♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Today on "America's Test Kitchen"... Julia makes Bridget a showstopping Pavlova, Jack challenges Julia to a taste test of vanilla, Lisa reviews cocktail gadgets, and Bridget makes Julia the perfect holiday eggnog.
It's all coming up right here on "America's Test Kitchen."
♪♪ -The 20th-century Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova was considered the most famous dancer of her time.
People adored her.
Chefs named dishes after her, including a very famous dessert called Pavlova.
Now, it's basically a meringue filled with cream and berries or other fruit.
And both the Australians and New Zealanders claim it as their own.
We're gonna talk about that another day.
Today, I just want to eat it and make one with Julia.
She's gonna show us a great version.
And it all comes down to that meringue.
That is the most technical part of this recipe, though "technical" does not mean hard.
We wanted to make it foolproof.
And so, when you're thinking about meringue, there's really just two ingredients -- egg whites and sugar.
But it's how you mix these two together that makes all the difference.
-So, we're gonna start with 3/4 cup of egg whites, and that's anywhere from five to seven eggs, depending on how large they are.
We're gonna add 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar.
We tested slightly lower amounts, but we found that 1 1/2 cups is the right amount because it makes the crust good and crisp.
Here I have a saucepan with about an inch of water.
We're just gonna put it at a bare simmer.
This is basically a double boiler.
We're gonna put this right on top, and that gentle heat will slowly heat up the egg whites.
And I have a thermometer here because we want to go 160 to 165 degrees.
That's the magic temperature.
Now, if you were to look up recipes, you'll find that many of them cook this mixture to a lower temperature, around 140.
But when we did that, we found the meringue had a pockmarked sort of coarse texture.
Increasing the temperature to 160 made it nice and smooth and creamy, so that's what we're gonna do.
That takes about five to eight minutes.
-So, let's take a closer look at why 160 degrees is the right temperature to cook our eggs and sugar to.
Egg white proteins start out as tightly wound molecules, like balls of string.
When they're whipped, the proteins uncoil into strands, then they slowly start to link up, or coagulate, at around 140 degrees.
They form a loose protein mesh.
If, instead, you bring the meringue up to 160 degrees, the whites will coagulate more, weaving together into a tighter mesh.
Later, as the meringue bakes, the knitted proteins squeeze out water and the water turns to vapor.
In a meringue that's cooked to 140 degrees, the loose protein mesh stretches and breaks during baking, forming irregular air pockets.
This leads to a coarse final texture in the baked meringue.
But in a meringue that's cooked to 160 degrees, the tighter, stronger protein mesh doesn't stretch or break as easily.
The expanding vapor can only create small, fine-textured air pockets that are even throughout the meringue.
This leads to a Pavlova with a final texture that is uniformly fine and airy.
So those 20 degrees make a big difference.
Crank the heat up to 160 degrees.
-That mixture has registered 160.
Starting to climb to 165, which is perfect.
Now we're gonna whip it until it's nice and fluffy and glossy, and that takes about four minutes.
I'm gonna do that on high speed.
-Now we're just gonna add a few more ingredients.
The first one is vanilla, which is for flavor.
This is a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
These last two are quite unusual -- common for Pavlova but quite uncommon for meringue.
-So, the first one is cornstarch.
Now, the cornstarch gives it a little structure and especially that chewy part right under the crust.
This is 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
And this last one is vinegar.
Now, vinegar helps keep that very center creamy and luscious, so when you take it out, you almost get more like a nougat.
This is 1 1/2 teaspoons of white distilled vinegar.
So I'm just gonna turn this mixer back on to high for about 10 seconds to incorporate those last few ingredients.
-Beautiful and glossy.
So now it's time to take this meringue and make it into a nice, flat cake layer.
So what I have here is a piece of parchment paper, and I've traced a 10-inch circle on it, and this is gonna be our template for making the meringue cake.
-I'm just gonna take a little bit of the meringue and I'm gonna dab it in the corners because this will help anchor that parchment.
And obviously the stencil side is going down so it won't leech on to the meringue, but you can still see the outline nicely through the parchment.
And so now I'm just gonna take all this meringue.
Just gonna pile it into the center of my stencil.
So now I'm just gonna take the spatula and, working from the center, I'm just gonna sort of push it out.
I'm gonna spin the tray as I go.
