"I did a bad job the first time I made scallops," Ina confides. "I crowded the pan. Scallops need a lot of room to get a good crust." Which is why the recipe includes a warning to this effect: "Don't crowd the scallops, or they'll steam rather than sear."

The final task—a gingery carrot cake with mascarpone frosting—makes me nervous. While one can arguably get away with cooking lazily, baking lazily is a contradiction in terms. Haplessness has no place in an undertaking this akin to chemistry. But then I read the recipe. There's no separating of eggs, no belabored creaming procedures. You mix the batter, pour it into pans, and bake.

Then I notice something even more exciting. "The recipe calls for frosting between the layers of the cake," I say, "but not around the sides." I have never once been able to frost a cake without the result looking like a seventh-grade home-ec project.

There's a gleam in Ina's eye. "I eliminated that step," she says. "Who needs the trouble of frosting the sides if it looks just as elegant without it? Throw some diced candied ginger on top, and you're done."

"Ina Garten", I think, "you're my hero". The cake is stunning, naked sides and all.

It's been lovely to hang out on Ina's home turf, and it's a singular treat to discover that she keeps Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup in her pantry (for egg creams) and to use the luxurious hand soap in her powder room (Molton Brown, in the citrusy Naran Ji scent). But for this cook, correctly baking Ina's cake—and eating it with her, too—is as good as it gets.

Ina Garten

Ina Garten's newest cookbook is Barefoot Contessa Foolproof.


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