Few could have predicted the massive cultural impact of Claire Saffitz, then–Senior Food Editor of Bon Appétit, creating an upgraded version of a Hostess Twinkie. It’s been over two years since the appropriately titled “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make a Gourmet Twinkie” was uploaded, and 6.3 million views later, what began as an 11-minute video has become the Bon Appétit YouTube channel’s signature series, earning an impressive legion of devoted fans and turning Claire and her co-workers into internet stars. Gourmet Makes has tackled sweet, savory, and everything in-between, putting Claire’s culinary expertise (and crafting skills) to the test by asking her to recreate beloved junk food with a gourmet twist.
The results of Claire’s efforts are variable, but over the course of its 28 and counting episodes, Gourmet Makes has become as much about the Bon Appétit test-kitchen personalities as it is about perfecting the texture of Twizzlers or Doritos’ nacho-cheese flavor. While each installment still ends with a how-to guide, at this point Gourmet Makes is less instructional video and more legitimate web series, with all the drama, surprises, and rich character arcs of prestige television. With that in mind, the show feels long overdue for a ranking: not of how close Claire’s food comes to the original, but as episodes of an ensemble series starring Claire, her fellow chefs, and a surprisingly useful dehydrator.
Sometimes Claire makes something that looks exactly like the food she’s recreating but tastes markedly different. Sometimes she makes something that doesn’t quite match the original but perfectly mimics the flavor. And sometimes she makes M&M’s that look like spray-painted rocks and taste like shellac. Claire’s M&M’s are an unmitigated disaster, no matter how much her stalwart allies Rhoda Boone, Christina Chaey, and Chris Morocco try to convince her that she should be proud. (Brad Leone says they look fossilized, which is accurate.) Of course, the measure of a good Gourmet Makes episode is not just the quality of the finished product — it’s about the journey, not the destination. Sadly, the making of these malformed confections isn’t palatable either. The month-long break Claire takes in the middle of filming probably doesn’t help with her motivation, but she seems oddly checked out, at one point admitting, “This is taking way too long, I’m getting frustrated and bored.” At least there are still some moments of entertaining frustration, like when Claire (quite reasonably) snaps, “I refuse to say for the probably 12th time what tempering chocolate is.”
Claire is still finding her footing in the second installment of Gourmet Makes, which may account for why her attempt at Gushers feels a bit lacking. It’s not so much that there’s something wrong with the episode as it is that there’s nothing particularly right — it’s a reasonably entertaining diversion that pales in comparison to her future efforts. “Gushers” is mostly notable for the way it establishes so many Claire behaviors that will come to be seen as standard: the building exasperation (“This is a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be”), the preemptive acceptance of defeat (“I already give up”), the lowered standard (“I would say that that didn’t not work”). The real disappointment of the episode is that the method Claire ultimately lands on to make Gushers — using a syringe to inject her gelatin orbs with pomegranate molasses — is not nearly as dynamic as her initial attempts. Does freezing fruit juice in straws to make tiny ice cubes actually work? Clearly not! But it’s hard not to feel regret for what might have been.
26. Pop Rocks
Infamous among Gourmet Makes fans, “Pop Rocks” is a frustrating exercise in everyone talking over the most competent woman in the room. Claire is unusually despondent from the beginning of the episode. “Mostly I feel not listened to,” she tells Carla Lalli Music, while Alex Delany — somehow oblivious to Claire’s genuine distress — insists, “I think you’ve got this.” She does not got this. The problem with making Pop Rocks, as Claire has been explaining for the past year, is not that she doesn’t know how but that there simply isn’t a way to replicate the process in the test kitchen. Pop Rocks are formed under extreme pressure to trap carbon-dioxide bubbles in sugar crystals, which requires highly volatile equipment. (“You want me to make a bomb in the World Trade Center?” Claire asks. If you were waiting for Gourmet Makes to reference 9/11, this is the episode for you.) That she eventually ends up producing a foaming (not popping) candy is sort of beside the point; she shouldn’t have had to do this in the first place. The only reason “Pop Rocks” isn’t at the bottom of the list is that it’s often very funny, like when Chris bursts into the kitchen with a dramatic, “I got here as soon as I heard, I haven’t even taken off my coat.”
