I'm always up for a challenge when it comes to cooking a dish with many, many steps. But, sometimes my confidence gets the best of me and I end up miserably failing at cooking whatever it is I decided to make.
For years, I had my eye on this layered Bon Appetit magazine cover recipe, Devil's Food cake with a beautiful white fluffy peppermint frosting, silky dark chocolate ganache and smooth white chocolate cream. My mother collects magazines, so during Thanksgiving and Christmas I frequently read through them searching for the perfect recipe to make. A couple Christmases ago, I decided to try this one. As I attempted to assemble the dessert, everything went wrong. My ganache was too runny, the frosting was not thick enough and my cakes were too delicate; I ended up supporting the leaning tower of three cake layers with chopsticks, hoping and praying it would not collapse on my kitchen counter. I should have read the recipe more before I began making it because I was way in over my head.
Despite my failed efforts at making a cover-worthy recipe, I still don't back down from challenges, I just use better resources to figure out what I am doing. So, for all of you risk-takers and over-achievers, here are the ten most difficult recipes to make at home with some references to help you not only finish the dish, but make it a tasty one, too.
10. Salt-Crusted Fish
Having a chef make salt-crusted fish for you at a restaurant is a splendid treat. Despite an entire fish being covered in salt like someone being buried in sand at the beach, the plated result is not overly salted. But, if you don't pack the salt and egg white mixture tight enough, you risk salt crystals leaking into the fish as it cooks and when you break into the shell, creating an almost unbearable flavor. Ease your stress by having your butcher clean and gut your fish, then check out this video from Fine Cooking for a demonstration on preparing the salt dome and properly covering the entire fish.
9. Baked Alaska
If you thought making an ice cream cake was hard, try making Baked Alaska. This dessert not only requires you to form a mold of ice cream around a cake, but you must also cover it with a meringue, then bake it in the oven. After several hours of assembling and freezing, you pour a liquor over the baked meringue and ignite with a flame. Cold desserts on fire are pretty sweet.
Not only are macarons challenging to perfectly execute, but if you make them in a city with so much humidity, like Houston, you're going to have a much more difficult time. Even if the weather is perfect, things can easily go awry. Every step is crucial -- from combining the egg whites with the sugar and almond flour and piping the mixture onto a cookie sheet to baking and cooling the pastries for the appropriate time. Bakers strive to create the perfect macaron and some have yet to accomplish that feat. Watch this video from Fine Cooking which demonstrates how to make the classic French dessert.
I don't know about you, but making breakfast for a family of four, or more, is a daunting task -- my mom and I always had a difficult time even working as a team. Props to every short order cook because I can never seem to find a way to put breakfast on the table at the same time or at the same temperature for each person. Pancakes never come out perfectly and they require constant tending; French toast makes a mess and you have to be careful not to cover your counter in eggs; you always burn some toast (even though it's the easiest task); and don't even try to make eggs for everyone, unless they all agree on scrambled. You're using practically every appliance in your kitchen at the same time. Just talking about it stresses me out.
6. Lemon Meringue Pie
Anything with a meringue is difficult to make, but add a lemon curd and pie crust to the mix and you're in for a strenuous and tedious task. But, luckily, you can make things much easier by purchasing prepackaged dough so all you're left with is the filling and the meringue. Try this recipe from Gourmet; the instructions and comments from those who made it are quite helpful - add more lemon juice and less water if you want the lemon curd to be more tart.
5. Anything Flambéed
Flambéing is awesome in restaurants when a professional chef lights a liqueur on fire, especially when it is table-side. But flambéing at home is not only difficult, but also quite dangerous. I flambéed a dish once. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. Sure it's easy to light a match on fire, but when that fear rattles through your body as you inch the flame closer to the pan, you're most likely not going to follow through with the flambé. Or maybe that's just me.
You've probably eaten a paella of some kind in many Houston restaurants, or you might have been lucky enough to enjoy authentic paella in Spain. But, nailing the crispy, caramelized crust on the bottom and cooking the rice so it has that excellent bite (al dente) takes some practice. Making paella is all about the technique and the tools -- you need a large round pan (a paella pan) to create that crunchy bottom rice layer and as noted in a Fine Cooking article, you must create a sofrito by sautéing a combination of ingredients, such as tomatoes, onions and garlic with spices and herbs, such as paprika and parsley. Aside from mastering the sofrito and cooking the rice perfectly, you must add in a variety of crustaceans and meat, like clams, shrimp, lobster, chorizo and chicken. It's a lot of ingredients and requires an artful technique.
3. Molten Lava Cakes
Move aside soufflés, molten lava cakes take things to a whole new level. There's a reason this dish was a pressure test challenge on MasterChef; it's one of the most difficult desserts to perfect. You won't know if you accomplish cooking the outside of the cake and maintaining the "lava" of chocolate on the inside until you take a bite. Undercook it and the entire cake falls apart; overcook it and you essentially made a cake -- whoop dee freaking doo. Practice makes perfect, but I don't recommend practicing for dinner guests. Here's an awesome Vimeo depicting each step in making this luscious dessert.
2. Boeuf Bourguignon
Just read the ingredient list for boeuf bourguignon. I bet you're still reading. It's a crazy long list with an even longer list of instructions. Trust me, when Julia Child's recipe fills three pages of her cookbook and references two extra recipes to make brown-braised small white onions and mushrooms sautéed in butter, you're going to be cooking the entire day. Be careful not to overcook the beef cuts, or all of your hard work will be wasted.
1. Eggs Benedict
Any dish with multiple components that must be properly executed creates a lot of challenges, especially when everything must be perfectly timed, like with Eggs Benedict. The easy parts are toasting the English muffin and searing the Canadian bacon or ham, but the difficult parts are poaching two eggs and making a Hollandaise sauce that doesn't break. Try this cheat from All Recipes for making the sauce by emulsifying all of the ingredients in a blender -- it's much easier like this than by hand. Then, take a look at this video for an excellent step-by-step explanation of making the entire dish.