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This week, we’re chatting with Rachael Ray about her last two years—her house burned down, her dog died, and she had to film her daytime show with just one assistant: her husband. Plus, bakers Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin share their favorite holiday cookie recipes, and we learn to make Chocolate-On-Chocolate Three-Layer Cake.
Questions in this episode:
"My family has a tradition of making gingerbread houses and we use a royal icing recipe that's been passed down through the generations. My mom and my grandmother live in Utah and it works well for them, but I live in Cincinnati and it never holds its form. Do you have any ideas for why it doesn't work for me?"
"During the holidays, I like to make as much as I can ahead of time, but mashed potatoes seems to be the exception. I've tried making them in a slow cooker, keeping them in a double boiler and even reheating them in the microwave, which doesn't feel right. Any advice?"
"I have a buttermilk pie recipe that I'd like to make gluten-free for a coworker. What can I use in the filling instead of flour?"
"Every year at Christmas, my family watches a syrupy little holiday movie called "The Gift of Love." There's one scene that's always stumped us. One of the characters says "I'm going to make my famous burnt orange cake." I don't know if it's a real recipe or an inside-joke, like she once burned her cake. Can you help us get to the bottom of this?"
"My dad would always make spritz cookies from his great grandma's recipe. I can't quite get my dough to be as fluffy as his was. What am I doing wrong?"
Chris Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. In August 2020, Rachael Ray’s home burned to the ground, leaving nothing but cinders and ash. Today on Milk Street Rachel describes her experience and how her training with firefighters may have saved her life.
Rachael Ray: I knew to stay calm. I knew what to do. I knew to leave immediately. I could hear the electricity, the fire coming down the wires in the walls, I knew the wall was going to blow up. I was prepared for that house to burn down.
CK: Also coming up, we learned how to make a three-layer chocolate cake. But first baking champions Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin share their best tips for baking Blue Ribbon holiday cookies. Chris and Paul, welcome back to Milk Street.
Chris Taylor: Thanks so much.
Paul Arguin: Hi, great to be here.
CK: Fresh from your great success in the world of crazy pies, you're now applying this same sense of creativity to holiday cookies.
PA: That's correct all kinds of cookies. In fact, not just holiday cookies.
CK: Well, all cookies are really holiday cookies at heart, right?
PA: Actually, you're absolutely right. There are some cookies that are traditionally associated with the holidays. But quite frankly, if you love a great chocolate chip cookie, that's your holiday cookie.
CK: So, before we get into some techniques, why don't we take the basic sugar cookie, which is of course, the basis of so many Christmas cookies. So maybe just talk about your secrets to a really good, really dependable recipe.
CT: Sure, yeah, we'd like something that's tender, but also sturdy, something that'll hold up to decorating not only being able to hold on to icing, but you know, if you're going to decorate it, you're going to be handling it a little bit. So, something that you know, will hold up to a little bit of movement, and you want something that's flavorful, just because it's a plain cookie, it doesn't mean that it shouldn't taste good, or that you should be relying on the icing for that sweetness and the flavor. And we'd like to use a cookie recipe that doesn't have a lot of spread, you want something that really keeps its shape, especially if you're really using some elaborate cookie cutters. You want something that's going to be the shape that you expect it to be.
CK: Now is that because you're using less fat and therefore doesn't spread as much, are there other techniques to make sure they don't change shape?
PA: It can be the right proportion of fat and flour, so that you don't get the spread. And then also, it's how you treat the dough. So, if you're doing a roll out cookie that you want to cut out with a cookie cutter, we always recommend chilling the dough. And that's going to really help it hold its shape as well.
CT: Yeah, a cold dough is going to spread less. So, if the recommendation is to bake from cold dough, but you're using room temperature dough, that dough is going to spread a lot more and put you at risk of what we call mega cookie where you put in 12 different cookies into the oven. And when you pull them out. You have one giant cookie. It's the size of a very fat amoeba.
CK: Now you guys mentioned something called cookie con, which is a cookie art convention and show in some of these things. Some of the cookie cutters and the decorations were great, like edible ball gown. You mentioned argyle socks, what were some of the other designs?
CT: Oh you can do anything in a cookie cutter. And the people that attend cookie con are so incredibly talented. People are making 3d sort of taking the idea of the gingerbread house but really turning it into murals. They're doing like dioramas, one of my favorites someone made a depicted a scene out of a Harry Potter movie sort of looking down one of the streets. And so, the perspective of having all the buildings angled in from that school. Yeah, it was it was really incredible.
CK: I'm not sure you could either be employed or married to do that. Do that because otherwise he would not have the hundreds of hours it would take. Okay, so let's talk about some practical tips. One of my favorite lines in your book was about cookie cohabitation. I love the things that really annoy you. So, cookie, cohabitation really makes you angry right?
