endives with oranges and almonds

I realize this might not look like much. It probably looks suspiciously like a salad, which means it’s probably going to be the last kid picked for your holiday cooking olympics. It doesn’t taste like ginger, linzer or crushed candy canes. It smacks of January Food, the stuff of resolutions and repentance, and there’s no time for that now. But I need to tell you about it anyway, urgently, because the preoccupation with this salad has hit me so intensely, so wholly, it’s basically the only thing I want to eat, and since I’m ostensibly the grownup here, this is exactly what I’m going to do.

I had this for the first time two weekends ago, when I got to spring a surprise Miami Beach getaway on my husband as a belated birthday present. We had dinner the first night at José Andrés’ Bazaar, the kind of prolonged, indulgent meal that, I’m sure purely coincidentally, usually only occurs when we’re not simultaneously parenting. I don’t think we had a bite of food that was less than pristine. I’ve been a little obsessed with Andrés’ cooking since I lived in DC, right around the time Jaleo opened. I remember piling in there one night in 1999 with friends in town from New York and one told us that he really wanted to study in Paris the next year, but he needed someone to stay in his rent-controlled East Village apartment and also take care of his cat while he was gone. My roommate and I have never volunteered ourselves so quickly, not that anyone asked me my “welcome to new york” story. Even without such life-changing memories, the food was perfect, and no matter how many pork and scallop products were on the menu, there were always vegetables too, treated as carefully and respectfully as the finest jamón serrano. Our Miami meal was no different, which is why I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that of everything we ate, it was this seemingly random composition of goat cheese, almonds, oranges, chives, sea salt, endive, sherry vinegar and olive oil that I haven’t stopped pining over since.

My mother and I had this for lunch on Friday. I had more with dinner. I managed to eke another plate in on Sunday night and I can tell you with unwavering certainty that I will be eating this alongside my latkes on Tuesday. It’s at once a salad, appetizer and also finger food for parties, because, well, if you think I ate those little endive boats with a knife and fork, you might be mistaking me for someone with better breeding. Besides, how better to taste the happy commingling of fragrant citrus, tangy cheese, crunch of deeply toasted almonds, droplets of intense sherry vinegar and fruity olive oil, all finished with sea salt than to grab it by the endive boat and sail off with it?

On the radio: I’ll be on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC at 1 p.m. EST today, and we’re talking about Hanukah food delights: latkes, doughnuts, brisket and more. [Details]

One year ago: Linzer Torte
Two years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Three years ago: Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce
Four years ago: Broiled Mussels
Five years ago: Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce
Six years ago: Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake and Sausage-Stuffed Potatoes
Seven years ago: Apple Cranberry Crisp and Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
Eight years ago: Boozy Baked French Toast, Onion Soup

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
1.5 Years Ago: Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
2.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Swirl Buns
3.5 Years Ago: Rich Homemade Ricotta

Endives with Oranges and Almonds
Inspired by a version at José Andrés’ Bazaar in Miami Beach

Prep time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a light meal

3 oranges (I used 2 navel and one cara cara orange)
2 heads of endive
2 ounces soft goat cheese or chevre, crumbled
1/3 cup sliced almonds or chopped marcona almonds, well-toasted
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for drizzling
Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon minced chives
Flaky or other sea salt, to finish

Cut the top and bottom off your oranges, exposing the citrus flesh inside. Then, resting on either end, cut the peels, including the white pith, off the oranges. [Set aside for orangettes!] Use your knife to cut between each membrane and orange segment, cutting only so far as the center, which should release the orange segments. You can chop them once or twice more, so the pieces are not too large.

Trim end off endives and arrange individual leaves on a medium platter. Add a few orange chunks to each, then goat cheese crumbles and almonds. Season with black pepper, then drizzle with a very thin stream of olive oil. Add a few droplets of sherry vinegar to each “boat.” Scatter chives over and finish each with sea salt.

jelly doughnuts

I have been promising you a recipe for homemade jelly doughnuts for as many Hanukahs as this site has been in existence, which is to say 9, including the one that begins next week. This might lead you to conclude that I like neither fried food, doughnuts or even jelly, or all over the above showered in unholy amounts of powdered sugar, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, which is that I like them so much that if they want a chance to live out their short shelf-life destiny, they should stay far from my home.

These round jelly doughnuts are sometimes called sufganiyot, or at least when they hail from Israel and are consumed during Hanukah. However, in my vast — for research, guys, just for research! — jelly doughnut studies, I can tell you that there are sugared round versions of these in dozens of other wonderful places on earth. In Germany, these would be called Berliners; in Poland, pączki (I get mine at the Polish butchers on 2nd Avenue; how about you?), in Russia, ponchiki, in Ukraine, pampushky, in Italy, bombolini (swoon), in Finland, munkki (although not all of these varieties are always filled with jam) and, hey, who wants to go on a Fried Dough World Tour with me?

What almost all of them have in common is yeast dough enriched with egg and a bit of butter which gives them a stretchy, rich but not very sweet quality that I find hopelessly addictive. They fry for just a couple minutes each, and are best the first day, which means they are useless in trying to teach anyone the value of delayed dessert gratification, but means you’ll be something of a hero to anyone who has Eat Doughnuts Still Warm From The Fryer on their life list, not that we know anyone like that.

Doughnuts, previously: There are two recipes on this site to date for doughnuts, apple cider doughnuts that should come with a warning for parents of rapidly-growing-up kids — or, at least, me — that they include photos of a one month-old in argyle knee socks slumped over a can of Crisco. [I lost about an hour this week staring at that photo.] Plus, chocolate doughnut holes, which are the perfect party size and include the same curly-haired moppet, now old enough to bang on an empty Crisco can like a drum. Ah, wholesome family memories! Both are excellent recipes, but they are notably absent in my single favorite doughnut quality: yeast. Yeast doughnuts are to cake doughnuts what brown butter is to fresh, what caramel is to plain sugar, what homemade vanilla extract is to anything you can buy in a bottle. Today is the day to make that right.

Next up: NOT a dessert, promise. I know it’s been a bit of a sugar stampede here this last week or two. We’ve got baking on the brain! I also am finding it hard to focus on dinner with so many rugelach pinwheels to make. But here are a few weeknight favorites that, for us, fit the bill but also do not keep us too busy to get all of the fun baking done, too: Cold Noodles with Miso, Lime and Ginger, Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale, Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Vinegar, Sizzling Chicken Fajitas, Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings, Broccoli, Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole and Baked Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

On Pinterest: A visual guide to everything worth baking this month, such as all 71 cookies in the Smitten Kitchen archives and homemade food gifts. Come see!

