“Is New York’s best pizza in New Jersey?” The New York Times’ restaurant critic Pete Wells asked this question just over a year ago about Razza in Jersey City—and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. But it’s my job to obsess over these things, right?
The title Recipe Developer gives all of the credit to the nitty-gritty kitchen work, but ideation is just as important. Maybe even more. It’s easy to assume that recipe developing is an exacting profession. Whenever I test a recipe, I’m never far from multiple timers, a notebook, ruler, scale, and thermometer. I log down everything from oven temperatures to measurements to thoughts (“Is too cheesy a thing?”). Then I do this over and over and over. But part of me thinks all of this is making me a worse cook.
One weekend, my husband I were riffing on Caroline Lange’s not-recipe cheesecake because we wanted cheescake and, without even thinking about it, I started taking notes. “Um, babe?” Talk about a romantic-activity buzzkill.
Which is why, from where I sit, my greatest challenge isn’t to think like a recipe developer. It’s to not think like a recipe developer. Facts and theories and so many numbers are great when you’re executing an idea. But to get the idea in the first place, thinking like a home cook, a restaurant diner, a magazine reader, a video viewer is way more useful.
All of which to say: If you’re creating anything for a living, getting excited matters. Here are some of the big things I’m excited about right now:
That pizza in New Jersey really was the best pizza. Maybe it’s because the starter is almost a decade old or the staff taste-tests canned tomatoes every January or the margherita’s mozzarella hails from Sussex County water buffaloes. Maybe it’s because every single staff member is so dang nice. I didn’t leave here with any crazy toppings ideas. Just the affirmation that mastering the little things is worth it. Five little things I want to do:
What can’t Samin Nosrat do? I know the answer: Nothing. Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was one of the most whoa cookbooks I’ve ever read. So it goes without saying that I was as giddy as anyone about her four-episode miniseries. This moment especially stuck with me: “I really don’t ever follow recipes,” Nosrat said. “So to me, tasting is the only way to know.” Humbling, right? As recipe developers, we do test after test to ensure success. But tasting along the way is the most important part. Should “taste” be an even more frequent recipe instruction?
Oh, and focaccia. In the first episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Nosrat traveled to Italy, where she did everything from visit an olive farm to hand-knead focaccia. Her lesson still wowed me for two reasons: 1) What the olive oil accomplishes. This one ingredient creates a crisp, practically-fried crust and tenderizes the interior crumb (just like butter in brioche). Isn’t it cool when one ingredient does two things? 2) Focaccia is fingertip-docked, so there are all these pockets. I’ve always been under the impression these are for little olive oil puddles, but Nosrat’s teacher pours in saltwater. Does this help the holes keep their shape? Has anyone seen this before?
Where has blancmange been all my life? If you aren’t watching the latest season of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, well, ahem, why? I’m only part-way through (no spoilers!) but there’s one challenge I can’t stop thinking about: blancmange. Prue Leith gave the bakers a raspberry version for a technical. This 1970s favorite is panna cotta–esque thanks to its inclusion of gelatin. But even more fun thanks to almonds and being set in a decorative mold, like a Bundt. Leith’s version features a fresh raspberry puree. I keep wondering what would happen if you swapped in cranberries. Does anyone also want this? (Cough cough, comment section below!)
Follow this Instagram account: @thepancakeprincess. Psst: Not just pancakes! This account, which my co–recipe developer Ella Quittner told me about, executes data-driven taste tests of popular recipes. Say, the best sweet potato casserole or sprinkle cake. I’m a big believer in having go-to recipes. Say, a chocolate layer cake you turn to every birthday, or a favorite tomato sauce. How about a fun potluck idea: Everyone brings a test of a certain recipe, then votes, and everyone comes away with a new favorite.
Get lost in this blog: Call Me Cupcake. Literal eye candy. Linda Lomelino’s work is all about “sweet food and photography.” In our current Instagram moment when so many photoshoots are all about brightness, it’s refreshing to see someone embrace the alternative. Also, this extra-cute dog often makes an appearance. Five Call Me Cupcake recipes I want to make right now:
Thank god for leftovers. Make a big batch of anything. Enjoy during the week or freeze for later. We’re in one of our busiest times of the year at Food52, which means any make-ahead recipes are especially welcome. Gena Hamshaw’s Vegan Palak Paneer is a fun weekend project that turns into the best lunches; for what it’s worth, I substituted in frozen spinach. L’Artusi’s Mushroom Ragu is now living in my freezer; I swapped in cashew cream because I didn’t have cream (long story) and used dried penne instead of fresh garganelli.
Where's your favorite pizza spot? Let us know in the comments below.