The Essential Upgrade for the Best Banana Pudding

Made with a luscious vanilla pastry cream, ripe bananas, and vanilla wafers, this simple banana pudding is the very best version you can make at home.

Side view of banana pudding
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The week after I gave birth to my son, my sisters kept my kitchen stocked with an assortment of fun snacks and beverages. While our baby slept, I ate my way through New York City without even leaving my bed, chowing on a whole box of sweet, briny uni sushi, pizza slices from my favorite local joint, Mama’s Too, and many other delicious foods. One day, my youngest sister, Alexis, showed up with Magnolia Bakery’s famous banana pudding. Despite having lived in New York for eight years, I had never eaten it. 

The banana pudding was pretty good, but I was, frankly, underwhelmed. Some of the wafers were still bone-dry, the custard didn’t have the hit of vanilla I wanted, and I knew it had the potential to be better. As I ate the last of it, I made a mental note to develop a more delicious version when I returned to work. After many rounds of testing and tasting, my coworkers and I are confident that the recipe below for banana pudding hits all the right texture and flavor notes, and is the very best version you could make at home.

Overhead view of banana pudding
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There are as many approaches to the dessert as there are opinions on it. Some swear by instant pudding mix, and some, including Dolly Parton, serve it baked with a meringue topping. Some people even go so far as to make their own wafers. Ultimately, the dessert can be as fussy or easy as you want it to be—but my ideal pudding is one that’s made with a luscious pastry cream that’s strong on the vanilla, tastes of ripe bananas, and has chilled long enough so the wafers soften and the flavors meld. Read on for my full banana pudding recipe and tips.

Tips for Making Stellar Banana Pudding

Use Real Vanilla—and Make Your Own Pastry Cream

Many banana pudding recipes call for instant pudding mix, which is a quick and easy option for those who don’t want to make custard from scratch. There are some downsides, though. Most of what’s available in stores tastes like artificial vanilla and, because the mix comes formulated for ease, it’s difficult to adjust its flavor or texture. While instant pudding mix is convenient, it’s not that much harder to make custard from scratch, which allows you to customize it to your liking. 

At the beginning of my banana pudding saga, I wondered if a filling like crème legere, which is equal parts vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream, would be ideal. After experimenting with different ratios of vanilla pastry cream to whipped cream, I found that the pastry cream on its own was the most flavorful. Steeping the milk used in the pastry cream with real vanilla—in this case a vanilla bean split and scraped or a teaspoon or pure vanilla paste—helps to infuse the pastry cream with subtly floral notes that complement the banana’s sweetness. And as with many desserts, a touch of salt helps to highlight all these flavors.

Side view of scooping pastry cream
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In addition to having a better flavor, pastry cream is much silkier than pudding. While some pudding mixes can be stodgy, the pastry cream is simultaneously light and just thick enough to be spoonable and sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the bananas. 

A common pitfall of pastry creams and custards is that they start to weep once they’re made. In this recipe, I’ve avoided that disaster by adequately cooking the pastry cream on the stove and allowing it to bubble for a full minute. This deactivates amylase—an enzyme in egg yolks that dissolves starches and can result in watery sauces—and ensures that the custard for your banana pudding remains rich and silky even after it sits for an extended period of time.

Don’t Shy Away From Store-Bought Nilla Wafers

Mention banana pudding, and chances are someone will bring up Nilla Wafers. Today, the cookie has become such an intrinsic part of banana pudding that it’s rare to come across a recipe that calls for something else. A quick look at the history of the dish, though, tells us that sponge cake was once the norm. While using cake is fine and dandy, what I want is banana pudding—not trifle—complete with wafers and all.

Which brings us to the question: Is it worth making your own wafers for banana pudding? Unlike custard, where there’s a tangible difference between store-bought mix and homemade, the difference between homemade and store-bought cookies, especially when they’re stacked between layers of pastry cream and bananas, is negligible. Unless you want a true baking project where you’re making every single component from scratch, store-bought vanilla wafers work just fine.

Keep the Topping Simple

Listen, I tried topping my banana pudding with meringue and baking it, as well as folding a portion of the pastry cream into whipped cream for a topping. These variations just weren’t for me. I much prefer a cold banana pudding with lightly sweetened soft whipped cream. Sometimes simple is best, and in my tests I found that keeping the whipped cream relatively neutral helps to balance the sweetness of the pastry cream and ripe bananas and adds a pleasant lightness. You could top the banana pudding with crushed up wafers for extra crunch, but the dessert really doesn’t need any garnishing.

Side view of scoop of banana pudding
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Chill the Banana Pudding for at Least Eight Hours

For the best banana pudding, I recommend allowing the assembled dessert (minus the whipped cream topping) to chill for at least eight hours. This gives the vanilla wafers adequate time to soften and allows the flavors to meld, resulting in a more cohesive dessert. If you’re feeling impatient and decide to dig in sooner, you may encounter some dry cookies. A handful of wafers with bananas, pastry cream, and whipped cream is tasty enough but it does not make a banana pudding—the dessert is more than the sum of its parts. Let time do the hard work for you and you’ll end up with what my colleagues—including Megan, our associate editorial director, who’s from the South!—say is the best banana pudding they’ve ever had.

In a 4-quart stainless steel saucepan or pot, combine milk and scraped vanilla bean along with its seeds or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover to prevent evaporation, and let steep for 30 minutes.

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In a large bowl, set up an ice bath by partially filling it with a combination of cold water and ice. Set aside.

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In a medium heatproof mixing bowl set on top of a dampened towel (this serves as a stable base), stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in egg yolks until mixture is pale yellow, smooth, and fluffy, about 1 minute.

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Uncover infused milk and remove vanilla bean. While whisking continuously, slowly pour milk into egg yolk mixture in a thin stream, until all of it has been added.

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Return mixture to the same pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until pastry cream begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Once it thickens, continue to whisk, pausing every few seconds to check for bubbles, about 1 minute. When it begins to bubble, set a timer and continue whisking for 1 minute. (This step is important to neutralize amylase, a starch-dissolving protein found in egg yolks.)

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Off-heat, whisk in butter until melted and thoroughly combined. Strain pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a heatproof medium bowl. Immediately place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer bowl to prepared ice bath to chill for 30 minutes, then refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

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When ready to assemble banana pudding, whisk pastry cream until smooth. Using a flexible or offset spatula, cover bottom of trifle bowl with about 1 cup pastry cream. Top with a layer of Nilla Wafers. Arrange banana slices on top of cookies. Repeat until you have 4 layers; cover top layer with remaining pastry cream. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream and refrigerate until wafers have softened and the flavors have melded, at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. (You may have remaining Nilla Wafers; set aside to garnish, if desired.)

Four image collage of assembling banana pudding
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When ready to serve, prepare the whipped cream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip heavy cream, confectioners sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt until soft peaks form. (Alternatively, in a medium bowl, whisk cream by hand or using a hand mixer until soft peaks form.)

Overhead view of whipped cream
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Remove plastic wrap from pudding and top with whipped cream. Garnish with crushed Nilla Wafers, if desired. Serve immediately.

Side view of banana pudding being topped iwht whipped cream
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

4-quart saucepan or pot, whisk, fine-mesh sieve, plastic wrap, flexible or offset spatula, stand mixer

Make-Ahead and Storage

The finished banana pudding can be made up to 1 day in advance. To make the banana pudding ahead of time, follow recipe through to step 8, then top dessert with whipped cream when you’re ready to serve. To store leftovers, loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

5-Ingredient British Banoffee Pie

This low-effort dessert with gooey dulce de leche, sliced bananas, and whipped cream is a British classic—and is one I bring to every dinner party.

A slice of banoffee pie.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In 1971, two Brits named Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding came up with the banoffee pie, a popular dessert that apparently counts members of the British royal family among its fans. Its name is a portmanteau of banana and toffee, and with a buttery crust and a gooey dulce de leche filling topped with sliced bananas and whipped cream, the confection has won over the hearts and stomachs of many. According to The Telegraph, Mackenzie and Dowding had been experimenting with an “apparently ‘unreliable’ American recipe” for “Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie,” a dessert the San Francisco pastry shop Blum’s sold from the 1950s to the 1970s. Blum’s pie had a creamy custard filling flavored with instant coffee and melted chocolate, all topped with a lofty crown of whipped cream. 

Though Blum’s dessert contained no fruit, Mackenzie, the owner of the Hungry Monk restaurant in Britain’s East Sussex, was eager to come up with a version that did. Together, Mackenzie and his head chef, Dowding, experimented with various fruits, but none were as inviting as creamy, tropical bananas. “The day we made it with a layer of bananas, I knew we had cracked it,” Dowding wrote in The Guardian in 2006. The dessert quickly became a hit at the restaurant and then in other eateries and homes throughout the United Kingdom. Soon, it had reached other corners of the world, appearing on menus as far as Australia. 

It’s not surprising, since part of the dish’s appeal, especially to home bakers is its ease and approachability and, of course, its deliciousness. I first encountered it at university in Scotland when a friend showed up to a potluck with a freshly made banoffee pie. It soon became my go-to dessert whenever I needed to bring something to a dinner party: As a college student who knew almost nothing about baking, banoffee pie was not only extraordinarily easy to make, but it was affordable, too. It requires nothing more than some butter, a packet of cookies (or biscuits, in British parlance), a can of sweetened condensed milk, several bananas, and a carton of heavy cream—maybe a block of chocolate for shaving on top, if you’re feeling fancy. 