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: I work with McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho through which you can order a signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbook with your choice of inscription; I sign them, they mail them out. We have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of this coming Monday, December 15th. [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

One year ago: My Great Linzer Torte Love
Two years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Three years ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Four years ago: Iced Oatmeal Cookies
Five years ago: Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen (the only gift guide I’ve ever made, now with hopefully all-fixed links) and Creamed Mushrooms on Butter-Chive Toasts
Six years ago: Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken and Bread Salad
Seven years ago: Chicken and Dumplings
Eight years ago: Winter Panzanella</a, Homemade Orecchiette with Tomatoes and Arugula, Chicken Skewers with Dukkah Crust and Pecan Squares

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake
1.5 Years Ago: Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
2.5 Years Ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
3.5 Years Ago: Dobos Torte

Jelly Doughnuts [Sufganiyot, Berliners, Pączki, Bombolini, etc.]

Updated 12/22/14 with a slew of additional notes and tips, after someone (ahem) made these two more times in a singe weekend. I found the dough easier to work with an extra spoonful or two of flour; it called for 2 1/4 cups, now calls for 2 1/3. I now share a second method of filling the doughnuts for more perfect centers. And I’ve written in the option of either doing the first rise or the second overnight in the fridge (but not both; the dough cannot handle two days in the fridge). We had two brunch parties this weekend, and to make things easier I pre-filled the doughnuts (the peskier method, below) and proofed them the second time in the fridge overnight. All I had to do in the morning was fry them, which takes all of 10 minutes, tops. And then: warm, fresh doughnuts for all. (Hooray.)

Yield: 16 2-inch doughnuts
Prep time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 7-gram or 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (180 ml) lukewarm (not hot) milk
2 large egg yolks
Few gratings of orange or lemon zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 30 grams) butter softened
2 1/3 cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1 egg white, whisked until frothy (for peskier filling method)
Vegetable oil for deep-frying, and coating bowl
1/2 to 2/3 cup jam or preserves of your choice
Powdered sugar

Make the dough: In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and milk. Let stand for 5 minutes; it should become a little foamy. Whisk in yolks, any zest or extracts you’d like to use, then butter. Don’t worry if the butter doesn’t fully combine.

— By hand: Add half of flour and stir with a spoon until combined. Add second half of flour and salt and stir as best as you can with a spoon, then use your hands to knead the dough until it forms a smooth, elastic round, about 5 minutes. Try, if you can, to resist adding extra flour, even if it’s sticky. Extra flour always makes for tougher/dryer doughnuts and breads. Sticky hands and counters are always washable!

— With a stand mixer: Add half the flour and let the dough hook mix it in slowly, on a low speed. Add second half of flour and salt and let the dough hook bring it together into a rough dough. Run machine for 3 to 4 minutes, letting it knead the dough into a smooth, cohesive mass.

Both methods: If the dough is already in the bowl, remove it just long enough to lightly oil the bowl. Return dough to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour, or in the fridge overnight.

There are two ways to fill doughnuts: In the easiest method, you fill them after they’re cooked with a piping bag. The filling is usually a little imperfect, off-center or slightly messy, but it takes the least effort by far. With the peskier method, you pre-fill the doughnuts, sealing the edges; the centers will be picture-perfect and neat, but it does take longer to assemble. Both will make you a hero to anyone you make these for, promise.

— Easiest method: On a lightly floured counter, roll dough to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds; no need to re-roll scraps unless you wish; I like to keep the odd shapes for getting the hang of frying before cooking the final doughnuts. Or, if you’re vehemently against scraps and re-rolling, you can make small square doughnuts, which are surprisingly cute. Let cut dough rise for another 30 minutes at room temperature, loosely covered with a towel at room temperature, or in the fridge overnight, on an oiled tray, covered loosely with oiled plastic wrap (use this longer rise only if did the 1-hour rise the first time; two overnights is too much for this dough).

— Peskier method: On a lightly floured counter, roll dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds; no need to re-roll scraps unless you wish; I like to keep the odd shapes for getting the hang of frying before cooking the final doughnuts. Or, if you’re vehemently against scraps and re-rolling, you can make small square doughnuts, which are surprisingly cute. Brush the edges of half the cut-outs with egg white, and in the center of each, add a tiny dollop (much less than you think you’ll need) of jam. Use the remaining cut-outs to form lids. Pinch every speck of the edges together tightly, almost as if you were making ravioli; you’ll want to seal these spectacularly well. Let filled doughnuts rise for another 30 minutes at room temperature, loosely covered with a towel at room temperature, or in the fridge overnight, on an oiled tray, covered loosely with oiled plastic wrap (use this longer rise only if did the 1-hour rise the first time; two overnights is too much for this dough).

Both methods, fry the doughnuts: Heat 2 inches of oil to 350°F (175°C) in a cast-iron frying pan (I like using one because it so delightfully re-seasons them) or heavy pot. Use your dough scraps to practice and get an idea of how quickly the doughnuts will cook. Then add about 4 doughnuts at a time to the oil, cooking on the first side until golden brown underneath, about 1 to 2 minutes, but often less so keep a close eye on them. Flip doughnuts and cook on the other side, until it, too, is golden brown underneath, about another minute. Drain doughnuts, then spread them on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb extra oil. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.

– If you haven’t filled your doughnuts yet, i.e. you’re using the easier method: When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, place jelly or jam in a piping bag with a round tip with a 1/4- to 1/2-inch opening. You can fill doughnuts from the tops or sides; I did half with each. Press the tip of the jam bag halfway into the doughnut, and squeeze in the jam until it dollops out a little from the hole. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.

Finish doughnuts: Either generously shower doughnuts with powdered sugar on either side, shaken from a fine-mesh strainer, or roll the doughnuts gently in a bowl of powdered sugar.

Eat at once. Don’t forget to share. If eating these on the first day, leave any remaining doughnuts uncovered on a plate. These are best on the first day, but my son did not (shockingly) say no to one that had been in an airtight container at room temperature overnight for breakfast this morning, so I guess they’re not inedible on the second day. They will need to be re-powdered, however, as it absorbs into the doughnuts when they’re in a covered container.

To make these dairy-free: You can use warm water, soy, almond or coconut milk instead of the dairy milk, and coconut oil, shortening or margarine for the butter. I made a version with both coconut milk and coconut oil, orange zest and a bit of almond extract that were a big hit.

gingerbread biscotti

It’s scientific fact that the most decadent hot chocolate needs the perfect dunking cookie. Last week, the hunt for this led me to assault family and friends with bold, high-stakes queries such as “would you rather dunk graham cracker flavored, snickerdoodle or gingerbread biscotti in your hot chocolate?” Don’t let it ever be said that the Smitten Kitchen shies away from the hard questions! Gingerbread was the clear winner, and while I aim to please, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that a little snickerdoodle-style roll in cinnamon-sugar is never unwelcome in winter, and so it was.

