The "Chopped" judge talks about her coffee habit and boxed cake mix

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: Alex Guarnaschelli Wants Pumpkin Pie in Her Pumpkin Spice Latte
Credit: Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for NYCWFF

"I'm a real coffee drinker, of the highest order," explained chef and Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli, so when Folgers sent her their new line of naturally flavored coffees, called Simply Gourmet, she brewed them all at once. "I think it was twelve pounds of coffee," she told me at an event in Manhattan, adding, "I was like, 'Do I like this? Do I feel like I would drink this alone or enhanced?' The answer was yes." And to celebrate the launch of Folgers Simply Gourmet, Guarnaschelli partnered with the coffee company and created recipes incorporating and inspired by the six flavors of coffee grounds, including chocolate raspberry, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, and mint.

"I like them all," Guarnaschelli explained, noting, "I really gravitated toward the cinnamon and the chocolate raspberry, just because they're just tastes I grew up with." As she walked us through her recipes for chocolate pudding with chocolate raspberry coffee and cinnamon pumpkin pie spice lattes inspired by her mother's own pie recipe, Guarnaschelli talked about her favorite flavors from childhood, making lattes without an espresso machine, and putting coffee in her coffee.

On frozen TV dinners and boxed pudding
“I actually was recently on a Food Network show, and they gave me a TV dinner to cook with, and the producer said to me, ‘I know, a TV dinner.’ And I said, ‘Everyone’s had a TV dinner.’ So they interviewed me, and I said, ‘Don’t front like you haven’t had a TV dinner. You have. And I have too.’ The amount of mail I got from that. ‘You’ve had a TV dinner? I feel like I can live again!’ We’ve all made Jell-O from a box. We’ve all made cake from a box mix.”

On her favorite birthday cake from childhood
“My mother made them every year. One of them was always a chocolate cake with layers of raspberry jam. And she said, ‘I can’t believe you’re so sophisticated as to want that.’ When Folgers sent me the coffee, and I saw the chocolate raspberry, it was like instant childhood for me. I know it’s super hokey. It’s corny, but it’s also the truth.”

On crying on Chopped
“People ask me if I’m actually crying when they see me on TV. I’ll get a text from an old friend: ‘I see you crying on Chopped. You’re not really crying, are you?’ I’m like weeping, snot, tears. The [contestant is] like, ‘And everybody in my family died, and I need the money,’ and I’m like [sobbing], ‘Oh, my God!’ The worst is when that person gets chopped.”

On the appeal of parfaits
“People love a parfait. It’s just American, I think that’s what it is. … Did you ever make those sand in the bottle with the different colors? To me, making these parfaits is something like that.”

On her go-to coffee order
“I have coffee with milk. Sometimes I put half-and-half, a little. That’s it. Unless I’m making something like a pumpkin spice latte, where there’s sugar built in—but I also really like the fact you’re not using espresso in this case to make a latte. It’s lighter. And you also have more room, flavor-wise, to taste the flavor of the pumpkin.”

On pumpkin spice lattes and her mother’s pumpkin pie
“If it’s not basically pumpkin pie in a mug, I don’t want to talk about it. That’s really what I want. And so I sort of set about doing that. So I started, honestly, with my mom’s pumpkin pie recipe as the base. My mom has kind of an unusual pumpkin pie recipe because there’s a little bit of sour cream in it, and the tartness and the richness of the sour cream is not heavy, it’s almost like Greek yogurt. And it’s got both a texture and a tang to it that I think is really fantastic with the cinnamon.”

On frothing milk at home, without an espresso machine
“I take a pan and a whisk. I use some skim milk and some whole milk together, or half-and-half and skim milk, and I whisk and I skim. I build up a bowl full of foam by whisking and skimming, then I really heat the remaining milk mixture, pour that in a latte and then just top from the bowl.”

On her favorite fall flavors
“I’m on a pear kick this year. I kind of have to give apples a rest once in awhile. So I’m really into pear and star anise as a combination. What I’ve been playing with, is I take a pear, slice off the two ends so it’s like a wedge of pear, simmer some honey with a couple of piece of star anise, and I just roast the pear, basting with the honey. And I add a splash of vinegar at the end. So I’m on that, because you can eat that with a pork chop or on a tart or with ice cream. I kind of like when something can go in a lot of different places.”

On putting coffee in her coffee
"I'll brew the coffee. The jar with the coffee with be sitting there, and I'll just take a pinch and sprinkle it right on my coffee, and put the milk in. And I love that additional texture and burst of coffee. When you think about it, you have a thing of grounds, you pour water over it, and it comes to life. [With this] you hydrate the coffee, with the coffee itself."