Of course Claire’s favorite Game of Thrones characters are the Stark girls. She’s also wise enough to add, “I like Jon Snow, but he’s just so Jon Snow all the time.” None of this has anything to do with making Doritos, but it’s an entertaining aside in an episode that — much like the HBO series — draws to a disappointing conclusion that doesn’t quite justify its epic scale. Gourmet Makes installments have gotten longer and longer since the series’ inception, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the same time, episodes like “Doritos” drag, spending too much time on the tiny tweaks Claire makes to add just the right number of bubbles to batch after batch of tortilla chips. To continue with the questionable Game of Thrones analogy, when the battle isn’t all that captivating, it’s helpful to focus on the strong characters. On the side of good, we have Claire’s Samwell Tarly, Rhoda, who bravely offers, “We can do it together, Claire. I’ll help you.” And if there is a Gourmet Makes villain, surely it’s Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, who admits that he has no faith in Claire’s process. “I just have faith in Doritos,” he explains. “There’s a difference.”
24. Sour Patch Kids
To be fair, Claire puts in an admirable amount of effort to creating Sour Patch Kids. It’s just a little hard to enjoy the painstaking process of blanching citrus rinds and zests when you know it’s not really going anywhere. “It seems like I’ve defied the laws of physics here,” Claire concedes when a batch comes out wetter despite the addition of corn starch. “I didn’t really think it was gonna work, so in some ways it’s what I expected, but I was hoping that it was gonna work, so I’m also disappointed.” While her candor is, as always, refreshing, too much of the episode feels like wheel-spinning. At least some of these attempts are fun to watch, and of course there’s the added thrill of hearing Claire correctly pronounce “pâte de fruit” multiple times. The real breakout star of “Sour Patch Kids” is Cosmo, Carla’s son, who boldly claims that “nothing is too sour.” Although Claire is unable to create the Cosmo-shaped candy of her dreams, the fact that Carla’s son approves of her finished product is a victory unto itself.
“For every five episodes that I like, pull my hair out, I get one of these where it’s a lot easier,” Claire says. She is riding high throughout this episode: She loves Oreos, she knows pretty much exactly how to make them from the get-go, and there are approximately zero bumps in the road. But as much as we hate seeing Claire suffer, “Oreos” is the strange anomaly of a Gourmet Makes installment that is begging for some drama. Every story needs conflict, and there just isn’t any here — watching Claire nail it right away feels like something of a cheat. Still, her joy is infectious, and after the serious trauma done to her in every episode that involves tempering chocolate, we can allow her one easy win. The best moment in “Oreos” is when she declares her devotion to Michael’s, her favorite store. Claire’s passion for crafting, a recurring theme in the series, is one of her most endearing qualities. Here’s hoping the right person was watching when Claire decided to shoot her shot: “Michael’s, we’re accepting sponsorships. I love your store.”
22. Instant Ramen
There’s something odd about the idea of recreating instant ramen: It just feels like a distinctly pointless endeavor. And sure, you could say that about almost any Gourmet Makes episode. Why go through the trouble of making a Snickers by hand when you can buy one for 99 cents at Target? But instant ramen is especially illogical — it’s a food of convenience, designed for shelf stability. Very few people are going to attempt any of Claire’s recipes, but it’s particularly hard to imagine anyone drying noodles just for the purpose of rehydrating them when they could just be making ramen instead. Personal bias aside, the camaraderie among the test-kitchen chefs remains a joy to watch. While Brad is absent (Claire admits, “Sometimes I can’t tell if it helps or hurts” having him around), Claire’s other co-workers get a chance to shine. Amiel Stanek seems to get a real thrill out of cutting the sides off a cooling rack with a wire cutter, saying, “I feel like we’re robbing a bank.” Later, when Chris helps her saw another rack in half, Claire apologizes for the test kitchen for her wanton acts of destruction. Listen, cooling racks can be replaced. Teamwork is priceless.
