When I started as an intern at Cook's Illustrated last fall, one of my first projects involved testing reader-submitted recipes for a contest they were holding through their Cook's Country magazine. I loved it because you never knew what kind of recipes you would be testing that day, and they usually had interesting names or stories attached to them. Some were great, some needed work, and some were, well, ummm...interesting. Let's just say that fortunately, I have an iron stomach.
Testing reader-submitted entries were fun because there was less pressure on me to follow the recipes exactly: I relied on my cooking experience and intuition to fill in the gaps made by unclear directions, unattainable ingredients, or strange techniques. (By the way, if you ever send in recipes to a contest, make sure you check your submission! What exactly is a smidgen?!?)
The final winner of the $10,000 prize was something called a Peach Puzzle. I was the very first person to make it at the test kitchen (the recipe was later retested and refined), and everyone suddenly became really interested in what I was doing. Lil' old intern me. Why, you ask? And why was it called a puzzle?
It was called a puzzle because you would invert a ramekin in a round cake pan and arrange whole peaches around it. After preparing a syrup, you would pour it over the peaches. The final touch was a biscuit dough to cover the whole thing.
After the puzzle finished baking and cooled slightly, you would carefully invert the whole thing on a plate. The result would be a bed of dough, peaches on top, and a ramekin full of syrup. The magic was in how all the syrup ended up in the ramekin!
My sudden popularity came from the fact that everyone wanted to be there when I flipped it over to see if it worked- I guess my charming personality wasn't as intriguing as the recipe I was working on. Some wagered I would fumble and splash warm syrup over my neighbors, some scoffed that it would not work at all, and I just hoped that I wouldn't fling biscuit dough across the kitchen. I held my breath, tried to ignore my audience, and did a careful flip. Surprisingly, it worked.
After the testing was finished for the submitted recipes, there was a vote and peach puzzle became the winner of the contest. Even though I was no longer involved in the project at this point, I felt a moment of satisfaction that I had been the first one to lay my hands on the peach puzzle.
Chris Kimball talked about the contest in an NPR interview and the accompanying article included some of the runner-up recipes. (By the way, I've never talked to him.) As I was listening to the interview, I was tickled pink when he mentioned two recipes that didn't make the cut, pineapple souffle and a bright green clam chowder. I tested those first, luckily survived, and still live to tell the tale!