There were many evenings when my flatmates and I, each with a spoon in hand, would crowd around a single banoffee pie as we shed tears over a breakup or giggled over gossip about our professors. I can’t remember who exactly taught me how to make the treat, but I’ve tweaked the recipe to my liking over the years and have made it so many times I now know it by heart. It’s a relatively simple dessert, but putting some extra thought into the crust, filling, and topping can help you make a banoffee pie that will steal the show at every potluck you bring it to. Here are my tips for doing just that.

Banoffee pie on a plate.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Best Banoffee Pie Crust, Reach for a Packet of British Biscuits

Today, many banoffee pie recipes call for a graham cracker crust. I prefer using digestive biscuits, a hearty British cookie, as they have a pleasantly earthy flavor and are slightly less sweet. Some people, Dowding included, abhor the idea of using crushed up cookies to make crust and advocate for using a shortcrust pastry dough instead. Some desserts—like an American-style apple pie that relies on a sturdy dough for its structural integrity—are worth rolling out a proper crust for. But banoffee pie is not one of them.

I don’t believe in taking shortcuts at the expense of flavor, but this is the rare occasion where the easiest method—coating biscuit crumbs with butter—also happens to be the most delicious. You pulverize the cookies in a food processor or place them in a zip-top bag to smash up with a rolling pin, toss the crumbs with salt and melted butter, then press them into a tart pan. Baking the crust briefly helps to set it, while also bringing out its buttery, toasty flavors.

Digestive biscuits in the bowl of a food processor.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For a Creamy, Lusciously Sweet Filling, Simmer Condensed Milk

“Banoffee” may imply that there’s coffee or toffee in the dessert, but the filling involves neither. Rather, it consists of what many mistakenly call a caramel sauce: dulce de leche. “While it looks like caramel, it is, in fact, based on the Maillard browning of dairy rather than the caramelization of sugar,” contributor Nila Jones notes in her recipe for the sauce. “That may sound like a technicality, but it gives dulce de leche a sweet and mellow, toffee- or butterscotch-like flavor without the bitterness associated with caramel (i.e., burned sugar).”

Though you could spend hours stirring a pot of milk and sugar on the stovetop until it reduces and browns, it’s much easier to do as Nila and many other British home cooks do: Make the dulce de leche by simmering a can of sweetened condensed milk until it becomes thick and golden brown. This method also takes several hours, but is more hands-off and produces a filling that’s just as flavorful. The longer you simmer, the thicker and more “set” the dulce de leche will be.

For a thicker, darker filling with deep flavor, I cook the condensed milk for four hours—in my tests, anything shorter than that resulted in a sauce that was too thin, making it difficult to cut and portion the pie. To save time, I often cook three cans at once, as unopened cans can sit at room temperature for up to three months. Once the condensed milk has finished cooking and cooling, I pour it into a bowl and season it generously with salt, which highlights its rich, buttery dairy flavors. 

A word of warning: Simmering condensed milk may be the more “hands-off” method, but it’s still essential to keep an eye on the pot of water to ensure the can is always submerged in boiling water, as the condensed milk can explode and cause burns and injuries. (See the editor’s note for more safety tips.)

Banoffee pie with two slices on plates.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

How Ripe Should Bananas Be for Banoffee Pie?

Because the filling is so sweet, you want bananas that are just ripe and still slightly firm, so choose bananas with light, bright yellow skin with few to no brown spots. Anything riper or softer than that will produce a banoffee pie that’s both difficult to assemble and cloyingly sweet.

Leave Your Whipped Cream Unsweetened

I generally prefer sweetened whipped cream, but keeping the whipped cream plain and unsweetened here helps to balance out the rich filling. The lightness of the whipped cream against the denser but still creamy bananas, the thick dulce de leche, and the crisp crust makes each bite a pleasant contrast of textures and flavors—which is everything I want in a dessert.

Banoffee pie on a blue plate.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Filling: Set a wire or steamer rack inside a 6- to 8-quart pot. Set unopened condensed milk can on its side on the rack, then fill pot with room-temperature water, making sure water level is at least 2 inches above can. (The can must remain fully submerged during the entirety of simmering to prevent it from warping and splitting, which can result in the can rupturing and injuries.)

Set pot over high heat and bring to a simmer (avoid a vigorous boil). Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 4 hours; check pot every 30 minutes to ensure water level stays above can, adding boiling water as necessary to keep can under 2 inches of water.

Remove pot from heat and allow can to cool to room temperature in water, at least 1 hour. Do not attempt to open can while still hot; this can cause pressurized hot dulce de leche to spray dangerously.

When dulce de leche is cool, open can and pour into a medium bowl. Whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt until well-combined. Set aside.

Whisking dulce de leche in a bowl.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Crust: While dulce de leche is cooking, prepare the crust. Adjust oven rack to center and preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together digestive biscuits until sandy. (Alternatively, place digestive biscuits in a zip-top bag and, using a rolling pin, crush biscuits until sandy.) Using a flexible spatula, transfer biscuit mixture to a medium bowl and stir in salt. Pour melted butter over biscuits, tossing to evenly coat crumbs in butter. Pour crumbs into a 9-inch tart pan and spread into an even layer across bottom and up the sides of the pan. Using your fingers and a flat-bottomed measuring cup, press crumbs firmly to form a compact, even layer. Bake until crust is lightly golden and smells buttery, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Collage of photos depicting crust being made for banoffee pie.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip heavy cream on medium speed until medium-soft peaks form, about 6 minutes. (Alternatively, use your favorite method for whipping cream, such as a whisk or handheld beaters.) 

Bowl of whipped cream.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Pour dulche de leche filling into crust and top with sliced bananas. Using a flexible or offset spatula, cover pie evenly with whipped cream. If garnishing with shaved chocolate, place chocolate bar on a microwave-safe plate and heat until just warm enough to leave a fingerprint, about 10 seconds. Using a Y vegetable peeler, shave sides of chocolate bar over the pie, moving the peeler in an up-and-down motion to create small chocolate curls. Serve immediately.

Assembling banoffee pie.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Food processor, stand mixer

Make-Ahead and Storage

Banoffee pie can be made 1 day in advance through step 6. Whip the  cream and top the pie with it when ready to serve.

Once topped with whipped cream, banoffee pie can be loosely wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

The Unexpected Ingredient That Makes This Peanut–Butter Banana Smoothie Shine

This salty-sweet peanut–butter banana smoothie takes all of five minutes to whizz up and gets extra creaminess from whole milk, nut butter, and frozen bananas.

Banana smoothie in a glass cup with bananas in the background.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Peanut butter and banana are an iconic duo. Whether layered together with bacon and honey in the Elvis sandwich, turned into an ice cream treat, or stirred into oatmeal, it’s a combination that I and many others adore. The two arguably go together even better than classic peanut butter and jelly: The nut butter’s rich creaminess and savory notes complement the fruit’s natural sweetness and tropical flavor, and each bite is delightfully salty-sweet. Peanut butter and bananas typically show up on my slice of toast at 11 p.m. when I need a quick snack before bed, and in the morning, I frequently reach into my stash of frozen bananas to whizz up a quick smoothie with the nutty spread.

You might think a banana smoothie recipe is about as helpful as a PB&J recipe (...nobody asked for it, you know exactly how you like your smoothie, etc.), but there really are a few key ingredients and techniques that can take your smoothie from boring morning filler food to something you actually look forward to.

Tips for the Perfect Peanut Butter–Banana Smoothie

Peel, slice, and freeze your bananas first. While the drink gets creaminess from milk and nut butter, using a frozen banana makes it even thicker and helps keep the drink cold. I’d tell you to use a regular banana if you don’t have any frozen, but the drink is exponentially better when thick and cold, and it’s worth keeping a bag of bananas in your freezer just to make this smoothie—and banana bread, of course. To make it easier for my blender to blitz up the frozen bananas, I peel and slice the bananas before freezing them in a zip-top bag. 

Use whole milk. I opt for whole milk so this smoothie feels more like a milkshake, but you’re more than welcome to use your favorite dairy-free milk instead. Some people incorporate yogurt to make their smoothies creamier, but I found that yogurt gives the smoothie a tartness that doesn’t work well with the banana flavor. The neutral flavors of whole and dairy-free milks such as oat milk, on the other hand, allow the banana and nut butter to shine.

Use natural peanut butter. Crunchy or creamy? It doesn’t matter much here, since it’s all going to be blended until smooth—so use whatever you have on hand. I do, however, recommend using nut butter with no added sugar or salt, as this can make the beverage cloyingly sweet or unpleasantly salty. 

Swap out the peanut butter for another nut butter if you’d like. If peanuts aren’t your thing, other nut butter or seed pastes like almond butter, cashew butter, or tahini are excellent options. Just be sure to look for the natural varieties with no additional sugar or salt, as that can impact the flavor of the smoothie. (If all you have is salted nut butter on hand, just skip the added salt in the smoothie recipe—or season to taste.)

Add some salt. I wouldn’t describe this as a savory shake, but just as you’d season a vanilla pastry cream or a chocolate mousse, using a touch of salt simply helps to bring everything together and highlights the natural flavors of the banana and nut butter.

The end result is a smoothie that’s not quite dessert for breakfast, but it’s so deliciously creamy that it might as well be.

Ingredients for banana smoothie in a blender.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a blender, combine milk, frozen banana slices, peanut butter, and salt. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute.

Making banana smoothie in a blender.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

In a blender, combine milk, frozen banana slices, peanut butter, and salt. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute.

Notes

Your dairy-free milk of choice can be substituted for whole milk, but the smoothie will be sweeter if you use sweetened dairy-free milk.