Now, this is not a precise dessert.
It's gonna get a little cracked.
If it looks a little rustic, that's okay.
The beauty is in it being rustic.
So I'm just gonna work from the center out.
Now I'm just gonna use the back of a spoon.
I want to make the center of it a little lower than the edges because that's where that whipped cream and the fruit is gonna rest, so I'm gonna give it a nice, little bed.
And the wall should be about an inch high.
Alright, so this is ready for the oven.
It's gonna be a very low oven -- 250 degrees so that it dries out for about an hour and a half right on the middle rack.
Ooh, beautiful, isn't it?
-The way you can tell it's done is not by browning because you can see it doesn't have much color.
But you're gonna take a spatula and very gently just put it under the edge and see if you can lift it up as a whole piece, just like that.
It'll start to release from the parchment.
That is perfect.
You don't want to cook it any longer or it'll get too hard.
-But it's still quite wet on the very inside, so we're gonna dry it out, and with that wooden spoon propped right in the door, we're gonna turn the oven off and let it dry out and cool down again for another hour and a half.
-And while that happens, we're gonna focus on the fruit on the top.
Now, a lot of the classic Pavlovas use tropical fruit.
As you said, it was popular in New Zealand.
-But we're gonna do something decidedly North American.
We're gonna do cranberries with oranges, sort of end-of-the-year holiday flavors.
This is about a cup and a half of frozen cranberries, and they're a little too tart right out of the bag to put them on the Pavlova, so we're gonna give them a little sugar bath, so I have a cup of water, and this is a cup of sugar, and we're just gonna bring it to a boil over medium heat.
That came to a boil pretty quickly.
Now we're gonna add the frozen cranberries.
We're gonna turn the heat off.
You don't want the cranberries to burst open.
You want them to stay as whole berries.
-So they're just gonna sit off the heat in this simple syrup and cool down for about half an hour.
Alright, that's nice and cool.
Now we're gonna drain the syrup away.
So I'm gonna take just 1/2 cup of these, and we're gonna coat them with sugar just to help garnish the finished meringue.
I'm gonna shake them around.
-Mmm, so pretty.
-Put them out on a plate.
It's so elegant.
They almost look like they're dusted with snow.
This will dry for about an hour.
When we come back, we can assemble the meringue.
Alright, so our Pavlova is on its stage, ready to be topped with whipped cream and some fruit, so let's make the whipped cream.
-So, I have 2 cups of heavy cream here, and it's nice and chilled, so it'll whip better.
And I'm gonna start it on low for about 30 seconds, then I'm gonna add just a little bit of sugar.
This is 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
So 30 seconds on low, 30 seconds on medium, and then the last 20 seconds or so on high.
I always like to do the last bit by hand because if you over-whip cream, it gets all chunky-looking.
Alright, that is perfection.
Now it's time to finish our fruit.
And I mentioned earlier that we're doing oranges and cranberries, so we're just gonna use navel oranges, and five navel oranges in total.
So you want to trim off the top and bottom of the orange, then follow the curve of the orange with your knife.
I'm not gonna segment them as you would for a salad but rather I want some of the segments to hold together, so I'm gonna quarter it length-wise and slice it about 1/4 inch thick.
To this we're gonna add the remaining unsugared cranberries.
These were just soaked in that water and sugar syrup but not rolled in the sugar.
And a lot of mint.
This is 1/3 cup of freshly chopped mint.
-Keeps getting better.
Alright, so our fruit's ready, our whipped cream is ready, and our meringue has cooled for at least 15 minutes out of that oven.
Right out of the oven, it's a little warm.
You don't want to assemble it just right away.
So first on is the whipped cream.
I'm just gonna pile it right into the center.
I'm just gonna use a spatula to push out the whipped cream just to the edges.
I want it to peek out from underneath that fruit a little bit.
This meringue actually needs about 5 minutes, at least, to absorb some of that moisture from the whipped cream so it's easier to serve.
Alright, so it's been sitting for 5 minutes.
Time to garnish and taste.
-5 miserable minutes!
-So now is when you put on these beautiful sugared berries.
Put them on too soon, they will melt.
-And last but not least, a few whole mint leaves just sprinkled around, adding just a nice hit of color here and there as though they blew in off the wind.