PA: I don’t know if it makes me angry. No, but it's certainly a problem that can be easily avoided. So, when you're storing your cookies, mixing dramatically different types of cookies in your storage containers can affect not only the flavor, but the lifespan of your cookies. So, if you have some moist, chewy fudgy brownie, and you put it in with let's say your crisp, airy, light meringue cookies, the humidity that's now in your storage container is going to soften your meringues and it's going to dry out your brownies, so they don't last so long. And then also flavors. The flavors themselves are aromatic compounds that spread throughout these close containers. And then suddenly, every cookie tastes like gingerbread because you have them all in that one container.
CK: Okay, chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cookies are like the two classics. Do you have some ideas about how to reinvent those recipes?
CT: Oh, absolutely. You know, for the the chocolate chip cookies we use are what we've been calling the bronze butter technique. So, if you think when you're browning butter, what you're doing is you're taking the milk solids, and you know browning them. And that gives a great amount of flavor. And so why not add more milk solids, to have more browning to have more flavor, and it works really well. Using just nonfat dry milk powder browning it along with butter. And it really boosts the toffee flavor which is normally like way off in the background. For oatmeal cookies, we have a couple different ones, we have a pina colada one. So, we have some nice roasted pineapple, coconut in an oatmeal cookie, it's really great, you get the sweetness, but you also get that great chew. But chewy isn't the only way to go for an oatmeal cookie. So, we also have a crispy five spice chocolate oatmeal cookie. So, you get a little bit of cinnamon, a little bit of star anise. And this great crispy, thin chocolate cookie that works really well.
CK: Peanut butter cookies is is I think, somewhat lost favor in the last decades. It's one of my favorites. But you have a really interesting ingredient you put toasted sesame oil in it.
PA: That's right, it's along the same lines of adding espresso powder to chocolate, you add a one ingredient to really boost the flavor of the chocolate without being able to really recognize that booster. And the same thing seems to happen with peanut butter and toasted sesame oil.
CK: Now, in Japan and China's well, they make milk bread with the tangzhong method. But you use it I've never heard of someone using cookies. So, you want to describe what the method is and which kind of cookie you use for?
PA: Sure. So yeah, we first learned about tangzhong from making milk bread. And what that is you heat a portion of the flour with some of the liquid and the recipe to create a gel. That gel is then added back into the bread dough. And what it does, it allows you to create a higher hydration dough without having a wet sticky mess to deal with. And it helps to prevent staling improved browning. There, there seem to be a number of really fun properties that we thought this could be really useful for cookies as well. Adding a lot of wet liquid ingredients to a cookie dramatically changes the structure and often produces a cakey cookie. Sometimes you want to cakey cookie, oftentimes you don't. And so, a good example I use is to add something like either pumpkin or banana to a cookie to get a true banana or pumpkin flavor into a cookie is hard because you end up producing that cakey cookie. If you can then trap all that moisture by heating it up with the flour and then adding that back to the cookie dough. You still have a cookie dough that's it feels like a proper cookie dough that you can work with. It's not a wet mess, and then it also doesn't produce a cakey cookie.
CK: So, here's more of a philosophical question. You're using milk solids to amplify brown butter flavor. Tangzhong method which is used in bread in Japan and China for cookies. You use toasted sesame oil to amplify the peanut flavor and peanut butter. But how do you guys do this? You always seem to come up with pretty interesting solutions or revisions for doing recipes have been around for such a long time.
CT: Usually it starts with, you know, what is the problem. And the problem, you know, for example, with the Tangzhong method is how do you make a banana cookie that isn't cakey? You know, these are usually questions that sort of fester in the back of our minds maybe for months or years, you know, and we happen to stumble, I think into some really great solutions.
CK: So, this is the two in the morning problem.
CT: Try exactly yes. Yeah, you keep a little notepad on the nightstand. So, when it comes to you, you can write it down and and realize you know, like, oh, I have to look at that in the morning. Could that possibly work?
CK: Is there a cookie you could never figure out like you just failed and never made it to the book?
CT: Oh, there was one. One of our favorite cocktails is a dark and stormy. So, it has rum crystallized ginger and we tried to work that into a bar cookie. And actually, Paul you you are trying to make that one work.
PA: It's one of those that tried to get all the flavors in there one would always disappear. I try another version I taste no ginger this time. And so, we just went back and forth and after. You know at some point you say we have to stop this one.
CK: Well, just Georgia a dark and stormy and eat a couple of Christmas cookies. (That's right) Chris and Paul, thank you so much. You've reinvented pies and now cookies. And as usual, it's really good convention. Thank you.
CT: Thank you, Chris.
CK: That was Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin. Their book is Fabulous Modern Cookies: Lessons in Better Baking for Next Generation Treats. Right now, my co-hosts Sara Moulton, I will be answering your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking One on One. Also star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. So, Sara for a holiday, you know, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, July 4th, Easter. Are there are a couple of dishes that I probably don't make that you do.
Sara Moulton: Oh, absolutely
CK: That I would think really weird or fun, or
SM: Well, I’ve already told you about my short ribs, which we do in lieu of turkey at Thanksgiving, but there's a couple other things that you know, you get known for something and then people must have it. And so, one of them is I've started making Dorie Greenspan's _____. ??
