Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Samantha's Deviled Eggs

Spoilers: they're labor intensive, but an incredibly pretty, tasty way to make an elegant looking treat to eat!

My sister was home on break from college a week ago, and while she was home, I asked if she'd be interested in taste testing some recipes for the blog, and mentioned that I had been wanting to do deviled eggs. She very enthusiastically supported that idea, and a few days before she had to go home, our schedules finally aligned and I was able to make good on that promise with what were pretty tasty results, if I can get away with saying that.

Deviled eggs have a surprisingly long history. They're a dish I'd never really spent much time pondering the origins of, but in doing my usual poking around for information, I discovered that while they weren't called deviled eggs, a boiled, stuffed egg has been appearing on people's tables at least since the time of Ancient Rome! The Greeks and Romans were some of the first Europeans to domesticate chickens, and apparently they started getting creative with egg preparation not long after they had a steady supply of them. The "deviled" name caught on in the 1700's, and versions of the dish are enjoyed by people around the world. Since they have been and still are so popular for so long, there's nothing necessarily specifically linking them to people of the Victorian Age (or Edwardian, as Samantha was more properly a member of), but I think we can all agree that a dish that takes a lot of time and effort to prepare and looks so elegant that they'd be right at home in that era.

I don't think it's going to come as much of a surprise to anyone when I say that one of the coolest things about American Girl is the pretend food. I've loved pretend food pretty much my whole life. I had a pretend kitchen growing up and a bunch of plastic food I'd sometimes just look at and think about how pretty the fake donut and cookies and watermelon looked, and I've always been drawn to displays and models of fake food in stores, museums, doll houses, anywhere, really. Maybe I'm just weird.

The cool thing about AG food is that a lot of it is pretty unique and unusual for play food sets, which I'm sure was sort of the point. Instead of just having your run of the mill fruit, bread, donuts and the occasional slab of modeled spaghetti, accessory sets have boasted colonial tarts, casserole dishes of lasanga, fondue pots, rugelach and tortillas. Of course, there have been some dingers over the years, but for the most part, the food is always incredibly neat, and is still one of my favorite things to play with.

But perhaps the most interesting accessory set in my sister's and my humble opinion was Samantha's lunch box, which came complete with an embroidered napkin, a peach, a gingerbread man, a watercress sandwich and a deviled egg.

Now, obviously this lunch is supposed to show how different Samantha's eating habits were compared to the likes of Kirsten and Molly: Molly has a peanut butter sandwich and Kirsten has sausage and cheese as their main courses, which are all a lot more pedestrian and familiar even to a modern audience. Sure, you might not get a sausage in your lunch today, but you've probably eaten one by age eight. Deviled eggs are a little more exotic and interesting, and again, something that obviously required time and effort to make in a period where you didn't necessarily have an icebox full of them waiting to be put in a lunchbox, which obviously means someone other than Grandmary is making her lunches for her, whereas Mrs. Larson and Mrs. McIntire were probably looking for things that wouldn't spoil and wouldn't take an age to make so they could get back to their own work.

But something I always wondered about as a kid was how was that egg expected to make it to school in one piece instead of winding up smeared all over the inside of the lunchbox and everything in it? It's an awesome prop, but I do definitely question anyone thinking that was an especially bright idea!

My sister remembers first eating deviled eggs at our neighbor's house, although my mom insists that she must have had it at a different family friend's house because said friend is the queen of deviled eggs. Regardless, they've been something she's enjoyed for a long time, and I'm pretty sure AG is at least partially responsible for that. Unfortunately, she's got a pretty holey memory, so I don't know if I'll ever be able to have this confirmed or not.

To start, you boil eggs. It's recommended that you fill up the bottom of your pan with eggs entirely, and I honestly liked having a few extra hard boiled eggs on hand because this is supposed to be a pretty dish, and having a few extras to cushion against mistakes or unattractive results seems good to me. We eat hard boiled eggs enough in my house that it's not a big deal to have a couple extra hiding out in the fridge.

You also want to be sure you cover the eggs entirely with about a good inch of water, not just pour in enough to coat them. Some of the water will cook off while they boil, and not having water covering the whole egg often leaves parts of them undercooked and runny, which is just nasty.