-[ Laughs ] -So, using a serrated knife is key here for serving it.
-I can positively tell you that I am not worried about a perfect slice, and yet you delivered.
-Your wait is over, my friend.
-This is the perfect dessert.
-It's got that crisp, crisp sugary layer underneath of the meringue, a little bit of chew still in there.
The whipped cream just adds a lot of richness without adding too much sweetness, because in comes that little bit of tangy cranberry and the tart orange, as well.
This is -- "Showstopper" just doesn't do it justice.
-It doesn't, does it?
-I would say, brava, Julia.
-[ Laughs ] -This beautiful Pavlova starts with meringue.
Heat sugar and egg whites, then whip them until fluffy, then add vinegar and cornstarch.
Spoon it all into a circle, bake it, and then cool in the oven.
Meanwhile, stir cranberries into heated sugar water and then roll them in sugar for a garnish.
Whipped cream spooned into the middle of the meringue and then top with oranges, cranberries, and, of course, mint.
Garnish with those sugared berries and serve.
So, from America's Test Kitchen to your kitchen, orange, cranberry, and mint Pavlova with whipped cream.
♪♪ -The last time we tasted vanilla, we preferred pure vanilla extract over imitation vanilla.
But in 2017, a cyclone wiped out a huge portion of the vanilla crops in Madagascar, which means that the natural stuff is now very expensive.
So Jack's here to help us re-evaluate our options.
-Yeah, this is a fascinating taste test.
You know, you think, how could an imitation product possibly compete with the real deal?
But one area where it's the clear winner is cost.
If you pick our favorite imitation, it is 12 cents an ounce.
If you pick our favorite pure vanilla extract, it's $3.25 an ounce.
-And so it's 21 times more expensive, and so, you know, you really need to decide not only can you taste the difference but are you willing to pay for the difference.
-So let's answer the first question.
I brought vanilla pudding.
-So, the reason why we do pudding is because we don't really cook the vanilla.
-So we did two rounds with all of the different brands with pudding and frosting.
-We then took our favorite imitation and our favorite pure vanilla and did some baking tests.
We made cookies, and we made cake.
But I'm giving you the pudding because I think it's a really easy way to see the difference.
Pure vanilla extract is, you know, plant material.
It's a hand-pollinated orchid.
It is an artisanal product, and you are paying for that.
The imitation -- most of these are petroleum-based.
That doesn't sound that appealing.
-It doesn't, actually, and that's why people have a problem with it.
-Yeah, and they add flavor compounds.
Sometimes they add caramel colors so that it looks like vanilla extract.
Some brands may even add some other flavors to it, and so even if you like the way it tastes, there is a question about do you want to be buying the small-farm artisanal product or do you want to buy the thing that's made from petroleum?
[ Both laugh ] -Well, when you put it that way... -Yeah.
But the question is can you taste the difference?
A couple things I want you paying attention to.
-How much vanilla flavor is there?
-We actually measured this.
We sent them all out to labs, and we were looking for this compound.
It's called vanillin, and it's a thing that we recognize as vanilla flavor, and some of the brands had 20 times more of this compound.
The second thing is that the imitation extracts are just using one flavor compound.
The real deal has 250 different flavor compounds, and it can be sort of divided in our tasting panel.
Some people loved the complexity you get -- woody notes, floral notes.
Other people just want this one flavor compound that we recognize as the primary, dominant flavor compound in vanilla.
The last thing is booziness.
-[ Laughs ] -So, pure extract, by law, must be 35% alcohol.
And you're gonna taste the booze here.
The imitation stuff does not need to have any alcohol, and so in some cases, you get pure vanilla flavor without the alcohol competing with it.
-So, anything that you're noticing about the flavor here?
-I've eaten a lot of pudding, which is delicious, by the way.
-And I have to say, I liked them all.
There wasn't one that I wouldn't be happy with if I had at home.
But there were two that stood out to me.
These two had a very strong flavor to me, and I preferred this one.
This one tasted a little bit sweeter.
But I also loved this one, and when you were talking, you said that there was an alcoholic sort of flavor, and I definitely got that from here, along with some nuanced complexity.
So these two are my favorite.
I loved this.
This one had a strong flavor.
And this one was just fine.
-Yeah, so I'm hearing two things.
They're all fine.
-And the second thing I'm hearing is you liked the most expensive ones.