This is gentle gingerbread; it’s not going to muddle your steamy cup of dark chocolate cocoa with molasses and cloves, but instead gently suggests a little winter spice. It’s as much a cookie as it is the ideal golden and crisp packet of December warmth, essential on 26 degree days like today (too soon, New York, too soon!) even if you, perhaps, after reading one too many articles about how Norwegian and Danish children go outside all winter, regardless of how cold it is, didn’t conclude that this meant that you and your small child should arrive at the schoolyard 30 minutes before the school bell to get your fix of “fresh air” and “nature exploration” and have still, 3-plus hours later, not warmed up.

This cookie, dunked in a cup of hot chocolate with a thin layer of melted mini-marshmallows on top, is also doing its best to console me for the fact that but 24 hours ago, I was neck-deep in the Atlantic Ocean, because, you see, it was just too hot to be on the sand. My husband turned 40 over the summer, and I decided that instead of buying him a thing I wanted to provide an experience and, for Alex, there are few things that make him happier than spending the day on a hot beach, alternating between napping and reading a book. I also wanted to surprise him, because presents that come when you least expect them are way more fun than those at predictable intervals. And so Friday morning, he found this card at the breakfast table. And our Saturday and Sunday looked something like this. And, lo, it was a great weekend.

Thus, I hardly expect you to feel bad for us, shivering in that cab line last night at JFK because we’d decided to pack “lighter” by omitting winter coats, hats and common sense. We don’t need any violins. But discovering what was left of last week’s decadent hot chocolate mix and these biscotti on the counter this morning were exactly what a cold Monday morning needs, and then, once you’ve finished the first batch, you can make a few more as gifts for some very lucky people.

On Pinterest: Want a little visual guide to all 70 cookies in the Smitten Kitchen archives? How about some homemade food gifts? It’s beginning to look a lot like December over there, come see!

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: Have you ever wanted to buy someone a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook but you wanted it to say something really specific, like Merry Christmas! or Congratulations on your engagement! (Now bake me some cookies.) or No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re my favorite reader. No seriously. It’s you. all of which have happened last year because you guys really are that funny and awesome. Well, you can! I work with McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho to sign books; I sign them, they mail them out. This year, we have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of Monday, December 15th. [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

One year ago: Eggnog Florentines
Two years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Three years ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Four years ago: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Five years ago: Coffee Toffee and Vanilla Roasted Pears
Six years ago: Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties, Spelt Everything Crackers, Feta Salsa and Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Seven years ago: Latkes and Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter
Eight years ago: Zucchini Ham and Ricotta Fritters, German Pancakes/Dutch Babies, Winter Panzanella, Homemade Orchiette with Tomatoes and Arugula,

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
1.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies
2.5 Years Ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella

Gingerbread Biscotti

Yield: 30 to 34
Time: About 1 1/2 hours

Cookie
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (265 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring hands
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
2 teaspoons (4 grams) ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons (4 grams) ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
A few grinds of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup (95 grams) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups toasted, chopped nuts or white or dark chocolate chunks (optional, I kept mine plain)
1 large egg white

Cinnamon-sugar (optional)
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (6 grams) ground cinnamon

Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line one large or two small baking sheets (if yours are small you’ll probably prefer using two, as the logs will spread a lot) with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients — 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, baking powder, spices, pepper and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugars, butter, 2 large eggs and vanilla. Add wet ingredients along with any optional additions (nuts or chocolate) to dry mixture and stir to combine. It’s going to seem a bit soft and sticky; it’s a-okay.

Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, transfer first half to the prepared baking sheet(s) and form it into a slightly flatted log about 11 inches (28 cm) by 2 1/2 (6 1/2 cm) inches, going down one side of a baking sheet intended for two logs, or the center of a baking sheet intended for one log. Repeat with second half of dough. Whisk egg white in a small bowl until a little foamy and loose. Brush over top and sides of each log.

Bake logs until golden brown all over, about 25 minutes. Transfer tray to cooling rack; let cool about 25 minutes, until lukewarm. Gently transfer each log to a cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife and gently sawing motion, cut logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch wide slices. If using cinnamon-sugar, stir the two together and dip both cut sides in the mixture.
Arrange slices, a cut side down, on baking sheet(s). Bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until golden underneath. Turn each biscotti over and bake for a final 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly bronzed all over. Let cool on rack.

Do ahead: Baked biscotti should keep in airtight containers at room temperature for weeks.

Decadent hot chocolate mix

Here is how I’ve made hot chocolate for most of my life: heat some milk in a saucepan, add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and sugar and whisk. Form lumps. Be unable to break up lumps. Get frustrated, try again, this time slowly slowly slowly whisking milk into cocoa and sugar, hoping to form something of a cocoa roux. Heat mixture until steamy and drink merrily, trying to ignore faint background of chalkiness. Hooray for cocoa?

Until this week, that is. This week, I saw a recipe for a homemade hot chocolate mix in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated that had my undivided attention because it wasn’t just cocoa and sugar but ground chocolate and vanilla and salt and and and… I mean, how bad could it be? What was the worst that could happen — we’d have to warm up with several cups of hot cocoa in a single week in the name of recipe testing? I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: sometimes, this job is the worst.

Shockingly, because given that the source is basically perfect, it wasn’t for me. Even more surprising, because I love bittersweet chocolate so much, I actually found it too bitter. But this just gave me the excuse to make more. I nixed the milk powder because I’m rather eh on it, especially when a) there’s real milk around or b) it would keep the recipe dairy-free so you could instead use steamed coconut, almond or soy milk. I switched out the unsweetened chocolate for semisweet/bittersweet, reduced the salt and vanilla a little and bumped up the cornstarch ever-so-slightly to encourage the mixture to dissolve perfectly, even without the powdered milk.

And then, well, I probably should pretend this heaping pile of miniature marshmallows was for the kindergartener. Because only a kindergartener would so shamelessly use a cup of decadent, gloriously rich hot cocoa as a vehicle for marshmallow consumption, right? I really should. But we all know the truth. Kindergarteners are at kindergarten during the day, giving adults an excuse to not act their age for a while. I regret nothing.

On Pinterest: Want a little visual guide to all 70 cookies in the Smitten Kitchen archives? How about some homemade food gifts? It’s beginning to look a lot like December over there, come see!