CK: You know, that's one of those things I made. I won't say how long over a long time ago, but they're really good. They're so good. Not hard.
SM: It was no they're not you make a pot au feu, which is the same thing you use to make eclairs it's not all that hard. And then you just throw in a bunch of cheese but the revelation about these was that you take that batter and you're supposed to bake it off right away, drop it like little dumplings and then bake it off. But you can drop it like little dumplings, throw it in the freezer, and then put it into a bag and just pop them them the oven from the frozen state they’re every bit as good
CK: So, and company just shows up unexpectedly.
SM: Oh my god. So, I have three dozen in my freezer at all times. So that's become really my go to that and fried zucchini with some sort of garlicky dipping sauce. beer battered
CK: You had me at the _______ area lost me at the fried zucchini but that’s okay
SM: Well zucchini’s boring. But when you batter it and fry it oh my god, it's off the charts.
CK: You could batter, and fry roadkill and it would still be good. It’s the batter and frying that's the key thing not what’s inside Yes. Okay, let's get started.
SM: Yes, I'm ready. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Amy from Cincinnati, Ohio. Sorry
SM: Hi, Amy from Cincinnati. How can we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about royal icing, my grandmother and my mom and my great grandmother. We've all had a tradition to make gingerbread houses. And we use a specific royal icing recipe that's been handed down for generations. And my mom and my grandmother live in Utah, and they make the royal icing. And it turns out great. And I live in Cincinnati, and every time I try to make it, it doesn't like hold its form. It's like when you pipe it doesn't hold a star or a ruffle or anything. My mom actually even came here to Cincinnati, she tried to make the recipe too. And we had the same results
Caller: but we're just wondering if you guys had any tips or ideas as to why it didn't work.
SM: Let's start with what you put in your royal icing.
Caller: Okay, so first, it's three egg whites, and then a pound of confectioner's sugar and half a teaspoon of cream of tartar. And you just basically whip everything together, like my KitchenAid until like cold stiff peaks. And it worked great for my mom in Utah. And, and I'm wondering if it's maybe the humidity here in Cincinnati, that's causing it,
SM: There's always a delicate balance between the liquid and the confectioners’ sugar. So, one way to correct it would just be to add a little more confectioner's sugar, you know, just sift it and add it until you get the right texture.
Caller: Oh Okay,
SM: But think about egg whites. Let's say your recipe calls for large egg whites, which it probably does, because most recipes do, there's still a difference in their weight and measurement. Their chickens, you know, come on is this going to be variation and that's where the liquid comes from. So, a surefire way around it would be and also a way to avoid the salmonella issue is meringue powder. And that way you've got more control. (Okay) because it will be more consistent. The meringue part of it, every single time I make it I adjust accordingly, what you're looking for is when you pipe it out that it holds its shape for a certain period of time. And if it doesn't just add a little more confectioners’ sugar. It's that simple. And if it's way too stiff in meaning that you can't pipe it add a little water. Anyway, Chris?
CK: I have nothing to add. Ah, I always have something to say, there's the Stella Parks. You know who's the great baker in New York. She is the eight second rule which was a huge drizzle it it should sort of hold its shape on the royal icing. If you just look from the whisk or whatever, for eight seconds, no more, no less. And so, I think that's just an easy rule to follow in terms of getting the right consistency.
Caller: Okay, well, that makes sense. I like that idea of just adding a little bit more sugar. That's probably what I've been doing wrong. So, thank you very much.
CK: Yeah. Thanks for calling.
Caller: I appreciate it
SM: Okay, Amy.
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Hannah from Canaan, Connecticut.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: My question was about mashed potatoes. I like to try to do as much as I can ahead of time. But mashed potatoes are the one thing that I've had an issue with. And I've tried a few different things. I've tried reheating them over a double boiler or have them sit in a double boiler, kind of while people are getting ready to eat. They've also tried a slow cooker, which is kind of just a big counterspace suck. And then I've also tried the microwave, which just doesn't really feel right. Do you have any ideas?
c Well, you just called the mashed potato hotline. So, I think,
Caller: okay, great.
CK: We can definitely help you. When you make the mashed potatoes ahead of time. Do you follow the recipe? Or do you make any changes because they're making ahead?
Caller: I kind of tend to not really follow a recipe. I've made mashed potatoes, so many times, and I kind of just wing it, honestly,
CK: The first thing to do, no matter how you reheat them is to add less liquid at the beginning. In other words, if you make them two or three hours ahead of time, which I do as well, I might cut out about a third of the liquid.
Caller: Oh, wow. Okay.
CK: So, when you go reheat them, then you add the balance of the liquid. And that's going to give you a much better texture. They're not going to dry out on you. Soo that’s the big trick
Caller: So, you reheat them on the stove?
CK: No, I use an instant pot. And the reason is, it tends to have a smaller footprint than my enormous slow cooker. And I just hit warm. Just hold out about a quarter to a third of the liquid at the beginning and add it back when you want to reheat it. And that should really do it. I don't think it's going to dry out.
