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Ambitious Cooking Projects for the Adventurous Cook in All of Us

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Some recipes simply can't be recreated with shortcuts—instead, they get more delicious the more time, energy, or special ingredients you put into them. We've partnered with Farrow & Ball to celebrate these labor-of-love cooking projects. (You'll get it when you take a bite!)

A homemade Napolean cake against a deep-hued wall in our studio, painted with Farrow & Ball paint.
A homemade Napolean cake against a deep-hued wall in our studio, painted with Farrow & Ball paint. Photo by Rocky Luten

Holiday baking season is over. So is the Super Bowl Sunday snack fest. And Easter and Passover are woefully far away, as is spring. What’s a home cook to do at the tail end of winter? Projects. Nothing warms the home like a good ambitious cooking goal to cross of our list. Fresh tortillas for taco Tuesday? How about homemade cheese? (Mozzarella or ricotta or both—who needs to choose?)

Why only bake cookies when you can make ice cream too and poof—ice cream sandwiches? Or try your hand at a regal Napoleon—your own puff pastry will taste much better than the storebought stuff. Daunted? Don’t be. Enlist your family or your friends and make it a party. The best part, aside from bragging rights when you’re serving your homemade bacon, is eating your work. Whether you’re making apple strudel, Vietnamese pho, or sourdough starter, throw yourself into that cooking project with singular abandon. By the time you’re done, it may be spring.

The Recipes

Olea Hercules’s Napoleon

This Soviet-style cake is a true labor of love. It requires making your own puff pastry, rolling out and baking twelve thin rounds, then layering them with custard (homemade, of course). The end result is a flakey, creamy creation that you can’t get at just any corner bakery. A word of advice: Invite a few friends to help with this one (and tell them to BYO rolling pin).

Olia Hercules' Napoleon Cake

Olia Hercules' Napoleon Cake

Sarah Jampel Sarah Jampel
Go To Recipe
Serves 10 to 12

For the pastry layers:

  • 550 grams (1 pound 2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 250 grams (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled in the freezer
  • 125 milliliters (4 fluid ounces) cold water
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

For the pastry cream: (or substitute with your favorite recipe!)

  • 1 liter (1 3/4 pints) milk
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthways, seeds scraped out and pods reserved
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) superfine sugar
  • 75 grams (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 50 grams (2 ounces) butter, cubed
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Homemade Mozzarella

Remember the first time you tried fresh mozzarella, and realized the rubbery cheese from the grocery store has a soft, milky doppelgänger? Now take that sensation and multiply it by a million. That’s the feeling you’ll get when you make your own mozzarella at home. You’ll need to buy some unusual ingredients (rennet tablets and citric acid), make curds and knead your cheese. No one said it was simple. But is anything that’s worthwhile, really?

Mozzarella

Mozzarella

Kristy Mucci Kristy Mucci
Go To Recipe
Makes 1 large or 2 small mozzarella balls
  • 1/4 Rennet Enzyme Tablet
  • 1/4 Cup Cold Filtered Water (to mix with the rennet)
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon Citric Acid
  • 1 Cup Cold Filtered Water (to mix with the citric acid)
  • 1 Gallon Whole Milk (non-homogenized is best)
  • Non-Iodized Coarse Salt, to taste
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Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

Churning your own ice cream is crafty, some might even say, ambitious. But making your own ice cream sandwiches? That’s next level. This divine recipe combines from-scratch tart raspberry ice cream and buttery coconut-lemon shortbreads in one crispy, creamy frozen treat. Why bother? Because woman can’t live on Chipwiches alone.

Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

fiveandspice fiveandspice
Go To Recipe
Makes almost 2 dozen sandwiches

Raspberry ice cream

  • 3 cups strained raspberry puree (made from blending and straining about 30 oz. raspberries. Strain well! Frozen and defrosted raspberries work fine.)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon Chambord (creme de cassis works in a pinch, but you can also skip this)

Coconut lemon shortbread and sandwich assembly

  • 1 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (use good quality), soft but still slightly cooler than room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • the zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
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Homemade Manicotti

Get your crepe pans ready. This recipe for cheesy stuffed manicotti calls for making your own blintz-like pasta and fresh ricotta from scratch. The resulting casserole, with tender pasta leaves and lusciously soft cheese, is greater than the sum of its parts...which is saying a lot.

Jennie's Homemade Manicotti

Jennie's Homemade Manicotti

Jennifer Perillo Jennifer Perillo
Go To Recipe
Serves four
  • FOR THE PASTA
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, plus more as needed to thin the batter
  • canola oil, to lightly grease pan (see note)
  • FOR THE FILLING
  • 16 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (homemade recipe below)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • TO ASSEMBLE
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • CREAMY HOMEMADE RICOTTA
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
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Homemade Bacon

Now’s as good a time as any to get to know your butcher. You’ll need him (or her) to special order your pork belly, because you’re making bacon! This is project cooking at its finest—not only does it require special ingredients and days of curing (including flipping and massaging your meat), you’ll also need to smoke the thing! But if you plan ahead, it’s totally doable. Plus, you win bragging rights for life.