Both creamy and crunchy nut butters will work here. Almond butter, cashew butter, and tahini can be substituted for peanut butter. I recommend using natural nut butters with no added sugar or salt, as that will impact the smoothie’s flavor.

The Counterintuitive Method for Perfect Poached Eggs

We found a faster, better way to make restaurant-worthy poached eggs—and it takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

Overhead view of a cut poached egg
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There are many ways to cook eggs, and most are relatively simple. Fried, boiled, and scrambled eggs are staples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but there are a couple of egg methods that home cooks tend to shy away from because they seem too hard or fussy—the French omelette is one, but perhaps even more feared is the poached egg. Dropping an egg into a saucepan of simmering water and swirling it just in time to prevent the whites from spreading into a feathery mess is intimidating, and keeping the eggs from overcooking can be challenging.

Side view of poached egg
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I, too, once shied away from poaching eggs—but then I went to culinary school, and with plenty of practice, poaching eggs became second nature. They’ve since become a go-to dinner when there isn’t much in the fridge or I’m short on time. Served with toast, hollandaise sauce, and braised asparagus, it’s a fancy-feeling meal that I’d be happy to eat night after night.

Still, I was curious to know if there was a faster, better way to poach eggs—one that didn’t involve the stovetop. What if the key to the perfect poached egg was…the microwave? With the microwave, I could have poached eggs in about five minutes without even turning the stove on or dirtying a pot. A quick web search shows many people espousing the wonders of microwaved poached eggs, but I wasn’t convinced until I tried—and perfected—the method myself.

How Microwaves Work—and Why You Should Give Them a Chance

Before you shake your head and click away, let me explain. The microwave is one of the great conveniences of modern life: It allows us to reheat food quickly, is great for steaming vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, and sweet potatoes (like in this onde-onde recipe), and is also a clever way of rendering fat. Microwaves were all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, when Americans had what the Washington Post described as “appliance affection.” The appliance gradually fell out of favor, but seem to be having a bit of a comeback now, with plenty of chefs happily admitting to cooking in the microwave

Placing water into microwave
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Microwaves work by generating electromagnetic waves; as Kenji wrote in his guide to microwave-steamed vegetables, these waves create an oscillating magnetic field inside the chamber, which causes water molecules to rapidly jostle up and down, generating friction that heats up your food. Like Kenji, I fully recognize that the appliance isn’t great for everything; I certainly wouldn’t expect it to brown my chicken thighs. But for popcorn, reheating leftovers, and poaching eggs? The microwave is excellent.

Tips for Making a Perfect Poached Egg in the Microwave

As someone who until a few weeks ago had never poached an egg in a microwave, I wasn’t entirely sure where to begin. A quick glance at other recipes wasn’t much help: none of them agreed on the correct amount of water to use, the best poaching vessel, or how long to microwave the egg. The only thing that everyone agreed on is how much variation there is between microwave models and how that affects the cook time (more on that below). 

My first few attempts at microwave poaching were unsuccessful: The egg whites were either rock solid or wispy and undercooked, the yolks were often more set than I wanted them to be, and I had a few eggs explode during cooking, scattering egg fragments throughout my microwave (so fun to clean up). It didn’t matter what the time and power levels were—none of the eggs were perfectly poached. But I didn’t give up. The other Serious Eats editors and I put our heads together, microwaved dozens of eggs, and finally landed on what I believe to be the perfect microwave poached egg—one that I’d be happy to eat atop my weekday toast or serve to friends.

Get to Know Your Microwave

Microwaves come in an assortment of wattages, which indicates how powerful the appliance is—or how much energy it’s able to convert into electromagnetic waves. Machines with a higher wattage are able to cook foods faster and more efficiently, and while this can be convenient, it can also make it easy to overcook foods. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to circumvent the problem of variability and it’s impossible to develop a recipe that suits each and every microwave, but after making poached eggs in the microwave a couple of times it’s easy to find the perfect cook time for your machine.

I tested this recipe with a 1,000 watt microwave, and the cook times I suggest reflect that. If you’re unsure of your microwave’s wattage or unfamiliar with this cooking method, I recommend cooking your egg in 30 second intervals so you can check on it intermittently to prevent undercooking or overcooking your egg.

Bring Your Water to a Boil Before Adding the Eggs

Starting with cold water resulted in eggs that set too hard, and after several attempts to fix this problem resulted in exploding eggs, I was on the brink of giving up. As always, Daniel had a genius suggestion. Why not heat the water until it reaches the temperature of a bare boil—about 209 to 212ºF or 98 to 100ºC—before adding the eggs? Starting with cold tap water meant that the water required more time at a higher power level in order to become hot enough to cook the egg, and we suspected this was why the egg whites were setting so firmly. 

Overhead view of egg placed into mircowave
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Indeed, starting with hot water solves this problem by more closely mimicking traditional stovetop poaching, and also ensures that everyone using my recipe starts cooking at the same temperature instead of whatever temperature their tap water is. Just be careful not to superheat your water, which happens when a liquid exceeds the temperature of boiling point—the result is scalding hot water that erupts, which can cause serious burns and injuries. To avoid superheating, heat your water in stages of no more than a minute at a time and, using an instant read thermometer, check the temperature as you go.

Add Salt

Adding a bit of salt to the poaching water has the obvious benefit of making the egg taste better, but we also learned that it can give the egg a better texture because it helps it to cook more gently. One day, Daniel excitedly messaged me on Slack to say “salting the water very possibly slows down the rate at which the water can heat in the microwave!” In classic, endearing science-nerd Daniel fashion, he sent me a paper from the Arabian Journal of Chemistry titled Microwave Chemistry: Effect of Ions on Dielectric Heating in Microwave Ovens that laid out how the presence of salt ions interfered with the heat generated by the microwave.

In short, scientists experimented with various concentrations of salt in a solution they then microwaved, and found that solutions with a higher salt concentration produced less heat when microwaved. What does this mean for microwave-poached eggs? Salting the water you poach the eggs in slows down the rate at which the water heats, cooking the egg evenly and reducing the risk of both superheating the water and overcooking the egg.

Add a Splash of Flavorful Vinegar

When poaching eggs on the stovetop, most cooks, including myself, will add a teaspoon or two of vinegar to the water. The acidity helps to set the egg by denaturing the egg white proteins, resulting in an egg that’s better at retaining its shape as it cooks. To help my microwave-poached egg set quickly, I began by incorporating a teaspoon of distilled white vinegar into my water. While distilled white vinegar is perfectly fine to use, there are many other vinegars you can use for a more pleasant flavor, such as rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.

Overhead view of adding vingear to water
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Use the Freshest Eggs You Can Find

While older eggs are better for making hard-boiled eggs, you’ll want to use the freshest eggs you can find when poaching. That’s because fresh eggs have tighter whites and are better at holding their shape as they cook. This ability of fresh eggs to hold their shape is even more important with microwave poaching than with stovetop poaching. 

When you poach an egg on the stovetop, you can create a vortex to swirl the whites around the yolk; even if the egg isn't the freshest, this helps form a more circular egg. But the microwave is less forgiving: old eggs will sink to the bottom, creating flat poached eggs that, in the words of Daniel, look like “fried eggs that were boiled.” When buying eggs, check the date on the carton or ask the vendor when they were gathered and use the newest eggs you can find. If you only have older eggs, not to worry—your poached eggs will still taste good, they just won’t be quite as photogenic.

Help the Eggs Hold Their Shape

If you really want a perfectly shaped egg, you can trim the egg whites with a paring knife or kitchen scissors after cooking or use a trick from Kenji’s poached egg recipe: Before cooking, place the egg in a fine-mesh strainer to allow any loose egg whites to drip through. I do recommend cracking your egg into a small bowl or ramekin before you plop it into the bowl of hot water, as it makes it much easier to gently slip the egg into the bowl (which will be hot from bringing the water to a boil). This extra step also allows  you to check for loose bits of shell and make sure the egg yolk is intact before poaching.

Use Medium-High Heat

After testing with various power levels, 80% proved to be ideal for poaching eggs and produced set whites and soft yolks. Anything lower or higher produced eggs that were way undercooked or way overcooked. But at 80% power, the egg was perfectly cooked and looked and tasted just like an egg poached on the stovetop.

When Does It Make Sense to Microwave Poach Eggs?

While this is a handy way to make eggs, it’s not the most efficient approach if you need to prepare eggs for several people since you can only microwave-poach one egg at a time. If you’re having friends over for brunch, I recommend doing it the old-fashioned way on the stovetop, where you can poach several eggs at once. But if you’re cooking for one or two and just want a nice poached egg that’s ready with a touch of a few buttons, then this might be the method for you. Once you’ve figured out what settings work best for your microwave, it’s the easiest way to make a flawless poached egg that’s worthy of your favorite brunch restaurant.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, whisk water, rice vinegar, and salt until well-combined. Place bowl in microwave and heat water at 100% power in 1 minute intervals until 209 to 212ºF (98 to 100ºC), about 4 minutes total.

Two image collage of prepping eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using oven mitts or a kitchen towel, carefully remove bowl from microwave and gently slip the egg into water. Return bowl to microwave and cook at 80% power until the whites are fully set but yolks are still soft, about 1 minute and 20 seconds.

Two image collage of microwaving eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

While eggs are cooking, place a paper towel on a plate; set aside.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift egg from bowl, allowing any excess liquid to drip back into the bowl. Transfer to paper-towel lined plate and, using a paring knife or scissors, trim whites if desired. Serve immediately.