21. Lucky Charms
Claire Saffitz invented gay rights when she made a marshmallow rainbow in one perfectly executed swoop of her piping bag. That might be overstating things a bit, but watching Claire expertly recreate Lucky Charms marshmallows feels like actual magic. The real downside of this episode is that the bulk of it is not the creation of those colorful confections — which Claire can basically do with her eyes closed — but her repeated attempts to get the cereal just right. And while the puffed grain is an essential component of Lucky Charms, which is really all about balance, the cereal part just isn’t as entertaining. Face it, you can’t compete with horseshoes and balloons. Nevertheless, there is plenty of humor in watching everyone talk around the fact that Claire’s best efforts look a little like dog food. “Who hasn’t eaten a Milk Bone?” Brad offers, with surprisingly little follow-up. Brad is actually more supportive than usual in this episode, ultimately giving Claire feedback that softens the disappointment of her imperfect Lucky Charms. “We’re human, Claire, okay?” he says. “This isn’t million-dollar machines making this, it’s human beings.” Still mildly disheartened, Claire counters, “It’s one human being.”
For an episode of Gourmet Makes to really gel, Claire has to reach just the right level of annoyance: Watching her overcome her exasperation makes her victory that much sweeter, but when she crosses the line into genuine defeat, it’s not fun to watch. And when it comes to tempering chocolate, defeat is almost always on the agenda. “You guys are ruining a great person,” Brad admonishes the Gourmet Makes producers, and honestly, fair. Really, though, her attempt at recreating a Twix is far from a complete disaster, and before she reaches her breaking point, it seems like she’s actually having a lot of fun. There are some truly charming moments, from Claire’s explanation of the proper time to have her two daily desserts (“there’s no after-breakfast dessert, that’s inappropriate”) to her inability to grasp the concept of “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.” And no matter how much her chocolate-tempering misadventures get under her skin, Claire does produce a pretty good candy bar (or “cookie bar,” as Adam insists). She even manages to find her zen. “Ten minutes ago I could not talk and I was gonna throw something at the director,” she admits. “Now I feel a little better.”
At its best, Gourmet Makes is not only entertaining but also educational, and we sure do learn a lot about Pringles here. Did you know their hyperbolic paraboloid shape was designed by a chemist? (“How It’s Made is the best thing that’s ever happened to this show,” Claire says.) The chip episodes are plagued with a certain amount of monotony: As with “Doritos,” there’s a lot of repetition in trying to get the consistency just right. What elevates “Pringles,” however, is the focus on that elusive shape, which involves creating a cage. It’s an impressive effort that reinforces Claire’s role as a pastry chef MacGyver, even if it does lead Amiel to question, “What’s the budget like for this series for you to destroy everything that’s in the kitchen?” Comparing Claire to another pop-culture icon, Delany suggests she needs a Q to her James Bond. That would be Brad, Claire says, but he’s not around and not usually that helpful. It’s a delightful acknowledgment that despite Brad’s unofficial Gourmet Makes sidekick status, Claire is often better off without him. (He’s still a lot of fun to have in the kitchen.)
18. Almond Joy
Even without Chris around at the start of the episode, Claire is resolved to temper chocolate to make Almond Joys. And you know what that is? Growth. If you think of Gourmet Makes as an epic battle between Claire Saffitz and tempering chocolate, “Almond Joy” represents a major step forward, with Claire discovering the sous-vide technique for tempering that she will continue to refine and perfect in subsequent episodes. Here it works well — until it doesn’t. The dreaded fat bloom rears its ugly head, and Claire is forced to settle for “acceptable” when it comes to her finished candy bars. (Carla kindly suggests that the misplaced streaks on the chocolate could be considered intentional.) “Almond Joy” has the feel of The Empire Strikes Back, with a cliffhanger ending that’s thrilling but also frustrating. “It stopped being about Almond Joy and it started being about chocolate tempering,” Claire reflects. “The mystery remains. I’m excited to temper chocolate again, because now I kind of am mad at it and the anger is motivating me.” And so, the saga continues.
