Ham and Bean Soup Recipe

A rich and hearty soup that is undeniably satisfying.

Ham and bean soup
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Ham and bean soup, made with white beans and pork, goes by many names: ham bone soup, navy bean soup, and Senate soup (the latter famously thickened with mashed potatoes) to name a few. Whatever you call it, countless versions abound. Some are brothy and keep the beans more or less intact, while others veer into creamy territory as the beans break down into the soup. My version borrows from both—combining aromatic vegetables, tender whole and puréed navy beans, fresh and dried herbs, and smoked ham hocks—to yield a comforting stew-like soup that’s packed with layers of flavor and texture. 

Recipes for ham and bean soup run the gamut in terms of the type of white bean used, with navy, great northern, and cannellini all common. Ultimately, the bean you choose greatly influences the finished consistency. Out of the three varieties, cannellini and great northern beans retained their structure most, producing a soup with visible, prominent whole beans. Once blended, great northern beans, which have the firmest flesh of the three, yielded a soup with a slightly coarse and grainy texture. On the other hand, cannellini beans produced a creamier soup, but couldn’t hold a candle against my preferred choice—Navy beans, which have the softest flesh, break down the most, and give way to the richest, creamiest soup of the bunch. 

Ham & bean soup in a ceramic bowl.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

To start, I opt for the quick soaking method and skip the tricks for speeding up the bean-tenderization time like adding baking soda to the pot—the ham hocks have to cook for a long time anyway, rendering a bean-cooking shortcut moot. They'll be cooked perfectly by the time the ham hocks are ready. While the beans soak, I sweat a medley of onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until softened to draw out their moisture and flavor. Once cooked, I scrape the vegetables into a bowl for later (this way they’ll add texture to the soup and remain tender, instead of becoming mushy, as everything simmers). Meaty, smoked ham hocks go into the pot next, along with the drained beans, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and water. I keep the lid on for most of the cooking time to prevent the liquid from evaporating and reducing.

Once the beans are soft and tender, I reserve a portion of the beans, fish out the ham hocks and herbs, then blend a portion into a purée, which will contribute to the soup’s creamy consistency. An immersion blender makes quick work of it but a countertop blender will get the job done too. To finish, I stir in the reserved vegetables, beans, and meat from the hocks and let it all simmer together until the soup thickens and almost resembles a stew.

Finished with minced parsley leaves and freshly ground black pepper, this rich, hearty soup is undeniably satisfying. However, I’d argue it’s even better the next day. An overnight stint in the refrigerator will thicken it up quite a bit, making it even creamier than before.

In a 4-quart saucier, combine beans and 3 quarts (2.8L) water; season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans; set aside.

Beans soaking in a saucier.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrots, and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Transfer vegetables to a small heatproof bowl; set aside.

Diced, cooked vegetables in a metal bowl.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

In the same Dutch oven, add remaining 2 quarts (1.9L) water, along with thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and ham hocks. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until ham hocks are tender, about 1 hour.

Ham hock and herbs boiling.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Stir in beans and return to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat if needed. Cover and cook, stirring halfway through, until beans are completely tender and meat is falling off the bones, about 2 hours. Discard thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Using tongs, transfer ham hocks to a cutting board and set aside until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 2 1/2 cups beans to a medium heatproof bowl; set aside.

Ham hock and navy beans resting on a cutting board.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Once ham hocks are cool, roughly chop meat using a sharp knife; discard skin, bones, and fat. Set aside.

Chopped ham hock.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth (if using a countertop blender, blend in batches, if necessary, and start blending at low speed before increasing to high, then return pureed soup to the pot). Add reserved beans, meat, vegetables back to pot, stirring to combine. Return to a gentle simmer, then cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and ham is heated through, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stirring ham & bean soup to combine.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Divide soup among warmed bowls and sprinkle with parsley and pepper.

A bowl of ham & bean soup garnished with parsley.
Serious Eats / Liz Voltz

Special Equipment

4-quart saucier, large Dutch oven, immersion blender or countertop blender

Make-Ahead and Storage

The soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.  The soup will thicken after being refrigerated. If reheating, thin as needed with water to achieve desired consistency.

Bacon, Cheese, and Kale Strata

A hearty, comforting meal of stale bread, silky custard, crisp bacon, and hearty kale that can be prepared well in advance and enjoyed any time of day.

Kale and bacon strata in a baking dish with one portion removed
Liz Voltz

For those unfamiliar with strata, it’s essentially a breakfast casserole reminiscent of a savory bread pudding or eggy stuffing. Built on a foundation of bread, eggs, and cheese, enhanced with milk and cream, and gussied up with an endless combination of add-ins—in this case, that includes crispy bacon and tender kale. All the work can be done the night before, so all that’s left is the simple task of putting it in the oven when you wake up.

The ideal strata should be creamy, not rubbery, and easy to slice into neat portions, with a slightly crisp top. Strata is composed of layers, just like the name suggests (‘strata’ is a geological term that refers to layers of rock or soil), which ensures that the ingredients are evenly dispersed, much like a lasagna.

