gently simmer until the meat is cooked through.

I let the stew cool off for just a bit before getting handsy with the thighs. You may be tempted to remove the thighs from the stew to speed things up, but it’s always best to allow braised meat to cool in their cooking liquid to prevent them from drying out. I pick the meat from the bones and tear them into small bite-sized chunks, discarding the bones and skin, before stirring the meat back into the stew along with a handful of peas.

Finally, I transfer the mixture to a shallow dish to cool in the refrigerator. The stew needs to fully chill and set before it’s ready to wrap with pastry. When all’s said and done, the stew will be stiff enough to slice.

Step Three: The Dough

The pastry for the salteñas needs to be heartier than your usual pie dough—capable of containing a whopping cupful of juicy filling without cracking or breaking—so it’s traditionally made with a hot water pastry for stability and strength. Using hot water in your crust causes the starch granules to quickly swell and drink in liquid while you’re mixing the dough, so it doesn’t sop up your broth later. It’s essentially like putting down a layer of shellac between the crust and the filling. Hot water also quickly develops gluten without kneading, giving us enough the structure and elasticity to form the salteñas without turning the pastry tough or bready.

I start by melting butter with some annatto for color. The gentle warmth blooms the spice, giving the melted fat a deep sunset hue, which in turn saturates the dough for that trademark golden salteña glow. The addition of annatto is just for color—you can always leave it out or use a combination of paprika and turmeric in its place. After whisking the flour, salt, and sugar, I add the melted butter and mix it in thoroughly with my hands. Once fully incorporated, it will feel similar to streusel, holding together in large clumps when squeezed but easily crumbling back into wet sand. A small amount of boiling water helps it comes together into a smooth dough.

The final step here is to divide the dough into even portions, folding it onto itself until it forms a smooth ball. I pat the dough balls into disks to make them easier to roll out, and cover them with plastic until I’m ready to assemble.

Step Four: Putting it Together

I roll each disk of dough on a lightly floured surface into an eight-inch round (it should be just an eighth of an inch thick). Running an offset spatula underneath the dough will ensure it’s not stuck to your countertop. Each disk gets a big scoop of chilled filling in the center of the dough, which I crown with a piece of hard boiled egg and two olive halves.

To seal the pastries, I start by brushing the edges of the dough with egg white. Then I lift the edges of the dough up and over the filling, pinching them closed to form a plump crescent with a seam running across the top. I finally crimp the seam shut to ensure that no filling escapes while baking.

I place the salteñas on a sheet tray and transfer them to the freezer to chill for at least an hour before baking, or until fully frozen for long term storage (you can bake them straight from the freezer when you’re ready). For a shiny finish, I brush the pastries with egg white just before transferring them to a hot oven. You’ll know they’re ready when the crust is golden brown and the seam is crisp and blackened. You’ll be able to hear the filling rumbling on the inside; if your seam is tight, not a drop will have escaped.

If you want to eat a salteña like a pro, hold it vertically and take a nibble off the top to open it up. This is the perfect opportunity to pour in some hot sauce if you want to perk up that rich stew. Then slurp and nibble until you’re though, pausing in between bites to cool down with the classic pairing of ice cold Coca Cola. You’re on your way to becoming a true Bolivian now!

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The Best Blender For You: Expensive Vs. Budget Buys, Tested

The Best Blender For You: Expensive Vs. Budget Buys, Tested

[Video: Serious Eats Video] There’s relatively little overlap between the appliances used in a commercial kitchen and those used at home. The ovens are different, the refrigerators are different, the food processors are different, and, until not too long ago, so were the blenders. But…