There is nothing quite like watching a non-Canadian discover the unmitigated pleasure of All-Dressed potato chips. “This might be the greatest potato chip I’ve ever had,” Claire gushes, shortly before upgrading All-Dressed Ruffles to the best food of all time. If you’ve had them before, you know that’s barely hyperbole. Like “Oreos” before it, “Ruffles” is an episode that suffers a bit for its simplicity. There’s no real challenge here — Claire knows how to make a good chip, and she uses skills she learned in “Pringles” and “Doritos” to perfect her technique. What makes this episode worthwhile is the remarkable self-awareness on display. While everyone praises Claire on mastering Ruffles, she admits that her pride is tempered by how easy the process was. “Is it better to not work that hard and not be that satisfied, or to work really hard and be exhausted and somewhat more satisfied?” she wonders. Ultimately she realizes, “Basically there’s no way to win on this show.” The real winner here is actually the viewer: After a series of episodes that feel longer than they need to be, “Ruffles” clocks in at a breezy 33 minutes. Extra points for a rare show of restraint.
It’s hard to judge “Twinkies” objectively — this is the episode that started it all, the first exposure that many of us had to Gourmet Makes and to Claire. When compared to the complexity and nuance of later episodes, it’s admittedly lacking. And yet, beyond its nostalgic appeal, “Twinkies” is an essential foundational text, laying the groundwork for everything that follows. We have Claire discovering that the endeavor is more challenging than anticipated: “This is harder than I thought it was gonna be,” she says for the first and not the last time. Her relationship with Brad, who alternates between compassionate ally and merciless bully, is already coming in to focus. Here, he ends up being helpful, suggesting Claire combine a yellow cake and a chiffon cake to get that unique Twinkie texture. “Twinkies are a Frankenstein, in my opinion,” he offers. The result is not so much a Twinkie as the platonic ideal of a Twinkie, which is pretty much Gourmet Makes’ mission statement. And unlike the vast majority of Claire’s future efforts, this Twinkie is something viewers could actually make at home — no background in food science required.
Enter the dehydrator. After spending the first two episodes of Gourmet Makes trying to keep things relatively simple, Claire finally buckles and brings out the big guns. Even she’s not sure exactly what to do here. “There’s no cheese setting,” she notes, “which probably is a clue that you’re not supposed to put cheese in the machine.” But the spirit of experimentation is what we’ve come to love about Gourmet Makes, and “Cheetos” sets the stage for the series’ signature food-science wonkiness. (Who had ever heard of tapioca maltodextrin, anyway?) Of course, Gourmet Makes is just as much about the dynamic between the other test-kitchen personalities, and this episode introduces viewers to the indispensable Chris Morocco, who saves the day with the perfect late-stage suggestion. “Cheetos” is a game-changer for the series: Going forward, don’t bother trying this at home. “And that’s it, that’s all you gotta do to make Cheetos,” Claire concludes. “It’s really up to you if you want to make that at home. All you need is a dehydrator, a food processor, something to deep-fry in, a deep-fry thermometer, a high-powered blender …”
Is Claire okay? There is a moment in “Takis” when she appears to truly lose touch with reality. After a weekend away, she returns to the test kitchen and no longer has any recollection of what they’re making, or where they are in the process. “I feel like my brain is rejecting all nonessential information,” Claire explains, and while she blames her alarming memory loss on sleep deprivation, at some point you have to wonder if Gourmet Makes isn’t slowly destroying her. There’s something oddly surrealist about “Takis”: The scene when Claire, apropos of nothing, makes a vermouth for Gaby and then for Sohla is like something out of a Buñuel film. But the series sort of has to go absurdist with this episode, if only to counter the fact that it opens with a group of white people mystified by Takis. (Chris literally has to take a moment because the flavor overwhelms him.) Claire does eventually phone a friend in the form of Rick, an expert in Mexican cuisine and culture, who does what he can to help from Fire Island. And when all is said and done, Claire’s Takis are actually quite good, breaking the infamous Day Three curse she doesn’t believe exists. Now please let her rest.