In theory, you can use any type of bread: I tested with crusty baguette, sourdough, and even rye. None of these were particularly disappointing, but the clear winner was supermarket-style “French” or “Italian” bread. The finer hole structure, thin crust, and soft, pillowy texture improves the absorption and retention of the flavorful custard. Another great option is a quality white sandwich loaf, but I don't recommend brioche, which is a bit too rich given the other ingredients in the dish.

In order to create a custardy strata, the bread should really be one with the custard. A beautiful strata combiners the two ingredients completely, producing a fluffy, cloud-like texture. After some trial and error, I chose to measure by weight (not volume) and settled on the following ratio: 2 parts bread, 2 parts eggs, 2 parts dairy, 2 parts add-ins, and 1 part cheese. Keep in mind that a large egg generally weighs 2 ounces.

To ensure the bread absorbs the maximum amount of custard, it must be dried out. Drying the bread in the oven extracts moisture while leaving the crumb’s structure intact, making oven-dried bread a better option than stale bread, staling actually restructures the starch molecules, which can lead to unpleasantly chewy bread. Luckily, it's straightforward and doesn't take long to dry bread in a low oven.

I let the bread and custard soak in a large bowl for 30 minutes, stirring periodically to ensure the bread is well hydrated, before building the strata. I found that combining the two directly in a baking dish allows the custard to pool on the bottom, preventing some pieces of bread from being fully submerged, which produces an uneven texture in the final strata.

When baking a strata, please remember that not all bakeware is created equal and many brands are not broiler-safe—before proceeding, be sure to double check that your baking dish can withstand the heat of a broiler! I like the baking dishes by Emile Henry, which are both oven- and broiler-safe. If you use a dish that isn't broiler safe, like the ones. made by Pyrex, skip the broiling portion of the recipe (see note).

Strata is easily customizable, so feel free to try out your favorite add-ins or swap in different cheeses. Just keep in mind that high-moisture ingredients, such as mushrooms, spinach, or diced tomatoes, should be cooked or drained prior to assembly. Get creative and remember that beyond breakfast, strata also makes a wonderful lunch and dinner!

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). Spread bread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until completely dried, about 35 minutes, rotating baking sheet and stirring bread cubes several times during baking. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Cubes of bread in a sheet pan after being dried in a low oven
Liz Voltz

In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Drain and discard all but 1 tablespoon (15ml) bacon fat from the skillet. Add kale, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted but still vibrant in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Side by side photos of cooked bacon and kale
Liz Voltz

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream, Dijon, thyme, 3/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg until well combined. Add the dried bread and fold gently to combine. Let soak until bread is softened and slightly puffed, folding occasionally with a flexible spatula, at least 15 and no more than 30 minutes.

Dried bread cubes in a mixing bowl after soaking in strata custard mixture
Liz Voltz

Grease an 8-inch square ceramic or anodized aluminum baking dish (see note) with butter. Using a slotted spoon, add half of the soaked bread to the prepared baking dish, spreading it in an even layer. Top with half of the kale, half of the bacon, and half of the Gruyère. Repeat with remaining bread, kale, bacon, and cheese. Pour any remaining custard over the layered strata. Using a flexible spatula, gently press down the top of the strata so that all the layers are submerged in the custard, but take care not to compress the bread. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow strata to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to 325°F (160°C).

Collage showing layering of strata, with final photo showing flexible spatula pressing down on the contents of baking dish
Liz Voltz

Bake strata until cheese is slightly melted, about 20 minutes. Remove foil, return baking dish to oven and continue to bake until strata is puffed and the center no longer jiggles when shaken, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.

Baked strata before broiling
Liz Voltz

Adjust oven rack to 6 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler on high. Broil until surface of strata is lightly browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer to heatproof surface and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut into portions and serve.

Overhead view of broiled and finished strata
Liz Voltz

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, 8-inch square ceramic baking dish, slotted spoon, rubber spatula.

Notes

Before broiling the strata, please check that your baking dish is broiler-safe. Many baking dishes produced by popular brands, such as Pyrex, are not, so don’t take anything for granted and please refer to the manufacturer’s website for more information. Bear in mind that the timing may vary depending on the cookware involved, so pay close attention to the visual cues instead.

This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Make Ahead and Storage

Bread cubes can be dried up to 4 days in advance. Spread dried bread on a sheet pan, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and store at room temperature.

The cooked bacon and kale can be refrigerated separately in airtight containers for up to 4 days.

After covering the uncooked strata with foil, it can be refrigerated overnight. When ready to bake, remove the strata from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour; this will help the strata bake more evenly.

Leftovers can be stored in the baking dish covered with foil and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave in 45-second intervals.

To freeze, wrap individual portions tightly in plastic, transfer to a resealable freezer bag, and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

Ginger Spice Brownies

A complex blend of spices complements the rich chocolate and adds a warmth that’s perfect in the colder months.

Ginger spiced brownies laid out on a slice of parchment paper.
Liz Voltz

These brownies are fudgy and rich and covered with sparkling strands of crystallized ginger, which provide a contrasting textural chew. But what makes them particularly exceptional is a delicate blend of fragrant spices that evoke the flavors of wintertime. Infused with ginger, cardamom, coriander, allspice, nutmeg, and clove, this sumptuous chocolate treat is warm and woody, spicy and sweet. 