Facebook Notifications: Are you only sometimes finding out through Facebook when there is a new recipe here? Here’s how you can make sure you don’t miss a single one: once you’ve liked the smitten kitchen page (thank you!) you can use the dropdown menu right under the “liked” button to select “get notifications.” This lets Facebook know going forward that they shouldn’t dare get between you and your marshmallow-studded hot chocolate.

One year ago: Sugared Pretzel Cookies
Two years ago: Cauliflower-Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
Three years ago: Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Four years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Five years ago: Cream Biscuits
Six years ago: Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Veselka’s Cabbage Soup
Seven years ago: Rugelach Pinwheels, Fennel Ice Cream and a Ratatouille Tart
Eight years ago: Fettucine with Porcini, Potato Salad with Sherry-Mustard Vinaigrette and Salted Chocolate Caramels

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Coconut Brown Butter Cookies
1.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Handpies
2.5 Years Ago: Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Red Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix
Adapted a little from Cook’s Illustrated

This is the ideal homemade December gift to pack up for friends and family, if I do say so myself. It’s both rich and deeply chocolaty, without being excessively sweet. Add some homemade springy fluffy marshmallows or the my new favorite thing to dunk in hot chocolate (next up!) if you want to do it up further.

Yield: Just under 1 3/4 cups mix, enough for 9 cups; packs up well in a 2-cup jar
Prep time: Seriously like 10 minutes

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 ounces (85 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (40 grams) cocoa powder, any kind you like
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from a tiny segment of fresh vanilla bean
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until powdery. Don’t have a food processor? Chop or grate the chocolate until it is as fine as you can get it, and stir it into the remaining ingredients. Mixture keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

To use: Heat one cup of milk (coconut, almond or others would work here too) in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. Add 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two, until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. Pour into mug, top with mini-marshmallows or a dollop of whipped cream and hide somewhere nobody will make you share give it to someone you love.

Other flavors: CI walks you through how to make variations including Mexican Hot Chocolate (with some chile powder, cayenne and cinnamon), Mint Hot Chocolate (with mint extract instead of vanilla), Mocha Hot Chocolate (with a couple tablespoons of espresso powder) and usually I’d say “have fun with it!” I mean, you can and should. But I have to admit to being a bit of a traditionalist with my cocoa, and would take the pure chocolate flavor of the above recipe over anything that would clutter my tastebuds. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t listen to someone who needs a minimum of two dozen mini-marshmallows on a single cup of hot chocolate?

Packaging ideas: Had I more time, I might have picked up some charming Weck Juice Jars or Tulip Jars (.5 liter size, which will give you some space at the top — perfect for a handful of marshmallows?), either of which can be used later for pickling or storage. I used Mason jar-ish mugs with lids (12), which could be used later for hot chocolate consumption. You could tie a a tablespoon measure on as well with ribbon, to make their end of the work even easier.

Twice-baked potatoes with kale

As I do every year, I woke up the morning after Thanksgiving with dueling urges to consume pie for breakfast as well as to repent with an endless sequence of brothy vegetable soups until I no longer dreamed of pumpkin cheesecake, cranberry caramel almond tarts and chocolate silk. I vowed make the wholesome side triumph this year, however, yet somewhere along my righteous path to eating kale salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I remembered that kale salad tastes absolutely nothing like pie and that was basically the end of that. By dinner that night, we were digging into terrifying heaps of spaghetti and meatballs at Carmine’s, followed by overstuffed chocolate cannolis. There wasn’t a ribbon of kale in sight.

By Sunday night, however, I’d found a happier medium between total submersion in butter, cream and chocolate and the kind of austerity measures that never quite cut it when it’s 33 degrees outside: the twice-baked potato, restuffed with not only the usual sour cream and cheese, but an entire bundle of greens. Greens make everything healthy, okay?

The inspiration came from a version on Food52 created by the blogger behind Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast who had served these, I think rather brilliantly, as a side to her family’s surf-and-turf Christmas Eve tradition. Of course, I ended up veering a bit off recipe, using less cheese (I hardly know myself, either) and sour cream, adding a softly cooked leek, using far fewer chile flakes (my heat wimpiness thus established) and then, although kale was supposed to be the theme, I actually had a bundle of Swiss chard ready to age out of the fridge and used that instead. You, too, can take liberties here: spinach would be welcome, or another green of your choice; you could use parmesan, goat cheese or cream cheese instead of the traditional cheddar or comté I used. If you’ve got a surplus of shallots or scallions instead of leeks after the holiday, you could use them instead.

But I do hope you make it because I cannot express loudly enough how much this hit the spot — toasty and a little decadent, but green enough that I didn’t even feel the need to make a salad on the side. It was the perfect light dinner cap on the end of a long weekend of heavy eating. Even the kid, suspect of all green things that are not steamed broccoli or cucumbers, ate one which means that this goes straight into the annals of weeknight favorites. Hallelujah.


This Thursday, 12/4/14: At the Food52 Holiday Market [168 Bowery, NYC], I’ll be demo-ing these Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns, one of my favorite festive winter recipes. The demo portion, 11 to noon, is ticketed ($10). The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook will also be for sale and I’ll be signing books between noon and 1pm; no ticket is required to attend the book signing. [Sign up, buy tickets and find more information on the Food52 Holiday Market site]

Signed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks: Have you ever wanted to buy someone a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook but you wanted it to say something really specific, like Merry Christmas! or Congratulations on your engagement! (Now bake me some cookies.) or No matter what anyone else tells you, you’re my favorite reader. No seriously. It’s you. all of which have happened last year because you guys really are that funny and awesome. Well, you can! I work with McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore in Soho to sign books; I sign them, they mail them out. This year, we have a hard deadline for Christmas shipping (i.e. you’d pay standard and not rushed shipping and the book will reach you by Christmas) of Monday, December 15th. [Order Custom Inscribed Smitten Kitchen Cookbooks from McNally Jackson]

One year ago: Cigarettes Russes Cookies
Two years ago: Cauliflower-Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
Three years ago: Nutmeg-Maple Butter Cookies
Four years ago: Apple Latkes
Five years ago: Cappucino Fudge Cheesecake and Balsamic-Braised Brussels with Pancetta
Six years ago: Pumpkin Cupcakes, Cabbage Apple and Walnut Salad
Seven years ago: Tiramisu Cake and Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes
Eight years ago: Apple Pie and Blondies, Infinitely Adaptable

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Nancy’s Chopped Salad
1.5 Years Ago: Lobster and Potato Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Asparagus with Almonds and Yogurt Dressing
3.5 Years Ago: Fudge Popsicles

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale
Adapted from Brussels Sprouts for Breakfast via Food52

I think these could also be good as a party appetizer, perhaps twice-baked little red potatoes? A little fussy, scooping and restuffing all of those little potatoes, but what delicious bites they’d be. A melon baller made easy, neat work of the scooping (also my favorite to remove halved apple cores).

