Beloved television chef and cookbook writer Ina Garten is the queen of comfort. Get ready for the equivalent of a big, warm culinary hug as Ina reinvents some of her favorite popular sweets. Plus, get an inside look at recipes from her cookbook Modern Comfort Food.
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For Ina Garten some foods can soothe the soul. "I love remembered flavors," she says. In fact, she firmly believes that almost any dark mood can be lightened by a crispy roast chicken, a baked-from-scratch cookie, or a well-mixed cocktail. "If I'm truly, deeply miserable, a whiskey sour always does it," she says with a laugh. "It's my crankiest happy place." Of course, nothing banishes the blues like a slice of chocolate cake either. Ina, known to most as the Barefoot Contessa, has included a cocoa-rich, birthday-worthy confection in every one of her dozen books, including her latest, Modern Comfort Food, which is a deep dive into the idea of cooking and eating as solace and joy.

chef author Ina Garten holding banana rum trifle
Credit: Quentin Bacon

Cozy cuisine is not exactly new territory for the contessa. "I think comfort food is whatever you had as a kid, and that sort of cooking is what I've been doing all these years anyway," Ina says. Though her recipes might have their genesis in familiar ideas, that is only a jumping-off point. "I always look at a standard recipe and ask myself two things: One, how can I make this taste better? And two, how can I make this easier to cook?" she says.

These days, Ina is cooking up comfort in her East Hampton, New York, kitchen where she has been spoiling her adored husband, Jeffrey, with treats like lobster pot pie and their favorite low-effort special-occasion dinner: a decadent cheese and charcuterie board for two. But she's also finding an escape in a more unexpected place: Instagram, where she's been delighting her nearly 3 million followers with simple recipe ideas and sometimes hilarious cocktail demos. (If you haven't watched her mix the world's largest cosmopolitan, you're in for a treat.) "When the pandemic came around, my friend said, 'Maybe you should see if people on Instagram have cooking questions,'" she says. "And I was like, I don't know the answers. But I thought, I'll just post a picture of my pantry and see what happens." What happened was an ongoing virtual dialogue about everything—including the monotony of unloading the dishwasher and how to use up all those dried beans we stockpiled last spring. "These conversations ended up being really satisfying for me because they've given me purpose at a time when we are all incredibly anxious," she says. "They've become a comfort—Instagram and lots of grilled cheese sandwiches."

grandparent gifts
Credit: Courtesy of Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten Recipes from Modern Comfort Food

These desserts from Ina are all the comfort you need to turn a down day right side up or make a good day great.

Banana Rum Trifle
Credit: Carson Downing

Banana Rum Trifle

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Ina's approach to banana pudding? "I thought, Let me see if I can raise the bar," she says. In her version, gingersnaps replace the usual vanilla wafers and vanilla bean, and a few tablespoons of Mount Gay rum flavor the pudding.

Black & White Cookies
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Black & White Cookies

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Sour cream in the batter (for an extra-moist texture) and high-quality semisweet chocolate in the icing are Ina's upgrades to the iconic New York treats, which actually eat more like little cakes.

Boston Cream Pie
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Ina's Boston Cream Pie

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This total misnomer dates back to the 1880s when cakes and pies were baked in the same type of pan. Ina's modern twist is decadent with an orange juice-Grand Marnier syrup soaking the vanilla cake and another shot of the orange liqueur in the pastry cream.

The pastry cream and cakes can be made ahead and refrigerated separately, but prepare the glaze and assemble 1 hour before serving. Don't refrigerate the assembled cake before serving or beads of condensation will form on top.

Bittersweet Chocolate Cake
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Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

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An Ina Garten chocolate cake is not your usual chocolate cake. This dense, rich cake is somewhere between a chocolate torte and a molten cake, according to Ina. And it includes just a dash of instant coffee granules to deepen the flavors.

English Lemon Posset
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English Lemon Posset

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Ina's version of this English nursery dessert goes decidedly grown-up when spiked with limoncello liqueur. "It's the easiest thing in the world to make," she says of the puddinglike treat. "And it's really, really good."

Salted Pistachio Meringues
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Salted Pistachio Meringues

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The technique behind these oversize puffs, which have a crisp exterior and marshmallow-like center, comes from chef Yotam Ottolenghi. The secret: Heat the sugar in the oven before whipping it with the egg whites. And a word of caution from Ina, "Don't make meringues on a rainy day. They'll come out sticky."

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