First things first—chocolate. I recommend using chocolate with a cacao content of about 70% (see some of our favorite supermarket brands under the “dark chocolate” section here). This delivers a deep chocolatey flavor that isn’t overly sweet. While it might be tempting to reach for a bag of chips, it’s worth it to splurge on a quality bar. Unlike chocolate bars, chips tend to have added stabilizers which can impede their ability to melt properly and leave a gritty texture once cooled. 

Chocolate is naturally acidic which is why I opt for Dutch process cocoa powder. Sometimes called “European style” cocoa powder, this unsweetened type has been processed with an alkalizing agent which scales down its natural acidity, making it less bitter. Dutched cocoa creates a cleaner chocolate flavor, fudgier texture, and adds that characteristic rich dark brown coloring highly admired in chocolate desserts.

A side view of ginger spiced brownies
Liz Voltz

A substantial and effective dose of spices is necessary in order to stand out against chocolate’s strong and encompassing flavor. Ginger, bright and peppery, is the lead flavor and utilized in powdered, fresh, and crystallized forms. It adds a gentle zesty heat to every bite. Coriander contributes a citrusy flavor, cardamom adds a crisp piney essence, and woody notes are supplied by a trio of allspice, nutmeg, and clove. This complex blend of spices complements the rich chocolate and adds a warmth that’s redolent of frosty months.

As Stella explains in her Glossy Fudge Brownies recipe, the most vital step for achieving fudgy brownies is whipping the eggs until thick, fluffy, and pale. Certain elements, such as temperature and mixer horsepower, can affect the amount of time it takes to whip the eggs, so keep an eye out on the visual cues rather than a strict timeline.

I know it’s not easy, but give the brownies at least 30 minutes to cool after they come out of the oven. This resting period amplifies the fudginess and gives the brownies, which will appear puffed at first, time to settle and level out.

This winter-worthy treat is guaranteed to enchant your senses and satisfy any chocolate craving.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line an 8-inch square anodized aluminum baking pan with foil to cover the bottom and two sides, leaving overhang on the sides. If you like, grease lightly with pan spray.

A square pan lined with foil.
Liz Voltz

In a small stainless steel saucier, melt butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a heat-resistant spatula. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and stir in chocolate; the mixture will seem quite thin. Set aside.

A thin butter-chocolate mixture in a saucier.
Liz Voltz

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine granulated sugar, muscovado sugar, eggs, vanilla, grated ginger, ground ginger, salt, coriander, allspice, nutmeg, instant espresso (if using), cardamom, and clove. Whip on medium-high until extremely thick and fluffy, about 8 minutes. (The whipping time can vary significantly depending on bowl size, batter temperature, and mixer wattage, so use the visual cues as your primary guide.)

granulated sugar, muscovado sugar, eggs, vanilla, grated gingCoriander, allspice, nutmeg, instant espresso, cardamom, and clove being whisked in a stand mixer.
Liz Voltz

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together flour and cocoa powder. When the egg mixture is fluffy and thick, reduce speed to low and pour in the warm chocolate-butter mixture. Once it is incorporated, add flour-cocoa mixture all at once and continue mixing until roughly combined. Finish with a flexible spatula, scraping and folding to ensure batter is well mixed from the bottom up.

Brownie mixture in a stand mixer bowl.
Liz Voltz

Pour into prepared pan and tap firmly on the counter to even out the batter. Top with an even layer of crystallized ginger. Bake until brownies are glossy and just barely firm, about 35 minutes, or to an internal temperature of 205°F (96°C). (Take care that the probe is inserted at a sharp angle to avoid touching the bottom of the pan.) The timing of this recipe is based on anodized aluminum and will vary significantly with glass, ceramic, or nonstick pans, materials that will also affect the brownies' consistency.

Brownie batter fills an aluminum-lined baking pan.
Liz Voltz

Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool so that the crumb of the brownies can set, about 30 minutes. Slide a butter knife between the brownies and the sides of the pan that aren’t lined with foil; gently tug on the foil, then lift to remove the brownies from the pan. Cut into sixteen 2-inch squares. Serve or transfer to an airtight container with a sheet of wax paper between layers, and store for up to 1 week at room temperature.

Brownies being lifted from their baking pan.
Liz Voltz

Special Equipment

8-inch square anodized aluminum pan, stand mixer

Make-Ahead and Storage

Stored in an airtight container, with a sheet of wax paper between the layers, the brownies will keep about 1 week at room temperature.

Notes

Muscovado sugar is sold in many grocery stores; we prefer it for its rich molasses flavor and moisture content. If you cannot find muscovado sugar, dark brown sugar is a great substitute.

Pomegranate Rouge

A subtly sweet and lightly tart drink perfect for every occasion.

Pomegranate rouge cocktail garnished with a lemon twist.
Debbie Wee

Inspired by the classic French 75, this cocktail is fizzy, pleasantly sweet, slightly spiced, and refreshingly tart. Designed with the fall and winter months in mind, it's made with pomegranate simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, sparkling wine, and Lillet Rouge.

