Matzo Ice Cream with Manischewitz Caramel

Whimsy is one of my favorite things about Modernist cuisine. When I nostalgically described my childhood seder dinners to our culinary team, two themes emerged: matzo and Manischewitz. Matzo is an incredibly humble yet important food—I like mine sandwiched with a generous portion of haroseth, which my mother made with walnuts, wine, and apples. I always looked forward to each symbolic dip and drink of Manischewitz that we would take throughout seder. But, growing up in a relatively small southern town, we didn’t have many options when it came to Passover-friendly goods and usually struggled to make it through the week despite my mother’s adept skills. I loved her apple cakes, made with matzo meal and flourless chocolate cakes, but I (very) secretly longed for something new.

When it comes to desserts, for me, good ice cream trumps all. When our head chef suggested using matzo as an ice-cream base, I knew he had stumbled upon the Passover dessert I always wanted as a kid. Here, matzo is transformed into a delicately sweet ice cream, and the sugary Manischewitz makes perfect sense as a caramel to complement the ice cream. Matzo and Manischewitz work together in a new way but still retain notes of the original ingredients, adding delightful layers of whimsy and surprise to this dessert.

—Caren Palevitz, Online Writer

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Lamb, Slow-Baked Onion, and Pistachio Puree

Lamb has a rich tradition of being the focal point of spring meals. Signifying the passing of winter and the renewal of life, lamb was often the first fresh meat available each year, making it a logical springtime choice. Whole lambs were cooked on spits or in earth ovens, bringing together communities for religious and cultural ceremony in Mediterranean countries, Africa, Central and South America, and Polynesia. Lamb also holds symbolic meaning when served for Easter dinners and at the Passover seders of Sephardic Jews.

When we started discussing a lamb dish to celebrate the spring, we knew we wanted to honor the tradition of “neck-to-shank” cooking. As it turns out, however, it’s rather difficult to procure an entire lamb in the United States due to FDA regulations. We quickly realized that we would not be able to bury a lamb by The Cooking Lab, although it would have made for an interesting experiment—instead, we decided to give the tradition a Modernist twist. To butcher our whole lamb, the team first broke it down into primal cuts and then separated out the retail cuts. We used Modernist techniques to highlight the unique tastes and textures of each cut, resulting in thirteen different recipes.

Good lamb is moist and tasty, not tough and gamey. Many people associate lamb with the mouthfeel of chewy, overcooked chops, but done right, it can be extremely tender, nearly falling off the bone. Cooked sous vide for 18 hours, our recipe for Lamb Breast yields succulent results. Salt, olive oil, thyme, and garlic complement the natural flavors of the meat. Plated with a Slow-Baked Onion and Pistachio Puree, the finished dish is a humble Modernist homage to a timeless tradition.

Easter Eggs, Two Ways

Good Easter eggs shelter hidden surprises—plastic eggs break open to reveal jelly beans, and chocolate eggs often hide nougat, caramel, fudge, or peanut butter. We embraced this idea, but reimagined the egg’s contents in our own versions of this iconic treat. Our first egg is a tribute to our favorite candy eggs, with a bit of a twist.

Serrano Egg

Chocolate on the outside, when cracked open, another iconic Easter dish is unveiled: ham. Serrano ham to be precise. Have no fear, the center is made of chocolate as well.

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Our featured recipe, however, approaches the concept of the Easter egg in a very different way. Instead of being filled with sweets, these eggs contain savory fillings of shiitake custard and shrimp foam, topped with a bit of crab dressed with chives, lemon, and chervils. The flavors and textures of this dish are quite delicate and refreshing, which contrast the sweet, rich fillings of other egg-shaped confections. This recipe is the perfect addition to any Easter celebration.

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Smoked Dry-Rub Pork Ribs

Nathan, I, and the entire Modernist Cuisine team were saddened earlier this month when barbecue legend John H. Willingham passed away.

This year, I had the opportunity to be a member of his River City Rooters team, which competed at the Memphis in May World Championship a few days after his passing. Although Willingham’s absence was keenly felt by everyone on the team, it strengthened our determination to honor his memory by delivering strong showings in both competition and vending. Willingham’s daughters, Karla, Kara, and Kristi, were a constant presence in the pit, always working, encouraging others, and keeping spirits up. Willingham’s son-in-law, Clay Templeton, orchestrated the vending, and Paul Holden, long-time pit-master of the Willingham team, simultaneously managed six W’ham Turbo Cookers, including a giant version built inside a trailer!

Although Willingham was most famous for his contributions to barbecue, he was a true renaissance man. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, served as a county commissioner, and was known for providing shelter to the homeless. An accomplished inventor, he held 17 patents, including the patent for the nasal spray bottle. Perhaps his most intriguing invention was the W’ham Turbo Cooker, which was unlike any other barbecue cooker at the time and offered a giant leap forward in the accuracy and consistency of cooking over a live fire. Electronic controls in the turbo cooker slowly feed pellets into a firebox to generate heat and smoke, which waft into an offset chamber where food is hung on rotating racks. The system ensures even heating and flavoring of the food. The influence of Willingham’s inventive ideas is clearly visible in many other cookers; vision and offset fireboxes with electric controls are now very popular on the competitive barbecue circuit.