SM: Can I throw in something else altogether?
SM: Years ago, I used to work at Good Morning America behind the scenes doing all the prep for all the chefs who were on so I got to meet all these cookbook authors. And I can't remember the name of this chef. He was known for his mashed potatoes at his restaurant. And he said well here's what I do. I cook up the potatoes, you know, boil them whole because they're less watery. And then I rice them use a ricer into a bowl and then I park them. Yeah. And then when it's time to eat them. He nukes the riced potatoes to heat him up. And then he adds the butter which you should always add first to prevent them from getting gluey. And then he adds the heated milk cream or whatever. And it's as if you just made it from scratch.
Caller: Wow, that is amazing.
CK: Good idea.
Caller: Great. Well, I'm definitely going to try that.
CK: And I think Sara out did me that's a better answer.
Caller: Thank you guys so much. And I really have been enjoying the show. Thanks for taking my call.
Okay. Thanks, Hannah.
SM: Caller: Thanks. Bye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a ring anytime at 855-426-9843 one more time. 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: My name is Alicia.
SM: Hi, Alicia. Where are you calling from?
Caller: San Antonio Texas area.
SM: Lovely. How can we help you today?
Caller: I have a buttermilk pie recipe that I would like to see what gluten free flour I could use as a substitute. Because I have a coworker that she's got celiac disease.
CK: Is it the filling or just the crust or both?
Caller: Yes, just the filling.
CK: Okay. How much flour does the recipe call for?
SM: not a lot, right?
Caller: Not a lot. From personal experience. I know it serves an important purpose. Usually, most recipes have come across it’s about a half a cup and that's typical across the board. The recipe that I use is I've had two recipes, one calls for four eggs like two or three cups of sugar, a half a cup of flour, you mix the flour in with the sugar. And then you mix the eggs, the butter and all the other stuff.
CK: This is like a chess pie or something. I mean, this is serious sugar.
SM: Yeah, this Southern, you know, come on
Caller: It’s a southern recipe my mother called it buttermilk chess. Okay, it's a sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter. A little bit of flour. Like I said, like a half a cup. But it's a lot of ingredients. And I don't necessarily want to ruin the pie and waste the ingredients. Well,
SM: Well, I think both King Arthur and Bob's Red Mill make a good gluten free flour.
CK: The question though is, is the flour there to help thicken the pie or is it there just to provide the right texture?
Caller: I think it's a little of both. But I know that it's you know those pies are pretty sensitive to changes.
CK: Yeah, it's true. Well, you know, one thing you might consider, maybe you'd find this online. Can you make a buttermilk chess pie using almond flour or some other totally different flour which might actually be pretty cool and then maybe add a little cornstarch to it as well for thickening but I think that's what I do you could certainly use the King Arthur gluten free flour that would be the first step, but I think it would actually taste pretty good with almond flour. Well, I use that a lot in baking.,
SM: Yeah, I do too. But you you'd lose sort of the buttermilk taste I think and the sort of
Caller: the buttermilk it comes out like sour cream, like if you put sour cream, it has that tang?
CK: You know, the easiest thing is just to buy gluten free flour, but I would want to experiment.
SM: No, of course you would.
CK: Well, I think it's interesting. And then do you love this pie? You must love this pie
SM: She loves this pie, Chris.
Caller: I love this. This is a family favorite.
CK: Well, could you describe for those of us? I've had it but people have not had a chess pie, what's the texture like in the flavor?
Caller: It's a custard for lack of a better word. For those people who are familiar with Latin culture, they have what's called flan, it's kind of like leans in that direction. It doesn't have the pudding texture to it. It's a little less pudding texture for like,
SM: a little more custardy
Caller: Yeah. Like I said, the recipe I have. It's like four eggs, three cups of sugar, half a cup of flour, teaspoon or two of vanilla, a stick of butter, a third or two thirds cup of buttermilk. I'd have to go back and check the recipe. But I've always had a recipe in my house since I was little. This is a pie that we make every year.
CK: Good for you. You know, I'm so sick and tired of the health police telling me what I can't eat. I think every time I get fed up, I'm going to make buttermilk chess pie.
SM: Do try the King Arthur or Bob's Red Mill and let us know how it goes.
Caller: Okay, I will
SM: Thank you so much.
CK: Thanks for calling.
Caller: Thank you.
CK: Take care
Caller: Bye. bye
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next. It's my conversation with Rachael Ray. That more after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Rachael Ray and her latest book. This Must Be the Place Dispatches in Food from the Home Front. Rachel explores how her life and perception of home have changed since her house burned down in August 2020. Rachel, welcome back to Milk sStreet.
Rachael Ray: You know, I'm your biggest fan in Milk Streets. I wish I lived on Milk Street.
CK: Well, you know who did live on Milk Street was Ben Franklin.
RR: Isn't that great?