Lillet is a brand of French aromatized aperitif wines made with Bordeaux grapes and fortified with citrus liqueurs. While lovely on their own, these aperitifs are marvelous when topped off with something bubbly, such as club soda, or stirred into a mixed drink. Lillet Rouge is ruby red, clear, and bright—a blend of oaky Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that’s dry and rich with tannins, with detectable notes of orange, berries, spices, and vanilla. It's the perfect companion to piquant pomegranate and tangy citrus.

A single Champagne flute garnished with a lemon twist.
Debbie Wee

While it is possible to juice fresh pomegranate to make the syrup in this recipe, it’s messy (the juice stains badly) and somewhat labor intensive, and pure pomegranate juice can be found in most supermarkets year-round. The pomegranate simple syrup needs only a gentle warming on the stovetop to dissolve the sugar. To round out that syrupy sweetness, fresh lemon juice is key. After testing a range of citrus options, from tangerine to grapefruit and minneola tangelo, good old lemon was the clear winner. Because Lillet Rouge is slightly sweet and has hints of orange, the lemon juice adds brightness to the cocktail, complementing the other components without competing with them.

After rattling together the Lillet Rouge, lemon juice, and pomegranate simple syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker, pour it into a large flute or coupe (I love a coupe!), and top it off with fizzy Champagne or sparkling wine. There's no occasion this drink isn't perfect for, whether you’re having guests over for dinner, hosting a holiday party, or simply enjoying an after-work cocktail.

For the Pomegranate Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and pomegranate juice, set over medium heat, and cook, stirring, just until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar or other heat-proof container and let cool completely, about 20 minutes.

Pomegranate juice and sugar being whisked together in a saucepan
Debbie Wee

For the Pomegranate Rouge: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the Lillet Rouge, lemon juice, and pomegranate simple syrup. Cover and shake until the shaker is very cold, about 15 seconds. Strain the mixture into a large Champagne flute or coupe and top with Champagne or sparkling wine. Stir gently and garnish with a long lemon spiral.

Pomegranate rouge in a Champagne flute with a citrus twist garnish on a serving platter
Debbie Wee

Special Equipment

Cocktail shaker, cocktail strainer, Champagne flute or coupe glass.

Notes

This recipe makes enough pomegranate simple syrup to yield four Pomegranate Rouge cocktails, but can easily be doubled or tripled.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The prepared pomegranate simple syrup can be refrigerated for up to one week in an airtight container.

Curry Chicken Salad

Tender poached chicken and homemade Madras curry powder come together in this rich and flavorful curry chicken salad.

curry chicken salad
Vicky Wasik

If you’re a fan of chicken salad and curry, this recipe is for you. It’s fragrant, flavorful, and perfectly spiced, and it has the right amount of mayo to bind all the ingredients together while letting the textures of crisp scallions and chewy raisins shine.

There are a lot of curry powder styles to choose from, but Madras curry is one of my favorites. I tested this recipe with a store-bought blend first, and while it was good, I found myself supplementing with additional doses of cumin, coriander, and cayenne, so I decided to make a homemade blend instead

Similar to the way Daniel developed his spice mix for his Japanese curry recipe, I started by studying the ingredient lists of numerous Madras curry powders. Coriander appeared to be the main ingredient, and all of the powders contained turmeric and cumin. Fennel, fenugreek, and mustard showed up consistently, too, while the inclusion of spices like cinnamon, clove, and garlic varied by brand. 

After rounds of testing, I upped my measurements for cumin and turmeric, which contribute more depth and earthiness. I also included garlic powder, for added savoriness, and cayenne pepper, for an extra kick. I used whole spices wherever I could and toasted them before grinding, since toasting whole spices will improve their aromas and flavors.

For this recipe, a custom spice blend is definitely worth the effort—it’s fragrant, robust, and easy to adjust based on personal preference. My recipe yields about 1/3 cup of curry powder, which will leave you with a few tablespoons leftover to use however you like. Sprinkle it over popcorn, add it to egg salad, or stir it into stews and sauces (although you may want to think about blooming it in oil first).

While Kenji’s chicken salad involves cooking the chicken breasts sous-vide, I wanted the same results but without the special equipment, so I followed Daniel’s guide to cold-start poaching—basically sous-vide without the plastic bag. I added the chicken to a pot of cold water (no aromatics needed since we’ll be adding plenty of flavor later on), brought it up to 150°F (65°C), and allowed it to cook ever so gently. After about 45 minutes, I was rewarded with ultra juicy and tender meat. I chose to use skinless, boneless chicken breast, but feel free to use whichever cuts you prefer. I’m firmly team shredded chicken when it comes to chicken salad, since the seasoning can really coat each little strand with flavor. I also like how shreds stick together, so if the chicken salad is on a cracker, it doesn’t become a balancing act. But to each their own!

After the curry powder and chicken have been prepared, I make the curry mayo. To complement its warm heat, I add a touch of apricot preserves to contribute a tangy sweetness, before folding in the chicken, scallions, and raisins.

Warm and spicy, bright and fresh, slightly tangy, and perfectly sweet, this curried chicken salad is delicious served as a sandwich or with toast or crackers alongside, or even, of course, all on its own.