Serves 6 as a side; 3 as a hearty main

3 russet potatoes (mine were 9 to 10 ounces each)
1 bundle lacinato kale (aka dinosaur, tuscan or black kale), swiss chard or spinach (10 ounces)
Coarse salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar, gruyere or comté, 2/3 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino, or 1/2 to 2/3 cup cream cheese or goat cheese, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Heat oven to 400°F (205°C).

Cook potatoes the first time: Gently scrub potatoes but do not peel. Pierce all over with a fork so that steam escapes [raise your hand if you’ve forgotten to do this and had the pleasure of jumping three inches off the sofa due to an oven ka-pow!] Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced in center with a skewer. Leave oven on.

Alternatively, you could microwave fork-pierced potatoes for 10, turning them over halfway through to ensure even cooking. You could also boil the whole potato for 15 minutes.

While potatoes cook, prepare your filling: Tear kale, chard or spinach leaves from stems (you can save the stems for another use, such as a vegetable stock or juicing) and plunge leaves in cold water to remove any residual dirt or grit. No need to dry them when you’re done. Tear leaves into large chunks. Heat a skillet over medium-high and add greens and a pinch of salt. Cook them in the pan with just the water clinging to the leaves until they wilt and collapse. Transfer to a colander and when cool enough to handle, wring out any extra moisture in small fistfuls. On a cutting board, finely chop greens. You should have about a cup of wrung-out, well-chopped greens; don’t worry if you have a little more or less.

Trim leek down to just yellow and pale green part. Halve lengthwise — if it’s gritty inside, plunge it in cold water to remove grit, then pat dry. Cut leek halves lengthwise again, so that they’re in quarter-stalks, and thinly slice.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add butter and oil. Once both are warm, add leek and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until mostly tender and sweet, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Try to avoid letting it brown. Add chopped greens back to skillet and warm with leeks, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a bowl.

Prepare potatoes: When potatoes are cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise and scoop out all but the last 1/4-inch thickness of skin and potato (essentially, you want to leave a shell inside for stability) and add potato filling to bowl with leeks and greens. Arrange the potato shells on a baking sheet. Mash potatoes, leeks and greens together until smooth. Stir in the sour cream, 3/4 of cheese and more salt and pepper than you think you’ll need. Heap filling in prepared potato skins. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 of cheese.

Cranberry pie with thick pecan crumble

Cranberries are, for me, one of the best things about late fall and they show up right in time, just as all of the other colors disappear. The ginkgo trees, always one of the last November holdouts, simultaneously ejected their green/yellow leaves last week and ever since, pretty much everything outside is looking rather… greige, but not like the charming shade of the boots I want. And then, out of nowhere, perfect red berries appear and things look up.

basically the prettiest november thing
cranberries, sugar and orange zest

I love cranberries the way I do sour cherries in June, except cranberries are easier to come by (here, at least), keep longer, cost less, have less of a blink-and-you-missed-them season and freeze seemingly indefinitely perfectly. I think it would be chromatically impossible to find a more stunning shade of red than the one they collapse into when cooked. Yet taste-wise, I know they scare people because they’re aggressively tart and sour — they could make your average Eureka lemon seem like a wimp.

single-crust pie
precooked, parbaked, if you please
ready to bake

But this can be the best part. My favorite foods embrace contrasts — savory against typically sweet, salt against decadent desserts, caramelized crunch atop a rich casserole — and cranberries, especially twisted with sweet, rich ingredients like this ice cream I need someone to make for me right now, really get to shine.

let it snow (powdered sugar)
cranberry pie with thick pecan crumble

You rarely see straight-up cranberry pies. They’re usually cut with chunks of apples or pears, seemingly afraid of their own intensity but I vowed this year to tackle my own at last. I found that the trick to making a palatable cranberry pie was to, yes, sweeten them more than I would other fruits, but also to provide a great contrast, here a thick cinnamon-scented, oat-and-pecan crumble on top, that’s finished, like all things worth eating, with a shower of powdered sugar, a good dollop of sweetened vanilla whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.

Thanksgiving is on Pinterest this year: The Smitten Kitchen Pinterest page is all decked out for November and December. Need more Pumpkin ideas? Savory or Sweet Thanksgiving ideas? Homemade Food Gifts? Or maybe just All The Cookies? So do we, and we’ve got you covered.

One year ago: Parsley Leaf Potatoes and Sweet Potato Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
Two years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Three years ago: Dijon-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Four years ago: Sweet Corn Spoonbread
Five years ago: Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake
Six years ago: Walnut Tartlets and Cauliflower Gratin
Seven years ago: Chile Garlic Egg Noodles
Eight years ago: Wild Mushroom Pirogies and Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake (which I make every year, always)

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
1.5 Years Ago: Two Classic Sangrias
2.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Snacking Cake
3.5 Years Ago: Spring Salad with New Potatoes

Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble

Despite the contrast from the brown sugar, oat, cinnamon and toasted pecan crumble on top, the shower of powdered sugar, the sweetened vanilla whipped cream or ice cream that I know you wouldn’t serve this without, this is still, at its core, a tart pie. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely for us. Cranberries are excellent pie berries, it turns out, so high in pectin that you’re at little risk for a sloshy pie or “soggy bottom” (crust!). Par-baking the crust is optional, but of course will keep the base the most crisp. I like to cook this filling for a few minutes on the stove; it will probably be okay without it (just needing 10 to 15 minutes more baking time) but it gives you a chance to get the berries a little loose and lightly crushed, while reducing the overall baking time, which is, delightfully, under an hour. Note: Your topping will look less messy and loose than mine. I was a little distracted while baking this, and added too many oats.

Yield: 1 standard 9-inch pie (not deep-dish)

Crust
1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea or table salt
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (60 ml) very cold water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed

Filling
4 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (from 1 1/2 12-ounce bags)
1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 to 2 more tablespoons, if desired, to taste
A few gratings of orange zest (yes, clementine zest works great here too)
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Streusel
2/3 cup rolled oats or 1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon coarse or sea salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted if you have the time
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

To serve
Powdered sugar, sweetened whipped cream with a splash of vanilla extract or vanilla ice cream

Make the pie dough:

  • By hand, with my one-bowl method: In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. (Some people like to do this by freezing the stick of butter and coarsely grating it into the flour, but I haven’t found the results as flaky.) Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • With a food processor: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and pulse machine until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Turn mixture out into mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • Both methods: Wrap dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes. Longer than 2 days, it’s best to freeze it until needed.

