Everyone evolves as a cook.
What I cooked as a 25-year-old is not what I make today as a 41-year-old. Some dishes I’ve outgrown. Some dishes I wish I could forget. Some dishes I long to remember, particularly that chicken, zucchini and fennel dish that I made so many times in college but have since lost the recipe.
It’s the same with professional chefs. And so it should come as no surprise that their recipes — even signature ones — can change over time.
Two eagle-eyed readers sought clarification on recipes that I’d recently published based on other versions they had seen before. I think these recipes caught their attention because they are among the paper’s most popular, at least during my tenure as food writer: Poole’s macaroni and cheese and Angus Barn’s chocolate chess pie.
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I had published those recipes at the end of 2016 when sharing a list of our 16 most popular recipes. I soon received emails from two inquiring readers.
Chris Lowell of Apex sent a note about the macaroni and cheese recipe noting that the version we ran was vastly different from others he had seen elsewhere. We had reprinted a recipe of Poole’s macaroni and cheese from 2008 that called for 1 cup each of white cheddar, Parmesan and gruyere.
When James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen published her Poole’s cookbook last year, the cheeses and the ratio had changed. She explained that the restaurant version had changed since 2008 to use grana padano instead of Parmesan and Jarlsberg instead of gruyere. When she tested the recipe about 15 times for the book to produce four servings — instead of the dozens they would make at the restaurant each night — she modified the amounts of cheese to make sense for the home cook.
“It’s a reflection of the fact that we do change over time,” Christensen said recently in a phone interview. “I feel different about salt than I did 10 years ago.”
Meanwhile, Ann Overton of Apex sent a note about the pie. She pointed out that the recipe we published called for 2 (1-ounce) squares Baker’s semisweet chocolate. (That recipe was originally published in our Specialty of the House column in 2000.) But a recipe Overton received from the Angus Barn about 15 years ago called for 2 squares of Baker’s semisweet chocolate, without indicating ounces.
“At the time, almost all baking chocolate, including Baker’s brand, came in 2 ounce squares, which would yield 4 ounces used in the recipe,” Overton wrote. “Recently however, Baker’s changed their squares to be only 1 ounce, which would mean using only 2 ounces total.”
I asked for clarification from the staff members at the Angus Barn and they reported back the latest version of the recipe calls for 3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and does not specify Baker’s brand.
While Overton wanted to know the correct amount, she noted: “I have always used 4 ounces when making the pie and never had complaints.”
I doubt very much Overton is going to change her ways now; and so, that recipe’s evolution continues.
Angus Barn’s Chocolate Chess Pie, circa 2017
This Chocolate Chess Pie recipe was requested by a reader for The News & Observer’s monthly Specialty of the House column. The pie is such a popular chocolate dessert at the Angus Barn that the North Raleigh restaurant makes 600 pies a week. Owner Van Eure assures home cooks that this dish is easy to make, but they also sell it at the restaurant’s country store.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
1 unbaked pie shell
Whipped cream for topping, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and chocolate in the top half of a double boiler. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt. Add melted chocolate mixture and mix until well-combined. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake until set, 30 to 35 minutes. Allow to cool and top with whipped cream, if desired.
Yield: 8 servings
Poole’s Macaroni and Cheese, circa 2008
This version of the macaroni and cheese at Raleigh’s Poole’s Diner was printed in the News & Observer’s Specialty of the House recipe column in March 2008. Chef Ashley Christensen calls this dish, macaroni au gratin, and suggests that if you wish to add any extra ingredients (such as roasted tomatoes or caramelized onions), they should be layered between the pasta and the cheese topping.
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 pound of macaroni, cooked al dente and drained
1 cup shredded gruyere, divided
1 cup shredded Parmesan, divided
1 cup shredded white cheddar, divided
2 tablespoons cold butter
Pinch of sea salt
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Set a rack in the oven about 4 inches from the broiler, and preheat broiler.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, reduce cream by a fourth. Lower heat to medium. Stir in the macaroni and 3/4 cup each of the gruyere, Parmesan and white cheddar. Stir with a wooden spoon while tossing the contents of the pan in a sauteeing motion. Add butter and salt, and continue stirring until the butter is emulsified into the sauce.
Transfer mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup each of the gruyere, Parmesan and white cheddar over the top, distributing them evenly.
Place the dish under the broiler. Watch it carefully, as you will need to rotate the dish to create an even crust. This will take from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler.
Remove gratin from the oven and season with fresh cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Poole’s Macaroni au Gratin, circa 2016
This recipe appears in Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen’s cookbook, “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner,” (Ten Speed Press, 2016).
6 ounces dry elbow macaroni, about 1 1/4 cups
1 teaspoon neutral vegetable oil
2 ounces grana padano, shredded
2 ounces Jarlsberg cheese, shredded
6 ounces white cheddar, shredded
2 cups heavy cream
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 quarts water and 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt to a boil. Add the macaroni and return to a boil; once boiling, cook until barely al dente (about 5 minutes), then drain the pasta well. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and mix in the oil to keep the noodles from sticking. Let cool completely. You should have about 3 cups.
Set a rack in the oven about 4 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler. Combine the grana padano, Jarlsberg and white cheddar in a large bowl; reserve 60 percent of the cheese for the top.
In a large deep saucepan, bring the cream and 1 teaspoon sea salt to a boil. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. The cream will foam up and then subside into a simmer. Add the noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, about 90 seconds. The cream will start to thicken just slightly and coat the noodles. Start adding 40 percent of the cheese in small handfuls, stirring and waiting for each addition to melt and incorporate into the sauce before adding more. Transfer the contents of the pan to a 2-1/2 quart skillet or baking dish, mound the reserved cheese over the top, and place the dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Place the baking sheet under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, rotating throughout, until the cheese melts and caramelizes into a golden-brown crust.
Watch it carefully, as every broiler is different. Remove the gratin from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings