5 Holiday Baking Recipes

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There’s baking, and then there’s holiday baking. It’s one thing to busily whip up a batch of brownies for the neighborhood block party, quite another to roll up your sleeves on a lazy winter morning—dog curled up next to a garland-strewn fireplace, ornaments twinkling in the pale sunlight, and no obligations in sight. See yourself there, a steaming cup of coffee in your hands, a dream of flaky crust or crumbly cake dancing in your head. The only thing left is to pick your project. And oh, friend, have we got projects.

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This slow, cozy season is the best time to learn new techniques as you craft a scrumptious snack for your pajama-clad loved ones to savor while watching It’s A Wonderful Life or grappling with a Game of Thrones jigsaw puzzle. It’s kitchen work on your terms—creations made solely for the joy of making something, then sharing it with your nearest and dearest. Below, you’ll find some of the baking recipes that have most delighted our community of cooks—and we’re sharing the gorgeous results they’ve shared with us. That’s right, the small images you’ll find throughout this post are the work of ChefSteps users. Inspired? Great! Let’s get started.

Olive Oil Cake

olive oil cake

We sometimes slice this chiffon cake riff into cubes for various deconstructed desserts, but it’s equally delicious served by the slice with a cup of tea or some festive bubbly. As you can see, ChefSteps users have found plenty of ways to showcase a straightforward cake that’s bound to become a favorite in your family.

Canelés

Caneles

Pastry enthusiasts who evangelize canelés will tell you that the real things are only available in some fairy tale town tucked away in Bordeaux—where canelés originate—to which you most certainly cannot travel. Ignore those enthusiasts. With this recipe and the proper copper molds, you can make canelés in your own kitchen, in less than an hour, that are worthy of selling at any patisserie in France. Nestle into your breakfast nook with a cup of espresso and a handful of canelés, and create your own little slice of Bordeaux. Don’t believe us? Just look at the image above to see what our community of cooks have created.

Macarons

macaroon

This is the only recipe on this list that comes at a price—our macaron technique is part of a comprehensive class—but you can get it half off until January 9th, 2015, and you will not find a better way to master this most festive of French cookies.

Kouign-Amann

Kouign-Amann

When you learn to make Kouign-amann (say: QUEEN-ah-mahn), you’re really learning to make croissant dough—also known as laminated dough. No way around it, this technique takes time and effort, and can be a bit of a bear to master. But once you do, you’ll reap the rewards usually reserved for artisans at top-shelf pastry shops. So settle in—you’re gonna make this Brittany-born treat your baking-project bitch.

Banana Bread

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You’ve already got a delicious banana bread recipe, we know. But this one goes beyond delicious to seriously blow some minds. The secret? Caramelized bananas along with freeze-dried ones. Serve it with Honey Butter for an unforgettable holiday treat you’ll return to every year. As you can see, however, Banana Bread doesn’t have quite as many photos as the previous recipes do. We strongly encourage you to remedy that by posting your results in the comments section of that recipe. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Want to find more great cooking projects for the holidays? Head on over to ChefSteps and join our community of cooks today!

ChefSteps community members who shared photos used in this post include: e. oliva, Michael Fiske, Douglas Hallett (Olive Oil Cake); Isabel Cabrita, David, Luciana, Martin, Rory (Canelés); Darragh O’Flaherty, Josh Deri, Jeff, Harry, Jyoti, Luiz Quintanilha (Macarons); Zach, Summer, Joshua Wanger, Matt, Ombibulous (Kouign-amann).

From Big-Tech to Startup By Way of the Kitchen

Developers often get pigeonholed, not just into technologies but into the types of companies they work for. If you start out working on financial back-ends for banks or join Microsoft fresh out of college, it is all too easy look up from your cubicle a decade later and realize that you haven’t seen the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in several radically interesting and different environments, from special effects studios, to traditional software companies, to professional kitchens. At each stop I’ve learned how to be a better engineer, how to contribute to different types of teams, and, maybe most importantly, about myself. My hope is that by describing my own trajectory and experiences, I can help you figure out whether you should consider giving up your comfortable career at a big company for something as mad as a startup.

I started programming back in the 1970s at the age of 12. My dad brought home a model-33 teletype that was connected to the Louisville Board of Education’s Honeywell mainframe, where I could write code in BASIC. Yeah, it was a freaking printer, with a 110-baud modem, and a paper-tape reader. And I was in love. Since the statute of limitations has long since expired, I don’t mind telling you it wasn’t long before I was hacking into computers all over the country — for the pure love of the puzzle. Next came DecSystem-10 assembly programming, and over the next few years I would hang out at Radio Shack stores and the University of Louisville Apple labs — anything to get my hands on computer time. By the time I was 16, my friend Dave and I had a contract to develop accounting software (with a surprisingly sweet user interface) that ended up being used for decades.