CK: He grew up on Milk Street. I don't know what that means about Milk Street or Ben Franklin.
RR: I think it means it's a place for individuals who think outside the box (perfect) and aren't afraid of lightning.
CK: So, let's talk about you in your book. This Must Be the Place you say it's dispatches from the edge of reality
RR: it is for me
CK: Which which edge and which reality are we talking about?
RR: Well, you know, the book the reason it's called This Must Be the Place I'm taking from the Talking Heads and from the idea of what home is and finding in life those kind of angel wings that make you feel like this must be the place this is the feeling of home. All of that changed for my family, both extended and immediate. In the last several months, we lost our animal family member Isa boo who was with us for 15 and a half years. We started our life with Isa boo the same year I launched a television show the same year we got married in the same year we started a magazine. And two of those things still exist in one does not. And I was holding her in my arms when she passed. And then we went through this second grief of feeling guilty about even that, that we had been able to be with an animal in ways that humans couldn't be with other humans. They were saying goodbye to their children or their grandchildren, their their lovers their their loved ones, and they were alone. And then just when we started coming up from, from all of that in for air, well, quite frankly, our house burned down. And I just wanted to catalog what I and what we went through because I thought it was a point of connection. And that comes out of discussing the hard times, not just the good or fun stuff in life. So, I started writing in this way kind of essays mashed up with food and, it was very healing. It definitely made me understand just how much the word home means to me, and that it is a state of being not a state of things or a structure. It is your humanity, what you have lived and experienced what you do, remember and cherish. And as long as you have the ability to open your eyes in the morning, you can be at home in some way.
CK: There's something about that, that struck me with you. Because you have such an emphasis on home even before all this started in as you just described eloquently home is obviously more than a place. Is loneliness, something that you fear or because your life is so full of warmth and people or or do you like being lonely sometimes too.
RR: I have great peace when I'm alone or when I'm with people. But I do think that I'm a homemaker by nature. So, I feel pretty good either way, I prefer to have someone to cook for I prefer to have the company of a loved one or friends and some laughter in the air and some conversation. My grandpa was one of 14, my mom was one of 10. And they were very much about the experience of life itself. Work very hard. Cherish the time you have when you are with people that you care for and about. And I'm very grateful for that.
CK: You talk a lot about how you were raised. You once told me you actually ironed your sheets.
RR: I still do. Yeah.
CK: I know but you used to organize your pillows and your toys and your books and turn the corner down.
RR: Yes, I still think my house has a life. When I leave it, my house has a life of its own. And you know, when you're a child, that's maybe the toys will play, or things will be better when you come home if everything looks just so. But as an adult, I truly feel that even when I lived in two rooms in Queens, any place I am, I can't go to bed. Even if my house is still filled with guests and I, I'm the poop of the party and I go to bed too early. I get up in the middle of the night. And it's not that I want things to be perfect. I just want the house to have respect in be clean and orderly. And that was the way I was raised. You know you had one pair of good shoes you took care of them. You take care of your linens, there are small things you can let go. But I never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink for instance. That's just who I am. And everything I saw in the example set when I was a child for me, of a multi generation household. And that influence of respect who you are and where you live, no matter the money you make or the job you have. Respect what you have. And it can make you fearless in a lot of ways if you really think about it in the right way. If you respect where you come from and who you are and the job you did that day, and you could find something you did that day of value. And this was true. Whether it was a dishwasher or making a TV show doesn't matter me. If I can feel that I respect myself at the end of the day. Then the next day I can try something new because the worst thing that can ever happen to you is that you just go backwards one step. And if that doesn't scare you, then you can be a little bit fearless.
CK: So, in the book, you talk about your mother and how she drove around doing errands and she’d drive really fast.
RR: And lose her license and lose your license several times.
CK: But on the weekends, you said she take us out for a drive and make a left when she was supposed to take a right just to discover something new for herself and her children.
RR: Yes, she would make us get lost. Yeah
CK: And so, you on one hand you like the comfort of home and things being in their place. And then on the other hand, you like risk and you like adventure, right?
RR: I like to know the world and the only way you can understand the world, it's by talking to strangers or going down a path you might not have otherwise taken. You know, well, what you do and what you write about, when you go out into markets, and you talk to people that are farmers or local artists and artisans. When you really get to know the culture of a place, it changes you, it broadens your horizons, it makes you young again. But the only chance you have at that is to be brave when you do venture out, learning all of the world, not just your own kind or your own place of your own things. But expanding that idea of what it is to connect and make a larger sense of community for yourself.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio, and we're talking with Rachael Ray about her latest book This Must Be the Place Dispatches in Food from the Homefront. You know, I love this book, and I love the little details that come out. You said Winnie the Pooh Eeyore was your favorite character. And mine too. But but tell me why Eeyore was your favorite character?