Willingham was an avid participant in barbecue competitions for decades. He crisscrossed the country to compete in events from Boston to Alabama, collecting trophies almost everywhere he stopped. Over the years, he twice captured Grand Champion at Memphis in May (once when he invited Nathan to join his team) and also took Grand Champion at the American Royal in Kansas City, two events that many be considered the most competitive in barbecue.

During my time in Memphis this spring, I soaked up Willingham’s wisdom on how ribs should be cooked. By combining those insights, with tips mined from Willingham’s cookbook, I was able to produce the recipe below, which consistently produces delicious ribs and can be reproduced at home even if you don’t have a dedicated smoker. Although this recipe might not win any trophies, it will definitely result in a great meal. I hope it inspires you to get out your grills and gather your family and friends for some fun outdoor cooking. That would be the perfect way to remember John H. Willingham.

-Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Red Wine Glaze

A red wine glaze is a standard sauce and a favorite of many chefs, but the classical technique for preparing it  is both lengthy and labor-intensive. We retooled it, using a pressure cooker, to get great results much faster.

Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Melty Queso Dip

When I brought this dip to a party, explaining that it was actually made from real pepper jack cheese, I was met with baffled looks. “What else is in it? Butter? Cream?” my friends asked. I smiled and told them it really was just cheese, plus a little water and sodium citrate. That means there is no added fat to impair the flavor or coat your mouth when you take a bite. That pure taste of pepper jack cheese makes it the best queso around.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer

Frozen Fruit Rolls

We recently watched a video on YouTube of a Thai street vendor making ice-cream rolls in just a few minutes. Ingenious! Of course, we had to try it on our new baking steel. The steel, placed atop a 10 lb block of dry ice, can cool down from room temperature to -9.4 °C / 15 °F in 10 minutes. Thus, you can quickly make ice cream with personalized mix-ins without setting up an ice-cream maker or procuring liquid nitrogen.

Get fancy by shaving the ice cream into rolls. To make ice-cream rolls, use a chilled, homemade ice-cream base, or melt down some store-bought ice cream. Some bases, such as sorbets, can freeze up too hard, too quickly. In these cases, add a ripe banana. The banana softens the frozen product and creates a pliable texture ideal for curling. In fact, in the recipe below, we’ve made curls using just frozen banana and kiwi. Experiment with other fruits that are naturally creamy, such as persimmon, cherimoya, and avocado.

Larissa Zhou, Food Scientist

Classic Pizza Sauce Recipe

We included many recipe variations in Modernist Cuisine at Home, because the team had so many great ideas. We couldn’t include each one as a full recipe, though, or the book would have been twice as big. Including many step-by-step photos was also important to us, so sometimes we had to balance how many variations we included with how many photos we used. It made working on the layout a fun challenge.

In particular, our Basics chapter includes many variations. For example, our Marinara Sauce recipe page includes variations for Bolognese, Tomato Sofrito, Pineapple Marinara, and Pizza sauces. Since we’re celebrating pizza this week, we’ve put the Pizza Sauce variation into our standard format for you.

Try this sauce with our Neapolitan dough recipe. We recommend baking on our baking steel for best results.

Jennifer Sugden, Production Editor

Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe

Gluten, the protein complex in wheat that becomes tangled into sticky, stretchy dough when you knead flour with water, is crucial to a great crust. Bread flours need a large fraction of high-quality gluten to act as a binder. The more gluten in the flour, the more elastic the dough, and the firmer the baked crust will be. Kneading the dough liberates starches that are attached to the proteins and allows the gluten to form networks that make the dough strong and stretchy. When you let the dough rest, the networks relax.

All yeast-leavened doughs­ (but pizza dough in particular) benefit from higher levels of gluten. So we tried adding more gluten, in its purified form. We found that the addition of as little as 0.5% of vital wheat gluten (as in the recipe below) produces a dough that requires less kneading and yields just the right amount of chewiness when baked.

This dough is best when rolled thin and cooked quickly at a very high temperature. For best results, use our baking steel.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts

As soon as I brought home my copy of Modernist Cuisine, I was eager to try cooking from it. For one of my first attempts, I had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue and decided to try four or five recipes. The sort of precise cooking this book called for was still new to me, but I carefully weighed and mixed all of the ingredients until, finally, I only had to deep-fry my Brussels sprouts.

I’ve deep-fried on the stove many times, but never had it occurred to me to measure the temperature of the oil (in retrospect, this probably would have saved me from overcooking some meals throughout the years). Relaxing now because I thought the hard work was over, I heated the oil. I then grabbed the only thermometer I owned at the time; a glass analog thermometer that came with a cocktail kit someone gave me. Without thinking, I stuck the glass thermometer in the hot oil, causing it to shatter! Luckily, the thermometer was alcohol-based, not mercury-based.

Naturally, we pulled out a new pot to fill with oil, continuing to make the Brussels sprouts. They were a huge success, as was the rest of the party. In fact, I’m often asked to bring them to potlucks and dinner parties. And now that I have a digital probe thermometer, my Brussels sprouts are even better than that first time. I never have to worry about burnt food or shattered thermometers. It is amazing what a little precision and the right equipment will do.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer