Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust

You buy the ingredients, maybe spending a little more than you should – but the recipe looks great and you’re having friends over you want to impress. Back home in your kitchen you start cooking following the recipe step-by-step. It should be perfect but it’s not. There’s too much liquid in the cake batter, not enough flavor in the soup and despite the amount of time cited for cooking the duck, it’s done and getting dry in half the time.  In other words, the meal is a mess. That’s one reason why Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa of Food Network fame and accomplished cookbook author, has always been one of my favorites. And so I was glad when my friend cookbook publicist Carrie Bachman who represented Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust (Clarkson Potter $35), sent me a copy and set up a phone interview so I could chat with Garten about the book. That was back in 2013 and Garten now has added even more cookbooks to her list including the recently released Modern Comfort Food, but I still rely upon Foolproof to ensure that my time and groceries don’t go to waste.

“People look at a recipe and think if you just follow it, it’ll come out perfectly every time,” says Garten, who interestingly, majored in economics in college. “But every time you make something, the ingredients are a little different or you have another way you want to try it. So it’s a lot like driving a car; you have to make small adjustments along the way.”

That’s why Garten often tests each of her recipes 25 times and also has an assistant try them as well. She wants those who watch her shows or buy her cookbooks to always a meal they’re proud to serve and, even better, enjoy eating. Indeed, Garten wants her recipes to be foolproof.  

Foolproof was her eighth cookbook and anyone who owns one or more of her Contessa books such as Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home and Cook Like a Pro, is used to the style – sleek pages, vivid photographs (150 in this book), and flavorful and creative recipes written in a clear easy-to-follow prose. As on her TV shows, Garten doesn’t just present recipes perfect for recreating successfully at home, she also shares how to plan a menu, coordinating food times so everything is done at once as well as notes on where a recipe can go wrong and how to make a dish in advance. 

 “I want recipes that I know will come out perfectly every time,” says Garten. “Cooking is hard, it takes a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. You can get free recipes anywhere, so why should anyone want to buy a cookbook? What makes it worthwhile and worth the price? It’s the level of confidence in the writer. One of the things I’ve always strived for is recipes that work every time. You feel confident that this recipe is good, but also that you trust it.”

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6

  • 1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the core
  • 4 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon syrupy balsamic vinegar (see note)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, including some of the loose leaves, which get crispy when they’re roasted. Cut the pancetta into ½-inch dice and add to the pan. Add the olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss with your hands. Spread out the mixture in a single layer.

Roast the Brussels sprouts for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re tender and nicely browned and the pancetta is cooked. Toss once during roasting. Remove from the oven, drizzle immediately with the balsamic vinegar, and toss again. Taste for seasonings and serve hot.


You can buy aged balsamic vinegar that’s syrupy—and very expensive—or you can boil good balsamic vinegar until reduced to half its volume and it will become syrupy as well.

Ultimate Pumpkin Pie with Rum Whipped Cream

Serves 8 to 10

“Pumpkin pie can be boring and dense so I set out to make a better pumpkin pie,” writes Garten in her introduction to this recipe and we are totally behind that having eaten way too many boring and tasteless pumpkin pies. “Pumpkin has a distinct squash flavor that you want to enhance without overpowering it. I’ve filled the prebaked crust with a lightly spiced pumpkin mixture that tastes more like a mousse than a dense custard. Dark rum and grated orange zest are my secret ingredients.”

  • 1 unbaked Perfect Pie Crust (recipe follows)
  • Dried beans, for blind baking


  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum, such as Mount Gay
  • Rum Whipped Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line an 11-inch pie pan with the unbaked pie crust and place it on a sheet pan. Line the crust with parchment paper. Fill the paper threequarters full with the beans and bake the crust for 15 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Remove the beans and paper (save the beans for another time), prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork, and bake for another 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt, orange zest, eggs, cream, milk, and rum. Pour the filling into the baked pie shell.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the filling is just set in the middle and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely. Serve with the rum whipped cream.

Rum Whipped Cream

Serves 8 to 10

A dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche in whipped cream stabilizes it so you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge without it separating.