Form the crust: On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a 12 to 13-inch circle-ish shape. Fold dough gently in quarters without creasing and transfer to a 9-inch standard (not deep-dish) pie plate. Unfold dough and trim overhang to about 1/2-inch. Fold overhang under edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. Return to fridge until ready to fill.

[Optional: If you’d like to par-bake the crust, once you’ve rolled it out, freeze it for 10 minutes inside your pie tin, until solid. Prick unbaked crust with a fork several times. Line it with lightly buttered foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or pennies. Bake at 400°F (205°C) on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove paper or foil and weights, and bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and lightly crisp.]

Heat oven: (Or reduce oven heat, if you just par-baked your crust) to 375°F (190°C).

Make the filling: Combine all filling ingredients — no need to defrost frozen cranberries, they’ll just need a couple extra minutes to warm up — in a medium saucepan over medium heat. After about 5 minutes, berries will begin to leak juices. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes more until filling is loose. If desired, you can lightly crush the mixture once or twice with a potato masher, but try to leave most berries intact. Transfer filling to a bowl to let it cool slightly for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the crumble topping.

Make the topping: If using whole oats, grind them to a powder in a food processor. Add pecans and coarsely grind them too. Add remaining ingredients except the butter, pulsing a few times to combine. Add butter, pulsing until crumbles form. Sprinkle topping over cranberry filling.

Bake pie: For 45 to 50 minutes, until juices are bubbling enough that they splash a bit onto the crumb topping. If pie browns too quickly, cover top with a piece of foil for remaining baking time. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a bit before serving showered with powdered sugar and alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Dry-brined turkey with roasted onions

For 13 years, this site has not had a turkey recipe for a few, perhaps not terribly convincing, reasons. I don’t usually host; it’s usually a family member with, I’m sure just coincidentally, more than a 2-bedroom apartment of space. Second, I mean, this is the internet, right? And there are, as of this morning, 200,000 search results for “roast turkey.” Probably there’s a gem or two in there for you and you’ve got this covered? Finally, the truth: turkey has never been my favorite bird. I mean, when it’s done well, I do enjoy my yearly two slices (dark, please), but I’ve rarely been summoned with the motivation to finetune a recipe in the off-season.

But then a couple things changed. A few years ago I started hosting Friendsgivings (see here and here) and now, a few turkeys later, I — inevitably — have a lot of opinions about turkey. For example, when you’re making a turkey the size you need for the 18 to 25 people most Thanskgivings may entail, you’re going to want to find a way to treat the bird in a way that it won’t dry out in all of the hours it will take to safely cook through. I’ve wet-brined (a nightmare with delicious results, but still a nightmare) and dry-brined, and the latter was the clear winner.

My second opinion is that if you’re putting anything besides a lot of quartered onions under your turkey, you’re missing out on one of the best things we have ever eaten. I tried it after rejecting the usual medley (potatoes, carrots, or other vegetable) because they were represented more generously in other side dishes at the table. I never looked back. Over a few hours in the oven collecting buttery, salty drippings, they become otherworldly: both deeply caramelized to the point of jammy sweetness, but charred and salty too. There’s enough to go around. Since they will taste too good to share, however, I might take this time to remind myself of the key Thanskgiving themes: generosity, gratitude, hospitality, and probably not standing in the kitchen eating onions off a knifepoint? Okay, fiiine.

My third opinion is, in fact, my view on All Things Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving recipes should be rivetingly simple, the kind of short ingredient list, high reward stuff that has no mise-en-place, because all of my dishes are otherwise engaged when I’m having 21 people over. If I can make a stunning, perfectly cooked, delightfully-seasoned, crisp-skinned turkey with merely 6 ingredients and 2 steps, I’m simply not going to make the one with 15. Not today, St. Martha.

This turkey follows the rules. I took a risk the first year and kept it really basic, seasoning with only salt, and pepper, and basting with butter after brining and seasoned, juicy, and delicious. However, now I’m hedging, just slightly, on this, because I accidentally did what I thought I never would: tested a turkey recipe when the month didn’t require it.

Earlier this year, I made a slow-roasted whole chicken and ended up brushing the well-salted skin with a mixture of butter, maple syrup, and gochujang chili paste and it was astoundingly good but I had this nagging feeling it this chicken wished it was a turkey. Hear me out: turkeys are slow-roasted birds; turkeys are wonderful with a salty-spicy-sweet finish. And unlike many other hunches in my life (no we’re not going to talk about the wide-leg mom jeans today), this one was actually on-point, and we get to reap the burnished, delicious rewards.

Dry-Brined Turkey with Roasted Onions

1 to 2 days before serving: Make sure the giblets (usually in a bag) are removed from the turkey’s cavity. Sprinkle all over with kosher salt, using about 1 tablespoon per 4 pounds of bird, including some into cavities. I do this on a rack in my roasting pan. Loosely cover with plastic and place in the fridge for 1 to 2 days, and until 4 to 5 hours before you want to serve it.

1 to 2 hours before roasting: Remove plastic and discard any juices that have collected around the bird. Allow to come to room temperature, which will take 1 to 2 hours. No need to rinse any salt off the bird; it’s all as it should be.

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours before serving: Heat oven to 450°F with a rack on the lowest level of the oven. If you plan to stuff the turkey with anything, do so now. Truss the legs (tying them together) with kitchen twine or, uh, any other string you have around.

Toss the onions with a splash of oil (don’t worry about seasoning, they’ll collect it from the pan) and arrange around the turkey. Combine 1 tablespoon of the melted butter with the maple syrup and chili paste in a small bowl, whisking until smooth. Brush this — or use your hands to coat — all over the turkey, leaving none behind. Here you’re supposed to tuck the wings under the bird to prevent the tips from burning, something I have never successfully done, if we’re being honest. Have a big piece of foil nearby for when you will want to cover the turkey.

Roast turkey for 25 to 30 minutes, then — this is very important — reduce the oven heat to 350° and continue roasting the bird until a thermometer in thickest part of the breast reads 150 to 155.

Beginning when you reduce the heat, periodically baste the turkey with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter, and then, when you’re out of butter, with the juices from the pan.

This turkey is going to brown fairly quick and quite dark. Don’t fret, it will not taste burnt, but go ahead and put the foil on when it gets as dark as you can stand it. Rotate the pan in the oven a couple times, and turn onions in pan over once, for even cooking. Remove the foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of roasting, so the skin crisps up again.