“This is gonna make me sound like a real nerd,” Claire says, and you just know this episode is about to go to the next level. “I used to do a lot of wire jewelry–making when I was a kid.” That skill set ends up proving vital as Claire creates a custom extruder to create her Twizzlers. Listen, the candy she makes doesn’t quite hit the mark — Adam certainly doesn’t approve, because of course he doesn’t — but Claire’s excitement over her craft project more than makes up for her Twizzlers falling short. Brad ends up joining in, drilling through a metal skewer in an attempt to create a rig that will make the Twizzlers hollow. It doesn’t end up working, but you know what’s more satisfying than being able to drink soda through gourmet Twizzlers? Hearing Brad say, “Claire, you’re brilliant.” Claire is genuinely touched. “Do you have any idea how much that means to me?” she asks. He does. And while Claire is worried about disappointing her Twizzlers-loving mom, Sauci, who makes an adorable cameo via FaceTime, it’s hard to imagine watching Claire’s dorky glee and industrious spirit, and feeling anything but pride.
12. Sno Balls
Usually when Claire starts out saying something like, “I don’t want to be overly confident, but I think we’ve got this,” the editors keep that in for dramatic irony. In this case, however, it’s not hubris — Claire not only executes Sno Balls that look exactly like the Hostess originals, but also seriously enhances the quality, which is ideally (though not always in practice) the point of Gourmet Makes. “You fucking nailed this,” Molly Baz says. Here’s why “Sno Balls” is so much more satisfying than, say, “Oreos”: This is straight-up competence porn. Sometimes it’s enough to watch someone who is damn good at their job kill it every step of the way, and that’s exactly what happens here. It helps that Sno Balls are just more fun than some of Claire’s past efforts. The simplicity of a sandwich cookie can’t compete with these high camp pink fluff balls. Watching Claire enrobe her devil’s food cake in a marshmallow topping and airbrush her coconut topping pink is mesmerizing. When Claire says this may be one of the best tasting results of the series, you know that’s not ego — it’s objective fact.
If you love Peeps, Claire thinks you know that they’re gross. They’re also relatively easy to make. Sure, she hits her fair share of snags along the way, but once Claire masters piping out tiny marshmallow chicks in one seamless motion, she’s basically got this locked down. What makes “Peeps” a strong episode is all the color — the literal color of the flavored sugar Claire coats her marshmallows in, but also the figurative color of the test kitchen. Everyone is in fine form in this episode, which has enough funny character moments to qualify Gourmet Makes as a workplace sitcom. Is Carla telling Claire to “peep on peepin’ on” the height of comedy? Maybe not, but don’t pretend it didn’t make you smile. We get Chris reacting to YouTube commenters angry at his constant pressuring of Claire to temper chocolate. (“Every Dumbledore needs their Voldemort,” he says.) We get Brad trying to help Claire unclog her ear by shoving a heated clove of garlic in there. And we get Christina and Claire Peep jousting, a charming conclusion to the cutest installment of Gourmet Makes yet.
Is anyone surprised that Claire considers Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the best show ever? No, because by this point we know her to be a flawless queen with impeccable taste. Still, her extremely nerdy reference to Buffy’s Cheese Man is one of her all-time greatest digressions. As Claire notes, “Cheez-Its” feels like “a real return to form for Gourmet Makes.” She manages to hit on so many of the classics here — the dehydrator, the wire cutter, the hot-glue gun. It had been a while since Claire struggled the way she does in this episode, which she (perhaps unfairly) blames on Brad being in London for the BAFTAs. Chris, meanwhile, thinks it’s karma because she was overdue for a challenge. Whatever the cause, all of the trial and error here is a stirring reminder of Claire’s ability to overcome adversity. When her background as a pastry chef and her passion for craft projects come together like this, it’s obvious that Claire and Claire alone is the hero of Gourmet Makes, and the reason this series works as well as it does. In every generation, there is a chosen one.
“Lazy” is not a word one associates with Claire Saffitz, and yet, every once in a while, she lets herself be a bit of a slacker. When it comes to recreating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the one candy Claire still eats regularly as an adult, she is all about shortcuts. First, there’s her resistance to tempering the chocolate, which has her butting heads with a particularly persistent Chris. (“Shouldn’t you be spending your time tempering chocolate and not messing around with the air-brusher?” he asks at one point. Let it go, Chris!) But she also tries to get around making her own peanut butter, struggling to get Delany to agree with her about using store bought instead. This places her in dangerous Sandra Lee territory, and thankfully she relents on this front. While it does feel like Claire is half-assing things throughout the episode — in the end, she tells Amiel not to look at the finished peanut-butter cup too closely because “it’s a bit of a Monet” — at least she’s funny about it. There’s just something really entertaining about watching someone known for her strong work ethic and attention to detail spend an entire episode trying to justify lowering the bar.