Two image collage of lifting eggs out of the bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Small microwave-safe bowl, whisk, microwave, instant read thermometer, slotted spoon

How to Store Oranges So They Stay Juicier for Longer

To find out the best way to store oranges, we ran a series of tests and spoke to a USDA scientist. There’s one easy method that’s far better than others at maintaining the best flavor and texture of the citrus.

Whole and cut up oranges against a white marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When I was a kid, there was always a bag of navel oranges in our fridge. My parents never stored their oranges any other way, and because our family went through the fruit so quickly, the citrus never went bad. It never molded, it never shriveled, and it never, ever went uneaten. Simply put, my family had no reason to think of the “best way” to store them. But as a citrus lover and an editor at a food publication known for its limitless curiosity, I wanted to know: What is the best way to keep oranges so they remain delicious for as long as possible?


To find out, I ran a series of tests and talked to a plant physiologist and citrus expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further insight. Despite a range of common storage methods in an orange's supply chain—cold storage in warehouses and transport, room temp in many grocery stores—there’s one home storage method that’s far better than others at maintaining the best flavor and texture of oranges.

An Orange’s Journey From Grove to Grocery Store

Orange growers, wholesalers, and retailers all strive to preserve the fruit as long as possible while maintaining quality. Unlike many fruits that continue ripening after they’re harvested, oranges are picked at peak maturity and don’t improve once they’re off the tree. Once picked, there are two major threats to the fruit's longevity: microbes that can hasten spoilage, and the natural ongoing respiration of the fruit that, while essential to its growth and maturation, eventually contributes to a decline in flavor and texture.

To address this, the oranges are first sent to processing plants, where they're washed in a disinfectant—usually a mixture of chlorine and water, followed by a fungicide—to rid the fruit of any surface microbes that could cause premature rot. 

As oranges ripen, they naturally produce a wax that fills tiny pores on the skin, which slows the rate of respiration and moisture loss through those pores. During the disinfecting step, though, that natural wax is washed away. So the oranges are then coated in a new layer of wax to reseal the skin and prolong shelf life.

After the oranges are washed and waxed, fruit processors keep the citrus in cold storage and ship them in refrigerated containers, because cold is another method of slowing respiration and increasing the orange's time as a delicious, juicy fruit. “The key to the whole thing is that the fruit is kept cold as long as possible,” Dr. David Obenland, a plant physiologist at the USDA, tells me. He adds that the ideal temperature for storing oranges is about 41ºF (5ºC), though this may vary depending on the citrus variety. 

If it’s so crucial to refrigerate oranges, though, why do grocery stores keep them at room temperature while maintaining such seemingly pristine condition? “The citrus in the grocery store generally looks good because people are continually buying it and it is being replenished with new fruit and fruit that go bad are removed,” Dr. Obenland says. “I have never been in the back room of a grocery store, but I am assuming that they have coolers and freezers there to store product until it is needed.”

Oranges in a wooden bowl on top of a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Testing

Based on all my research, it’s pretty clear that keeping citrus cold is preferable. To confirm this on a practical level, I ran a series of tests on orange storage in my own home. I tested refrigerating the oranges against holding them at room temperature washing versus not washing them; and whether keeping them loosely sealed in a plastic bag versus not bagged made a difference.

To assess these storage methods, I measured moisture loss by recording the mass of each orange daily over the course of the tests, and also conducted visual inspections, making note of how they looked, felt, and smelled. After two weeks, I cut into the oranges and tasted each to determine how storage related to their flavor and juiciness.

Room Temperature vs. Fridge

To put it simply: room temperature citrus did not fare well. On average, the oranges held at room temperature lost 6% of their total weight compared to the 3% of their refrigerated counterparts. While the refrigerated oranges felt pretty firm throughout the tests, the room temperature oranges grew noticeably softer. As the days went on, the texture of the room-temp peels increasingly reminded me of the giant foam fingers you see at sports games. In the course of my testing, I also lost two room-temperature oranges to rot about halfway through the two week test; none of the refrigerated oranges succumbed in the same way. 

With the exception of the moldy oranges—which I tossed at the first sign of decay—the rest of the room temperature oranges looked passable, if a bit tired, at the end of the test. Someone who didn’t know they’d been sitting at room temperature for two weeks would probably assume they’re fine to eat. But upon cutting into them, I saw that most of the flesh was dried and shriveled; these oranges were not juicy and they did not taste good, with a flavor that was old and musty. 

The refrigerated oranges, which I kept on a 9- by 13- inch baking sheet on the middle shelf of my fridge, held up a lot better. Their peels felt firm and they looked almost as good as they did on the first day. When tasted after two weeks, they were still sweet and juicy, but had lost some of their acidic kick. This aligns with my research and what I learned from talking with Dr. Obenland: For optimal flavor and longevity, store your oranges in the refrigerator.

Washing vs. No Washing

Just as washing strawberries helps them stay mold-free for longer, I wanted to see if washing oranges would make a difference—especially since two of the room temperature oranges molded halfway through the test. I rinsed my oranges in tap water and dried them with a towel, and like my previous test, kept half of them at room temperature and half of them in the fridge.

Between the washed and unwashed oranges, the flavor tracked with my temperature tests irrespective of washing status: It was better preserved in the fridge and did not hold up well at room temperature. Washing also didn't seem to have a significant impact on moisture loss, but it did seem to help prevent the oranges at room temperature from decaying. All the oranges made it through the whole test without any mold—but this ultimately doesn’t matter given that room temperature storage still leads to worse flavor and texture over time.

Practically speaking, as long as your oranges are in the fridge, there’s really not much benefit to washing them.

Bagged vs. No Bag

The next test I wanted to run was bagging the citrus. I tested by placing oranges in a regular plastic produce bag from the grocery store. To ensure there’d still be some air flow, I loosely tied the bag (a bag that’s sealed shut may trap unwanted moisture and gas, leading to rot). The bagged fruit, which lost just an average 1% of its total weight, showed the least amount of moisture loss, while the unbagged fruit lost an average of 4% of its total weight. On a practical, qualitative level, I honestly could not tell the difference when tasting the refrigerated fruit side by side. Refrigerating fruit in a bag may help slightly, but the difference was pretty negligible—and considering how wasteful single-use plastic is, I hesitate to recommend storing your fruit in a plastic bag.

The main takeaway from all my research and testing? Just refrigerate your oranges and, of course, eat them sooner than later.

This Bakery-Worthy Boston Cream Pie Is the Dessert I Want to Eat Every Day

With lush vanilla pastry cream and a bittersweet chocolate glaze, the Boston cream pie is an iconic American dessert. Here’s how to make a bakery-worthy one at home.

Side view of 3 slices of cake
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I don’t remember the first time I tried Boston cream pie. I do, however, remember my confusion before trying it for the first time: Wait, it’s not a pie? The dessert’s name had bamboozled me, like it had many others. I was, until I ate it for the first time, under the impression that a dessert called Boston cream pie was, in fact, a pie. Imagine my surprise when someone served me a layer cake with lush vanilla pastry cream sandwiched between two soft sponge cakes and a thin coating of rich chocolate ganache on top. Though it was nothing like the cream pie I’d envisioned, it was delicious. There’s not much to hate about cake, pastry cream, and chocolate—and polishing it off was as easy as pie.

Side view of Boston Cream Pie
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Origins of Boston Cream Pie

Today, Boston cream pie is the official dessert of Massachusetts, but where it comes from is often disputed. Some say the cake is a custard-filled variation of Washington pie, a jam-filled layer cake that was popular in the 1800s. Others credit Boston’s Parker House hotel (today the Omni Parker House) with inventing it. According to Greg Patent, a James Beard award–winning cookbook author who traced the origins of the dessert for Gastronomica, it’s possible that both theories are true: That bakers did make versions of the Washington Pie with custard and that, separately, the hotel came up with what they thought was an original dessert. 


Many recipes for Washington pie in the late 1800s gave home cooks the option of using pastry cream or custard, but with no mention of the BCP’s signature chocolate glaze. Cookbooks from that era, like Fannie Farmer’s 1895 The Boston Cooking-school Cook Book, include recipes for similar desserts—custard-filled or cream-filled cake, albeit without the chocolate glaze—under different names, like cream pie, French cream cake, or Boston cream cake. This suggests that home cooks were making some version of “Boston cream pie” despite there not being a common name for the sweet.  

Side view of slice of Boston Cream Pie
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


The Omni Parker House’s archival material, including menus and recipe books, suggest they were the first to serve the dessert as we know it today: a tender cake called a biscuit au beurre split in two, layered with pastry cream, and glazed with chocolate. Writing for GastroObscura, journalist Julie Tremaine says it was the Boston cream pie that changed how most Americans approached chocolate as an ingredient. At the time, chocolate wasn’t a widely available ingredient. Before the BCP, most Americans enjoyed chocolate as a drink; using chocolate in a cake was “groundbreaking.” The dessert, Tremaine says, “was a pioneer, forever changing Americans’ relationship with chocolate.”


As chocolate became more common, American home cooks sought to recreate the famous dessert at home. “Thus, what we call the Boston Cream Pie today is an attempt to copy a glorious hotel dessert…which evolved separately from the Washington Pie,” Patent writes. As to why the confection is called a pie, bakers originally prepared Boston cream pie in Washington pie plates. Though we no longer bake the sponge in a pie tin, the dessert’s name remains.