RR: Because that's the way I so often felt as a child, my best friend was my grandpa, and he was a 70 something year old Sicilian immigrant. And he was my primary caretakers, my mom was running restaurants. And so, then I went to school, and I was the most unpopular person like period. Grandpas said I should wear my best dressed and my good shoes. The first day everybody else was in what they used to call dungarees jeans now, and my lunch was sardine sandwich, my favorite thing in the world. And everybody thought my lunch was disgusting and smelled from 10 feet away, which it did, of course. And I just went home in absolute turmoil and tears and sweating in my purple cheeks, and grandpa put a cold cloth on my head and took my shoes off and my socks and put my hands up in the air and said how many fingers you have to count them, and he took my feet and he kind of shook them and he said how many toes you have? And he said and what's in here and he tapped on my head, and he said you have 10 fingers 10 toes and a brain so what are you crying about? And I thought what a great way to be. So, I guess that's why I attached so much to Eeyore because I wanted to make him feel better. I wanted to help him feel like my grandpa made me feel and all of my life my mom's family name is Scudero and carrello degli asini is a donkey cart. I've always felt akin to the donkey or the asini the the little jackass. And I would always joke to my friends if I ever got a tattoo, it would be literally on the top of my ass and it would be a jackass or donkey because I I feel a bit like an ass, I’m a terrible faux celeb I'm bad at being that kind of popular. I'm very good at being a worker and and trying to be of service to people and I feel more comfortable in that role. And I feel wildly uncomfortable in any other role. And I guess that's why I relate to a worker whether it's an animal or person, I feel more comfortable in those hooves or shoes
CK: So okay, so you're now have to tape the show from your your guest house. And I love this part. You said John ordered a director's chair, your husband (Yes) Now, just to preface this, my wife produces this show and my TV show. So, I just want to say that if my wife got a director's chair, you want to talk about this that would be kind of a rough day for me
RR: No, he calls himself Martin Scorlani. And he just got sick of standing or leaning in the corner of the kitchen and there was this tiny little chair. I have the corner of the kitchen for when children come here. Literally a teeny tiny little square chair for when children want to sit in the kitchen and John did look like he was on a tuffet he did look ridiculous, to be fair. And so, he originally ordered himself the director's chair, and I it kind of got to him he became more serious and more intent on where the light was placed and how he worked the camera and all of this. And then our executive producer. She really blew it up when she gave him one that was sewn with his name and giant letters on it that collapsed. And every day. I'll be getting ready. You know after prepping from 3:30 or four in the morning. I'll hear in the bathroom when I'm trying to dry my hair or something. I'll hear that crack of him pushing there. front of the director's chair down in the joints folding open and I'm like, Okay, well, he's clearly going to set. Yes. It has gone to his head a bit.
CK: Well, you did say I have to say it was very sweet. You said he earned that chair. And we're going to keep it even when the taping from home suits. Yeah. So, I just I wanted to just bookend with that. So, let's talk about your food for a second. You know, I'm always struck that you managed to span this large real estate between, you know, popcorn chicken with white cheddar popcorn, (which is delicious) which is delicious. But then you do Bombay grilled cheese with garam masala, pickled Indian vegetables. And then you have a zook sauce. You have a wild boar recipe and one of your other books. I mean, you have some very interesting ingredients
RR: I like to cook everything
CK and then you have, you have the sort of, you know, American classics too. But it's an interesting mix, but you pull it off somehow you make it all look
RR: Because I'm interested in it. Like if you'd like to learn and you do this all this is why I'm such a complete geek for you and the work that you guys do. It is global. It is fun, it is accessible. There isn't anything you can't cook. You my mom was an amazing cook. Even when she was running Howard Johnson's versus a big catering company. They were franchised you only had to serve that the Howard Johnson like company food, and you can do whatever you want. And my mom would serve sherry chicken livers with smoked almond rice pilaf, and she would serve stuff veal breast Mongolian style and people would put on suits and dresses and come to have two cocktails before dinner. Because they knew my mother was there really would follow her like people follow the Grateful Dead or YouTube or something. They just loved her food and she made beautiful food. And my grandpa forget about it. He was ridiculous. I mean, he was like a Jacque Pepin kind of jaw dropper. He could roll and stuff anything from rabbit from every size hen and he grew everything canned, everything made. He made everything.
CK: You've been through a lot the last couple of years. You know a lot of people have. Do you think that things happen for reason? Or do you?
RR: Yes, absolutely. I I started my fascination with firefighters 12 years ago, when my house burned down, I knew exactly what to do because I've been in live fires as part of training to raise awareness and to raise funds. I've been fully suited with gas masks in the tanks in the whole thing and been put through training that only firefighters would otherwise get. I knew to stay calm. I knew what to do. I knew to leave immediately. I could hear the electricity, the fire coming down the wires in the walls. I knew the wall was going to blow up. I was prepared for that house to burn down. I had to watch it get driven away truckload by truckload and what looked like a transformer movie, these huge emotional roller coasters. And all it makes you is more grateful and more aware of your ability to make home from the inside out. If you can just find that safe place where you feel at peace. That's home. As long as you have recognition of what your life is and pride in how you build each day. You do have a home; you have a home just within your own heart and mind. And that's what we learned.
