Thursday, March 4, 2010

Top 10 Most Difficult Dishes To Make?

I was flipping through the Epicurious blog today and I came across this post. It contains the author's top ten most difficult recipes to make (in her opinion). They are as follows:

1. Savory souffles

2. Coq au vin

3. Mole

4. Beef Wellington

5. Napoleons

6. Paella

7. Puff pastry

8. Baked Alaska

9. Croissants

10. Sourdough bread

I see this and think... ooh food challenge. Basically she is throwing down the gauntlet here right? Though I am not certain what the deal is with coq au vin or paella being on the list, as they are not overly complicated. Also, why are macarons not on this list?! Certainly macarons are harder to execute than a souffle (yes, even a cheese souffle).

A perfect croissant though, I agree that's a lot of work. And I'm not just talking about baking a butter laden crescent shaped pastry approximation. I'm talking flaky golden crust balanced by that perfect honeycomb interior. That requires patience and good execution.

Oh man, listen to me. I might need to do this list. I need to go buy some more butter asap.

So dear readers, do you agree with the contents of this list? What would your top ten include?

Macarons and consommé would most certainly be at the top of mine. Pancakes would probably also make the list too, because I make horrible pancakes.

Today's photos brought to you today by Brandon Martin-Anderson, Charles Haynes (via wikipedia) and the letter Q


  1. Okay, delurking for this. A am by no means above average as a cook and I make mole on a regular basis -- and my Mexican friends love it and say it tastes just like their own. Somebody tell me why its on the "hard" list. And now that I know it is on the hard list I'll probably screw it up from now on! -- going back to lurking now.

  2. tandoori Chicken.. in my opinion- its been so distorted over the years that I think people have forgotten what it really is... Mughlai food in general...
    BTW I love your blog
    Curry Spice from

  3. Quilldancer,

    My best guess is just the shear number of ingredients required. I've seen mole recipes that require more than 30 different items.

    The shopping list probably wears you out before you ever reach the kitchen.

  4. Curry Spice,


    That reminds me! Naan! I have a tough time getting it right in a conventional oven. I use a pizza stone but it is never as good as the real thing.

    My house needs a tandoori oven...

  5. Huh. I have to admit that I haven't tried most of these. I get 4, 5, 7, and 9 since they all have the capacity of becoming sodden or otherwise screwed pastry. Mole has a lot of ingredients, though I wouldn't call it technically challenging. Souffles can be a pain, sure, though I think the failure rate is overblown in the public consciousness. The coq au vin and paella are a total mystery to me. I'd like the hear the reasoning behind those.

    Now 10 I'm torn on. On the one hand it's bread, which is pretty easy once you get into it, but on the other hand I've never tried making a sourdough so it's certainly possible that there's something I don't know.

    Baked Alaska doesn't _sound_ that hard.

    At least there wasn't something insane on there like muffins or omelets.

    On my own list I'd have to currently go with custards. Most things I try I can get all improv on until I like it or at least can see where it failed, but recently I tried making my first custard ever, a lime one, and it tasted ok while still warm but after setting had this horrifyingly caustic lime flavor amongst other bad attributes. Still, just takes time and practice.

  6. Croissants are hard. Tried to make some last weekend and ended up throwing away everything. Still up to the challenge, tho.

    I personally find gyoza difficult. Making them is not the problem, it is cooking them to the perfect mix of crispy and soft texture that I just can't seem to be able to do.

  7. I hate anything related to making bread and croissant dough is the worst. All that butter, folding, rolling and more folding. UGH!

  8. I've made most of the items on that list, and don't think they're all that hard.

    I'd say the most difficult and complicated things I've made were b'stilla, the Moroccan chicken pie, and multi-course Thai feasts. Delicious, well-worth the effort, and well-worth going to a good restaurant for. After making b'stilla a couple of times, I don't mind paying for it.

  9. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 I've done - some better than others, that's for sure. I don't think they're difficult so much as possibly labor and/or time intensive. (???) Beef Wellington I can see being a pain in the rear - getting the right doneness on the beef without over or under cooking the pastry, etc.