For the Madras Spice Blend: In a small skillet, combine cumin, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, peppercorns, and mustard seeds. Over medium heat, stir and swirl the spices until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer whole spices to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Empty into a small bowl and combine with turmeric, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

madras curry powder
Vicky Wasik

For the Poached Chicken: In a large saucepan, combine water and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (15g) salt and stir to dissolve. Add chicken and set over medium-high heat until water temperature reaches between 150 and 160°F (65-70°C) on an instant-read thermometer; adjust heat to maintain water temperature in the 150–160°F range. (It's okay if the temperature bounces around a little, but try to keep it above 150 and below 170°F.) Cook until thickest part of chicken registers 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Shred chicken and set aside.

Poaching chicken breasts and then shredding into bite-size pieces.
Vicky Wasik

For the Chicken Salad: In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, apricot preserves, Madras spice blend, and 1 teaspoon (4g) salt. Add chicken, raisins, and scallions and fold with a rubber spatula until well combined. Serve.

final step making curry chicken salad
Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Instant-read thermometer, spice grinder.

Notes

Fenugreek seeds (also sold as methi seeds) can be found online or at specialty spice stores. This fragrant spice has a rich and nutty flavor that is similar to maple syrup.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Madras Spice Blend can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months at cool room temperature. Store away from light and heat. 

Refrigerate chicken salad in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Cornbread Muffins

Moist and tender cornbread muffins made with canned creamed corn.

cornbread muffins

There are a few things I look for when it comes to cornbread. It can't be dry, it has to have a tender, non-gritty crumb, and I like it to actually taste like, well, corn. These cornbread muffins meet all of those requirements. They're soft and almost cake-like, with a rich, buttery corn flavor, thanks to the addition of creamed corn—yup, straight from the can. 

To make this recipe, you'll have to purchase fine- or medium-ground cornmeal, which is what yields that cake-like consistency; coarse cornmeal tends to produce a grittier and more crumbly cornbread. That being said, the cornmeal shouldn't be a fine powder. Unfortunately, not all brands specify the grind size, which varies from brand to brand, although I've found Quaker and Bob's Red Mill to be reliable mass-market options. To give the muffins a bit more structure and to further limit their tendency to crumble, I also stir some all-purpose flour into the mix. In addition to the creamed corn, I add a dollop of sour cream to the batter, which adds creaminess and offers a little welcome tang.

This recipe works well as-is, but it's also a great base for add-ins. Feel free to stir in flavorings and mix-ins, as long as they're low-moisture and low-acidity, as adding high-moisture or very acidic ingredients can negatively affect the muffins' structure and texture. A few of my favorite additions are brown butter and sage, chopped pimientos and grated cheddar cheese, and thinly sliced scallions. Instructions for these variations can be found in the recipe's notes section.

I tested a few batches of this recipe using paper cupcake liners and, while it wasn’t a total disaster, a significant amount of cornbread stuck to the liners when they were peeled off. I prefer to grease my nonstick or aluminum muffin pans and pour the batter straight in. The muffins still came out easily with the assistance of a small offset spatula, leaving the tins in pretty good shape for washing up.

I also ran some tests to dial in the best baking temperature. When baked at 425°F (220°C), the recipe produced muffins with golden brown bottoms and sides and a slightly taller rise. However, the tops were more cracked than muffins baked at 350°F (177°C). The lower temperature delivered a more tender crumb as well. I leave it to you to decide which temperature to use, as it's a personal call that depends on whether you want to prioritize browning or tenderness more. When tasted by a group in the Serious Eats test kitchen, more people voted for the higher-temp batch, so that's what the recipe below calls for. Also, don’t be alarmed by the amount of batter going into each mold. It should be pretty full, as the muffins will rise and puff but won’t spread laterally.

These cornbread muffins are at their best when served freshly baked and warm, slathered with softened butter (honey doesn't hurt either). But if you have any left over, you can always freeze them for later. Place the muffins in an airtight, resealable plastic bag and store them in the freezer for up to three months. To reheat, let them thaw completely at room temperature, wrap them in aluminum foil (this will prevent them from drying out), and bake at 350°F until warm. Alternatively, wrap the muffins in a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second intervals until warm.

I love serving these muffins with chili, barbecued meats, braised beans, and creamy chicken soup. Sunny yellow cornbread muffins are also great for breakfast, either all by themselves or with a larger meal like sausage and eggs.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 425°F (220°C). In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Dry mix for cornbread muffins in a mixing bowl
Vicky Wasik

In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, eggs, creamed corn, milk, and sour cream until homogenous.

Wet mix for cornbread muffins in a bowl
Vicky Wasik

Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients until well combined. Do not over-mix.

Wet ingredients being mixed with dry ingredients for cornbread muffins
Vicky Wasik

Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin nonstick or aluminum muffin pan with cooking spray. Divide batter evenly among the cups, about 76g (5 tablespoons) each, then firmly tap muffin pan on the counter to even out batter. This is enough to almost completely fill each cup with batter, but do not be alarmed; it will rise but spread very little overall.