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When I went off to Brown, I hoped that the years of coding under my belt would give me a leg up in the Computer Science department, and it did. I joined Andy Van Dam’s computer graphics group as a freshman, and through that, plus a short stint at UC Berkeley, I made friends that led to 20 years of awesome jobs. If I could tell a young developer one thing, it is that pouring your heart into your work and building great relationships in your career will always open doors for you. I don’t mean that you need to be calculating in how you make friends, simply that if you devote yourself to be a first-rate programmer and a reliable teammate, your friends will want to work with you again wherever they land.

My first stop after college was Industrial Light & Magic. I showed up for the interview in a suit, but they hired me anyhow. My friend Eric was the first full-time programmer there and I was the second; prior to that, they had technical directors writing code, which was a scary thing indeed. On my first day at ILM, I got to be on set when the practical effects team blew up the giant warehouse model for Backdraft. During my stay, I worked on Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, and loved collaborating with artists and directors. It was high pressure fun: “We need a way to make the T-1000 morph up out of the floor, but if you can’t figure it out by tomorrow morning, I guess we’ll just animate it by hand”.

Moving on from ILM to Silicon Graphics was a big decision, but in spite of the excitement of the movie business, I was tired of 80-hour workweeks and ready to move on. SGI machines were the workhorses of computer graphics in those days, and once again, I had close friends working there. I joined a team building a set-top box with a ridiculous 3D interface. I had just moved to Milwaukee so I was doing an early experiment in telecommuting and thought it was pretty glamorous to be in my mid 20’s and taking fancy business trips all the time — including the first of several trips to Tokyo because our initial deployment was with NTT. When the set-top box went down in flames, I joined the VRML/CosmoWorlds team that made an early, valiant, and hopeless attempt to bring a 3D graphics standard to the web.

It turns out I had joined SGI when both the stock price and hubris were at an all time high. When competitors like NVidia started making graphics boards that were an order of magnitude cheaper, we thought they were toys. While SGI was busy sponsoring Hollywood premiers and its executives were holding company meetings with increasingly dubious levels of fanfare, those competitors ate our lunch and hired away most of the best engineers. I don’t regret my years there at all, but I learned a few important lessons: (1) having the best technology doesn’t mean you will win — and your technology probably isn’t as far ahead as you think it is (2) if what the execs are saying sounds like BS, it probably is and (3) don’t be the one left behind to turn the lights out.

Adobe was an entirely different situation. I spent 12 years there as one of the lead engineers (and, briefly, engineering manager) on the After Effects team. After Effects started out as its own small company (CoSA), founded by a group of engineers that I knew from Brown, and then it was acquired by Aldus and in turn snapped up by Adobe. In fact, funny story, when they first started building After Effects and I was at ILM, the team came by to show it to me and my first reaction was “this will never work.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. It grew into a professional tool that hundreds of thousands of people around the world love and use to make their living.

My time at Adobe reflected pretty much everything that could be great about working for a big company. I doubt that 1% of engineers have a situation that good. Especially in the early years, we had the best of both worlds. The After Effects team was pretty much autonomous. We knew our customers and built what they needed. We had ownership of our product and control of our destiny. We were a tightly knit bunch that spent lots of time with each other (and later, each other’s families) outside of work. My teammates were brilliant, and we knew each other so well that I think we could communicate whole designs with the raise of an eyebrow. At the same time, the larger company added tons of value. We had job security and stability, great benefits, and work-life balance. And because Adobe makes Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere, we got to build best-of-breed integration with those products, using the same core libraries they were built on.

And yet….

There were still things that gnawed at me. Big companies can’t help it. There are boring corporate meetings, and increasingly irritating product requirements that come down from on high. Executive whims and people scrambling to figure out which way the wind is blowing and align with it. Corporate buildings are still corporate buildings even when they have really well-stocked candy jars. HR processes so tedious you can actually feel your hair turning gray. Reorgs that left you needing a frequently revised cheat sheet to remember the path from you to the CEO.

When you are building desktop, shrink-wrap software, builds and QA and deployment is generally a pretty painful process. We got used to shipping every year or 18 months; even with agile processes there would still be months of excruciating bug fixing at the end of each cycle. And worse, build times could often be 10 or 20 minutes. It is pretty hard to get in the flow as a programmer when you are interrupted for that long on a regular basis.

