The Hardest Food to Make

In search of challenging recipes to try? We’ve got 18 difficult dishes sure to test your kitchen mettle.

By SAVEUR Editors

Published on June 11, 2020

Don’t feel like breaking a sweat? Then, by all means, check out our simple weeknight meal and no-bake dessert compendiums—both rife with recipes guaranteed to get something tasty on the table fast.

But what about those rare, luxurious weekends when you find yourself alone with nothing but time in need of killing? We’d like to suggest the following delicious—and challenging—ways to wind down the clock: homemade soba noodles, from-scratch croissants, hand-ground corn masa, and 15 other authentic labors of love likely to push the limits of your cooking chops.

Hand-picked by Saveur’s test-kitchen crew, these difficult recipes offer some of the hardest food to make. They require multi-step creations that take days to complete (French cassoulet, Korean gamjatang) and technically advanced methods requiring practice and finesse (the meticulous folds mandated by Turkish manti).

At the end of an exhausted day (or days), your arms sore and covered in flour or pork fat, you might discover a sense of satisfaction too deep to be attributed to the conquered challenge alone. Truth is, effort just plain tastes better. You get out what you put in. And with practice, even the most complicated dishes become easy.

Duck Pâté en Croûte

Pâté is a labor of love, but it's worth every step, especially when you bake it in flaky homemade pastry dough and top it with a flavorful gelée. Here, being careful to keep the ingredients cold during the process, and taking the same care when folding and filling the dough, yields a pâté that everyone will write home about. Get the recipe for Duck Pâté en Croûte »

Note: This is a time-intensive recipe that may exceed 24 hours, but a lot of that time is from chilling the farce overnight. Take care with your prep time and you can shoten the work to a day; just be sure that everything is properly chilled throughout the process. Get the recipe for Duck Pâté en Croûte »

Huntsman Pies

This advanced version of traditional pork pies includes three kinds of pork (shoulder, belly, and slab bacon) and tender chicken for a multi-note meaty flavor, plus savory stuffing. The recipe is inspired by the huntsman pie from the Brantwood Café, a restaurant in Coniston, where it's served with tangy Westmorland chutney. Our recipe makes small single-serving pies; you will need four 5 3/4-by-3-inch loaf pans, available from Wilton. Get the recipe for Huntsman Pies »

Italian Easter Pie (Pizza Gain, a.k.a. Pizza Rustica)

Sometimes called pizza rustica or Easter pie, this savory southern Italian pie—eaten around the holiday—incorporates chopped cured salamis and Italian cheeses into a dense, eggy filling surrounded by a pastry-like crust. It's most delicious eaten warm the same day it's baked, but leftovers (which you are almost certain to have) will keep for 4 to 5 days. Get the recipe for Italian Easter Pie (Pizza Gain, a.k.a. Pizza Rustica) »

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Thai Steamed Coconut-Pandan Cake (Khanom Chan)

Think of these silky, chewy, coconutty gummies as richer, more flavorful Jello jigglers, made with a steamed batter of coconut milk with sticky rice flour and tapioca and arrowroot starches. It's a labor of love: to form the neat layers, you have to let the previous layer steam enough until set but still a little tacky before adding the next. The cake also benefits enormously from making your own pandan extract; though you can buy pre-made extract in Thai groceries, it won't compare to the unique sweet herbal fragrance of the fresh leaves. (You can buy fresh or frozen pandan leaves online or in well-stocked Thai groceries.) Get the recipe for Thai Steamed Coconut-Pandan Cake (Khanom Chan) »

The Ultimate Pot Roast

A low and slow braise is the best way to transform tough cuts of meat into fork-tender morsels. This version, made with a crosscut whole beef shank, is cooked in white wine and rich homemade beef bouillon layered with vegetables and aromatics for added complexity. Crunchy roasted radishes and a funky flaxseed, herb, and vinegar relish balance the pot roast's richness with acidity and texture. Get the recipe for The Ultimate Pot Roast »