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mascarpone or crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon good dark rum, such as Mount Gay
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the sugar, mascarpone, rum, and vanilla and beat on medium-high until it forms soft peaks. Serve with the pumpkin pie.

NOTE: If you overwhip the cream and it looks curdled, just add a little more cream and whip it until it forms soft peaks.

Perfect Pie Crust

Makes two ( 9- to 11-inch ) crusts

There are a few tricks to making perfect pie crust. First, the butter, shortening, and water need to be ice cold. When you roll out the dough, you want to see bits of butter throughout. Second, allow the dough to relax in the fridge for at least thirty minutes before rolling it out. And third, don’t stretch the dough at all when you ease it into the pan. Perfect pie crust every time!

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) very cold unsalted butter
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¹⁄³ cup very cold vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
  • ½ cup ice water

Cut the butter in –inch dice and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8 to 12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. Dump out onto a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in half. Roll each piece on a well-floured board into a circle at least 1 inch larger than the pie pan, rolling from the center to the edge, turning and flouring the dough so it doesn’t stick to the board. (You should see bits of butter in the dough.) Fold the dough in half, ease it into the pie pan without stretching at all, and unfold to fit the pan. With a small sharp paring knife, cut the dough 1 inch larger around than the pan. Fold the edge under and crimp the edge with either your fingers or the tines of a fork.

NOTE: I store the shortening in the refrigerator so it’s always cold. You can store the prepared pie crust in the fridge for up to a day.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze

Makes one 9 -inch cake

For the cake

  • ¾ pound dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ tablespoons baking powder

For the sauce

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan.

Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1: cups of water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Allow to simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!). Set aside.

Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl. (The mixture may look curdled.) Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl. The batter will be runny but don’t worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup. Set aside. As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour the remaining sauce on top. Cool completely.

Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.

Barefoot Contessa’s Modern Comfort Food

“When I was a kid my mother would cut up hot dogs to add to canned split pea soup for me to eat,” Ina Garten tells me from the barn in West Hampton, New York where she creates and tests the recipes published in her cookbooks, including the latest “Modern Comfort Food” and on the her Food Network show Barefoot Contessa.

         I tell her that I ate so much split pea soup when I was a kid that my mother told me I was going to turn green. Garten laughs though it really isn’t very funny. It’s just the way she is. Polite and friendly, as if she and I are good friends rather me interviewing her in a spot where her phone gets very poor reception. That’s for sure. During the course of a 45-minute call, we get disconnected at least five times.

         But back to the split pea soup. When Garten was thinking up recipes for “Modern Comfort Food,” the 12th in her Barefoot Contessa series, it was one of the dishes she wanted to include. But not just any old split pea soup.

“My soup is from scratch and instead of hot dogs, I sauteed kielbasa,” she says. I love the way crispy sausage and the creamy soup contrast with each other.”

         Using her culinary magic, among the 85 recipes in her book she transforms the grilled cheese of childhood into Cheddar & Chutney Grilled Cheese and the frozen pot pies your mom kept in the freezer in case she was late getting home morph into Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Puff Pastry Croutons. Burnt hamburgers made by your dad the one time he tried to grill are now Smashed Hamburgers with Caramelized Onions.

         When I mention that I love her recipes because they always work and that often with celebrity cookbooks it’s just the opposite, she responds with a laugh, saying “ya’think?”

         Her recipes, on the other hand, are strenuously tested. It took her six years to perfect her recipe for Boston Cream Pie. She just couldn’t get it right until she finally found the exact flavor matches for the cake, chocolate glaze and pastry cream layers.

         Some, no make that most, of us would have given up or just said “good enough.” But not Garten which is why the Boston Cream Pie she hoped to put in two cookbooks ago didn’t make it until this one.

         “Sometimes it takes me a day to create a recipe that works just right, sometimes weeks or even months,” she says, noting that she loves getting up in the morning knowing she has a long list of recipes to test.

         She also has advice on how to use her recipes.

         “Do it once the way it’s written using the same ingredients, then you’ll know the way it is supposed to be,” she says, noting that someone once complained about one of her recipes not working and when she drilled down as to why, discovered that out of the seven ingredients called for, they didn’t use three. “It’s like someone saying the chocolate cake didn’t turn out and then they tell you they didn’t use any chocolate in it.”