Close up of chocolate icing
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

An Easier Approach to Biscuit au Beurre: Hot Milk Cake

The pastry chefs at the Omni Parker House make their BCP with a biscuit au beurre, a tender French cake. Like the genoise, there are no chemical leaveners in a biscuit au beurre; it instead relies entirely on whipped eggs for its light and fluffy texture. Making the cake successfully involves whipping the egg whites and yolks separately with sugar until doubled in volume, gently folding flour in, followed by melted butter. Though the method itself seems pretty straightforward, several complications can arise: you could under or over whip your egg whites or deflate the batter while incorporating the flour, threatening the cake’s ability to rise in the oven.

You don’t have to go through all that trouble for a cake with a similar texture, though. In this recipe, I’ve opted for a much simpler sponge that’s practically impossible to mess up—and still bakes into a light, golden cake with a texture close to that of biscuit au beurre. And you don’t even have to separate the eggs! Allow me to introduce you to hot milk cake, a dessert that dates back to the early 1900s and became especially popular around the Depression and World War Two.

Side view of stacking cakes
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Home cooks loved it for its versatility and affordability; when ingredients like fresh dairy and sugar were rationed during wartime, American home cooks relied on pantry staples like milk powder. Many hot milk sponge cake recipes from that era had bakers use non-fat dry milk powder in place of fresh milk, making the confection even more affordable and accessible. Many newspapers from that era, including the St. Louis Star-Times in 1948, described the cake as “inexpensive and easy to make.”

“Every homemaker likes to have a quick, easy, good-tasting cake recipe that can be whipped up for unexpected company or family desserts,” wrote Marian Manners in The Los Angeles Times in 1952. “The hot milk sponge cake…is just that exact cake.” To make the cake, all you had to do was whip whole eggs with sugar until pale, fluffy, and doubled in volume, then pour in a mixture of hot milk and butter, before finally incorporating the flour, salt, and baking powder. Everything comes together in the bowl of a stand mixer—no gentle folding of whipped egg yolks into egg whites followed by flour and butter.

Side view of cake batter
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez



Like the biscuit au beurre, the aeration from whipping eggs helps leaven the cake. But unlike its French cousin, the hot milk sponge cake has baking powder, which offers an additional layer of protection and guarantees its rise. While the biscuit au beurre only calls for melted butter, hot milk cake typically involves a mixture of hot milk and butter. In both cakes, the melted fat coats the flour particles, making it more difficult for gluten chains to develop and producing a soft cake. 

While whole milk did produce a pillowy cake, I wanted to up the fat slightly for a more tender crumb—and landed on a mixture of half-and-half with butter in this recipe. Heavy cream made the cake heavier than ideal, but half-and-half struck a happy medium. I also experimented with vegetable oil—which is 100% fat—in place of butter, but the cake lacked the rich flavor that butter brought, and there wasn’t a particularly noticeable difference in tenderness. Like the biscuit au beurre, the hot milk sponge is tender and flavorful.

The Pastry Cream

Pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, stars in many popular desserts, including éclairs and cream puffs and…wouldn’t you know it, Boston cream pie. We could go the easy way out and use instant custard or pudding mix, but most ready-made mixes are cloyingly sweet, with an artificial flavor that I generally find unpleasant. Whipping up your own pastry cream allows you to control the sweetness and thickness of the filling, and if you have time to spare, you could even infuse the milk overnight with a vanilla bean.

Pastry Cream on cake
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez



Below, I use former editor Kristina Razon’s tried-and-true method for pastry cream. Steeping the milk with a scraped vanilla bean infuses it with a deep, floral flavor, while cornstarch helps to thicken it. The secret to pastry cream success is to cook the custard adequately on the stove by allowing it to bubble for a full minute. This allows the cornstarch to gelatinize—thickening the custard—and deactivates amylase, an enzyme that can slowly eat away starch molecules and turn pastry cream into a watery mess. Don’t worry about curdling the cream; as Kristina notes, “the milk dilutes the egg proteins, so they’re farther apart and less likely to rapidly and tightly bond. On top of that, both the starch and the sugar run additional interference to prevent the egg proteins from bonding.” So let your pastry cream bubble away—just make sure you’re whisking constantly to prevent scorching.

The Simple Syrup

If you’ve ever had a bad layer cake, chances are it was appallingly dry. While the Boston cream pie is made with a soft hot milk cake and has plenty of velvety pastry cream, it doesn’t hurt to quickly brush the cake with some simple syrup to keep it moist. It’s the easiest thing to do: combine sugar and water together in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until the sugar’s dissolved. You won’t need all of the syrup, and you can save and use any leftovers to sweeten your beverages.

Brushing cake with syrup
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Ganache

At the Omni Parker House, the chefs glaze the top of the cake with chocolate fondant icing that’s feathered with white fondant icing. This all looks lovely, but I much prefer a rich ganache to the fondant icing that’s traditionally used. Most ganache recipes will have you pour scalding cream over your chocolate before using a whisk or immersion blender to emulsify it with room temperature butter. Many pastry chefs will use a bain marie for this task, as the vertical, metal container is better at maintaining heat, ensuring the cream properly melts the chocolate. While I do think that is the superior method if you work in a commercial kitchen—as the blade of the immersion blender is the best for emulsifying chocolate and creates silky ganaches—most home cooks don’t have a bain marie at home. 

Instead, it’s easier and more practical for most people to just use a heat-proof bowl at home. But simply pouring hot cream over the ganache to melt it isn’t efficient in a bowl, as its wide opening allows heat to escape quickly and cools the chocolate before it’s had a chance to even melt properly. The faster and foolproof way to get a silky ganache at home? Preparing it with a double boiler. 

Side view of pouring chocolate
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


Just as you’d melt chocolate by placing a bowl of it on top of a saucepan of simmering water, the most foolproof method for making ganache without a bain marie and immersion blender is to melt the chocolate and cream together in a bowl set atop barely simmering water. This helps to evenly heat the cream and melt the chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, you’ll want to cool it slightly. 

Ganache that’s too hot will just run right off a cake; you want to cool it to about 35ºC or 95ºF so it’s still pourable but thick enough to cling to the cake.

Side view of pouring chocolate
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


(If your chocolate has cooled too much, you can reheat it with the double boiler until you reach your desired texture. Alternatively, you can microwave it in 5 to 10 second increments until melted.)

I add a teaspoon of corn syrup, which gives the ganache additional shine, and a touch of salt just to balance the sweetness of the cake. Dark chocolate is my chocolate of choice here, as it tends to have a pleasant bittersweet and fruit flavor, but if you’d prefer a glaze on the sweeter side, you’re more than welcome to experiment with milk chocolate.

Assembling the Cake

Besides baking the actual cake, assembling a layer cake is possibly the most intimidating part for most home bakers. Most layer cakes would have you level the cake, stack it with whatever buttercream or frosting you’re using, then crumb coat and refrigerate it. Luckily for us, a Boston cream pie requires no crumb coat. You really just have to brush the cake with simple syrup, sandwich a generous layer of pastry cream, then glaze the top of the cake with chocolate ganache. You can use an offset spatula to spread it neatly across the top or create decorative drips down the cake. 

Inside view of cake
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

My version of Boston cream pie may have a few differences from the original, but it’s a whole lot easier—and just as satisfying to eat. And you didn’t even have to travel to Boston for it. 

Adjust rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Butter two 9-inch cake pans with unsalted butter, then dust with cake flour, shaking out excess.

Overhead view of flour in pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small saucepan, heat half-and-half and butter over medium-low heat until butter has melted, about 3 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until yolks are thick and pale yellow color, and doubled in volume, 5 to 7 minutes.

Inner view of stand mixer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Reduce mixer speed to low, and slowly pour in half-and-half mixture. Continue to whisk until combined, about 15 seconds.

Overhead view of cake mix in stand mixer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry mixture 1/4 cup at a time, until just incorporated, about 2 minutes. Using a flexible spatula, scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure there are no dry bits. (If any remain, use spatula to gently fold until incorporated.) Divide batter between prepared cake pans and, using an offset spatula, smooth surface. Gently tap cake pans on kitchen counter to eliminate any large air bubbles.

Four image collage of adding cake mixture to pans
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Bake, rotating halfway through, until cake has risen by about 1 inch, is light golden, and springs back when gently touched, 17 to 20 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack and allow cakes to cool in pans for 30 minutes.

Overhead view of baked cake
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Run an offset spatula or butter knife around the edges of cake, then carefully invert cake onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let cool completely, at least 30 minutes. (Cooled cake can be lightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours.)

Side view of flipping cake
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a simmer over medium heat and cook, whisking, until sugar is fully dissolved, 5 to 7 minutes.

Overhead view of whisking simple syrup
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Chocolate Ganache: Place chocolate, heavy cream, corn syrup, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Set over a small saucepan of gently simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is fully melted, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir to combine. Add butter and gently fold until ganache is smooth and shiny. Set aside until cool and slightly thickened (35ºC or 95ºF) but still fluid enough to pour, about 10 minutes.

Overhead view of chocolate ganche
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Assemble: Whisk pastry cream until smooth. Place one cake on a plate. Brush cake evenly with 1 to 2 tablespoons simple syrup. Top with 2 cups pastry cream, using an offset spatula to spread it evenly from edge to edge. Top with the second cake and brush cake evenly with 1 to 2 tablespoons simple syrup, allowing the cake to absorb it. Pour slightly thickened ganache over cake and, using an offset spatula, spread evenly to cover cake, letting excess ganache drip decoratively over the sides of the cake. Serve immediately or allow ganache to cool until firm.

Four image collage of assembling Boston Cream Pie
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Two 9-inch cake pans, stand mixer, wire rack, offset spatula or butter knife, parchment, pastry brush

Notes

If your chocolate has cooled too much, you can reheat it with the double boiler until you reach your desired texture. Alternatively, you can microwave it in 5 to 10 second increments until melted.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Cooled cake rounds can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and held at room temperature for up to 24 hours. The assembled cake is best eaten on the day it's made.