    On my list would be strudel. The idea of streeeetching out the dough without tearing the poor stuff to shreds baffles me.

    Hmm, like you, I feel challenged to finish the list now. :)

  10. The Great Australian pavlova - easy peasy, but like macarons, many things can go wrong. Ideally, it will be tall, with lovely, natural looking peaks. Perfectly white with no brown tinged tips, no seeping sad bubbles of sugar, no collapse, no cracks... A nice crispy shell and a light marshmallowy interior! Topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

    Also I think many Asian foods are difficult to perfect, with the balance of sweet, sour and savoury and the incredible lists of ingredients.

  11. La mian (hand pulled Chinese noodles) ; getting the dough to the right texture so it'll stretch smoothly, but not fall apart is really hard. But in general, this list is skewed towards old standard dishes. I'm sure you could find some cutting edge molecular gastronomy preparation requiring careful preparations under tight temperature and pressure controls ...

  12. I'm not sure what would be the hardest for me, but I don't think paella is difficult. Granted, that may have something to do from being Spanish, although I was never taught to make it. The first time I attempted it was on my own in a different country, with only half memories and internet recipes to help me.
    I now make a delicious paella that probably has my ancestors spinning in their graves, but conveniently, they are not the ones eating it.

  13. I'm Spanish too! Paella isn't difficult, unless... unless you try to do it with a few natives (all of them will have different recipes, especially if they are Valencian and feel they *invented* rice). There are so many variations of the dish, you can easily go bonkers trying to appease everyone!

  14. I have never made some of these dishes...but know the recipes..Mole?...a lot of ingredients,..paella..isnt there something about getting that perfect crust at the bottom? Croissants by hand --yes..with a professional sheeter?..not really.

    Mine--->Pie crust...and southern biscuits :)

  15. or maybe i should have said ..fruit pies...:)

  16. @cfexrun I've never tried making sourdough either, but I guess it's the sourdough starter that's the issue. Yeast are weird little beasties. My mom had a sourdough starter that had been her favorite for years, so much so that she took it carry-on on the airplane when she moved across country... and it bubbled over (all over the airplane) and died!

  17. Macarons would be on my list too, though I'd say you've perfected the art!

    Puff pastry makes sense just because of the ridiculous amount of rolling, cooling, folding.

    This list reads like a challenge to me, too! Beef Wellington, Baked Alaska, and croissants have been on my list for awhile.

  18. How do you mess up pancakes?! (No offense!) I have a delightful recipe straight out of my Betty Crocker cookbook that causes them to turn out almost perfect every time. Just flour, sugar, butter, eggs, buttermilk, baking powder and soda, and salt. And voila! I had to tweak it as the original made the batter soupy, but once I got the flour to milk ratio correct, my husband practically begs for pancakes!

  19. Ramen. Never tried, never will. I haven't pans big enough.

  20. Any type of baking stresses me out! So it is soooo nice to see someone else, Ms. Humble, doing a beautiful job. Macarons should be No. 1 or 2 on the hard-to-do list!

  21. For me what makes a dish difficult is being able to get reliably consistent results each time I make it. I'm going to have to think.

    Back when Mastering the Art of French Cooking first came out (dating myself. oh well) I spent a day making puff pastry by hand, and then made pineapple danish. They were one of the best things I have ever made. But I haven't made them in the 40 years since. Mostly because they were time consuming. Difficult, I expect, if you don't follow directions well.

    Making some doughs takes so much experience they are automatically difficult. I'd love to try but never have: phyllo dough (making the dough that is, not something from purchased dough) some of the noodles that you see stretched, folded in half and stretched again, seemingly endlessly.

    My French Club made coq au vin in High School. Long, but not difficult.

  22. I've never had any trouble with soufflés, but I can't make popovers! I've tried every recipe and trick I can find with no joy.

    Strangely, my family actually likes what they fondly call my "hockey pucks"...

    And I agree about pancakes. I make the batter, but someone else has to cook them if we don't want another batch of roofing tiles.

  23. Oh, I totally agree about macarons needing to be on that list! I'll have to give this some thought before I can make a top 10 list...but my epic crossaint fail of 2006 definitely places croissants on the list!