Let's start with this guy.
-So, this is one of the pure extracts.
It's Morton & Bassett.
We liked it fine.
It wasn't our favorite of the pure extracts.
You liked it.
-I loved it.
-And it tastes like vanilla.
-There you go.
-This is the Simply Organic.
-This was actually, of the tasting panel, their favorite among the pure extracts.
It has a nice, clean, strong vanilla flavor.
And this one, which had a really potent flavor.
-So, this actually has two sources of vanilla flavor.
-The real deal is supplemented with imitation.
-Oh, so it's a blend.
-Yeah, it's a two-fer.
-Alright, and this last one, which I also thought was lovely.
-Our favorite imitation.
This is Baker's.
It won the overall taste test, and it is, by far, the least expensive.
It is the one that is 12 cents an ounce.
So this one is a bargain.
-A real bargain.
-Alright, so, there you have it.
If you don't mind imitation vanilla, go for the Baker's imitation vanilla extract, which is just 98 cents for an 8-ounce bottle.
Or, if you want to stick with the real stuff and don't mind paying a little bit more, go with the Simply Organic vanilla extract, which is $12.99 for 4 ounces.
♪♪ -If you enjoy making cocktails at home, a few key pieces of gear can help you enjoy professional-level drinks.
Here are our favorites.
These are like pestles.
They crush and extract flavor from mint, citrus, and more.
Our favorite is the Fletchers' Mill Maple Muddler, and it costs about $13, and here's what mattered.
It's long enough to reach the bottom of the tallest shaker or glass.
It's got a shape that's easy to grip.
It's got a moderate-size head that covers more ground with each push.
And it doesn't have a finish that'll dissolve in your drinks like some models we tested.
This one was just right.
Bartenders use them to measure different volumes of alcohol.
Our favorite is actually a small liquid measuring cup.
It's not your classic jigger.
The problem is, classic jiggers are hourglass-shaped, which drip when you turn them over to use the other side, and that makes a mess, and worse, a lot of them lack measurement markings.
You're just supposed to know.
The OXO Good Grips angled measuring cup, about $5, solves those problems.
It has easy-to-read markings and a neat pour spout.
You're gonna place this on top of a cocktail shaker to hold back ice and anything else, like those muddled bits of mint.
For about $17, the Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne strainer is comfortable to hold in place.
It's got a good spring that compresses down, so you can really control how finely you strain.
With these three inexpensive tools, you'll be all set for your next party.
♪♪ -I've only tried eggnog once, years ago, and I thought it was terrible, like old melted ice cream spiked with cheap cooking brandy.
But today Bridget's gonna try to get me to try it once more.
-I'm so sad for you.
You've never had good eggnog.
-Yeah, well, you probably had the supermarket stuff out of the carton.
I don't know what that is, but it's not really good nog.
Really good nog should be creamy, kind of like a custard or a crème anglaise, a little bit frothy and pleasantly spiked with booze.
And I like how you call it nog.
Not eggnog -- just nog.
I know it well.
Believe you me.
So, we're going to make a cooked eggnog.
Now, a lot of the historical recipes are uncooked, and that's because they would spike it with so much booze that the booze would kill anything, so we're gonna make a cooked one.
Comes together very easily.
We're starting off with 4 cups of whole milk and just a little bit of salt.
This is 1/4 teaspoon of table salt, just using it as a flavor enhancer and it helps to balance the sweetness a little bit.
Alright, so, I'm gonna bring this up to a simmer over medium-high heat.
And we'll just keep an eye on it while we mix our custard.
We're starting off with 6 eggs.
These are large eggs here, but we wanted to make this a little bit richer, so we are adding 2 extra yolks.
-And then, for sugar, we've 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons, just a little bit sweeter than a standard custard because it's the holidays, and calories don't count.
So I'm gonna whisk this together.
Just takes about 30 seconds, but, really, what I'm looking for is for this mixture to come together, all those egg yolks to be completely broken up, and the mixture to be incorporated.
Thar she blows!
The milk is up to a simmer, so now we're gonna temper these egg yolks.
I went ahead and put the bowl right onto a towel, just to anchor it a little bit.
So I'm just going to gradually whisk in this milk mixture.
And if it starts to get away from me, I'll just pause and then add more in.