And then there is innovation. Adding a cool new feature to After Effects? No problem at all, I could make that call myself, or over lunch with the team. But starting a new product? You’d better have some serious fortitude because you’ll need to go through N levels of executive review, and you’ll need to prove that it could generate tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Because anything less than that isn’t going to move the needle. Worse, you’ll need to keep proving the same thing every quarter, because incubating a team and a product takes a long time and corporate memory is short. All big companies talk a great game about innovation, but it mostly goes against their inherently conservative DNA.

Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with Adobe. The same is true at Amazon or Apple or Microsoft or Google (or Boeing or Ford or Bank of America). But there came a point when I knew it was no longer the best fit for me.

I had always had a great love for the creativity and physicality and human connection of cooking, but it never seemed like the right time to take the professional leap from the keyboard to the kitchen. So in 2007 I started a blog as an outlet for that passion. While I was still at Adobe, I took time off to stage at a few restaurants, and the blog led to an opportunity to write a cookbook, which became a finalist for a James Beard award.

When the book was published, I took that as an impetus to leave Adobe, do a book tour, and begin planning my own restaurant. I was excited (and, obviously, terrified) by the unknown in front of me. And still, leaving was painful, primarily because I knew I would no longer see some of my closest friends on a daily basis.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to that hypothetical restaurant.

It was November 2012, and I was in hot pursuit of the perfect space to set up my $35-per-plate, lunch-only modern vegetarian concept. Sure, the numbers weren’t exactly penciling out but I was determined to make it work. In my morning spin through the web, I saw a note about a startup called ChefSteps that was going to teach the world about cooking sous vide, with alumni of the Modernist Cuisine team as founders. I had read Modernist Cuisine cover-to-cover and was fond of filling my kitchen with the comforting smells of locust bean gum and sodium hexametaphosphate, so naturally I reached out. My first pitch was “Hey, I’m a food blogger, want me to come write a piece about you?” Answer, in translation, “Meh.” My second pitch was “Oh, by the way, I also write code.” Answer, “Can you be here tomorrow at 10?” No translation needed.

The courtship was short and intense. The first week I was hanging out, I built a feature that their contract development house had claimed was more or less impossible. The next week we fired the contract developers and I signed on as CTO.

This was a pretty big gamble on everyone’s part. My knowledge of web programming was indistinguishable from zero. I spent a few days with the contract devs before we let them go, and they would say things like “to configure SSO we need to add a route and a controller method and then disable CSRF and return the right headers, but I think there is a gem for that.” It sounded to me like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons: “Wahhh wah. Wah wahh dumbledore wahh wah.”

Still, programming is programming. Well-factored code is well-factored code. A function call is a function call, whether it executes locally or hits a web API. Any solid developer could make the switch. It took a few months before I felt mostly up to speed, but I’ve come to love modern web programming. For one thing, there are no build times. You can generally see the results of your work as fast as you can reload a web page. Since I’m incredibly impatient, that is only slightly too slow for me. Automated testing is much easier to achieve than it ever was in C++ land. And because web development is so closely associated with open source, there is a worldwide community solving problems together. I was so accustomed to needing a mental map of a proprietary million-line code base and spending hours in a debugger; it is an amazing feeling to jump on StackOverflow and be able to find a solution in minutes.

There is a part of me that feels a twinge of loss when I picture my restaurant; it is a romantic vision, expressing that creativity daily and feeding a small group of passionate customers. But, I know all too well the reality of restaurants. Ninety percent perspiration is a lowball figure. I traded that in for a situation where I can work with some of the best, most knowledgeable chefs in the world.

At ChefSteps we believe in working with “T-shaped” people. For me, the depth of the T is coding and working with a software team, and the breadth is food and writing and experience growing my own website and book. Although I usually don’t do much more than kibbitz on the actual food here, or try an occasional goofy experiment (iceberg lettuce cocktail, anyone?), my culinary experience is a huge advantage in building applications that work for both the team here and for our users.

Beyond the mechanics of code, working at a startup brings a whole different set of joys and challenges than I ever experienced in the corporate world. The entire risk/reward equation is completely different. At a big company, you mostly work on low risk, incremental improvements to grow or maintain your market and keep your customers happy. At a startup, if you aren’t betting the company, you probably aren’t taking enough risk. Because what you’ve built so far simply isn’t valuable enough to be worth protecting. It requires a very different mindset. In the early days that can cause a scary degree of pivoting, but over time you begin to converge and develop momentum as a team towards big, hairy, valuable goals.

You quickly realize that every decision you make has tremendous impact. There is no room for red tape, no room for laying back and saying “not my problem.” You are all in this together. You get mad at each other. You make up. You push each other, and find strengths you didn’t know you had. You have each other’s backs. And sometimes you all stop what you are doing and move all the furniture, because there isn’t a facilities department to call.