The One-Bowl Shortbread Recipe My Scottish Grandma Has Been Making for 50 Years

Each bite of this easy shortbread is rich and buttery, with a tender, crumbly texture that melts in your mouth. Plus: The dough takes just five minutes to make and it practically comes together in one bowl.

Overheav view of shortbread cookies with coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

About 150 miles north of Edinburgh is the village of Methlick, a small community of about 540 people in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. There’s one main road with a church, a school, an inn, and a tiny store—it’s the kind of place where everyone greets each other by name. Surrounded by farmland and rolling hills, the town is where you’ll find what is unequivocally the best shortbread in the world. Each bite is rich and buttery, with a tender, crumbly texture that melts in your mouth. Across the top is a generous dusting of golden sugar that glints in the sunlight, as if it were inviting you to please take a bite. You won’t find the shortbread in a café or a shop. It’s only available in the kitchen of a feisty, charming 85-year-old woman named Evelyn Cook, my husband’s grandmother. But lucky me—and now lucky you—I have the recipe for Evelyn’s magical shortbread and I’m sharing it here. 


It was the smell of this shortbread that greeted us when we stepped into her home last March. I followed the aroma to the kitchen, where a freshly made batch, barely out of the oven, was cooling in its pan. I was ravenous after the long drive up from Edinburgh and I eyed the shortbread greedily, eagerly waiting for it to become cool enough to eat.

Side view of shortbread cookie
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


My first bite tasted as good as it smelled. Though I’d eaten shortbread many times before, I’d never had one that captured my attention the way this one did. It was the platonic ideal of what shortbread should be: It wasn’t too sweet and somehow managed to be both crisp and tender at the same time. I detected slight nutty undertones from what was, I learned later, whole wheat flour. I rarely ever taste something so delicious that I feel the need to recreate it at home, but I was determined to leave with the shortbread recipe in hand.


Evelyn, who insists that her grandchildren call her Gaga, has been making shortbread for 50 years. When I asked for the recipe, she rattled off a list of ingredients and measurements with the kind of familiarity that only comes from making the same recipe for years and years, over and over again, until it’s simply ingrained in your head. The recipe, she says, originally came from my husband’s great-great aunt Mary, and it’s the one she’s made ever since. 


When I returned home to New York, I was delighted to see an email from Gaga with the recipe. It’s a wonderfully easy one that barely requires more than a bowl. All you have to do is whisk together the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt, pour an ungodly amount of melted butter over it, and gently press to form a cohesive dough before transferring it to a 9- by 13-inch baking sheet, smoothing it out, and baking until lightly golden. There’s no stand mixer involved and no rolling and chilling necessary. In other words, it’s the easiest shortbread ever—and it’s Scottish grandma approved.

The Origins of Shortbread

Shortbread hails from Scotland. According to food historian Alan Davidson, editor of The Oxford Companion to Food, the baked good can be traced back to 16th century Britain, when bakers made “short cakes,” a rich pastry with eggs and leavened with yeast that eventually evolved into different kinds of biscuits enjoyed throughout the U.K. today. “The original Scottish shortbread is simply a thick layer of rich, sweetened shortcrust pastry, without any extra flavorings,” he writes in the book. “The classic proportions of ingredients for a shortbread recipe are one part sugar to two of butter and three of flour,” which results in the biscuit’s signature short, crumbly texture.


Traditionally, bakers prepared shortbread by pressing it into a decorated wooden mold. Though it’s eaten year-round now, it has historically been associated with Yuletide. Writing in the New York Times in 1977, Ann Barry notes that on New Year’s Day, early visitors—called “first-footers”—would bring shortbread with them; the baked good was supposed to be kept whole until the evening feast: ”If it remained whole, unbroken prosperity would be assured in the household for the next year; if it crumbled before then, hopes of good fortune were dashed.”


At one point, shortbread also served as a wedding cake in rural Scotland. Florence Marian McNeill, author of The Scots Kitchen, notes that the “mester-hoosal,” or the master of ceremonies, would smash “infar cake,” a shortened oatcake, over the bride’s head in her new home as a kind of house-warming custom. Today, shortbread is eaten throughout the United Kingdom and often enjoyed with a cup of tea.


Bakers—especially Scots—have many strong feelings about what makes the best shortbread. Some make their shortbread by creaming butter and sugar; some shape the biscuits into individual portions before baking; some dock the dough before baking to prevent uneven rising. And some, like Gaga, bake it in a large mold and portion after. Shortbread can be a very personal thing. As Barry wrote in the New York Times: “If one is fortunate enough to sample homemade shortbread with a group of Scots, the matter of what is and is not shortbread may, nonetheless, be open to heated debate.” 

Butter Is Your Friend for the Best Shortbread

With so few ingredients, most of shortbread’s flavor comes from the dairy you use. I recommend using good quality butter with a substantial amount of butterfat. At 82 to 85% butterfat, European-style butter contains more fat than the 80% butterfat of most American butters. My personal favorite is Kerrygold’s unsalted butter, which has 82% butterfat and comes from grass-fed cows. (Because pasture-raised cows eat a more varied diet, their milk is often more complex-tasting, and I like to use it in shortbread, where the flavor of the butter really shines through.) I’ve made this recipe with both European-style butter and American butter; while the version made with European-style butter is ever so slightly richer, the shortbread with American butter was still excellent—and if all you have access to is American butter, you’ll still get very good shortbread.


Many shortbread recipes start by having you cream softened butter with sugar, incorporating the dough with what former Serious Eats editor Stella Parks describes as “micro pockets of air.” Because air is a poor conductor of heat, “it helps insulate the dough from the hot baking sheet in the oven, slowing the rate at which the butter and sugar melt,” she notes. As cookies bake, the air pockets “begin to swell with steam, a gentle upward draft that helps to hold the dough aloft. When the cookie finally sets, the air’s footprint forms its crumb.” 


Gaga’s method of using melted butter, though, is simpler—and foolproof. As former Serious Eats editor Kristina Razon wrote in her guide to softening butter, the task isn’t as simple as just making butter pliable. "The exact temperature of your softened butter," she says, "can influence how doughs and batters form and can have a make-or-break impact on the final results." By using melted butter, there’s no time spent wondering if the butter is the right temperature or consistency. Even better, there’s no faffing about with a stand or hand  mixer.  


In addition to lending the biscuit its flavor, butter also contributes to the confection’s “shortness,” the crumbly texture you’ll find in certain tart doughs and cookies like shortbread. Using plenty of butter ensures that fat evenly coats all the dry ingredients, limiting the development of gluten and keeping the biscuit tender. You’re not mistaken—there is, indeed, a full pound of butter in this shortbread. But it’s absolutely necessary for the rich texture that is so quintessential to good shortbread.

Side view of cookis
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why You Should Use Whole Wheat Flour for Flavorful Shortbread

Another thing that distinguishes Gaga’s recipe from many others is its use of whole wheat flour in conjunction with regular all-purpose flour or, in the U.K., plain flour. Whole wheat flours contain both the bran and germ; because they have flavorful oils, they typically have a more nuanced flavor than its all-purpose counterpart. 


In the U.S., most whole wheat flours come from red wheat; in this recipe, I opt for whole wheat flour milled from white wheat.To be clear: white whole wheat flour doesn’t refer to the color of the flour, but rather the type of wheat from which it’s made, which has the same brownish shade and a similarly rustic texture to other whole wheat flours.  It has a slightly lower protein content (about 12%) compared to standard whole wheat flour (about 13%), which helps keep the shortbread tender while still bringing a subtle earthiness. (Flours with a higher protein content tend to develop more gluten, which can result in a tougher, chewier cookie.) If you can’t find white whole wheat flour, you can use a whole wheat made from red wheat—it’ll still be delicious, just not quite as “short.

Mix in Some Cornstarch for the Tenderest Shortbread

In addition to all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour, you’ll notice there’s a hefty amount of cornstarch in Gaga’s recipe. Bakers often add the ingredient to their baked goods to “soften” the proteins in the flour, a process food science writer Harold McGee describes as diluting the gluten proteins. “Because different flours have not only different protein contents, but different protein qualities, it’s not really possible to turn all-purpose flour into pastry flour or vice versa,” he writes in his book On Food and Cooking. “However, it’s possible to dilute the gluten proteins of a given flour by the addition of cornstarch or another pure starch,” which encourages tenderness. It’s why many home cooks combine all-purpose flour with cornstarch to approximate pastry flour when they don’t have any on hand. 


Incorporating cornstarch into the shortbread dough is an easy way to reduce the overall gluten in the dough and, together with the hefty amount of melted butter, produces incredibly short cookies that melt in your mouth. And it’s why I’m not afraid to knead the dough a little—albeit gently!—to get it to come together or firmly press it into the pan. There are so many safeguards in place to ensure that this shortbread will stay tender, it’s nearly impossible to mess up, even if you’re a novice baker.


Note that some bakers, including Gaga, sometimes use rice flour in place of cornstarch in their shortbread for a more brittle texture. I’ve tried it both ways, and  while shortbread made with rice flour is delicious my husband and I both prefer the version with cornstarch since it produces a softer crumb, while the version with rice flour is slightly crispier.