CK: Rachel, thank you. We wish you're amazing. We wish you all the best
RR: You’ve got me crying Christopher, we’re supposed to only laugh together.
CK: Well. I I just want to say thank you and good luck when you move back in too.
RR: Well, I you know how much I absolutely have nothing but respect and affection for you. You truly get that food is a conduit to make us all part of one big family. And I I love your your friendship. And I'm hopelessly devoted to you.
CK: Well, you know you and I think got into food for the same reason, which is that everybody sits at the same table at some point. Right?
RR: That's right
CK: Rachel. Thank you. It's been a pleasure
RR: Thank you my friend.
CK: That was Rachael Ray. Her latest book is This Must Be the Place Dispatches and Food from the Home Front. You know, Rachel reminded me that I was once asked if I liked Rachael Ray and I said that indeed I did like her very much. I liked that her grandfather, a Sicilian immigrant was her best friend. He taught her the value of hard work and perseverance. To paraphrase Author Michael Huff hard times, create strong people, strong people create good times. Good times create weak people and weak people create hard times. And that is in short, why I like Rachael Ray. This is Milk Street radio. Coming up Sara Moulton, I will be taking more of your cooking questions, we'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara Moulton, I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hey Sara, how you doing? My name is Jerry.
SM: Hi, Jerry, how can we help you today?
Caller: Well, we have a family movie that we watch every year without fail. The movie’s title is called The Gift of Love. And it's a syrupy little holiday movie, but we love it. But there's one scene that has always stumped us. Now this movie takes place in Vermont. So that might help with Chris a little bit.
CK: That's good.
Caller: This one scene Angela Lansbury plays this grandmotherly character, and she says in that quote, I'm going to make my famous burnt orange cake. And we've always been puzzled over what a burnt orange cake is. We don't know if it's a running joke in this fictional family that one day she burned up an orange cake or if it is actually a regional delicacy that's up there, but I know every time I go to look it up. I get those really horrible cakes with a gummy candy pieces that are in I don't think that's what this cake is. Can you help at all?
SM: Wow. I have never heard of this before. Although it sounds absolutely wonderful.
Caller: It does, doesn’t it?
SM: Yeah, it sounds like a very moist orange cake that you would pour while it's still warm. A dark caramel syrup over.
Caller: Yeah. So, because sticky might be like something in a Bundt pan or something.
SM: Yes, exactly.
CK: If you look up burnt orange cake, you will get recipes where the burnt part of it. They use food coloring on the outside. I think it refers to the burnt orange color of the icing most of the time and it's an orange flavored cake. Now maybe some of them use the caramel, but I think it's the color they're referring to. It's the frosting color.
Caller: I never thought anything like that.
SM: I envisioned a wonderful orange cake that you'd then pour a dark caramel syrup over and just let it infuse.
Caller: I like that idea. That's pretty cool. I could even do an orange cake with a caramel icing on it.
SM: That's a nice combo
Caller: For an orange cake
CK: Now you got me excited. I'm going to have to go make one of those. Sounds good.
Caller: Yeah, I’ve got to play with that. Got to do that
CK: Take care Jerry
SM: Yes, thanks for calling
Caller: Thanks so much for answering my question. Appreciate it.
CK: Thank you Take care. This is Milk Street Radio. If you're looking for help in the kitchen, give us a call. Our number is 855-426-9843. One more time 855-426-9843. Or please email us at questions at Milk Street radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi this is Lola calling from Detroit.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: My dad would make Swedish spritz cookies every year until he passed away about a year and a half ago. So now I've taken on the tradition of making these spritz cookies which were his great grandma's recipe. And I can't quite get the dough to be as fluffy as his was and I'm wondering if I'm not whipping the butter too much or not whipping the eggs too much. I was wondering if you could help me figure it out
CK: This is creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs and then the dry ingredients. That's the basic concept here.
CK: First of all, how much butter and sugar?
Caller: It's about a cup and a half of sugar and a pound of butter.
CK: What's the temperature of the butter when you cream it?
Caller: I usually leave the butter on the counter for a couple hours beforehand. So, it's room temperature and a bit softer.
CK: That could be the problem. The butter should be about 65 to 67 degrees. It should be malleable sort of plasticky, but it shouldn't be soft. Two hours is going to be too long, I would say half an hour to 45 minutes would do it. Because you want the butter to not be so cold that it's not going to whip up. But if it's too warm, it's not going to be able to incorporate error as you cream in the sugar. That may be the problem. You're not getting enough air into that cream mixture, Sara?
SM: I think, really, first and foremost, what Chris said will probably solve your problem. But the other thing is the flour or the sugar, either one, but the flour in particular, depending on who measures it. Everybody measures it differently. You know, whether you pack it, whether you sift it in, you know how you level it off, because you're probably measuring it differently than he did. I would try what Chris said and see if the texture just comes out the way you like it. If they still seem too heavy. You said they weren't light and fluffy. You might be actually adding more flour than your dad did. What's the
CK: What's the texture of the cream, butter, and sugar when you're and then beat in the eggs? Is it really really light and fluffy and gains a lot of volume?