Working at a startup in Seattle has put me in touch with startup culture in general though, and I’ve realized it isn’t homogenous. There is a Silicon Valley-style startup culture (not limited to California) that is almost entirely focused on the “quick kill” mentality. They want to figure out something that no one else has done, market it virally, and make a quick exit. That mindset lends itself to using people. I’ve seen companies that have hired 50 programmers almost as if they hope that one of them will accidentally type Shakespeare, rather than trying to nucleate a team of a few very high-functioning engineers. The hope is those 50 engineers will get them through to the next round of VC and they can lay off the bad ones. This kind of startup isn’t built around any kind of core love for a particular product, just the thrill of money and/or power. I can’t imagine anything more boring.

At ChefSteps, we are trying to do something very different. You can see it in where we come from. Just as I came from After Effects, which has been building value since 1993, our founders, Chris and Grant, last worked on Modernist Cuisine where a team of 30+ people spent five years writing one cookbook. And you can see it in how we are funded. Gabe Newell didn’t build Valve to be a one-hit wonder, and he didn’t bet on our team to make a quick profit. ChefSteps isn’t just a business plan or a loose dream of failing fast and iterating our way to an acqui-hire; it is a philosophical experiment in allowing a group of smart, motivated people to self-organize and solve giant problems. We aren’t just a group of programmers, we are a team of cooks, writers, videographers, musicians, business people, designers, scientists, mathematicians, mechanical and electrical engineers, and maybe a stray aerodynamicist, all focused on helping every cook to cook smarter. This isn’t going to be achieved in one year or with one product, but what truly worthwhile goal is?

Check Out Our New Collection of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives at ChefSteps

When it comes to creating amazing experiences in the kitchen, there’s perhaps nothing more important than a great knife. And yet, so many people feel frustrated with their slicing and dicing tools, even after throwing down major cash for a block of blades that come in every shape, size, and purported purpose. Trouble is, these knife collections so often include tools that are uncomfortable, ineffective, and impractical. What’s the point of having 15 knives if you only use two of them?

Ryusen Sujihiki knife at ChefSteps

In our experience, it’s far better to invest in a few favorite knives—those multipurpose workhorses that fit perfectly in our hands and help us create cleanly sliced meats and lovely, even dices. We’ve tried knives from all over the world, and our favorites always seem to hail from Japan, where blade-making is a centuries old, highly respected tradition. These days, European makers have pretty much abandoned hand-forging traditions, but in Japan these traditions live on. Some makers are still hand-making the whole tool, while other innovators have combined hand-forged blades with factory-crafted handles, resulting in a less-expensive piece of equipment that still yields stellar results. (And looks dang sexy, too.)

Japanese Gyuto knives at ChefSteps

One of the best sources for Japanese knives we know is a small shop in Kirkland, Washington—not far from ChefSteps HQ—called The Epicurean Edge. Founded by Daniel O’Malley, a bladesmith himself, the store stocks a smart selection of sharp-ass blades at a variety of prices. We’ve worked closely with O’Malley to curate a selection of our own favorite knives available through his company, and recently updated this selection to offer a range of prices. Depending on your needs, you can opt for a practically priced utility knife, a show-stopping stainless steel chef’s knife, or a lovely santoku for perfectly sliced veggies—check out the descriptions for details about each style. Got questions? Feel free to ask away in the comments section or post on the ChefSteps forum.
Join ChefSteps now for access to recipes—including everything from a simple-yet-spectacular chocolate soufflé, to the world’s best romesco, and a savory ice cream salad with microgreens—that will help you become the badass cook you always knew you could be.

The ChefSteps 2014 Gift Guide

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Finding great gifts for the culinary enthusiasts in your life can be daunting. What, for instance, do you buy the modernist gadget-hound who seems to own every kitchen tool imaginable? The culinary school hopeful looking to refine her skills? Or your bachelor brother who’s all about his Paleo diet?

If you watch ChefSteps videos, you’ve seen our development kitchen in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. This window-lined culinary lab is stocked with great stuff that our chefs have discovered over years working in the best restaurant kitchens around the world. Here, we’re sharing the tools and accessories that help us create signature recipes like our Molten Chocolate Soufflé and Sous Vide Pastrami. This curated collection is designed to offer something for a range of cooks—from newbies to pros, old-school to majorly modern. Read on to discover a gift to delight your favorite kitchen tinkerers, then hit up the site for all sorts of one-of-a-kind recipes you can share with them. Happy holidays—let’s start shopping.