Muffin tin filled with cornbread muffin batter
Vicky Wasik

Bake until firm to touch, light golden in color, and a toothpick inserted into cornbread comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then use a small offset spatula to lift each muffin from the pan. Serve warm.

Baked cornbread muffins in muffin tin
Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Nonstick or aluminum muffin pan, small offset spatula.

Notes

For scallion cornbread, fold 1 cup (3 ounces; 80g) thinly sliced scallions into the batter.

For pimento cheese cornbread, fold 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese and one 4-ounce jar pimientos, drained, into the batter.

For brown butter and sage cornbread, melt the recipe's 8 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. Proceed with the recipe, folding 1 tablespoon of minced fresh sage into the batter.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Leftover cornbread muffins can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container for up to 3 days. 

To freeze baked cornbread muffins, store in an air-tight sealable plastic bag. Let thaw at room temperature, then wrap in aluminum foil and reheat in a 350°F (177°C) oven until warm, about 15 minutes. Alternatively, wrap the muffins in a damp paper towel and microwave in 15-second intervals until warm.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

A mousse-like pumpkin pie made with a light and airy meringue filling that’s perfect for the holidays.

Slice of pumpkin chiffon pie on a serving plate next to pie plate with pumpkin chiffon pie
Vicky Wasik

I think that there absolutely must be a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, since it doesn’t feel right without one. But the one I like to make isn't the classic loved by so many, it's this silky, dreamy, light-as-air pumpkin chiffon pie.

A pumpkin chiffon pie is similar to a normal pumpkin pie, but the pumpkin filling, seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, is stabilized with gelatin and then made airy and light by folding in Swiss meringue. The result is a lush and lofty pie filling that, when refrigerated until set, is reminiscent of mousse.

While chiffon pies are often made with a graham cracker or cookie crust, my preference is for a buttery and flaky old-fashioned pie crust, since it adds textural contrast to the pie's soft and smooth filling. The pastry crust also acts as a durable base and adds some stability to the pie, making it much easier to slice and maneuver.

The Three Keys to Pumpkin Chiffon Filling: Squash Purée, Gelatin, and Meringue

As Stella has noted before, most canned pumpkin purée is actually made from a type of squash that's very similar to butternut sqush. Because of this, I tested my pie with canned pumpkin as well as homemade roasted butternut squash purée. The results were very similar, except that the homemade butternut squash purée had a slightly more complex flavor. Roasting any ingredient adds complexity, which in this case means extra notes of caramel and butterscotch in the final dish. The canned version really wasn’t too far behind though; it delivered a sweet, earthy, and balanced pumpkin chiffon pie. Ultimately, the choice is totally up to you!

Because the filling is so light, it needs the added structure unflavored, powdered gelatin provides to hold its shape. First, to activate its thickening properties, the gelatin must be bloomed by sprinkling the powdered gelatin over a liquid (in this case, water) and allowing it to absorb the moisture. Since since prolonged exposure to high heat can weaken its gelling properties, I play it safe by adding the bloomed gelatin to the pot after the custard is already cooked and thickened.

The light-as-a-feather texture of this pie comes from Swiss meringue. Many recipes for pumpkin chiffon pie will use French meringue, which is made with raw egg whites, but this can poses a slight risk of food-borne illness and shortens the shelf life of the dish. (While a carton of pasteurized egg whites might seem like a convenient solution for the risks associated with raw eggs, they don’t whip up as light, resulting in a poor meringue.)

The Swiss meringue is made by cooking the egg whites to 175°F (79°C), which means you can feel comfortable serving this dessert to anyone and everyone. It also means, as Stella notes in her write up of Swiss meringue, that the meringue becomes more stable, so you can make this pie in advance and keep leftovers for a longer period of time without worry.

As a safety precaution, this recipe actually makes double the amount of Swiss meringue you need for the pie. You can, in fact, make the Swiss meringue successfully by halving the quantities (so, three large egg whites instead of six, etc.), but your margin of error is smaller. With the lower volume of ingredients, it's more difficult to check the temperature of the mixture accurately, which in turn makes it easier to overcook, which will produce a grainy result. If you're confident in your Swiss meringue abilities, go ahead and reduce the meringue ingredients by half; if not, stick with the recipe as written since it's more foolproof.

Once the pie is assembled, chilled, set, and ready to serve, top it off with a cloud of brown sugar whipped cream and an extra sprinkle of cinnamon.

For the Pumpkin Base: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (205°C). Place squash halves cut-side down on a foil-lined aluminum baking sheet. Roast until fork-tender, about 45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape pulp into a food processor and purée until smooth. Measure out 14 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups; 395g) squash purée (leftovers can be refrigerated for another use). Use warm, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

20170914-bravetart-pumpkin-pie-vicky-wasik-squash-collage.jpg
Vicky Wasik

Add the water to a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin evenly on top. Let stand until gelatin absorbs the water and becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.

Gelatin bloomed in water in a small mixing bowl on a wooden counter
Vicky Wasik

In a 3-quart saucepan, add the egg yolks, sugar, milk, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and whisk to combine. Turn the heat to medium and cook, whisking frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. A few bubbles are okay, but do not let it boil.

