40×40 List #38: Top 10 Most Difficult Recipes (according to Epicurious.com) {Part 1}

One of my 40×40 list items is to make the Top 10 Most Difficult Recipes according to Epicurious.com. Here is the list:

1. Savory souffles
2. Coq au vin
3. Mole
4. Beef Wellington
5. Napoleons
6. Paella
7. Puff pastry
8. Baked Alaska
9. Croissants
10. Sourdough bread

Each link goes to a page on Epicurious where you can choose an appropriate recipe for your skill level or taste. Last weekend, I tackled Paella and Baked Alaska. I invited the Joneses to dinner since I knew I would have plenty of food and, well, dinner parties for four are a lot of fun. I mean, if you are cooking for two, you might as well just cook for four. Since DB is the only one who really likes seafood, I opted for a vegetarian version. I used this recipe which requires the use of the most expensive spice in the world, saffron. After shopping at three grocery stores for ingredients, I found it on sale at Albertsons ($17.99 for .03 oz!). (Note: Later in the week, I discovered that Whole Foods sells really small vials of spices, great if you only need a bit for a recipe or you want to try out a new spice. They have saffron in a really small size and for only $8!!)

The paella was a fairy straightforward dish. I have made risotto many times and it is the same concept where you cook the ingredients in steps. It’s time consuming but I didn’t really break a sweat. I enjoyed the process and was surprised that it made the list of most difficult dishes. It made me wonder if the seafood version is much more difficult and that’s why it is on the list?

Here is the paella as I was getting ready to serve it:

It’s really pretty! The flavors are great, too. Because the recipe layers each ingredient, you really get a cohesive flavor as everything marries while it cooks. I used arborio rice (which is the same rice I use for risotto) and the texture stayed firm and had a nice bite to it. The beans added some heartiness to it and the peas gave a fresh, vibrant flavor. I added artichokes per the recipe instructions, but I think next time some zuchinni might be a better substitute.

While I was making the paella, I had the bases of the Baked Alaskas setting up in the freezer. Earlier in the day, I scoured the internet for the best sounding recipe. There were literally hundreds to choose from and about 50 different ways to make the meringue. I did what I do best… I cobbled together a few different recipes and went to work. One of them called for frozen poundcake slices. I liked that idea and decided instead of layering the cake in a pie dish and risk having it fall to pieces when I cut and served it, I would make individual Alaskas. I cut the poundcake into individual rounds with a scalloped circular cookie cutter. Next, I added a generous scoop of strawberry ice cream to the cake. You could totally go all Martha and make the cake and the ice cream yourself. I was cool with storebought goods.

Here they are in the freezer:

Once I was ready to serve dessert, I began the process of making the meringue. I did make a mistake by not bringing the eggwhites to room temperature. This prevented them from whipping into really light, airy peaks, and it ended up a little runny. It could also be a lesson in patience, one that I failed miserably. However, the time it took to whip the eggwhites and sugar gave me plenty of time to make an impromptu strawberry sauce on the stove, so win-win, right?

Here I am piping the meringue onto the ice cream topped cakes.

Once I covered the cakes with the meringue, it was time to put them under the broiler.

One recipe said to keep the oven door cracked to easily keep an eye on them as they browned. I thought that was a pretty good idea. Despite this, I still managed to overcook them slightly. I don’t know about you, but I kinda like that burnt marshmallow taste.

Here they are all plated up and ready to be served:

These were a real crowd pleaser. I think I would make them again and maybe make the cake myself. I’d also do the meringue correctly to see if I get a better stiffness… I think that would make the piping a lot easier and the cooking a bit more even as well. You can see the ice cream has gone soft under the meringue shell. These were a great texture with the warmth of the outer shell and the coldness of the ice cream. The strawberry sauce under the cake was a nice touch. I think they would have been a bit too dry without it. Next time I might put some of the sauce between the cake and ice cream… if not sauce, then maybe some jam. The possibilities are endless!

Have you made a new dish recently? Have you made any of the dishes that Epicurious deems as most difficult? Have any tips for me as I tackle the rest of the list? Are there any dishes that aren’t on the list that you think should be represented?

Photos courtesy of Don Burnside

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