Alright, so that looks good.
Now, these are going to go back into the saucepan.
Okay, so now we want to put the heat on medium-low.
We want to cook this a bit more gently.
So I'm gonna stir it constantly and really kind of scrape the bottom and the corners.
And that's gonna go for about 2 to 5 minutes.
I'm looking for a temperature of about 160 to 165.
Alright, that looks pretty good.
Now, I am gonna switch off the heat.
Anytime you check the temperature with the custard, good to turn the heat off.
-And again, I'm looking for about 160 to 165.
-So now let's get it out of the saucepan.
So, I'm straining it to get rid of any little bits of egg that might have overcooked.
I don't want to press any of the solids through, but anything on the bottom, that's great.
So, now this is just a custard, right?
-Let's turn it into an eggnog.
In my opinion, it's not an eggnog without a little bit of liquor.
This is 1/2 cup of brandy.
You could also use bourbon.
So good with bourbon.
Or a dark rum.
We're adding it off-heat because we want to preserve that little boozy bite.
And this is a tablespoon of vanilla extract.
Same thing as with the liquor -- we want to preserve that fresh flavor.
And then 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg.
You know, we did try a whole bunch of other spices, like clove and cinnamon, but nutmeg really came out on top.
We're going to put a little plastic wrap on top, and this is going to go into the fridge.
You want to let it chill at least 3 hours, get it nice and cold, but you can do this up to 3 days in advance.
-Alright, we have our beautiful chilled custard.
-But, really, it's just a brandy custard at this point.
It's not really eggnog.
Eggnog should be frothy and a little bit fluffy, and we're gonna get that from whipped cream.
-This is 1/2 cup of cream.
And I was going to whip it to soft peaks, but the one thing I know about you when we're out on the road, anytime that there is cream to be whipped, you have to do it.
I love whipping cream.
I like being timed.
Alright, one Mississippi.
I'm just looking for soft peaks there.
-Now, I don't want to over-whisk this, so it's getting thicker.
You can see.
I'm gonna slow down a bit, and you can tell me when, 'cause this whipped so fast.
Less than 30 seconds to do by hand.
Now, that's pretty soft.
Alright, so I'm gonna use the whisk and add this to our chilled eggnog mixture.
Now, this is where you can play around with ratios, too.
If you wanted to make an eggnog without any alcohol in it, that's fine.
You just want to reduce the cream to 1/4 cup whipped.
And then if you wanted to make a high-test nog, like, go full out, so you could add a whole cup of liquor at the start, you would want to increase the amount of heavy cream to 3/4 cup.
So, you can find these variations on eggnog and more at our website.
-Alright, this looks like gorgeous eggnog.
I mean, when I take my whisk and go across the top, you can just start to peek at the custard underneath, but it's got that frothy top.
So, a pretty eggnog deserves a pretty punch bowl.
-I'm getting a little nervous here, actually.
-Yeah, I just -- I'm worried that I'm not gonna like it.
-Girl, I got you.
-[ Chuckling ] Okay.
-Have I ever ste-- Well, no, don't answer that.
[ Chuckles ] -One final flourish.
-A little freshly grated nutmeg.
Doesn't need a lot.
-This stuff is potent.
-Alright, bottoms up.
-Makes everything taste better.
-This is really good.
Well, first of all, it doesn't taste like melted ice cream.
It just tastes like a good custard.
And it has the right measured amount of alcohol.
Just mellowed with the flavor of the nutmeg and the cream.
-This is like a little blanket.
-Envelopes you in warmth and spice and richness.
-This cup is going down easy.
-Alright, I'm a believer.
-Glad I converted you.
-So, if you want to make delicious eggnog, start by making a simple custard using eggs, sugar, and whole milk.
Cook until the mixture reaches 165 degrees, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer, then add the brandy, vanilla, and nutmeg.
Chill and then whisk in whipped cream just before serving.
So from America's Test Kitchen to your kitchen, a fantastic recipe for holiday eggnog.
You can find this recipe and all the recipes from this season, along with our tastings, testings, and select episodes, at our website, americastestkitchen.com.
-[ Laughs ] -Let us help you with dinner tonight.
Visit our website anytime for free access to the newest season's recipes, taste tests, and equipment ratings, or to watch current season episodes.
Log on to americastestkitchen.com/tv.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