Caller: It's pretty fluffy. Yeah. And it changes color. I usually whip it for maybe like eight to 10 minutes, and then add the eggs. And I whip those for maybe another five to seven minutes.
CK: That seems like an awfully long time. Butter and sugar usually, I would whip for five to seven minutes. Are you using a stand mixer? Or is this a handheld mixer?
Caller: a stand KitchenAid mixer,
CK: I would whip until it's really light and creamy. Then add eggs one at a time another 20 seconds of each egg and you should be pretty much done with that right Sara? That sounds good to me.
SM: Yeah, I agree. Especially if the butter was a little bit too warm to begin with.
CK: How do you know when the cookies are ready to come out of the oven? What's your test?
Caller: They will have just a little bit of brown on the edges.
CK: And when they're cool. The problem is they're not soft enough?
Caller: You want them to have a little bit of crunch to them but they're still a little bit airy, you know? And mine are maybe a little bit drier.
CK: Sara's got a good point, I would reduce the flour a little bit. Try like three and a half to three and two thirds’ cups. Yeah, great because it sounds like your dose too stiff and Sara's right. It'd be too much flour. The other thing is I would take them out of the oven a little earlier. The center should be definitely not fully baked. Because there's a ton of additional baking happens when there's coming out of the oven afterwards. So, under bake them, buy a couple of minutes and reduce the flour. Try that too. Yeah, okay. Anyway, Lola, give that a shot and see if that helps
SM: And let us know how it goes. We'd love to hear back.
Caller: I will thank you so much.
SM: Okay, thank you.
Caller: Bye, bye.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball. You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe. chocolate on chocolate three-layer cake. Lynn, how are you?
Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris.
CK: I love to tell you about my trips.
CK: I was in Savannah the summer. And I was visiting Cheryl Day from Back in the Day Bakery. And she really specializes in taking some classics from the American baking repertoire, and then doubling down on them making them just extra special. So, we baked a chocolate cake a three layer cake. So, you tell me what's the secret to Cheryl Days chocolate cake
LC: Well, this is Cheryl Day’s grandmother's recipes. She said it's the first thing she ever made. I think she said she made it when she was eight. And she said she tweaked it a little bit but that it was pretty perfect already. And I don't know what she tweaked. But this is the classic old fashioned chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. And I think anytime you have a triple layer cake, it's kind of a showstopper. But this one is so classic and so homey, and you just want to devour the whole thing.
CK: And we did. By the way when she serves the cake. They're huge slices,
LC: that's my kind of woman
CK: This is not a little slice, and I ate the whole thing. So is this business as usual or anything different.
LC: So, a couple of her tweaks which really kind of take this cake to the next level. The cake itself has unsweetened chocolate in it and you really want to make sure you're using a high-quality chocolate that's one of the things that she changed in the recipe from her grandmother. She also melts the chocolate by pouring strong hot coffee over the chocolate. And as we know coffee really brings out the kind of roasty flavor of chocolate and then it's really a simple whisking together of eggs. There's oil in this cake and sour cream. Both of those things make the cake really nice and moist. And then you add the chocolate in a minute you'd beat the dry ingredients together for a few minutes. What that does is kind of almost sift the flour, and then add in that chocolate in three editions. This is a really thin batter, which I like to remind people because if you make it and you start pouring it into your cake pans, you get a little worried that it's not right. But this batter is really thin. It's a three-layer cake. So you do need three, nine-inch cake pans to bake the cake. But otherwise really sort of a simple basic cake.
CK: You know, when I was there, we talked about using, she uses a cup of neutral oil in the recipe like chiffon cake does. And I think that's really a great technique, oil and a cake. It keeps it softer and better texture room temperature.
CK: Because butter is obviously solid, more so than oil is but it keeps longer I think it gives you just a wonderful texture
LC: Right. The frosting on this is great too. It's semi-sweet chocolate, butter confectionery sugar, and then you know just a simple homey frosting of the cake just as long as it takes you to get it on there and then start slicing. That's the level of decoration you need to do for this cake.
CK: Yeah, she slapped her right on she wasn't doing sort of a Martha Stewart thing. It was here's the cake here's the frosting Lynn thank you so much a favorite from Cheryl Day and my visit their chocolate on chocolate three-layer cake. The best chocolate cake you’ll ever eat. Thanks
LC: You're welcome. You can get this recipe for chocolate on chocolate three-layer cake at Milk Street Radio.com
CK: That's it for this week's show. If you tuned into later want to binge listen every single episode you can download Milk Street Radio on Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street please go to 177 Milk Street com. There you can download each week's recipe watch the latest season of television show and learn about our magazine and latest cookbook Vegetables. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH executive producer Melissa Baldino. Senior audio editor Melissa Allison. Producers Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky, production assistant, Amelia McGuire, and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff .Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.