Selecting the Sugar

Caster sugar is what the Brits call superfine sugar. It dissolves easily and has a sandy texture that’s finer than granulated sugar but coarser than icing sugar, making it a good in-between for baking and other confections. Gaga’s recipe originally called for regular caster sugar, but here, I’ve opted for golden caster sugar, which is unrefined and has a subtle butterscotch note. It’s a personal preference, and regular caster sugar or superfine sugar will work just fine. You can find golden caster sugar online, at British grocery stores, or specialty baking stores.

Making, Baking, and Shaping the Dough

Once you have the simple ingredients gathered together, there’s really not much to making this shortbread: You’ll whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour melted butter over the dry ingredients, then gently—but firmly—use your hands to knead until a cohesive dough forms. You’ll then press the dough into a rimmed baking sheet and smooth it out until it’s an even layer before popping it into the oven to bake.

Cutting and Serving the Shortbread

It’s easiest to cut the shortbread into portions in the pan while it’s still warm—if you wait until it’s cool, it’s likely to crumble apart. After you cut the cookies, you’ll sprinkle the tops with more caster sugar. While not all recipes call for sprinkling sugar on the shortbread when it comes out of the oven, I—like Gaga—love the slight crunch it gives the cookies.


And now you’ve reached the hardest part of the recipe: waiting for the shortbread to cool for an agonizing hour. Yes, an hour! This time is required for the shortbread to cool and set. In the meantime, you can enjoy the smell of cookies (or biscuits, if you’re from the U.K.) throughout your home. Baking a batch of this shortbread may not add a Gaga to your family—or transport you to Scotland—but it’s about as close as you can get.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Line a 9- by 13- inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, cornstarch, caster sugar, and salt until combined.

Overhead view of whisking dry ingredients together
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium-low heat until melted.  (Alternatively, melt butter in a medium bowl or measuring cup in the microwave.) Pour melted butter into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula or dough scraper, incorporate butter into dry ingredients, gently stirring and pressing to combine, until a cohesive dough just forms and no dry bits remain, about 1 minute. (Be careful not to overwork the dough.)

Two image collage of adding egg and dough formed
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Scrape dough into the prepared baking sheet and, using an offset spatula or the flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup, press dough into an even layer. Bake until fragrant and light golden, about 40 minutes.

Overhead view of smoothing dough
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Remove shortbread from oven and sprinkle top with a 3 tablespoons caster sugar. Using a knife, cut shortbread into individual portions while still warm. Allow shortbread to cool completely in the baking sheet, about 1 hour. Shake excess sugar off individual portions and serve.

Overhead of cutting cookies
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

9- by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet, parchment paper, whisk, offset spatula

Notes

White whole wheat flour has a slightly lower protein content than standard whole wheat flour, making it ideal for tender shortbread. If you can’t find white whole wheat flour, you can substitute with regular whole wheat flour. The shortbread will still be tender but not quite as “short.”

Make-Ahead and Storage

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. (Shortbread is best eaten within 3 days, after which it may begin to stale.)

Whipped Cottage Cheese Is Worth the Hype—and Takes Less Than 5 Minutes to Make

For a speedy snack that’s ready in less than five minutes, blend cottage cheese to make a luxuriously smooth and creamy dip you’ll want to eat with everything. Serve it with crackers, raw vegetables, or smear it on toast with your favorite jam or compote.

Whipped cottage cheese topped with fresh herbs and lemon zest next to raw vegetables.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I did not grow up eating cottage cheese. I did not see it in person for the first time until I was in high school, when a classmate peeled open a small container to eat with her fruit in the cafeteria. I was taken aback by the curds: Never before had I seen such tiny little globs floating in milky whey. Delicious as it might have been, I found cottage cheese off-putting. It conjured up images of Betty Draper types eating the kind of sad “diet plate” of cottage cheese, fruit, and burger patties that restaurants served from the 1950s to the 1980s. It gave me visions of J. Crew-clad couples lounging by a pool, cottage cheese–filled cantaloupe halves in hand. I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat cottage cheese until I discovered the pleasures of whipped cottage cheese 


I was ~ influenced ~ by the folks on TikTok, who were blending it into a luxuriously smooth and creamy dip to go with their crackers and raw vegetables. Gone were the curds; in their place was something that resembled whipped ricotta or mascarpone, an elegant spread you wouldn’t be surprised to find at a nice restaurant. I saw people smearing whipped cottage cheese on toast and topping it with sliced figs and honey or swirling it with fruit compote or jam


There were savory spins, too. It was the star of girl dinners everywhere: Vloggers transformed cottage cheese into a creamy ranch dip by blitzing the dairy with garlic powder, onion powder, dill, parsley, and sour cream. Others incorporated fresh garlic, herbs, and lemon zest into their dip, while others kept it simple with a topping of marinated tomatoes or drizzle of mouth-numbing chili crisp. Like other creamy dairy products—think yogurt or ricotta—cottage cheese is a blank slate, making it a versatile match for a wide range of flavors. 

Whipped cottage cheese in a bowl with fresh herbs and lemon zest. Raw vegetables on the side.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Could this whipped cottage cheese situation be…good? I wasn’t quite sold yet, but I was curious enough to try it myself. My fear of cottage cheese—like most of my other fears—turned out to have been unfounded. And in hindsight, slightly irrational. I discovered that even before blending, cottage cheese was surprisingly good all on its own, straight out of the tub (especially the full-fat variety). A few pulses in the food processor was all it took to turn it into a luscious dip I soon wanted to eat with everything: on toast with sliced bananas for breakfast, blended with fruit and frozen into “ice cream” for dessert, with raw vegetables as a snack. 


My very favorite way to eat whipped cottage cheese is garnished with a shower of chopped fresh herbs and lemon zest. It's a refreshing dip for crackers and vegetables that I frequently turn to as an easy, protein-packed desk lunch. I like it with a combo of fresh parsley, chives, and dill, but you could use just one or two of those herbs or whatever soft herbs you have on hand. When I made a batch of this simple dip for my coworkers in the midst of our Starch Madness photo shoots, they gobbled it up enthusiastically alongside their sandwiches stuffed with Spam and Taylor ham. 


I no longer fear cottage cheese and would happily eat it with the curds. But it’s so easy and delicious whipped that I see no reason to eat it as-is. As the youngsters say these days: This is the way.

In the bowl of a food processor, process cottage cheese until just blended. Using a silicone spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and process until creamy and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. Season to taste. (See notes.)

Photo of cottage cheese in a food processor.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Transfer whipped cottage cheese to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped herbs and lemon zest, if using. Serve with cut vegetables.

Whipped cottage cheese in the bowl of a food processor.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez
Whipped cottage cheese in a bowl with fresh herbs and lemon zest. Raw vegetables on the side.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Food processor, silicone spatula

Notes

If using an immersion blender: Using a silicone spatula, scrape cottage cheese into a cup or bowl just wide enough to fit the head of an immersion blender. Place head of immersion blender into bottom of the cup and blend until smooth, slowly moving head as needed to evenly blend cottage cheese, 1 to 2 minutes.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Whipped cottage cheese can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Chip Butty

The chip butty, a sandwich of fried potatoes on buttered, untoasted white bread, is a staple at fish and chip shops across the United Kingdom—and is the sandwich you never knew you needed.

Side View of Chip Butty
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When I first told my colleagues about the chip butty, nobody believed me. British chips…sandwiched between two slices of buttered, untoasted white bread? Hey, don’t knock it until you try it. The chip butty is a working-class staple sold at chippies—fish and chip shops— across the United Kingdom, and the delightful, comforting snack I sought out as a university student in Scotland many years ago. There was a lot of rain and not a lot of shine, and I, like many other students, drowned my sorrows in fried food. As journalist Tony Naylor wrote in The Guardian, “Hard liquor and soft drugs aside, the chip butty is the most reliable way we human beings have to mentally shut out this harsh world and, momentarily, transport ourselves to a happier, more innocent place.”

According to journalist Sam Hancock, the chip butty’s origins can be traced to Britain’s “second-ever fish and chip shop” called Mr Lees [sic], which opened in 1863 in Lancashire, a county in the north of England. Mr Lees “quickly became known for its generously sized ‘chip barms,’ though the term “chip barm” itself didn’t start appearing in dictionaries, books, or even newspapers until well into the 20th century,” when more chip shops started popping up across the country. (A barm cake is a soft roll leavened with barm, a by-product of beer or wine fermentation.) 

Side view of chip butty
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


Whether the sandwich is referred to as a chip barm or chip butty is purely a regional and cultural thing; some even refer to it as a chip sarnie or chip roll. Regardless of what it’s called, the chip sandwich is a mainstay at chippies across the country, and though it’s traditionally a blue-collar meal, some have pointed out that the new middle-class in Britain have tried to distinguish themselves by “improving” on traditional working class foods like the chip butty. (See: Gordon Ramsay making a chip butty.)

It’s a simple sandwich, but that makes it even more important to get its few components right. The bread must be white, the butter must be soft enough to spread, and the chips should be hot. I’m a staunch believer that the chips should be seasoned with salt and malt vinegar, which helps to cut through the greasiness of the chips. (As a student in Scotland, I was told by British friends that the reason vinegar is so essential to fish and chips is so you can’t taste how old and rancid the fryer oil is. How true this is, I do not know, but I will continue to douse my chips in plenty of vinegar regardless of how clean the oil is.)

Side view of chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If you live in Britain, you could very easily purchase chips to make this—or just purchase a chip butty. But if you live somewhere where there are no British chips to be found or what you’re after is a superb chip butty, it’s worth taking the time to make your own chips. I’ve included my recipe for triple-cooked British chips that are crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inside, and as for other components, I recommend a good dose of HP sauce for a tangy, savory kick or ketchup for a bit of sweetness. 