A 14 to 16 pound bird takes a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. A 19.5 pound bird once took over 3 hours. Keep in mind that if you’re opening and closing the oven door a bunch of times to move other dishes around, it will take longer to cook (up to 30 minutes).

Rest, carve, and serve: Allow the turkey to rest at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes before carving, which you should estimate 20 or so minutes to do, depending on your comfort level. This will allow the juices to be locked in and the turkey to carry over to an internal temperature of 165°F. Use the rest time to rewarm any sides that need it and to make gravy (see below).

I am not going to write out carving instructions because I personally cannot do it without watching a video. I pop this or this or this up on my phone (I recommend previewing them earlier and picking the one that works for you), hit the pause button a lot, and do my best. When you slice the turkey, make sure your knife is really, really sharp to get those clean cuts. Do you know what else really clean cuts do? Make people think you knew what you were doing. (I absolutely do not.)

Your turkey is going to spill a lot of juices while you carve it. Do you best to collect them (have paper towels nearby, you’ll be glad you do), then pour it over the sliced turkey, plus a final sprinkle of salt and pepper, before serving to keep it warm and seasoned. Arrange onions all around and serve with glee. You totally rocked this; I knew you would.

Notes:Buying turkeys: Heritage- or pasture-raised tend to taste a lot better, if you can find them. Estimate 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person; I tend to aim to the lower range because we don’t love leftovers and there are so many sides. If your turkey is frozen, defrost 2 to 3 days before in the fridge. They say it takes about 1 day per 5 pounds of turkey. You cannot defrost it at room temperature; it’s just not safe.Salt: I use Diamond brand kosher salt which clocks in at 135 grams a cup which is only important to note because the weight over other brands varies significantly, especially at this quantity. Morton brand = 230 grams per cup and David’s = 288 grams. So, please use half or just about half if you’re using another brand to avoid significantly over-salting your turkey.Doneness: Your turkey is done when a thermometer (this remains my go-to) inserted into thickest part of the breast reads 150F to 155F, or in the thigh at 165F, however, I prefer checking the breast. Thighs are smaller and often hit the “done” temperature sooner but are more forgiving of a few extra degrees. Nobody is forgiving of undercooked turkey breast.Logistics: Here’s a logistical tip I don’t think enough recipes make clear: You want to rest your turkey for 20 to 30 minutes before carving it, tented lightly with foil. It’s then going to take 15 to 20 minutes to carve (I had a friend holding a YouTube video tutorial in front of me because I’m very bad at it.) This gives you 30 to 45 minutes of empty oven time where you can reheat sides, which is more than most need. I have a single, not big, not great oven and this is how I manage to make it work.Extra ingredients: This is — and I know this is very bizarre to many people — and herb- and garlic-free turkey. If you’d like, you can toss 1 lemon and 1 head of garlic, each sliced in half crosswise, and a fistful of thyme, rosemary, and/or sage inside the turkey. I’ve made this turkey with none of these things and I’ve made this turkey with all of these things and I want you to know that it’s excellent both ways. The fragrance of the turkey is more dynamic with the lemon and garlic, but it doesn’t make a large difference, in my opinion, in the final flavor of the slices, so proceed as you wish.Cookware: I’m using this roasting pan.

Now, let’s talk about gravy. This is my core gravy recipe:

Very Simple Gravy
8 cups turkey or chicken stock (I either use homemade chicken or Better Than Bouillon’s turkey base)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dry marsala or cider vinegar

Melt butter in an empty pot or your emptied roasting pan and stir in flour. Cook this mixture over moderate heat, whisking, 3 minutes. Add marsala or vinegar, cooking for another minute. Add stock a little at a time, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, then bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

However, there are three ways to approach this. The first, above, straight gravy and it’s ideal for people who do not want to stress about it, don’t want to wait until the more frenetic time when the turkey is out and needs to be curved, and even want to make it earlier in the day and rewarm it.

The second is more traditional. You use the same formula but you first pour off drippings that have collected under your turkey. Put them in a glass (or a beaker like this) to allow them to separate. Swap whatever fat accumulates on top with the same amount of butter in the recipe, and drippings with the equivalent amount of broth, and proceed as written.

The third is a little riskier, but you only live once, right? Place your roasting pan across two stove burners, and bring the liquid (which is a mixture of fat and juices) to a boil. Deglaze the pan, loosening any stuck bits, with a glug of dry marsala or a wine of your choice. Boil all of the juices off until only the fat remains. Eyeball it — you might have just 2 to 3 tablespoons, or you might have more. Add enough butter to get you to 8 tablespoons. Add the flour, and then, since you’ve concentrated flavors so intensely here, you can replace half of the stock with water, to essentially rehydrate them. Season as needed and cook as you would the core recipe.

Perfect apple tarte tatin

Almost without fail, the more bafflingly short an ingredient list and the more stunningly delicious the outcome, the more likely it is to rivet me. I don’t need all recipes to have 5- or 10- or fewer ingredients — I fare poorly under arbitrarily restrictive confines — but doesn’t it just blow your mind that you can make the apple tarte tatin above with only apples, sugar, butter, lemon juice, and a sheet of defrosted puffed pastry?

Or, you should be able to. When made well, this upside-down apple tart looks like snug copper cobblestones on top of a rippling puff of flaky pastry. If you’re lucky, the apples will taste like they drank a cup of caramel and then napped in what they couldn’t finish. I love it enough that I’ve written about it twice (!) in eleven years but my efforts were… mediocre at best. I mean, just look at them — too thin, too sparse, too pale, apples either under- or overcooked, and way too many apples have dissolved long before the cooking time should have been up, despite being “good baking apples.”

I’d begrudgingly resigned myself a life of tatin mediocrity when I spotted one of the most stunning ones I’d seen to date on a magazine stand. And I had a feeling I knew who had cooked/styled it — my across-the-street neighbor. Her name is Susan Spungen and she’s a cookbook author and food stylist and whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably admired her behind-the-scenes handiwork on movies — see: that croissant scene in It’s Complicated, oh and everything Amy Adams and Meryl Streep cooked in Julie & Julia. It was on the latter project that she got very, very good at apple tarte tatins. She explains “It was a quick shot, but I worked hard to get the right look and technique, so I could make it over and over again, and have it look exactly the same each time, which is essential for a movie scene.”

I invited myself over and watched her make one in her tiny kitchen, not even breaking a sweat, and it was perfect. I thought it would fill me with the confidence I needed to replicate it at home. But two years later, it had not. So, this fall, I asked her to come to my place this time, I took 200 pictures and almost as many notes. I then made four more without her and all except the one I made with what turned out to be the wrong apples, looked exactly like hers. With this I knew it was time to write what I hope will be the last tarte tatin recipe you’ll ever need.