Just how wowed is Chris by Claire’s striking work in this episode? When she tells him that she didn’t temper the chocolate, his response is a shocking “who cares?” But it’s not only Chris who is dazzled by Claire’s Pocky — Claire herself is repeatedly surprised by the success of her efforts throughout the episode. This is one of those installments of Gourmet Makes where Claire tries some things that genuinely should not work, and then gets to see that risk pay off. In the episode’s most gasp-worthy moment, she drops a pastry trip over a dipped biscuit and watches as it slides down, perfectly smoothing out the coating. It’s honestly beautiful, but “Pocky” as a whole is one of the most visually stimulating episodes of Gourmet Makes. Instead of taking the easy way out and focusing on just one flavor, Claire creates four distinctive, picture-perfect varieties of Pocky. That she and Rhoda are then able to assemble them on a foam board like a “seventh-grade art project,” as Claire aptly puts it, is icing on the cake. Or should that be chocolate on the Pocky?
A horrifying question is raised in this episode when Claire decides to make pastillage and roll it out over the center of her Skittles: Are Skittles ravioli? Try not to spend too much time thinking about that. This episode is not about finding new ways to classify candy; it’s about the importance of teamwork. So much of Gourmet Makes involves Claire being encouraged, aided, and, yes, sometimes bullied by her co-workers, who all seem deeply invested in her achievements. “Skittles” makes the other test-kitchen regulars really do some heavy lifting, as Claire becomes the taskmaster she was destined to be. “All right, go time, everybody is gonna grab a flavor,” she says, as she forces Gaby Melian, Molly, and Brad to do some serious taffy pulling. Watching everyone join forces recalls the first Avengers team-up. When it comes to the finished product, Claire doesn’t quite feel like a superhero: “On a scale of one to ten, ten being like I created a Skittle, zero being like, burn the test kitchen to the ground, maybe like eight.” Really, though, it’s all about that collective effort.
Few installments of Gourmet Makes have the dramatic arc that “Snickers” does. Struck down with the flu, Claire bravely attempts to make nougat, despite the fact that she can’t taste anything. She says she might pass out before she gets to the chocolate-tempering step — Chris shows real compassion when he says he’ll take over if that happens — but she manages to keep going. And yes, when she asks for a reminder of what they’re making mid-tempering, you realize that’s she’s probably too sick to be doing any of this. “Snickers” feels like an unprecedented disaster. Cut to a new week when a healthier, newly energized Claire begins with, “I would like to pretend like Friday never existed because I was in the throes of my illness and don’t really remember what went on in the kitchen.” She redoes the caramel, making it saltier and more robust. She makes new nougat. She tempers chocolate and it actually works. With triumphant music blaring, Claire declares, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” and it’s hard not to believe that. “Snickers” is the greatest comeback story since Rocky.
If “Skittles” is the first Avengers movie, “Starburst” is the most ambitious crossover event in Bon Appétit history. And no, that’s not just because Gourmet Makes and the Brad-led series It’s Alive are filming at the same time, though there’s a nice meta moment when the camera operators from each show film each other. As in “Skittles,” the superhero team-up in this episode involves working with multiple flavors of taffy. “Guys, Claire needs help!” Gaby exclaims with real urgency — right before she and Brad immediately shirk their duties. No matter, Claire enlists a hilariously eager Chris along with It’s Alive editor Matt Hunziker and culinary assistant Veronica Spera to try to salvage her Starburst. Does it work? Well, no, not exactly. Only Chris’s red batch comes close to approximating the flavor and consistency of Starburst, and even that’s questionable. (Molly tries one and immediately spits it out, leading Claire to snap, “You’ve been cut out of the video.”) Disappointing results aside, the moment when Chris heroically saves the day by swooping in with a ladle is up there with anything in the MCU.
