A few months ago, I found myself increasingly fixated on certain recipe videos. If you have a Facebook account, you know exactly what I’m talking about: two disembodied hands creating “simple” or “easy” recipes that, more often than not, involve a lot of cheese. And I’m not the only one transfixed — these videos are ranking up viewership in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions, and are being shared by everyone from my college classmates, to high school teachers, and even my friend’s grandmother. While some people are making these recipes (and sharing their own pictures in the comments thread), it has to be a tiny fraction of the viewing (and sharing) public. After all, I’ve yet to have a friend offer me ice cream bread or pull-apart pizza muffins even though I see them pop up, time and time again, in my Newsfeed. It’s the food equivalent of “I didn’t read the article, but let me tell you what I think of the headline.” So, like a culinary Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: What would happen if I went from a consumer of these videos to a consumer of the foods in the videos. I assembled a team of taste-testers and decided to find out. The Recipe: Bloomin’ Onion Bread
This was the first recipe I tried, and I thought it would be a slam-dunk. When I was slicing up the loaf and melting the butter, I was reminded of a college roommate who, while studying for an exam on human evolution, turned to me and said, “Can you imagine how excited a caveman would be if he could eat a french fry?” In the same way, cheesy bread seems like it was engineered in a lab to satisfy every possible craving we were evolutionarily programmed to seek out: fat, salt, carbs, and some more fat for good measure.
And while we certainly tore at the bread like cavemen once it made it to the table, my heart wasn’t really in it. Despite leaving it in the oven a full 10 minutes past the suggested baking time, the mozzarella wasn’t fully melted. The butter, which I was instructed to simply “pour into bread cracks,” didn’t really distribute well. Some chunks were absolutely drenched in butter, some tasted just like plain toasted bread. As one taste tester remarked, “There are easier ways to make what is essentially garlic bread.” The Verdict: A triumph of presentation over flavor, though it didn’t stop us from eating every last bite. The Recipe: Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Ring
The “things stuffed into a ring of dough” recipe has several iterations across the web, from tacos to pizza. Thanks to a Buffalo wings craving, I decided to go the spicier route. While the list of ingredients is fairly short, as it turns out, watching anonymous hands assembling something at top speed is a lot easier than making it yourself. After a lot of grating, mixing, and layering, the wreath of Frank’s RedHot-soaked, cheese-covered chicken was ready to go into the oven. Once it was out of the oven, however, we were presented with a problem: how to transfer the surprisingly large finished product to a serving platter. With the help of gravity, two assistants, and two spatulas, I was able to shimmy it onto a tray. Once again, a presentation success. But, as we all dunked our first slice into the ranch dressing, it didn’t take long for the opinions to grow negative: “Not enough Frank’s,” “The filling is dry,” “The dough is too sweet.”
The use of crescent dough makes perfect sense: the dough is already made, and the pre-cut triangles are easy to organize in a circle. But we felt that a less flavorful bread base, like pizza dough, might have done better and taken less attention from the filling. We also wished there was more hot sauce involved. Once again, this seemed like a triumph of presentation over flavor. Mid-testing, my roommate got home and took a bite. “It’s weird but good,” she declared, then amended her opinion to say, “Honestly, it would have been better to just make a calzone and fill it with a different Buffalo wing dip recipe." The Verdict: Good idea, but it needs better filling and a different crust. Once again, though, most of it was eaten. The Recipe: Baked Apple Roses
The last thing I tested was those oh-so-pretty apple roses that have, to date, garnered some 250 million views on Facebook. I did it last, partially because it was dessert, but mostly because I was intimidated. While it had a very short list of ingredients, I was skeptical that my presentation skills paired with some apples, jam, and puff pastry would really create a dessert that looked like a rose. But after some chopping (okay, a LOT of chopping), and some time waiting for the puff pastry to thaw, I was shocked: I had created four beautiful roses. Never mind that the recipe was supposed to create six (some of the apples were unusable thanks to my clumsy chopping skills), but they actually, really, truly looked like the video.
And, unlike the rest of the recipes, I had no real criticism of the flavor: it was simple, but it worked. We all oohed and ahhed at the final product, and then promptly ate every bite. I wouldn’t make this to satisfy a late-night sugar craving, but I would totally serve this to guests (and gladly bask in their praise). The Verdict: I am a genius at edible roses, next I’ll try to make a Doritos bouquet. The Final Verdict: My friends and I will eat anything with enough cheese, ranch dressing, or butter on it. But just because something is covered in cheese and butter doesn’t necessarily mean you should make it. Then again, sometimes the internet will surprise you with (apple) flowers.