Collage of photos showing egg yolks, sugar, milk, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg being whisked in a saucier
Vicky Wasik

Once the custard has thickened, reduce heat to low and stir in bloomed gelatin. Whisk until gelatin is completely dissolved and no lumps remain, about 45 seconds.

Gelatin being whisked into custard mixture for pumpkin chiffon pie
Vicky Wasik

Turn off heat and whisk in butternut squash purée and vanilla extract. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and chill in an ice-water bath, stirring occasionally, until cool to touch, about 10 minutes.

Collage showing squash purée and vanilla extract being whisked into custard mixture for pumpkin chiffon pie
Vicky Wasik

For the Swiss Meringue: Fill a wide pot with at least 1 1/2 inches of water, with a thick ring of crumpled tinfoil placed inside to act as a "booster seat." Place over high heat until steaming-hot, then adjust temperature to maintain a gentle simmer. Combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set on foil booster seat over steaming water, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula, until egg whites hold steady at 175°F (79°C), between 8 and 10 minutes (if the temperature seems to be rising too slowly, crank up the heat). Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip at high speed until meringue is glossy and beginning to ball up inside the whisk, about 5 minutes.

Collage showing heating and whipping of Swiss meringue
Vicky Wasik

Divide Swiss meringue in half, reserving one half for another use or discard (see note). Add about one third of remaining meringue into cold squash mixture and fold gently with a flexible spatula just until incorporated. Fold in remaining meringue in two additions until combined.

Collage showing Swiss meringue being folded into pumpkin chiffon filling
Vicky Wasik

To Assemble the Pie: Scrape filling into prepared, blind-baked crust and spread in an even layer. Cover loosely and refrigerate until filling is firm and cold, at least 5 hours and up to overnight.

Pie crust filled with pumpkin chiffon filling
Vicky Wasik

When ready to serve, top pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon. Slice into wedges with a hot chef’s knife, rinsing the knife under hot running water between slices. Carefully slide a pie server under the crust, making sure it reaches all the way to the tip of each wedge, and serve.

Side view of a slice of pumpkin chiffon pie
Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

9-inch glass deep-dish pie plate, food processor, whisk, 3-quart saucepan, stand mixer, flexible spatula, chef’s knife.

Notes

14 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups; 395g) canned pumpkin purée can be used in place of homemade butternut squash purée.

This recipe was not tested with sheet gelatin, which can vary substantially in bloom strength and use. For best results, use unflavored gelatin, such as the produced by the brand Knox.

This recipe makes double the Swiss meringue needed for the chiffon pie because it's easier to make the Swiss meringue successfully in larger batches. That said, if you're experienced at making Swiss meringue, it;'s possible to halve all of the meringue ingredients and still get great results without any producing any excess meringue.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The raw pie dough can be made, shaped, and refrigerated up to 24 hours in advance, if well wrapped in plastic. The butternut squash purée can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week in advance.

Wrapped in plastic, leftover pie can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Pesto Chicken Salad With Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Tender poached chicken with a tangy pesto dressing.

A bowl of pesto chicken salad with crackers on the side
Vicky Wasik

This chicken salad gets its vibrant flavor from bright basil pesto. Speckled with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, every bite is pleasantly tangy, and it makes for a great easy lunch or mid-afternoon snack.

For his Best Chicken Salad, Kenji cooked the chicken sous-vide. I wanted the same tender and juicy results, but without the special equipment, so I followed Daniel’s method for cold-start poaching, which only requires a saucepan and some patience. The method is simple: add chicken to a pot of cold water, bring the water up to 150°F (65°C) on the stovetop and then keep it at that temperature. The chicken gently cooks, and it’s ready once the internal temperature at the thickest point reaches 150 degrees as well. The only downside to this method is that it's quite slow, so to speed up the process I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of split bone-in breasts.

Once the chicken is cooked, I let it cool slightly before shredding it into pieces and tossing it with basil pesto, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. For the pesto, you can go all-out and make Daniel’s classic pesto alla Genovese, or just use store-bought. I also like to stir in chopped sun-dried tomatoes for extra flavor and texture. They’re sweet, tart, and chewy, and they complement the pungency of the pesto. Sharp and fresh, this pesto chicken salad goes great in a sandwich, on a salad, with crackers, or even straight from the fridge.

In a large saucepan, combine water and salt, and stir to dissolve salt. Add chicken and set over medium-high heat until water temperature registers between 150 and 160°F (65.5 to 71°C) on an instant-read thermometer; adjust heat to maintain water temperature in the 150–160°F range. (It's okay if the temperature bounces around a little, but try to keep it above 150 and below 170°F.) Cook until thickest part of chicken registers 150°F (65.5°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove chicken and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Using two forks or clean hands, shred chicken into bite-size pieces and set aside.

Poaching chicken breasts and then shredding into bite-size pieces.
Vicky Wasik

In a large bowl, stir together mayonnaise, pesto, and lemon juice until well combined. Add reserved shredded chicken and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.

Tossing shredded chicken with pesto dressing in a mixing bowl.
Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Large saucepan, instant-read thermometer.

