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Sticky Toffee Pudding Style-Off

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For the next two weeks, we're hosting our own Summer Food Fights on FOOD52 -- come play along! Big prizes await.

Today: We go head-to-head with the best in the food styling business to make a helplessly brown dessert into a work of art. 


So far, we’ve had challenges about picking the perfect market basket, about hacking it in the kitchen, and about doing things the right way, the French way, all the way down to the mirepoix. Now it’s time for our food to get a little vain. We’re staging a beauty contest. 

Because who wants to eat ugly food, really?    


And so, we present you with our latest battle in the kitchen -- a battle so grueling that competitors are faced with tirelessly adjusting lights, fiddling with the degree of spoon angles, and standing on top of chairs like celebrity-crazed paparazzi to get the perfect shot. It’s a battle where smoothness of batter swirls and perfectly blurred backgrounds quickly separate the pros from the posers. It's about as merciless as you ever thought food could get. 

The nearly-sisyphean task that lies at the very core of this challenge? We had no intentions of making it easy: stylists had to make sticky toffee pudding -- a dessert inherently a study of tepid browns and vague shapelessness -- into a work of art.

We figured that if anyone could make a dish aesthetically similar to terrines, pate, and our grandmother’s tuna noodle casseroles appealing in a photo, the best in the food styling business could. And they did: Heidi Swanson, Karen Mordechai, and Todd Coleman put up a fight.  

The final photos are Olympian displays of styling, Herculean even, and if we could think of another Greek adjective, we would. Over the coming days, you’ll see the quintessential British dessert in a myriad of different, well-strategized outfits -- even a négligée, which we bet you’ve never seen before. (Stay tuned: that one is slated for Monday). After we’ve presented you with all the photos, in classic Food52 style, it’s up to you to decide which one is medal-worthy. 


First up, the lovely Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, whose stark photos never fail to inspire us to cook her food. When she’s not writing cookbooks and blogging, a good bet is that she’s in her San Francisco kitchen, devising her latest, beautiful recipe. We know her photos by their muted light, soft focus, and her iconic white-tiled walls. 

Results, Day One 

For her official Style-Off photo, Heidi lets her toffee pudding be the simple star, interrupted only by a beautiful, detailed spoon that plays its supporting role with ease. You could almost see the reflection of a gold medal in her toffee -- but that’s for you to decide.

Tomorrow: Karen Mordechai from Sunday Suppers gives her camera lens a work out. Meet us back here for Day Two.