4. Hot Pockets
When Claire brought down the Twinkie mold and said, “For the first time in like two years, that dumb Twinkie thing came in handy,” she couldn’t have known she was going to inspire a week of Gay Twitter jokes, in large part because Claire is smart enough to not be on Twitter. Memes aside, “Hot Pockets” feels like classic Gourmet Makes in all the best ways, and a flashback to the very first episode brings everything full circle. The vibrant red of the tomato sauce makes this episode especially eye-popping, and the other test-kitchen chefs add just the right amount of personality without pulling focus from Claire’s hard work. This is Claire at the height of her game, diving into Hot Pockets with gusto and working tirelessly to improve her efforts until she finishes with one of her most successful creations yet. Even Adam, her most consistent critic, can’t shut up about how good Claire’s Hot Pockets are. In the end, she doesn’t just nail Hot Pockets, she also nails her analysis of the installment: “I think there was enough struggle and then compared to the success, it’s made for a great episode.” Spot on!
3. Kit Kats
Here’s where it all began — not Gourmet Makes, which had aired three episodes before “Kit Kats” dropped, but Claire’s contentious relationship with chocolate tempering. “I’m gonna attempt chocolate tempering, which I’ve never successfully done,” she says early in the episode. “We’ll see how that goes.” You can probably guess. Claire does eventually win the battle, but the war rages on through every chocolate installment the show has given us. What really separates “Kit Kats” from its predecessors, though, is how well it establishes the dynamic between Claire and her most frequent enablers and adversaries, Brad and Chris. There’s a delicate balance among the three of them, encapsulated perfectly in the exchange that happens when Chris volunteers that Claire’s Kit Kat is “missing a little bit of the lightness.” Still wounded from a failed temper test, Claire tells him, “I want you to know that I can accept zero criticism right now.” Brad steps up and exclaims, “Oh, it’s perfect! You nailed it, Claire!” While Brad and Chris may alternate between their roles as friend or foil, “Kit Kat” showcases how essential they are to Gourmet Makes’ success. And the Kit Kat turns out pretty damn well.
“I enjoyed everything about today,” Claire says, after spreading out different colors of royal icing that she’ll dehydrate and smash to make sprinkles. It’s a beautiful process that speaks to Claire’s ingenuity, and to how much fun she can have when things are actually going her way. “Pop-Tarts” is the first episode after “Pop Rocks,” and it would have been easy for Claire to carry that defeat into the test kitchen. Instead, she comes into this installment with a contagious level of energy and enthusiasm that makes it all a joy to watch. She has rarely been sharper or funnier than when making Pop-Tarts. Whatever negative feelings remain, Claire channels into her work. While pounding dough, she explains, “I just think about all the terrible subway behavior that I witness from strangers on my commute, and instead of saying something to them, I just beat the dough.” And it’s not only Claire: everyone in the test kitchen is acting as the truest version of themselves, whether that’s Chris squirreling away snacks, Delany trolling with his question about tempering icing, or Rhoda earnestly telling Claire, “I’m so proud of you.” Somehow Pop-Tarts bring out the best in everyone — and in Gourmet Makes.
How does one make a perfect sphere out of wafer? Outside of using a fancy industrial machine, it just doesn’t seem possible. “Do I think this is gonna work? Mmm, probably not,” Claire admits while trying out her method. “I don’t really think it’s gonna work. But it might work! You never know.” Reader, it does work. This is the magic of Claire Saffitz. This is the magic of Gourmet Makes. It’s not just that Claire’s Ferrero Rocher are the best thing she’s ever made, as she repeatedly announces. It’s that she takes a seemingly unsolvable problem and solves it, all while having a goddamn blast. On a purely aesthetic level, there’s never been a more stunning episode of Gourmet Makes: Watching melted chocolate cascade over those flawless globes is quite literally hypnotic. If the entire 28 minutes were just that footage, this would be a standout installment. But really, what makes “Ferrero Rocher” exceptional is the way it lets Claire unapologetically embrace her nerdiness (“What’s up, Michaels? They know me there”) and her peerless skill. “I’ve never been so proud of myself,” she says. And truly, neither have we.