  24. I screw up biscuits every time, even more so since I moved to the southeastern US. I am from north of the biscuit-gravy line and had no idea they were so putzy and difficult.

    But here's a pancake recipe you might like; they are not the fluffy sort, but it's fluffier than a crepe. It's more like the fancy kind of pancakes that you smear lemon curd on and some fruit or fruit preserves and roll them up. I'm not sure what's so Swedish about them except it is a transcription/modification of somebody's Swedish grandmother's recipe. It's not a completely foolproof recipe; the humidity will affect the outcome. I am going to try to determine the weight of the flour instead of the number of cups; reading this blog as convinced me that it is worth bothering with this.

    Swedish Pancakes

    Where x is a whole number >1 and <5
    Let x=number of people eating

    (x * .75) cups flour
    (x - 1) tsp baking powder
    (x - 1) * .5 tsp salt
    x tsp sugar
    (x - 1) eggs, beaten
    x cups (milk + yogurt) or buttermilk or (milk + sour cream)

    Combine dry ingredients, set aside. Beat egg(s) until thick and lemon-colored, and combine them gently but thoroughly with the dairy mixture. If x > 4, you my need slightly less than x cups of it. If you are using yogurt or sour cream, thin it with milk until it's roughly the texture of buttermilk. You could use kefir or skyr or any other fermented/cultured milk product. If you don't have any such thing, use milk but add a tsp or so of vinegar or lemon juice per cup and let it stand a few minutes (this doesn't work so well with these new ultra pasteurized dairy products, so it might not be as thick as you want).

    Mix liquid and dry ingredients together very quickly, stopping the instant it is completely combined. The batter should be slightly thicker than the buttermilk. It's fine if it's a little lumpy. And should become slightly foamy as it stands there.

    Heat griddle with cooking oil (or butter + vegetable oil - but don't be tempted to use just plain butter; it will burn once the griddle is hot enough). It is hot enough when a drop of water skitters around on it instead of just sitting there or immediately turning to steam. Which isn't usually an issue because the oil would be smoking by then anyway.

    Pour a thin layer of batter onto griddle. You can make these anywhere from coaster or saucer-sized to plate-sized, but somewhere between them is optimal. When batter is set, and bubbles are forming on top, flip it over.

    You can stack these and hold in the warmer oven until they are all done, or you can fill and roll them as you go.

  25. Oh there's this traditional " Fatias de Tomar" from my hometown that are really delicious that most people say it's difficult to make.
    I succeeded at the first attempt. I think it would be challenging since it's not from your cultural background. The outcome is awesome for a the ingredients you use. Egg yolks, Sugar and water.

  26. Katie said;"Also I think many Asian foods are difficult to perfect, with the balance of sweet, sour and savoury and the incredible lists of ingredients."

    Well don't worry too much, those recipes you get are most certainly regional. Here in Japan for instance Sushi differs from region to region. In the Kanto area they are sweetened and use a lot of condiments whereas here in The Kansai region they often make it out of rice (they don't even use salt nor anything else sometimes) Nori, and the fish, or vegetables, and more rarely meat.
    So you just have to seek the regional variation that suits your tastes.

  27. I'm gonna brag a bit (which means the fates will find a way to get me back), but several years ago I made individual beef Wellington's for a New Year's dinner with our friends. I had never tried the recipe before so it could have been a spectacular failure. Actually they came out beautifully. The pastry was a bit of a pain but they might be more difficult to make because of all the different things you need to do to them. The doneness you kind of have to trust and need to know your oven. I usually have to add 5-10 minutes for my oven, and I wound up getting some in the medium to medium rare range and a few in the medium well range. Thankfully it corresponded to what people wanted. In the end, I would make them again...if only to give the fates a chance to intervene and put me in my place.

  28. ARGH! Forgive the random apostrophes. Coffee hasn't kicked in yet.

    On a side note, is there any way to make nut free macarons?