Recipes courtesy of Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Copyright © 2020 by Ina Garten. Photography by Quentin Bacon. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Serves 6
3 chicken breasts, skin-on, bone-in (2½ to 3 pounds total)
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
5 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (3 leeks) (see note)
4 cups chopped fennel, tops and cores removed (2 bulbs)
3 cups (½-inch) diced scrubbed carrots (5 medium)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
¼ cup Wondra flour
¾ cup cream sherry, divided
7 cups good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (2 × 3-inch) piece of Italian
Parmesan cheese rind
1 (10-ounce) box frozen peas
1 cup frozen whole pearl onions
¼ cup minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the chicken on a sheet pan skin side up, rub the skin with olive oil, and
season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes, until a
thermometer registers 130 to 140 degrees. Set aside until cool enough to
handle. Remove and discard the skin and bones and cut the chicken in 1-inch
dice. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium (11 to 12-inch) heavy-bottomed pot or
Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the leeks, fennel, and
carrots, and sauté over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally,
until the leeks are tender but not browned.

Stir in the garlic and tarragon and cook for one minute. Sprinkle on the flour
and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the sherry, the
chicken stock, 4 teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons pepper, and the Parmesan rind.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
Add the chicken, peas, and onions and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Off
the heat, remove the Parmesan rind and add the remaining ¼ cup of sherry
and the parsley. Serve hot in large shallow bowls with two Puff Pastry Croutons
on top.

Note: To prep the leeks, cut off the dark green leaves at a 45-degree angle and
discard. Chop the white and light green parts, wash well in a bowl of water,
and spin dry in a salad spinner. Wet leeks will steam rather than sauté.

Puff Pastry Croutons -Makes 12 croutons
All-purpose flour
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm, defrosted (see note)
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Lightly dust a board and rolling pin with flour. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry
on the board, dust it lightly with flour, and lightly roll the pastry just to smooth
out the folds.

With a star-shaped or fluted round cookie cutters, cut 12 stars, or rounds of
pastry and place them on the prepared sheet pan. Brush the tops with the egg
wash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until puffed
and golden brown.

Defrost puff pastry overnight in the refrigerator. You want the pastry to be very
cold when you bake it. make ahead: Prepare the pastry cutouts and refrigerate.

Bake just before serving.

Boston Cream Pie
Makes one 9 – inch cake / serves 8
For the cake:
¾ cup whole milk
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated orange zest
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar

for the soak:
¹⁄₃ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¹⁄₃ cup sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

For the chocolate glaze:
¾ cup heavy cream
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips, such as Nestlé’s (7½ ounces)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Lindt, broken in pieces
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon instant coffee granules, such as Nescafé

Grand Marnier Pastry Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round baking pans, line
them with parchment paper, butter and flour the pans, and tap out the excess
flour. Set aside.

For the cake, scald the milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat
(see note). Off the heat, add the vanilla and orange zest, cover the pan, and set
aside. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs
and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, until thick and light yellow
and the mixture falls back on itself in a ribbon. By hand, first whisk in the
warm milk mixture and then slowly whisk in the flour mixture. Don’t overmix!
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until
a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15
minutes, then turn them out onto a baking rack, flipping them so the top sides
are up. Cool to room temperature.

For the soak, combine the orange juice and sugar in a small (8-inch) sauté pan
and heat until the sugar dissolves. Off the heat, add the Grand Marnier and set

For the chocolate glaze, combine the heavy cream, semisweet chocolate chips,
bittersweet chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla, and coffee in a heatproof bowl set
over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, just until
the chocolates melt. Remove from the heat and set aside for 25 to 30 minutes,
stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is thick enough to fall back onto itself
in a ribbon.

To assemble, cut both cakes in half horizontally. Place the bottom of one cake
on a flat plate, cut side up. Brush it with a third of the soak. Spread a third of
the Grand Marnier Pastry Cream on the cake. Place the top of the first cake on
top, cut side down, and repeat with the soak and pastry cream. Place the
bottom of the second cake on top, cut side up. Repeat with the soak and pastry
cream. Place the top of the second cake on top, cut side down. Pour the
ganache on the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Set aside for one hour,