Here are a few things I learned from watching a professional, and basically making five tatins in two weeks:

1. The type of apple matters. You need one that holds its shape after it bakes. The internet is full of lists of “good baking apples” and “bad” baking apples and I cannot tell you which one will never lead you astray because there’s (believe it or not) a limit to my madness and I won’t be testing any recipe with every variety of apple. However, I was crazy enough to audition four here. I homed in on ones that I can buy at both grocery stores and local greenmarkets right now: Pink Lady, Fuji, Gala, and Granny Smiths. The first three worked great; the last one fell to mush. It may be because it was from a grocery store (I actually don’t find them at markets much) where they’re often very, very old, or maybe it’s just that they’re all wrong for this recipe. I don’t think it’s worth the risk to find out. If you make it with another kind with success, shout it out (and whether it procured locally or from a grocery store) in the comments.

2. You don’t need to cut them all crazy. I see recipes that call for halves (too big), quarters (too small), and some that call for thirds, which is about right but there’s no need to do exacting knife work to get every piece to be the same size, even if you have the patience to make finicky apple cuts. I’m using three sizes — a little less than half, a third, and about one-quarter in each that you see here — and cut them the way you would if you were snacking on an apple: imperfect and easy. A mix of sizes and shapes fits better.

3. Apples shrink a lot when they cook. If you’ve ever wondered why so many apples are called for in a 9- to 10-inch round tart, this is why. If you’ve ever made one and really thought you crammed the fruit in, only to have a tatin that looked like sparse apple cobble stones, ditto. It means that when you nestle the apples against each other before you bake it, you want each to lean onto the one behind it, overlapping it by one-third, so as it shrinks in the oven, they’re still tightly snugged together.

4. Three-quarters of the apple-cooking is done on the stove in the caramel; the rest happens in the oven. When the pastry is nicely browned and crisp, it’s done. This means that if the sautéed apples aren’t mostly cooked, that they’re still crunchy inside, it needs more time on the stove before it goes in the oven or the baked tatin won’t have perfectly tender apples.

5. Because of #3 and #4, you really want to use two pans make your tatin. Trust me — a person who will go to almost any length not to dirty two dishes when she could only dirty one — when I say that this is a place where it is unequivocally worth it. Almost every apple tarte tatin recipe makes life unnecessarily difficult by having you do the stovetop component (making the caramel and cooking the apples in it) in the same small pan as you’d might bake your final tart. Just look how many apples end up in the final tart, and that’s after they’ve shrunk. It’s very hard to cook the not-yet-shrunk apples evenly in caramel in a small pan. It’s much easier and will give you more consistent results if you use a big skillet. Then, arrange the apples exactly the way you want them in a smaller ovenproof skillet or standard pie pan. (And, it cools the apple mixture down a bit, essential because you don’t want to melt the butter in your pastry before it gets in the oven.)

6. Almost every apple tarte tatin recipe, including my previous ones, tells you to flip it out of the pan too soon. Give it time for the caramel and cooked apple juices to thicken up a bit. I found a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 60 worked well. It’s not ruined if you flip it sooner, but the caramel will be thinner and more likely to run off and puddle.

Perfect Apple Tarte Tatin

While the recipe calls for 7 and almost always only needs 7 apples, I always start with 8, just in case one is too banged up to use, or they shrink enough that I can fit an extra piece in. Caramel apple pieces that don’t fit — you’ll figure out what to do with them. Look for apples that are relatively even in size for even “cobblestones” on the tart.

An important note about checking the caramel’s temperature: It takes 1 to 2 minutes for the caramel to get to the dark amber color after you whisk it smooth — this is really fast. More than once, in just the 10 to 20 seconds I was fumbling with my thermometer (the temp reading won’t stay steady), it got too dark and smoky and I had to start over again. I highly recommend just eyeballing the color.

Heat oven to 400°F (205°C).

Peel your apples. Cut apples in thirds off of the core as best you can (no need for perfectly even thirds) and cut or scoop any remaining seeds out. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them and toss to coat.

Have the butter very cold and ready by the stove. Trust me.

Pour sugar into a large (11- to 12-inch) skillet and place over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until sugar is partially liquefied, about 4 minutes. Whisk until all unmelted sugar disappears into the caramel and nudge the heat down to medium low. We are going to cook it a little darker, but it will go quickly from here. Cook until the sugar is dark amber, 1 to 2 minutes (you can test this on an instant read thermometer, it’s about 350 to 370 degrees F but read the Note up top first; a drop of caramel poured on a white plate will look dark amber). Remove from heat, immediately add butter and whisk to melt and combine. This will hold the color where it is.

Return to the heat and add the apples and cook over medium high heat. The caramel will seize up a bit and will seem too thick to coat the apples, but it will loosen up in a minute. Cook, gently stirring and turning to ensure even cooking, until apples soften and begin to turn translucent at the edges and are about 3/4 of the way cooked through, about 10 minutes. This is not an exact science; larger or more dense apples may take longer. On the flipside, if your apples are falling into mush here, they’re the wrong apples, it will not get better in the oven. Don’t worry about overcooking the caramel once the apples are in; this has never happened to me.

Using tongs, transfer apples, rounded side down, one at a time to a smaller (10-inch) skillet with an oven-proof handle or a 10-inch (standard) pie dish. Arrange them in a concentric circle around the outside, overlapping each apple by about 1/3 and purposely crowding them. Arrange remaining apples in the center of the ring; it’s far less noticeable if the center is more messily arranged. If you began with 8 apples, you’ll probably find that you don’t need all the pieces. Pour any extra caramel in the skillet over the apples. Let this cool for 10 minutes, and use this time to roll out the pastry.

Roll the dough out to a rough circle about one inch larger than the pan. If you’re not ready to use it yet, chill until needed on a lightly floured plate or tray.

Top sautéed apples with the pastry round, tucking the edges in all around. Cut a vent or two in the center, and place dish or skillet on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes minutes, or until pastry is nicely browned and apples are bubbling around the edges.

Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Let cool in the pan at least 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes. Peek under the crust if you can, or tilt the pan slightly, looking for evidence that the caramel and juices have thickened slightly. To invert, top with a serving plate and grasp the pan and plate tightly together as a unit (wearing oven mitts if it is still warm;) and flip quickly. Remove the pan. If any apples stick to the pan, just replace them where they should go on the tart. Serve warm, with crème fraîche or whipped cream, if desired.

If it has cooled completely before you serve, either return to the oven (if in a pie dish) or the stove (if in a skillet) to warm up and loosen the caramel for a few minutes. Leftovers keep well in the fridge, rewarm gently before serving.