Homemade Bacon

Homemade Bacon

Karen Solomon Karen Solomon
Go To Recipe
Makes about 2 lbs.
  • 2 1/2-3 pounds Skinless pork belly
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Blackstrap molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher salt (plus more as needed)
  • 1 teaspoon curing salt (Insta-Cure #1)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
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Sourdough Starter

Creating a living, breathing sourdough starter is a long-term commitment, more like planting a seed and nurturing it than just baking a loaf of bread. All you need is rye flour, honey, water, and about a week or so of your time. But, as the saying goes, if you teach a woman to ferment, she can have sourdough bread (and pancakes, and waffles) for life.

Sam Fromartz' Sourdough Starter

Sam Fromartz' Sourdough Starter

Sam Fromartz Sam Fromartz
Go To Recipe
Makes 1 happy sourdough starter

Tools

  • 8- or 16-ounce plastic or ceramic container with lid
  • Spoon

Starter

  • Organic whole rye flour
  • Raw honey
  • Filtered or spring water (so bacteria-killing chlorine is removed)
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Kaya Coconut Jam

If you’ve ever been to Singapore, you know that kaya jam on buttered toast with a soft boiled egg will redefine the way you think about breakfast. True, this recipe instructs you to “stir for 10-20 minutes,” but you’ve been wanting to build up your upper body strength, right? And you get a jar of rich, coconutty spread to show for your workout. Sounds like a win-win proposition.

Homemade Kaya (Coconut Jam)

Homemade Kaya (Coconut Jam)

Ursula | Lil Vienna Ursula | Lil Vienna
Go To Recipe
Makes 1 cup (240 milliliters)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 200 milliliters (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) full-fat coconut milk
  • 30 grams (3 tablespoons) light brown palm sugar, finely chopped if crystallized*
  • 65 grams (5 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 3 fresh pandan leaves (you can find them in Asian stores; skip if you can't find them)
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • (all ingredients should be at room temperature)
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Apple Strudel

Imagine making dough from scratch. Then imagine taking said dough and stretching it...and stretching it...and stretching it some more until it covers your entire kitchen table, and is thin enough to read a newspaper through. That, my friends, is what it takes to make your own flakey strudel. (Thankfully, the apple filling is comparatively easy.)

Original Viennese Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel)

Original Viennese Apple Strudel (Apfelstrudel)

Ursula | Lil Vienna Ursula | Lil Vienna
Go To Recipe
Serves 8 to 10

For the strudel dough:

  • 1/3 cup (80 grams) lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon 1/2 teaspoon (15 grams) neutral tasting vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
  • 1 cup 2 tablespoons (145 grams) bread flour (I recommend measuring by weight since it is more accurate; you can also substitute all-purpose flour, if you like.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil for brushing the dough
  • Flour for dusting

For the filling:

  • 3 tablespoons (40 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (80 grams) fine bread crumbs (dry)
  • 5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons (50 grams) raisins
  • 3 tablespoons rum or lukewarm water for soaking the raisins
  • 2 pounds (900 grams) sweet-tart apples (e.g. MacIntosh, Braeburn)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing the dough (divided)
  • Confectioner’s sugar for dusting and whipped cream for serving (optional)
  • In addition: tablecloth
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Tortillas

You don’t have to be someone’s abuela to make excellent corn tortillas at home (though it doesn’t hurt). This recipe, brought to you by masa harina, water, salt, and a whole lot of flattening and rolling, will up your taco game like no other. A bonus recipe for oven-baked chips means just one thing: world’s greatest nachos.

Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips

Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips

Ashley McLaughlin Ashley McLaughlin
Go To Recipe
Makes 64 chips

For the corn tortillas

  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 1/4 cups hot water, up to 2 cups if needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the corn tortilla chips

  • 16 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons safflower, sunflower, or grapeseed oil (high-heat)
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, or more, to taste
  • 2 limes, juiced
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Viet Hapa Pho

Beef bones. Oxtail. Lots of aromatics. And time. Because there’s no cutting corners when it comes to cooking that rich, fragrant broth that makes Vietnamese pho the queen of comforting noodle soups.

Viet Hapa Pho

Viet Hapa Pho

Furey and the Feast Furey and the Feast
Go To Recipe
Serves 6

For the soup

  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved
  • 1 4-inch piece of ginger, quartered
  • 6 pounds beef bones
  • 1 pound oxtail
  • 5 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 3 pieces star anise
  • 6 cloves, whole
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 packet rice sticks (pho noodles)
  • 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, thinly sliced

Garnishes

  • Bean sprouts
  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Thai basil
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When it comes to certain recipes, the labor of love is part of the fun, and makes the end result that much better. Our partner Farrow & Ball—our go-to paint for our office and beyond—completely understands. That's the same way the celebrated British company thinks about making its luxe, high-pigment paint: only the best ingredients with no shortcuts. We're so glad they do, because our walls reap the benefits.

Take a Peek Inside Our Freshly Painted Office

Take a Peek Inside Our Freshly Painted Office by Sarah Whitman-Salkin

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Our Co-Founder on the Transformative Power of a Fresh Coat of Paint

Our Co-Founder on the Transformative Power of a Fresh Coa... by Hana Asbrink

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Bake, DIY Food