7 Secrets From a Grilled Cheese Master

Daniel Krieger
Daniel Krieger

Of the many eventful holidays that fall in April, none is more delicious than April 12th, a.k.a. National Grilled Cheese Day. Yes, like so many culinary delights before it, the ooey-gooey sandwiches you grew up craving have their very own day of celebration. Even better, it happens to fall in the middle of Grilled Cheese Month. Which is why we’ve enlisted the expertise of Spencer Rubin, founder and CEO of Melt Shop, a New York City-based mini empire of grilled cheese eateries, to share his secrets on making the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. (For the record, Rubin gives his mom full credit for his own grilled cheese-making skills.)

1. Golden brown and crunchy is key.

“The perfect grilled cheese is golden brown, crunchy to the touch, and has a little bit of cheese that is nearly burnt on the side because it spilled out over the edges from cooking directly on the skillet,” Rubin says. “The cheese pulls away from you after your first, second, and third bite. It’s savory, salty, and I always like a little bit of acid from a tomato to cut through the richness of the cheese.”

2. Butter isn't your only base option.

But it’s probably your best option. “I like salted butter, but people talk about using mayo and margarine all the time,” Rubin says of what to put in your pan. “Salted butter drives the best results, if you ask me.”

3. Don't skimp on the bread.

"Quality bread is key," Rubin says. “Too soft and it doesn’t develop the right crust; too hard and it's like eating a crouton. Ideally you want day-old sourdough. Sourdough is key because the air pockets that develop while proofing help add to the texture. You want day-old bread because it has firmed up a bit, giving it a better crunch after toasting."

4. All cheese is delicious cheese.

“Obviously good cheese is the key to a great grilled cheese,” Rubin says. “But the best thing about grilled cheese is you can never really go wrong. Whether it’s a 5-year aged cheddar, cave-aged Gruyere, or Kraft singles, they're all delicious in their own ways.” As for which cheeses melt best? Rubin says that semi-soft varieties like Muenster and Havarti are the way to go.

5. Flavor your butter for an instant upgrade.

You don’t have to break out the fine china to fancy up your sandwich. Let the butter and/or bread do all work. If you want to take your sandwich to a more sophisticated culinary level, Rubin recommends using “truffle butter, herb butter, or garlic bread with garlic and Parmigiano.”

6. Salty and sweet is a great combination.

Tomatoes and bacon are tried and true add-ons. For an unexpected combination, Rubin recommends throwing in some jams and sweets. “I always love salty and sweet combinations,” he says, citing his favorite sandwich on the menu, the Maple Bacon (maple-glazed bacon, New York cheddar, and sharp brick spread on country white bread), as a perfect example. "The combination is insane.”

7. Sides aren't required, but they make it a meal.

Though for some diners a grilled cheese sandwich is an entire meal in itself, there’s no reason not to indulge in a side dish. Melt Shop is well known for its menu of tater tots, but lighter sides work, too. “I like a nice side salad with my grilled cheese,” Rubin says. “It’s nice to get a little green in your meal and a good vinaigrette always helps brighten things up."

This story was updated for 2019.

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

iStock
iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Each State’s Favorite Christmas Candy

CandyStore.com
CandyStore.com

Halloween might be the unrivaled champion of candy-related holidays, but that doesn’t mean Christmas hasn’t carved out a large, chocolate Santa-shaped niche for itself in the sweets marketplace. And, of course, we can’t forget about candy canes, peppermint bark, and the red-and-green version of virtually every other kind of candy.

To find out which candies merrymakers are filling their bowls and stomachs with this holiday season, CandyStore.com analyzed survey responses from more than 32,000 consumers across the nation and compiled their top responses into one mouthwatering map.

As it turns out, 13 states—from California all the way to New Jersey—are reaching for mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups over any other holiday candy. Something about that shimmery tinfoil really does make you feel like you’re unwrapping a tiny, tasty gift.

CandyStore.com Top Christmas Candy by State

Source: CandyStore.com

And, if you hoped everyone would kiss candy corn goodbye until next October, we have some bad news: “reindeer” corn, with red, white, and green stripes, is the top choice in a staggering eight states, all of which are in the eastern half of the country. Tied with reindeer corn was peppermint bark, which, given how much white chocolate it contains, is also a pretty polarizing choice.

Candy canes and Hershey’s Kisses clinched third place with a respectable six states apiece, but other Christmas classics didn’t perform nearly as well—chocolate Santas and M&M’s came out on top in only two states each.

After that, there were some rather unconventional competitors, including Starburst, Arkansas’s favorite holiday candy; and Pez, which somehow won the hearts of residents of both Louisiana and New Mexico. 

And, unless you’re time-traveling from the 18th century, you’re probably not surprised that sugarplums didn’t make the map at all—find out what they actually are (hint: not plums!) here. You can also search the full list of state favorite candies below.

Source: CandyStore.com

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