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Salon Food’s top 10 recipes of 2020 all have one thing in common: comfort

Salon launched Salon Food in 2019. How much can change in a year? In a nutshell, everything.

Including our relationship with food. Together, the Salon Food editorial team and our readers turned to baking our way through survival. For us, food provided certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. 

Salon’s own Ashlie Stevens captured our return to the kitchen early on in the pandemic. It was back to the basics, including bread making: 

I ask a friend who has picked up baking again since working from home about why she’s turning to it now. She gives an answer that is consistent with what other people have told me, and with what I feel. What we lack in stability right now, we have in extra time. While we may desire more certainty about the world around us, we can at least be nurtured by the belief that we’ll be eating dinner at home tomorrow night. 

“So the effort and the time won’t go to waste,” she says. 

Right now, we’re baking to remind ourselves that there are things to look forward to — we’re baking our way through survival. 

Salon Food readers again found solace in the dessert makeovers of our resident pastry chef Meghan McGarry, whose Spiked Apple Crisp Cheesecake Bars finished as our third most popular recipe of 2019. As we baked more than ever before, we turned to McGarry’s reinventions of classics time and time again like her smash-hit Meyer Lemon Blueberry Loaf.

At the same time, we warmly welcomed Salon’s own Mary Elizabeth Williams to the Salon Food fold. Williams took us along for the ride of her year of obsessive, indifferent baking. It included low-ingredient recipes that don’t sacrifice on flavor, such as Two-Ingredient Brownies, Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies, and Three-Ingredient Frozen Yogurt. Williams reflected on her journey earlier this month:

For me, cooking is now equal parts tyranny and therapy. It’s obligation and expression. Whatever it was I needed this year, I knew I couldn’t just buy it all wrapped up and ready to go. I also knew I couldn’t be that person with the Instagram perfect focaccia. So I’ve searched to find my place in the liminal space, settling somewhere that our Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ex-girlfriend Sandra Lee somewhat infamously calls “semi-homemade.” I’ve embraced the messy half-assedness of it all, the work shirt on top and sweatpants on the bottom approach which encapsulates this entire year of doing our best and lowering the bar.

But even as our readers doubled down on desserts, which overwhelmingly round out our top 10 recipes of the year, the theme of our top recipes remained unchanged from 2019: Our readers love comfort. Look no further than Steven’s own DIY version of Taco Bell’s discontinued Mexican Pizza, which is keeping fans of the iconic fast-food menu item satisfied. 

Speaking of pizza, a classic Italian recipe ended up on our list for the second year in a row. Last year, Salon Food readers found comfort in Michael Symon’s adaption of his Mom’s Lasagna. This time, it was Ragù alla Bolognese from chef Lidia Bastianich

As another successful first year comes to a close, it is time to pause for a moment to look back at the recipes our readers read the most:

1. These two-ingredient brownies are one baking hack that doesn’t sacrifice on flavor 

You heard us right: Two-Ingredient Brownies. More specifically, you need eggs and Nutella to whip up this easy recipe from Williams. Here’s the important thing: Done correctly, this is not some chocolate omelette, some tragic struggle brownie. This is not a brownie you stumble drunk into the kitchen and make because you’ve overridden your facility for choosing ingredients. This is a very good brownie. Right now, you deserve it.

2. You can bake this quick loaf with ingredients on hand in your pantry, because substitutions are easy

Salon Food asked McGarry about the recipe that kept her baking through it. She shared her Meyer Lemon Blueberry Loaf, a versatile quick loaf you can easily make from the ingredients already on hand in your pantry, plus possible substitutions for missing items just in case. 

“This is a recipe I return to time and time again,” McGarry said. “It’s not a trend. It’s not an involved project that takes a whole day. It’s simple, and it’s good.”

This loaf is super adaptable, and not only in terms of ingredients. It’s a multi-functional crowd pleaser that’s great for breakfast with a cup of coffee, in the afternoon with tea or as a snack all on its own. Eat half of this loaf and freeze the rest, or double the recipe and freeze an entire loaf for a day when the therapist isn’t in session. 