Roasted and Fresh Tomato Pie

As soon as the first tomato blossom turns into a tiny green orb, people start calling Kinston restaurant Chef & the Farmer to find out if tomato pie is on the menu. If you have access to two different colors of tomatoes, combine them here—one for the roasted portion and another for the fresh. It's a nice visual touch. Get the recipe for Roasted and Fresh Tomato Pie »

Gamjatang (Spicy Pork Neck and Potato Stew)

A classic hearty Korean stew made with meaty pork neck, potatoes, and nutty perilla seeds. Sesame seeds cannot be substituted for the perilla in this recipe; seek perilla seed, also called wild sesame seed, out at Asian markets. Optional but recommended: Serve this dish with its accompanying dipping sauce. Get the recipe for Gamjatang (Spicy Pork Neck and Potato Stew) »

Boiled Cow’s Head (Tête de Veau)

"For me, eating calf's head is a must in Lyon—even for breakfast," says chef Daniel Boulud about this Lyonnaise specialty. "It brings back memories of family gatherings and special occasions. We used to raise and slaughter our own calves growing up." Instead of tackling the butchery on your own, have your butcher do the heavy lifting for you: Ask for the meat, tongue, and brain to be separated from the skull, but leave the skin on because, as Boulud says, "it's not tête de veau without the skin." Get the recipe for Boiled Cow's Head (Tête de Veau) »

Lou Fassum

Lou fassum is most dramatic when presented whole, then sliced into thick wedges. Serving the pieces with a stock-based glaze is optional. The dish can also be drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs, or ladled with chicken stock and topped with a dusting of grated cheese. Serve with mashed or roasted potatoes if desired. Get the recipe for Lou Fassum »

Turkish Lamb Dumplings with Yogurt and Brown Butter Tomato Sauce (Manti)

It's believed that these traditional meat-filled parcels were carried into Anatolia via the Silk Road. Regardless of their past, they have an unquestionable place at the Turkish table. This version is Turkish in origin but uses a technique derived from Armenian recipes: The dumplings are baked in the oven before boiling, allowing the meat to better flavor the dough and imparting a toasty aroma to the final dish. Get the recipe for Lamb Dumplings »

Classic Eclairs

When it comes to eclairs, homemade is always better. Bakeries have to chill their filled eclairs, which makes for soggy centers and mushy crusts; you can freshly fill yours at home and eat them right away. This recipe is adapted from pastry chef Scott Cioe from Park Hyatt New York. Get the recipe for Classic Eclairs »

Quebecois-Style Mixed Meat Pie (Cipaille)

The exposed marrow bone isn't just carnivore bravado: It's also a chimney that allows steam to escape past the pastry from the juicy filling within. Get the recipe for Quebecois-Style Mixed Meat Pie (Cipaille) »

Rainbow Baked Alaska

Five different flavors of sorbet are encased in meringue in this towering cake. Get the recipe for Rainbow Baked Alaska »

Enmoladas with Oaxacan Black Mole Sauce (Mole Negro)

This rich and fragrant sauce is labor intensive, bit it batches up easily and freezes well. Stock up! Get the recipe for Enmoladas with Oaxacan Black Mole Sauce (Mole Negro) »

Dominique Ansel’s Cassoulet

Made with confit duck legs, pork belly, and two kinds of sausage, this meaty, resplendently rich cassoulet is worth treasuring all winter. Get the recipe for Dominique Ansel’s Cassoulet »

The Best Croissants

The croissant's perfection is twofold: an interior of infinitely spiraling paper-thin layers and a shatteringly flaky crust. Get the recipe for The Best Croissants »

Handmade Ramen Noodles

A light dusting of cornstarch prevents homemade noodles from sticking together while resting in the refrigerator. Get the recipe for Handmade Ramen Noodles »

Homemade Masa

Behold the glory of mashed potato-y homemade masa, building block of many Mexican favorites. Get the recipe for Homemade Masa »

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