Eggs are generally fully cooked after about fifteen minutes in boiling water, but I really don't like runny eggs, so I let mine sit for a pretty long time and left them in the pan for longer just to make sure they were thoroughly done.

Once they're finished, drain the water from the pot and toss the eggs in an ice bath to cool them off. Again, leave them alone for a good long while to make sure they're all nice and cool throughout.

And now comes the longest, most frustrating part: peeling the eggs. My uncle passed along a trick to me after he heard that we found the peeling process sort of frustrating. To get the full shell off without mangling the white, crack the shell just a bit and then run cold water through the crack. It will help the shell separate without taking along bits of the egg white with it!

Unfortunately, I was stuck using the traditional "whack it against the counter and then painstakingly peel the shell off" method, but my sister offered to help out and I actually ended up having a lot of fun peeling the eggs! We were joking about how lousy it would be to be one of the cooks on Downton Abbey needing to make six hundred of these for some party they wouldn't even get to go to, and then I accidentally spoiled most of the events of this season to her because I didn't realize she hadn't been watching. Sorry!

Once your eggs are free from their shells, split them down the middle with a paring knife, and then carefully pry the egg yolks out into a mixing bowl. Set the whites aside for later.

The egg yolks get pushed through a fine mesh sieve (the other most frustrating part of this recipe), and then you add the rest of the ingredients for your filling. There are thousands of combinations you can use here, so feel free to get creative. I used mayonnaise, chives, tarragon, parsley and lemon zest!

Mix this together thoroughly, and you should be left with a workable egg paste.

Now, you could just spoon this into your egg whites, or use a pastry bag. I got tired of using fake pastry bags, especially after they were such a pain when making black and white cookies, so my mom suggested using a nifty little gadget that does pretty much the same thing, but without all the hassle. It was much easier to work with, and I think it's going to be what I turn to when I need a pastry bag in the future.

Also, did you know that they make dishes specifically to hold deviled eggs? My grandma gave me one that belonged to her aunt to use for this post. I never realized they were popular enough to warrant something like that!

Add a sprinkle of paprika and...


To finish off the plate, my mom grabbed some mixed greens from the fridge, sliced up the lemon we'd used for zest, and arranged them in the center of the plate.

All told, I think this is one of the prettiest things I've ever made, even if my squiggles of egg aren't totally perfect. I guess I need a little more practice! What always surprises me about a deviled egg is now not overwhelmingly eggy it winds up tasting. The filling does a good job of elevating the flavor to something that's just different than a typical egg dish, and for all of you who don't think you like hard boiled eggs, I'd still recommend giving one of these a try. This combination I thought was especially tasty, and it was a big hit with my taste testers, too!

Overall, this is a pretty labor intensive and time consuming recipe. I particularly disliked putting the yolk through the sieve and wonder if it might be easier to just mash the yolks up with a fork next time. That being said, I think they're tasty enough that if you've got the time and inclination to make them, go for it! It's also nice to have a recipe that's so easy to customize and tweak depending on how many people are going to be sharing your work. Boiling two or three eggs and mashing up the yolks isn't going to ruin your whole afternoon or leave you with a ton of leftovers to get rid of if you want to make a few for a small lunch with friends, or just for yourself. 

All in all, they can be a huge pain in the butt to make, but they're worth it!

Just be careful if you put them in your lunch box. You don't want your gingerbread man tasting eggy!


  1. I love deviled eggs and yours turned out lovely looking. Your grandmother's plate is also very beautiful, and I love having old family things like that.

    I've also always wondered how Samantha's lunch box would of stayed neat with that thing in there, it's not like they could of used zip lock bags or Tupperware.

    1. Exactly! I mean I guess this is just an inaccuracy on AG's part or something, but it still drove me crazy when I was younger. Wouldn't that be a huge mess to clean up, Sam??

  2. Oh my gods I love deviled eggs! I haven't had them in a few years because I have to either make them myself of have my mom make them, but I might look into making some. It's the only way I eat egg yolks (my mom mashes them with a fork, I'm pretty sure.)

    And yes that would be messy--the only thing I could think of is if there was a small container just for it, or some way to tuck it up properly.

    1. I definitely think I'm using a fork next time, the sieve was so frustrating to use! I need to go back and reread Sam Learns a Lesson and see if they actually mention the egg. Maybe that will give us some insight, ahaha.