3. Taco Bell is ditching the Mexican Pizza soon, but here’s an easy homemade recipe

In a Sept. 3 press release, Taco Bell announced that it would be discontinuing some of its most beloved items, including the iconic Mexican Pizza. Even though the fast-food chain discontinued the iconic menu item, you can still make a DIY-version at home thanks to Stevens. It’s simple and probably healthier than what you’d get in the drive-through (but don’t let that stop you from slathering it with any lingering packets of Taco Bell Fire Sauce you have stashed in your kitchen). 

4. These three-ingredient peanut butter cookies are hands-down the best cookies in the world

You can make these Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies from stuff you have in your kitchen right now and eat them within half an hour of getting a notion to bake something. What you’ll wind up with are the sort of elevated treats hungry Manhattanites used to pay good money for, but with an undeniably homey touch. They are luscious when sprinkled with a bit of sea salt, but Williams encourages you to restrain yourself here from adding a lot of modifications and additions. Just let them be, plain and simple. Bake these when you depleted and tired and need a bit of sweetness and comfort, and let them make you feel cared for and a little more fortified.

5. This addictive soft-serve ice cream has only three ingredients, one of which is optional

Let us put it this way: You could be eating something really delicious (Three-Ingredient Frozen Yogurt) and relatively soon without feeling like you’ve been spiritually broken by a small kitchen appliance. You could even be a person who uses their ice cream maker. As with almost any minimalist recipe, ingredients and technique matter. Don’t even think about doing this with anything other than full-fat Greek yogurt or thick, well-strained regular yogurt.

6. Depression cake is the all-star chocolate cake you can make with pantry staples

Because of its austere ingredient list, Depression Cake is also vegan and egg-allergy friendly. You can dollop it with sweetened whipped cream, chocolate ganache, jam (very sophisticated) or just a puff of confectioner’s sugar. It’s even perfect entirely unadorned. What comes out of your oven will be so good, you won’t need an excuse to make it. We encourage you to bake one tonight, for yourself and whomever else is under your roof. And when you dig in, celebrate all those who’ve come through lean and sad times before us. Who still never stopped baking. Who never stopped finding clever ways to share, to celebrate and to create sweetness.

7. These cozy apple crisp bars redefine a classic fall dessert

This is the traditional fruit crisp you know and love, except once again in bar form. These bars from McGarry are three layers of fall bliss, each of which magnifies the flavor of the apples as they bake. Yes, this technically is a dessert. But you can have a little piece for breakfast or a square for a snack. It’s totally acceptable to eat dessert all day if it’s in bar form, right? While these bars taste perfect on their own, they’re also excellent served warm with a scoop of ice cream or dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. 

8. This four-ingredient chocolate fridge cake is fit for a king, and no baking is required

Guess what Prince William had as his groom’s cake when he married the former Kate Middleton? Any way you make it, it’s the contrast — along with the fact that it is legitimately delectable — that always makes fridge cake a winner. It’s velvety and crumbly. It’s salty and sweet. It’s a snack whose main ingredients you can pick up at the checkout aisle and a cake that’s truly fit for a king.

9. How to make an excellent bolognese sauce, revealed

When Bastianich appeared on “Salon Talks,” she also revealed the secret to elevating bolognese at home. Salon Food readers went wild over her recipe for the perfect homemade sauce, every time. Bastianich recommends serving your pasta with grated Grana Padano in a bowl for the dinner table.

The question of a good bolognese is the steps: the onions, the soffriggere, the little bit of carrots, little bay leaves, rosemary, cloves and so on down the line. You build the layers. And the slow cooking — two and a half hours, three hours for a good bolognese until the meat has sort of given all. And you’ll have this kind of velvety sauce and these morsels of delicious meat. That used to be Sunday for us, and it was delicious.

10. This nostalgic apple crumb cake is the ultimate no-fuss dessert to bake at home

Cinnamon, ground cloves, light brown sugar and freshly-grated nutmeg work together to create a depth of warmth and flavor. This is another cozy apple bake from McGarry, and it’s guaranteed to deliver a satisfying crumb every single time. You’ll want to bake it immediately, but also file it away to make again for years to come. This crumb cake makes for a good brunch bake or Sunday bake. It’s not too sweet, because McGarry allows the fruit to shine. If you’re serving it after dinner, you may want to add a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh whipped cream for a little à la mode journey.