  29. For me the recipe is what I have labeled in my file as PIA Pastry. I know, pie pastry is supposed to be easy, and believe me, I have tried ALL the tricks (my favorite is using a Tbsp of OJ for the acid, which often works out pretty well). But if I want absolutely perfect, impress-yer-MIL flaky pie crust, I gotta go to the trouble of using this one recipe that is a major PIA. I hate it.

  30. Anything involving lentils doesn't seem to want to work for me. Don't know why...
    Pancakes tho? I'm the queen :)

  31. Not being a bread baker, I have to say that sourdough is very do-able. In fact, I even baked sourdough bread on the woodstove while my power was out for 8 days last month! It's great for pancakes as well, and I even tried it with Naan on the pizza stone...definitely not as tender as in the restaurants (any ideas?)

  32. I would totally have puff pastry and souffle. But macarons are top of the list for me. Also fresh pasta; somehow ravioli and me don't get along well if I'm the one making it.

  33. What about strudel? I've watched it being demonstrated and it looks insanely difficult, though I'll admit that I simply don't have a table big enough for what the dough turns into (yeah, that's why I don't make my own strudel dough... let's go with that)

  34. Tortillas. They are my enemy and someday I will conquer them!

  35. Interesting idea-- I've been wracking my brain all morning trying to think of the hardest thing I ever made. I know there was something insanely hard, but I can't remember. Probably so disasterous I've blocked the memory.

  36. First, I suck at anything that I'm supposed to be frying in oil. It either gets burnt, or under done, and I can never coat it properly and evenly with whatever crumbs I'm using.

    Now, breads and biscuits: Having the proper flour, and knowing you have the proper flour is just... vital for stuff like that.

    I couldn't figure out why bread comes out different here in Texas for years... until I realized that all purpose flour here is made with different wheat than all purpose flour up north. In the north you get flour made from red wheat, which is high gluten, but in the south you get flour made from a lower gluten wheat. Just adding wheat gluten perked my bread right up.

    Low gluten flour, cake or pastry flour, on the other hand, is what you need to make proper soft and flakey,southern biscuits.

    Hmm. I wonder if the flour you use for making sourdough starter affects the resulting sourdough... I may need to experiment.

  37. I definitely agree with the beef wellington. It is my favourite food in the whole world but I just can't cook it. Any excuse to get the boyfriend to take me out to dinner...

  38. oof. I gave myself a cooking challenge for each month this year, and it's been fun so far!

  39. I have been meaning to try Croissants
    for ages, they're on my 2010 learn to bake or make list but I chicken out every time. Speaking of which does anyone have a yeast suggestion? Fresh preferably, I'm having trouble finding a good one that doesn't result in a yeasty taste.

  40. I'm delighted by the fact that sourdough bread is on this list: my husband makes it on a regular basis! :) But I know mastering the sourdough starter is tough-- it did take him a while to figure that out.

    Pancakes are actually the only food I can cook. My husband does the rest of the cooking [and he does it really well]! So interesting to see how each of us can be skilled at one dish and at a loss with another.

  41. Ah yes, do that, girl!!! We all know you can :))))

  42. I made strudel dough from scratch precisely once. It's really only do-able with a large round table and at least 2 -- preferably 4 -- people. Fortunately my grandmother was there supervising me, my mom, and 2 of her sisters. She'd whack at our hands every time we ripped the dough. I think phyllo dough is an excellent substitute. And I love the sauerkraut filling!

  43. I have the simplest and easiest sourdough recipe. Not hard. Bake it as a boule in a dutch oven. Steams and comes out perfectly.

  44. The hardest thing about sourdough (at least the recipe I have!) is remembering to take the starter out of the fridge on Friday night. It takes all weekend between the various rises and if you don't take it out on Friday night then tough patootie, you don't get sourdough bread. Which reminds me, it's Friday night!

  45. Definitely sounds like a challenge to me. I say you go for it!

  46. Paella is super easy. I definitely wouldn't include it on this list. I've both seen it made by Spaniards and made it several times myself. Delicious, yes. Intimidating the first time? Perhaps. Simple once you've done it once or twice? Most definitely.