FUN NEW GADGETS

A Whipping Siphon (plus accessories) and Companion Class

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You know those fancy whipped cream canisters you see at good coffee shops? Well, those so-called siphons—we recommend the Isi Gourmet Whip—can do all sorts of stuff beyond just creating a fluffy topping for your caffè mocha. You can garnish dishes with colorful foams; serve fizzy cocktails at your next dinner party; make your own bitters, liqueurs, sodas, or cold-brew coffee; and much more. If you have a cocktailian or mad experimenter on your list, help her advance her skills with this truly unique gift.

An Immersion Circulator and Helpful Sous Vide Classes

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Sous vide is a cooking technique in which food is cooked slowly and gently in a water bath. In restaurants, chefs use it all the time to create tender meats and vegetables and yield predictable results conveniently. Now it’s the home cooks’ turn. In recent months, a crop of new affordable machines known as immersion circulators have appeared on the market. Among the options, one of our favorites is the Anova Precision Cooker, which retails for $179. They’re selling faster than the company can make them—if your giftees have to wait, send them to our Cooking Sous Vide: Getting Started class, which is free and will teach them how to use an improvised method until their machines are ready. Once their circulators arrive, they can learn the theory and techniques that chefs use to take their cooking to a whole new level with Sous Vide: Beyond the Basics.

BOMB BLADES AND ACCESSORIES

A Durable, Inexpensive, Japanese Mandoline

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We use mandolines all the time to get thin, evenly sliced vegetables. And while it’s possible to spend a lot of money on an expensive model that requires a lot of careful cleaning, we keep returning to the plastic Benriner model from Japan. It’s built for the long haul and easy to use. And for just over 20 bucks, the price is hard to beat. Know a cook who is always struggling to get skinny veg slices with his knife? Stuff it in his stocking (along with a copy of this Red Onion Jam recipe).

A Hand-Forged Japanese Knife and Sharpening Stone Kit

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The recent death of legendary, third-generation knifemaker Mr. Tsuneo Yoshida signals the end of an era, and makes his gorgeous stainless steel chef’s knives all the more rare and special—once they’re sold, no more can be made. This is a gift of extraordinary significance that is also a remarkably useful and beautiful kitchen tool. Throw in the sharpening stone kit to help your loved one keep that knife sharp for a lifetime.

A Great Cutting Board
Cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes, materials and prices. We’ve found none we love more than the inexpensive, well-made workhorses from John Boos.

THE BEST BOOKS

Awesome Eye Candy

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Alexandre Gauthier is chef at La Grenouillére, a seasonally driven restaurant housed in a 16th century French farmhouse. His new book is game-changing and gorgeous, with dazzling cutaway shots and wilderness pics, plus tons of ideas for anyone who appreciates an artistic flair in the kitchen.

For Foundational Recipes

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The long-awaited book from Parisian chef Pascal Barbot, Astrance—which came out in 2012 but still feels exciting and fresh—is a collection of narrative recipes that take the reader inside the kitchen at three-Michelin-star L’Astrance. It’s a gorgeous and inspiring publication that includes a separate booklet of step-by-step recipe instructions that allow home cooks to create incredible dishes in their own kitchens. A must-have for aspiring culinarians of all levels.

A Technical Tome
Many technical cooking books cost hundreds of dollars and prove unsuitable when it comes to extracting practical takeaways, thanks to inscrutable infographics and a superfluence of scientific jargon. Enter The Kitchen As Laboratory, edited by César Vega, Job Ubbink, and Erik van van der Linden. With techniques and recipes that range from grilled cheeses to jellified beads, this essential volume is both educational and inspirational.

SUPERIOR STOCKING STUFFERS

A Pro-Style Apron

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When the ChefSteps YouTube commenters aren’t remarking on the sexiness of our chef team, they’re often asking what aprons they wear. Use the holiday as a chance to help your favorite cook stock up on some pro apparel.

A Coffee Subscription

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A great companion gift to a new espresso or other coffee machine: a coffee subscription from our favorite roaster, Herkimer. Also, now tell your caffeinated loved one to check out our free Espresso class to learn the ins and outs of extraction.

A Digital Scale

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When we cook, we weigh everything. It’s not only more accurate than measuring by volume, it’s just easier. A digital scale is a great gift for helping your favorite cook yield better results every time. The one we use is a little pricey, but is very precise and durable—a great gift for a seasoned cook who will make frequent use of such a tool. Beginners might opt for a cheaper model to get started—they’re available at every price point.

A Thermocouple Probe and Two-Channel Reader

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When you give the gift of a thermocouple technology, you’re significantly helping to reduce stress in the kitchen—not to mention the wasted food that comes from overcooking. Perfect food, every time: if there’s a better holiday offering than that, we want to hear about it.

