I've never been able to get a chocolate chip cookie exactly the way I like. I'm talking chocolate cookies that are barely crisp around the edges with a buttery, toffee-like crunch that transitions into a chewy, moist center that bends like caramel, rich with butter and big pockets of melted chocolate. I made it my goal to test each and every element from ingredients to cooking process, leaving no chocolate chip unturned in my quest for the best. 32 pounds of flour, over 100 individual tests, and 1,536 cookies later, I had my answers.
'dessert' on Serious Eats
Lightly sweet graham crackers, melty chocolate, gooey and golden toasted marshmallows—a traditional s'more is practically perfect. But here at Serious Eats we tend to look at a good thing and wonder, "How can we make this better?"*
When I first heard about this dish from a Southern friend, I had visions of spinach topped with sliced strawberries and maybe a little feta cheese and tossed with pretzel crumbles. But this dish is more akin to a Jell-O No Bake Cheesecake than a Caesar. The combination of a salty crushed pretzel crust, rich whipped cream, and strawberry gelatin intrigued me.
Corn is ubiquitous in Latin American cuisine. It's used in every conceivable fashion, from the instantly recognizable tortilla to more obscure fermented beverages, like chicha de maíz. Torta de elotes—corn torte or cake—is on the more popular side and is made in several countries. It's rather similar to corn pudding: fresh corn is ground to a pulp, then combined with eggs, sugar, and other flavorings, such as sweetened condensed milk or cheese.
I come from a long line of New Englanders. Hearty folk who've weathered close to three centuries of blustery Maine winters. They're no fuss and no nonsense. And they like Grape-Nuts...for dessert. If that sounds a bit austere to you, don't feel sorry for them, Grape-Nuts Pudding is wicked simple to make and as comforting as any dessert you might find on your Nana's table, if your Nana was from Down East.
After a little bit of experimenting I assembled what I think is a tremendously tasty, cakey, and frosty treat. Two chocolate cupcakes are layered with peanut butter ice cream in small plastic party cups—dessert roadie, anyone?—and topped with chocolate icing speckled with Ritz cracker crumbs.
Sweetened condensed milk is my mood-altering drug. If it were civilized to sip it like a cocktail, I would, but being the mature lady that I am today, I choose to imbibe it in a more socially acceptable manner: tres leches cake.
The base is a slightly modified version of "The Greatest Brownies Ever" from Jennifer Appel's The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook. I've adapted her well-behaved recipe to make an intense, bittersweet chocolate layer between the graham cracker crust and the toasted mini-marshmallow topping. The dark chocolate center curbs the over-the-top sweetness that candy bar milk chocolate normally lends the classic kid dessert. The brownie layer is thinner than a proper brownie, as I was aiming for a bar effect rather than a brownie with a crust.
The folks at America's Test Kitchen wanted a bread pudding that had a moist, creamy interior and a crisp top crust. They chose challah for its rich flavor. To cut down on the egginess, they used only yolks and still achieved a luscious, silky custard. For a crackly crust, they dotted the top with additional toasted bread cubes and brushed on melted butter followed by a sprinkling of white and brown sugars. Watch the video here for the technique.
Some people may be turkey people, some people may be stuffing people, and others really just show up to Thanksgiving for the pie. It's hard to beat a homemade apple pie, and here are a few good-looking recipes (along with some pear options thrown in for good measure.)
Ok, so pies aren't exactly sides, but they're such important parts of the Thanksgiving tradition that I had to include them in this series. Rich pumpkin (or sweet potato) custard, spiced with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and sometimes booze, these pies are my all-time favorite. They're sometimes even better after they've set for a day, so you can make your pies ahead of time to cut down on last minute stress.
I was hoping to create a cake that would pass for homemade, and while this didn't quite get there, it was close. The Frangelico I used imparted a subtle warmth, the olive oil made it a bit fruity, and hazelnuts added a bit of crunch. This would be a great party dessert option when you're short on time or feeding a large crowd.
Since it's July, and scorching hot, I couldn't resist the Barefoot Contessa's Outrageous Mint Chocolate Brownie Mix ($10.95). There was something so temping about the promise of cool, refreshing mint—especially when paired with dense fudgy chocolate. I've made Ina's brownies from scratch before, and was impressed with how gooey and moist they were. I hoped the mix would yield similar results.
In addition to their line of outrageously-flavored peanut butters, Peanut Butter & Company produces several different baking mixes. I decided to test out the Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookie Mix ($7) for this week's Mixed Review. There's just something so quintessentially American about peanut butter cookies, I thought they would make an appropriate treat for the upcoming 4th of July holiday.
When I think of Jell-O, I think of things that are solidly American, such as no-bake cheesecake, instant chocolate pudding, and edible vodka shots. That's why I was so surprised to see a mix for flan on the supermarket shelf, tucked in between the boxes of more typical flavors like kiwi-strawberry and watermelon. How well could Jell-O pull off a traditional European dessert? I was curious to find out.
To make the sorbet, all I had to do was combine the mix with three cups of water, cook, chill, and freeze. A spoonful bordered on perfection: deep, pure chocolate flavor, and a consistency so smooth it reminded me more of sherbet than sorbet. The last time I remember tasting chocolate this intense, it was a press event for Michel Cluizel.
Ice cream shouldn't make you think too hard. The procedure goes something like: eat with a spoon, then enjoy. But we wanted to test your ice cream intelligence to see how much you really know about that scoop (or three or four) in your bowl. Take the quiz! »
I was so excited to see Stonewall Kitchen's new S'mores Brownie Mix ($10.95), which combines toasted marshmallows and rich chocolate with a buttery graham cracker crust to boot! When they were finally finished baking, the marshmallows were crispy and brown on top, as if burnished by an actual campfire.
Since their debut in 1995, fat-free No Pudge! Brownies have been a dieting staple, right up there with Special K and Skinny Cow. Over the years they've garnered much media praise, but it's been mostly from health magazines like Self,...