  47. Hello!!
    You won an award ^^

  48. The hardest thing to cook/create has to be raviolli from scratch. My mother-in -law is the master. She can make a filling that tastes great and a pasta exterior that is thin but doesn't fall apart when you boil the raviolli. I have naver been able to replicate it.
    Macarons? I have never made them never plan to. I hate to brag but I live in Europe and can be at the doorstep of Laduree in Paris within 90 minutes! Their macarons are the standard of which all others are held to, except yours of course, Ms. Humble!

  49. My kids have made Beef Wellington.

    Honestly, not any of those things scare me. But I can't think of much that does. A lot of them are heavily time consuming, but not necessarily hard.

    I'll cogitate on it and get back to you.

  50. I don't know about you but most of those things are not on my list of things I really want to make "puff pastry" seems like it would just take up so much time to create and not enough time eat LOL.

  51. I really love making complicated recipes, and often have more success following step-by-step instructions for completely unknown dishes than I do experimenting with simple stuff I ought to know how to make.

    Have made successful cassoulet, which takes a good three days, and want to try and make xiao long bao but I'm certain I'd stuff the dough up.

    I'm terrible at any pastry, and just lately seem to have become incapable of producing soft-boiled eggs. I worry about over cooking them and end up cracking them open to find runny white.

  52. Chiffon cake. I can never get it to be as light as the ones my local bakery makes (which is probably full of artificial leaveners and preservatives but still!). And I'm pretty bad at making pastry in general. And I'm awful at bread - it's probably the kneading; and it goes hard and stale the very next day!

    As for pancakes, though, it used to be on my list of failures until I discovered Nigella's recipe: Makes the most amazing fluffy pancakes, and I have adapted these to make a number of pancakes (and next up, waffles!). I always add less milk then she asks for. The added benefit (or disadvantage) is that you always have pancakes just 5 minutes away. :)

  53. I have good luck with macarons, breads and souffles. I refuse to fail so if it doesn't work the first time I research other recipes and try again. However, I have a PIA category of things I will probably never make: my own puff pastry; cassoulet (where I confit my own duck legs, etc.); turducken and blown sugar.

  54. What do you know about foods? I am the best chef in the world and the most difficult food to cook is the Polynesian Malay food. It took me 30 years to perfect it and approved by the Malaysian Royalty. Often it takes me days to prepare that one single dish. Try prepare longtong lemak with nasi impit. Serunding perak, dodol or lemang and rendang kambing tok. This takes days to prepare and cook. It took me just 3 hrs to prepare perfect cog au vin using a recipe from a 150 year old french book for 200 people and just overnight in fridge before serving.

  55. Best Chef In The World,

    I know much about foods. I am the best chef in the galaxy (and some parts of Andromeda). I've been certified Grade A+ Awesome Chef by the galactic foodie tribunal. I have a certificate with a hologram seal on it. It sparkles.

    I make a dish that is so amazing and complicated that even royalty could not obtain it. The recipe is from the 11th century, it requires several weeks just to prepare, using only the most rare and expensive ingredients. It sometimes takes months to scavenge enough cobra hairs and titmouse milk to prepare even a single serving. I must fast for days in a sweat lodge before assembling it, so that I am physically and spiritually ready to cook.

    Then the ingredients are combined only by the light of a full moon and then sealed into a golden urn and buried in my back yard. It is allowed to ferment underground 5 years before it is ready.

    For those years I must visit the burial spot daily and preform a ritual that involves whistling while doing jumping jacks until I pass out.

    Then after half a decade, is the dish ready to be unearthed, drizzled with Diet Dr Pepper and served to the chosen few.

    One bite and you've achieved nirvana. Just ask Wilford Brimley or Peter Pan.

  56. You want to challege me... anybody. Call me at 712-574-0273 for Grand Masterchef Sall. I am in Sioux City USA... I can dazzle you with my comprehensive spice knowledge. I am not institute trained, I am classically trained from the andes mountains to the shores of langkawi. I have 40 years of experience and my dishes would even overwhelm any royal tasters.

  57. I don't think that above all those recipe are hard to bake at home. Even i have baked sourdough bread last week. It's true that we need more times for it.
    dreambox sky


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