Just Desserts: Five Sweet Recipes for the Holiday Season

 

Five Sweet Recipes For The Holiday Season

Classic
Want to be a holiday hero? Bring our Pecan Pie to the party. We’re talking ooey-gooey nutty filling; rich, bourbon and vanilla notes; tender, flaky crust—this thing brings new meaning to the term crowd pleaser.

Chefsteps_pecan_pieFive Sweet Recipes For The Holiday SeasonGooey, with notes of bourbon and vanilla, this pecan pie is bound to go over well.

Easy  
If you want to serve dessert but already feel maxed out with appetizers and mains, consider serving wine-poached pears. They’re an elegant solution that leaves your guests feeling sated without adding a lot of labor.

red_wine_pear_Five Sweet Recipes For The Holiday SeasonRed Wine Roached Pears are simple, but still worthy of a special occasion.

Novel
In search of something surprising this year? We guarantee your guests are not expecting you to serve a fruity take on Italian minestrone soup. Like that versatile vegetable potage, our sweet spin can be adapted to seasonal or locally available produce. And dang, is it pretty.

fruit Minestrone Five Sweet Recipes For The Holiday Season Fruit minestrone? Yup, it’s a thing now.

Nostalgic
Don’t be intimidated by deconstructed desserts—just work through each step carefully and you’ll wind up with a beautiful presentation that always exceeds expectations. This take on the classic orange creamsicle will trigger sweet summertime memories while simultaneously showing off your plating prowess.

Orange Creamsile_Five Sweet Recipes For The Holiday Season This modern take on a kid favorite makes for a cheerful holiday dessert.

Festive
For something more classic, but equally impressive, serve our foolproof Molten Chocolate Soufflé—as is, or filled with decadent Crème Anglaise.

souffle Five Sweet Recipes For The Holiday SeasonMolten Chocolate Soufflé never fails to wow at a holiday feast.

For more great recipes, plus access to our lively forum of curious and engaging cooks, join the ChefSteps community today.

“Wall of Fire” Is on the Way! (Film Trailer)

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We have a tradition here at ChefSteps. Every summer, we challenge ourselves to create an outlandish exploit involving enormous amounts of meat and even more heat. Then, we invite a bunch of friends to a barbecue starring the flaming invention, plus a bountiful spread of food cooked using recipes from our development kitchen. Past exploit examples include the Gaggle Roaster and the World’s Largest Sous Vide Pastrami.

The point: to solve a common cooking problem, only on an insane scale. Oh, and to have the sort of fun that’s only possible when power tools and open flames are involved. We’re always looking to challenge ourselves to do something better than the year before, but at the end of the day, we still need to build a contraption that allows us to cook great food. (Remember all those people we invited over? They’ll be expecting dinner.) Basically, it’s about thinking ambitiously, solving problems through science, eating extremely well, and having a ton of fun. Kind of like the soul of ChefSteps, encapsulated in one very smoky annual event.

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When we came up with this year’s apparatus, dubbed the “Wall of Fire” for reasons that are about to become apparent, we figured why not use the project to tell a story about our fledgling company? To help us, we brought aboard award-winning film and television director Sandy Smolan. Smolan worked with our team of in-house filmmakers, musicians, and writers to make a documentary short, Wall of Fire, that we will be releasing on Thursday, October nine. A true labor of love, the film showcases the passion for cooking and technology—not to mention general over-the-top ridiculousness—that ChefSteps embodies.

Below you’ll find the Wall of Fire trailer. Have a look, then let us know what you think in the comments, and get ready for the release of the full documentary on the ninth. We can’t wait to share it.

To stay up with the latest on this and other projects, be sure to sign up as a member on ChefSteps.com.

What Cookbooks Inspire You?

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In our recent Design a Dish project, we included a list with some of our favorite books for plating inspiration. Whether we are dreaming up new textural combinations, studying a certain style of plating, or just need to look at something beautiful to get our imaginations flowing, these books always deliver with original flavor pairings and artful photography.

Of course, there are many more books in our library that inspire us for different reasons. And we also keep a lot of perhaps-less-pretty—but equally, if not more, useful—reference guides around for when we want to develop our own Melty Cheese Slices or Chewy Candy.

But now, we want to hear from you. What books inspire you most in the kitchen? What are your favorites for recipes, plating, or just pretty pictures? Leave your mini-list in the comments. We welcome your expert suggestions, and if your picks aren’t already in our library, they’ll definitely go on our shopping list.

Join the ChefSteps community to find out what ambitious cooks like you are cooking, reading, and thinking about. Plus, get the first word on all our new recipes, techniques, and events.