Make-Ahead and Storage

If using homemade pesto, the pesto can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil on top to prevent pesto from oxidizing. The finished chicken salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

How to Make Tomato Tart With Whipped Ricotta

Ultra-crispy puff pastry topped with fluffy whipped ricotta and fresh tomatoes.

Slices of tomato tart on a plate, set in front of a cutting board with the rest of the tomato tart
Debbie Wee

I look forward to tomato season every year, when ripe tomatoes in brilliant shades of red, green, orange, and yellow are seemingly everywhere. This tart, a play on Kenji's tomato, mayo, and toast, is just a way to showcase the quality of in-season tomatoes: a crisp puff pastry spread with herbed whipped ricotta and juicy, sweet tomatoes layered on top. 

It's also very quick to put together because of the frozen puff pastry, which arguably does its job just as well as homemade puff pastry. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that it's important to thaw frozen puff pastry until it's cool and pliable first, either by letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight or on the countertop at room temperature for a couple hours.

Because the toppings are uncooked, the pastry must be baked beforehand, and I use Sohla’s tips for blind-baking to produce an ultra-crispy crust: dock the pastry with a fork and weigh it down with a sheet pan to keep massive air pockets at bay as it bakes. 

As for the tomatoes, any variety of tomato or mix of varieties will work; you just want to be sure the tomatoes are firm and ripe. I salt and drain the tomatoes in advance to extract excess moisture, in order to prevent the tart from getting soggy, but it also helps if you’re planning to transport this tart or want it to last on the appetizer platter for longer than an hour or so.

Whipping the ricotta in a food processor smooths out any lumps and incorporates air, creating a light and fluffy texture. Once the components are ready and the puff pastry is completely cooled, assembly is a breeze. Simply slather the ricotta over the cool pastry (doing it while the pastry is warm will make a mess), layer the sliced tomatoes on top, and sprinkle them with sea salt, black pepper, balsamic vinegar, and basil leaves. The tart is best served at room temperature and complements almost everything, making it a wonderful appetizer or side dish for any gathering.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, place one sheet of puff pastry directly on top of the other. Using a rolling pin, roll pastry into a 11- by 15-inch rectangle. Transfer pastry to prepared baking sheet. Poke pastry all over with a fork. Cover the pastry with a sheet of parchment and place another rimmed baking sheet on top. Bake until pastry is light golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Sheet of par-baked puff pastry set in rimmed baking sheet
Debbie Wee

Remove from oven, and remove the top baking sheet and parchment. Increase oven temperature to 500°F (260°C).  Return pastry to oven and continue to bake until crisp and deeply browned, about 10 minutes. Allow pastry to cool completely on baking sheet, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Fully baked puff pastry sheet set in rimmed baking sheet
Debbie Wee

Meanwhile, line a second rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Once pastry is nearly cool, arrange tomato slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet, and sprinkle with the 3/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside for 15 minutes, then use additional paper towels or a second clean kitchen towel to blot excess liquid.

Sliced tomatoes in variety placed on a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet
Debbie Wee

Combine ricotta and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add parsley and pulse to combine. Using an offset spatula, spread ricotta mixture evenly over puff pastry, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Arrange tomato slices evenly over ricotta mixture. Season with pepper and sea salt, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle with basil. Cut into portions and serve.

Sliced tomato tart on a marble countertop
Debbie Wee

Special equipment

Rolling pin, rimmed baking sheets, parchment paper, food processor, small offset spatula

Notes

Use the ripest tomatoes you can find. When tomatoes aren’t in season, use smaller plum, grape, or cherry tomatoes.

Make-ahead and Storage

The tart is best eaten the same day.

The whipped ricotta can be made ahead of time. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

A Brief History of the American Cookout

There’s something almost spiritual about watching someone cook with fire: the glowing red charcoal pulsing with energy; the slow, controlled breaths sending ash fluttering into the air. Perhaps we tend to huddle around the flames to watch—whether we kn…

There’s something almost spiritual about watching someone cook with fire: the glowing red charcoal pulsing with energy; the slow, controlled breaths sending ash fluttering into the air. Perhaps we tend to huddle around the flames to watch—whether we know it or not, it’s an experience that tugs at our shared history. From a backyard hot dog in New Jersey, to razor-thin bulgogi in Seoul, to Jamaican jerk chicken, cooking with fire draws crowds among myriad cultures.

Jim Auchmutey, author of Smokelore, notes that grilling dates back to the Paleolithic era, when humans first cooked meat over open fire. There were no fancy rubs or sauces, no direct or indirect heat. Nonetheless, Dr. Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, claims that the discovery of heating food altered the course of human development. In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Wrangham writes that “cooking was a great discovery not merely because it gave us better food, or even because it made us physically human. It did something even more important: it helped make our brains uniquely large, providing a dull human body with a brilliant human mind.” Before humans discovered cooking, our ancestors spent most of their time and energy chewing raw fibrous plants and vegetables. But their jaws and teeth were no match for raw meat. To make chewing easier, they used stone tools as “second teeth” to break down animal flesh. This was still a lot of work. According to Wrangham, once humans began cooking with fire, they were able to consume more calories with less time and effort, which supported the development of larger brains.

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