I don’t make or eat a chip butty often, but when I do, the sandwich never fails to take me to my happy place.

Using an offset spatula, generously butter 4 slices white sandwich bread. In a bowl, season chips generously with salt and a few dashes of malt vinegar, if desired. Top 2 slices of buttered bread with a handful of chips and top with remaining 2 slices of bread, pressing firmly to help the chips adhere to the bread. Serve immediately with HP sauce, or ketchup, if desired.

Two image collage of assembling chip butty
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I Cooked and Ate Many, Many Batches of Potatoes to Make the Best British Chips

Shatteringly crisp with a soft, fluffy interior, British chips are something of a marvel when done right, and are especially delicious when you season them liberally with a dash of salt and malt vinegar.

Overhead view of chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

People rarely make homemade chips in Britain. I don’t blame them. Just as French fries are widely available in the United States, you can get chips—British thick-cut fried potatoes—just about anywhere in the U.K. Shatteringly crisp with a soft, fluffy interior, British chips are something of a marvel when done right, and are especially delicious when you season them liberally with a dash of salt and malt vinegar. The spuds are a staple at pubs, chip shops, and restaurants, and like fries, they’re available frozen at the grocery store.

Interior of chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


Though they’re easily found in the United Kingdom, they’re not as common in the U.S., where people generally prefer thinner fries. I’m going to diplomatically say that one isn’t better than the other; they’re just different iterations of fried potatoes, a category of food I think we can all get behind. (If you don’t like crispy potatoes, who even are you???)


Though I spent four years living in the U.K. when I was in university and ate plenty of chips ranging from sub-par to great while there, I’ve had perfect chips just once in my life: last March, at chef Tom Kitchin’s The Scran and Scallie, a cozy gastropub in Edinburgh. We had a spectacular meal of cullen skink (a Scottish smoked fish chowder) and steak pie, complete with sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious, but it was the side of chips that I couldn’t stop thinking about. They were the platonic ideal of what a chip should be: piping hot and generously seasoned, with an extraordinarily crisp exterior that gave way to a pillowy cloud within.


After the chips arrived at the table, my husband and I spent the rest of dinner discussing how the kitchen fried up such wonderfully fluffy potatoes. I suspected they cooked the potatoes more than once and froze them in between. When I called the restaurant a year later to find out—the chips clearly left a mark on me if I still couldn't shake the thought of them after a year—they told me they get their fries frozen! But my suspicion was more or less correct: These particular frozen fries are quite fancy, triple-blanched and double-fried, frozen, then fried to order. 

Side view of chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


By the time I called the restaurant to find out, I was already well on my way to my own recipe that replicated their results. Mine isn't exactly the same as theirs, but it shares all the key techniques.

To develop my recipe, I looked at two popular fried potato techniques: one from British chef Heston Blumenthal, and the other from Kenji. Blumenthal’s triple-cooked chips are legendary, so much so that Britain’s Sunday Times called it his “most influential culinary innovation.” Blumenthal’s method goes something like this: Simmer the potatoes in water for 20 to 30 minutes until they’re practically falling apart, transfer the potatoes onto a cooling rack, then freeze them for at least an hour. He then has you blanch the potatoes in hot oil (266ºF/130ºC), freeze them again, then fry them for a final time at 350ºF (180ºC). Blumenthal’s recipe does produce very good, very fluffy chips. But by the time I’d simmered my potatoes for 20 minutes, most of them had begun to disintegrate. 

Close up of chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Like Blumenthal, Kenji also triple cooks his potatoes in his recipe for thin and crispy French fries, but utilizes vinegar to help the spuds keep their shape as they simmer. Kenji’s potatoes also cook in water for a lot less time than Blumenthal’s: 10 minutes as opposed to Blumenthal’s recommended 20 to 30 minutes. Kenji’s approach includes an optional step to freeze the potatoes between the first and second fry, and I tested batches of fries with and without this step. Though the fries that weren’t frozen were still good, they weren’t quite as fluffy as the ones that I froze overnight—and definitely not as fluffy as Blumenthal’s chips, which were frozen not once, but twice.


The resulting recipe below is a mish-mash of the two approaches. Like Kenji, I simmer the potatoes in a solution of water and vinegar. For chips with an incredibly soft interior, I, like Blumenthal, recommend freezing them between each stage of cooking. I’ve made it an optional step, as it isn’t necessary and may feel excessive to anyone looking for a simple chip recipe. Taking the time to freeze your taters, however, will absolutely produce the fluffiest chips. And if you’re going the extra mile to make chips from scratch, why not go hard and make the very best ones? 

How to Make the Crispiest British Chips

Cook Your Potatoes in Water and Vinegar

As Kenji explained in his French fry recipe, cooking the potatoes in water before frying them rinses off excess sugars and prevents the potatoes from becoming too dark as they fry. Now, you could go ahead and just boil your potatoes in water…or you could add vinegar to help strengthen the pectin in the potatoes. It’s a clever trick that Kenji uses; as he notes, pectin acts as a kind of glue by holding a potato’s cells together. Within those cells, there are starch granules that swell—and eventually burst—when they come in contact with heat and water. Using a solution of water, salt, and vinegar helps to bolster the pectin and the potatoes’ cell walls, which helps the potatoes keep their shape during both boiling and frying. It also helps them become (and stay!) extra crunchy, which is what we want in a chip.

Overhead view of transferring boiling potatoes
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Freeze Your Potatoes

Like I said, you can skip this step if you’re short on time—but there’s a very good reason for freezing your potatoes. According to Kenji, freezing potatoes “causes their moisture to convert to ice, forming sharp, jagged crystals. These crystals damage the cell structure of the potato, making it easier for them to be released once they are heated and convert to steam.” If you don’t want to freeze the potatoes twice—once after they’re boiled and again after they’ve been blanched in oil—consider freezing them just once after the initial boil. Kenji’s recipe doesn’t double-freeze, but it’s definitely worth doing if you have the time to do it: In my testing, I found that even the potatoes that were frozen for just three hours were significantly fluffier than those that spent no time in the freezer at all. 


Though Kenji recommends an overnight freeze for his potatoes, I didn’t taste a significant difference in texture between potatoes that had just been frozen for three hours and potatoes that were frozen overnight. As long as your potatoes are frozen solid, they’ll fry up into magnificently brittle chips with fluffy interiors.

Double-Fry Your Potatoes

As with any French fry recipe (sorry, I know, we’re talking about British chips) worth its salt (and vinegar), we’re going to double-fry these spuds. Remember how we talked about the cell walls being held together by pectin earlier? According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, gently frying the potatoes at a lower temperature gives the starch in the potatoes’ surface cells “time to dissolve from the granules and reinforce and glue together the outer cell walls into a thicker, more robust layer.” It’s only after this outer coating has been established that we can fry the spuds for a second time at higher heat to expel any remaining moisture, creating an ultra-crisp potato. (Kenji’s also written extensively about why we should double-fry French fries.)

Overhead view of frying chips
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez


This is why French fries are often first blanched in oil before they are fried a second time. McGee recommends initially cooking the potatoes in relatively cool oil within the temperature range of 250 to 325ºF (121 to 163ºC); I oil-blanch mine at 265ºF. It’s essential for the potatoes to cool completely between the first and second fry; if you aren’t freezing the potatoes, you’ll want to transfer them to a wire rack, where excess oil can drip off and any remaining moisture can easily evaporate before you proceed with the second round of frying.

Season Generously

Last, but most certainly not least, you’ll want to season your spuds generously with salt and a touch of malt vinegar. Because the only thing worse than having no chips is having poorly seasoned chips. And nobody wants that. Salt and malt vinegar are traditional seasonings for chips in the U.K., and though the vinegar is optional, it adds an acidic kick that cuts through the greasiness of the potatoes. These chips take time and multiple stages of cooking, but they’re so worth it for that perfect bite. Just ask our editors who gobbled them up in the test kitchen. They devoured them faster than you could say chip butty!

In a 6-quart Dutch oven, add potatoes, distilled white vinegar, 3 quarts (2.8L) water, and 3 tablespoons (36g) salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil until potatoes are fully tender, but not falling apart, about 12 minutes. Drain and spread into an even layer on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Let dry for 5 minutes. For best results, freeze potatoes for at least 3 hours, until frozen solid, and up to overnight before continuing with step 2.

Overhead view of boiling potatoes
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels; set aside. In a 6-quart Dutch oven or large wok, heat oil over high heat to 265ºF (130ºC). Add one-third of chips and cook, using a spider skimmer to agitate occasionally, until a crust begins to form, 3 to 5 minutes. Use spider skimmer to transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Return oil to 265ºF (130ºC) and repeat frying with the remaining potatoes,working in 2 more batches. Let potatoes cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. For best results, transfer potatoes to a wire rack set within a rimmed baking sheet and freeze potatoes for at least 3 hours, until frozen solid, and up to overnight before continuing with step 3.

Four image collage of frying fries for the first time
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200ºF (90ºC). Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Reheat oil in Dutch oven over high heat to 400ºF (205ºC). Add half of the potatoes and fry until crisp and light golden brown, about 3 1/2 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a temperature of around 360ºF (180ºC). Transfer to a  paper-towel lined bowl and season immediately with kosher salt and a dash of malt vinegar, if using and toss to combine. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and hold warm in the oven. Return oil to 400ºF (205ºC) and repeat frying and seasoning with the remaining chips. Serve.

Two image collage of chips being fried and salted
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

6-quart Dutch oven, pot, or wok, wire rack, rimmed baking sheet, instant read thermometer, spider