5 Common Misconceptions About Sous Vide Cooking

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In the past few years, sous vide cooking—already ubiquitous in fine-dining restaurants—has gained a foothold in home kitchens as well. That’s thanks to newly affordable equipment and cameos on TV shows like The Simpsons and Adventure Time, along with the publication of groundbreaking books such as Modernist Cuisine and Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure.

But despite the technique’s rocketing popularity, it’s still plagued by many-a-misconception. Below, we debunk five common myths surrounding sous vide. Still have questions? Please share them in the comments.

1. “Sous vide” means “under vacuum,” and that means I need to pony up for an expensive, space-hogging chamber-style vacuum sealer if I want to try it.

Yes, “sous vide” is French for “under vacuum.” And yes, it’s a very confusing name. Because in fact, you don’t need a pricey vacuum sealer—or even an inexpensive countertop one—to successfully cook food at a low temperature in a water bath. To get started with sous vide, regular-old ziplock-style bags will do just fine. In fact, in some applications they are preferable to vacuum-sealed bags. Use the simple water displacement method (instructions in sidebar here) to remove the air from the bags, then get cooking.

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2. Okay, but I still need to buy pricey sous vide equipment.

It’s true that cooks who regularly cook sous vide often opt to invest in an immersion circulator or SousVide Supreme bath. In the last few years, however, a number of affordable models have emerged for home use. (Popular Science has published a helpful roundup of those). And if you’re just looking to test the method out, you can improvise a sous vide setup with nothing more than a pot, a stove, a digital thermometer, and some plastic bags. Allow us to show you how.

improvised-sous-vide-chefsteps

3. I don’t need a circulator to get started, got it—that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not safe to cook food in plastic bags.

According to the latest research, the safest plastics for use with food are high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, and polypropylene. Virtually all sous vide bags are made from these plastics (the inner layer of nearly all sous vide bags is polyethylene). And most name-brand food storage bags and plastic wraps such as Ziploc and Saran Wrap are also made from safe plastics like polyethylene.

Now, other plastics that may be in your kitchen, such as inexpensive, bulk plastic wraps (still commonly made from polyvinyl chloride or polyvinylidene chloride), can contain harmful plasticizers that have been shown to leach into fatty foods such as cheese and meat. Legitimate concerns exist about food exposed to these plastics at higher temperatures—when you microwave food wrapped in plastic, for instance. Spend a little extra on one of the brand-name options, and you will be good to go.

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4. But why do I need a whole new cooking technique just to get tender steak, fish, and chicken?

People unfamiliar with sous vide often think it’s only useful for preparing proteins. While all three of those foods taste great cooked sous vide, there are so many more delicious options. Our gallery of sous vide recipes should provide you with plenty of further inspiration.

Carrots and Perfect Yolk-ChefSteps

5. Alright, ChefSteps. I’m convinced this could be a good way to go when I have plenty of time on my hands, but for day-to-day use, my trusty old oven is way more efficient.

We often reach for the circulator when it’s time to give tough cuts the slow-and-low treatment, but we also prepare sous vide mashed potatoes in 45 minutes flat, and fish, steak, and chicken usually cook in under an hour. And remember, instead of staring hopelessly into your oven window, hoping that chicken breast hasn’t turned to stringy shoe leather, you can allow food to cook largely unattended, safe in the knowledge that results will be predictable every time—and freeing you to focus on other things. Like, say, what you’re going to whip up next.

Mashed-potatoes-ChefSteps
Join the ChefSteps community to get free access to the best resources for sous-vide cooking on the web, share recipes and tips with other enthusiastic cooks, and get the first word on new recipes and techniques.

10 Foods You Didn’t Know You Could Cook Sous Vide

Flourless Carrot Cake ChefSteps

Thinking about investing in sous vide equipment for your kitchen? Here at ChefSteps, we’re unabashed fans—we love the way sous vide requires little micromanagement, and predictably cooks all sorts of food. Sous vide recipes you find online tend to focus on steak and fish—two excellent options—but when it comes to cooking in a water bath, proteins are just the beginning. Read on for 10 of our favorite unexpected uses for sous vide. Got faves of your own? Go ahead and share them in the comments

1. Custards

Yup, you can prepare crème brûlée and other custardy desserts sous vide. We use it to create the carrot custard for our Flourless Carrot Cake—a sous vide recipe that’s gluten-free and about as modernist as they come.

Get the recipe: Flourless Carrot Cake

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2. Purées

We like making purées well in advance—cooking them in a circulator is often the simplest way to do so. When it comes time to reheat them, it’s much easier to warm them in a sous vide bath than on the stovetop, where uneven heating sometimes means the purée near the heat is getting scorched while the portion near the surface is barely warm.

Get the recipe: Celery Root Purée

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3. Burgers

Think we’re crazy for publishing a sous vide burger recipe? Don’t knock it ’til you’ve served a bunch of perfect patties to a large group, no grill-manning required.

Get the recipe: Beef Burger Patties

Sous-vide-burgers-ChefSteps

4. Flavored oils 

Got a recipe that calls for a flavored oil, but don’t want to pony up the cash for something you’ll probably only use once or twice? Make it at home instead. We cook flavored oil for three hours in a sous vide bath—yes, that’s far longer than most stovetop infusions call for, but the precise low temperature results in a flavorful oil that will keep for months.

Get the recipe: Thyme Oil

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5. Cheese curds

Super-geeky, yet also super-great: using a SousVide Supreme to make your own squeaky cheese curds. You’ll need some funny ingredients, but how cool is it to be crafting curds like a pro in your own kitchen? And teachers, this would make an awesome classroom activity.

Get the recipe: Squeaky Cheese Curds

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6. French fries

For these crispy-soft fries, we use a triple-cooking process made famous by British chef Heston Blumenthal. Once you recreate them at home, you’ll see why the method has set a new standard by which the world’s greatest French fries are judged.

Get the recipe: Thin-Cut French Fries

Thin-cut-French-fries-ChefSteps

7. Mashed potatoes

Think cooking sous vide means waiting a long time for your food? Well, er, often it does. But here’s an exception—you can make these rich, creamy mashed potatoes (or pomme purée, as chefs and French people call them) in 45 minutes flat.

Get the recipe: Pomme Purée

Mashed-potatoes-ChefSteps

8. Oysters

Weird but true: You can use sous vide to help you shuck oysters! Blanching oysters in a water bath at 140 °F / 60 °C for just a few minutes makes them easy to open. Time it right, and the oyster won’t cook but will wind up with a gorgeous plump appearance and an appealing firm texture that heightens their freshness. And because this technique makes it easy to pop the oyster open, you’re less likely to end up with shell debris floating in the salty brine surrounding the oyster.

Get the technique: Firming oysters

firming-oysters-ChefSteps

9. Stock

Using sous vide equipment to make stocks gives us the ultimate temperature control—for the richest, flavor-forward broth, we like to cook ours for a full day when time allows.

Get the recipe: Beef Stock

Beef-Stock-ChefSteps

10. Eggnog

Yup, not even this most traditional of holiday libations is safe from our relentless need to sous vide everything. But seriously, that time of year has enough stresses—instead of slaving over your egg-and-booze beverage, drop it in the bath and occupy yourself with the million other tasks at hand.

Get the recipe: Eggnog

Eggnog-ChefSteps
Join the ChefSteps community to get access to more than 100 sous vide recipes, talk sous vide with other enthusiasts on our lively forum, and get the first word on exciting new recipes, videos, and techniques. 

A Quick Announcement About Content

Camp the ChefSteps dog takes a nap.

Camp takes a quick break from a long research session.

Hello there, ChefSteps community. As you’ve likely noticed, our hard-working team of cooks, designers, writers, photographers, and musicians has settled into a pattern of delivering new content every Tuesday. This weekly schedule has allowed us to populate the site with tons of new content that, on the whole, you’ve responded to with great enthusiasm—which we appreciate greatly. We’ve been pushing hard to provide you with plenty of kitchen inspiration—from tips and tricks on how to level up your sous vide game, to a grow-your-own microgreens project and the launch of the ChefSteps Egg Calculator.

Recently, we began developing some ambitious new releases that we believe are shaping up to be among the best stuff we’ve produced yet. In the next few weeks you’ll get a thorough, behind-the-scenes account of how chefs design and plate their own dishes. Then, with the help of some of the best baristas and roasters in the biz, we’ll dig deep into the science of espresso—teaching you to pull perfect shots and make sexy latte art, among other things. After that, prepare for an epic launch of new sous vide content, featuring exclusive, essential information you won’t find anywhere else, period. Whether you’re just getting curious about this revolutionary cooking method or are looking to improve your already considerable skills, you’ll discover plenty there to enrich your sous vide experience.

But here’s the thing: Ensuring this content is the best it can be is going to require massive amounts of research, plus more photo and film shoots, writing, original graphics, and input and innovation from our kitchen than we’ve ever brought you before. Plus, we want to get better at supporting content once it has been published. So while you can continue to expect lots of new stuff from us, we will no longer be adhering to a strict weekly schedule. Stay tuned for more information, and don’t forget to explore the hundreds of recipes, techniques, and articles that currently populate the site. Get ready for some great stuff coming soon. We can’t wait to share it with you.