THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES
THE MOST TRUSTED COPYCAT RECIPES

New Recipes

You tried it in the restaurant, now make it at home. Re-create your favorite restaurant dishes with copycat recipes you won't find anywhere else from America's most trusted food hacker, Todd Wilbur. New recipes are posted each week.

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    Jack in the Box Smashed Jack Burger & Boss Sauce

    In 2024, Jack-in-the-Box introduced the chain’s best-reviewed burger, the Smashed Jack, with a ¼-pound “smashed-inspired” burger, grilled onions, and a new secret sauce. A press release from Jack-in-the-Box claimed that consumers in a taste test picked the new Smashed Jack as the best burger compared to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King burgers.

    You may have guessed that “smashed-inspired” means that these burgers aren’t prepared like burgers that are smashed with a press or heavy spatula on the grill—a process that triggers the Maillard reaction when amino acids and sugars are browned to give food a flavorful crust. But Jack-in-the-Box created a secret shortcut for speed and consistency that still gives the burgers that crust and the appearance of smashing without relying on cooks to actually smash them.

    For my Jack-in-the-Box Smashed Jack copycat recipe, we’ll smash the burger for real, but we’ll start with a knockoff of the new Boss Sauce, which gets its smokey flavor from just a little bit of liquid smoke. Once that sauce is done, it’s time to cook the burger patty, which I found is best copied with ground Angus beef. Use a press or heavy spatula to press down on the burger as it cooks to create a browned crust on both sides of the patty.

    After the burger is flipped, grilled onions are stacked on top, followed by American cheese. Then, the burger is finished with thick pickles and lots of your copycat Boss Sauce. This recipe shows you how to make one burger, but you’ll have enough leftover secret sauce to make several more.

    If you're a fan of Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack or any of Jack's Shakes, or their famous tacos, click here for my clone recipes.

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    Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip

    It’s creamy and cheesy and doesn’t skimp on shrimp and scallops. Bonefish Grill’s Imperial Dip might very well be the best seafood dip at any chain, and after several visits in the early evening to take advantage of the Happy Hour price, I got even happier when I could construct a great clone.

    Sitting at the bar allowed me to chat up the server and obtain several helpful preparation tips. That’s when I discovered that shrimp stock is the secret to the dip’s great taste. And that’s why my Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip copycat recipe starts with an easy way to make your own stock with the shells harvested from the shrimp that goes in the dip.

    After sautéing the shrimp and scallops, it takes just minutes to prepare a sauce with the shrimp stock, cream, and cheese. Then, everything is combined and poured into a cast iron skillet. After a quick broil to brown the top, you’ll have a great match to the real thing, except your version will be three times bigger.

    You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

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  • Not rated yet
    Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie

    Every March through November, Marie Callender’s sells fresh strawberry pies made with the chain’s signature flakey crust piled high with whole strawberries tossed in a sweet glaze and finished with a crown of whipped cream.

    The pies are made-to-order to ensure the freshness of the berries, but the glaze that’s added to the beautiful berries tastes like the everyday goopy red stuff found in grocery store produce sections that’s usually made with corn syrup and other crud, and no natural fruit. For my Marie Callender’s Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe, I set out to improve the glaze by making it with real strawberry puree, hoping to get a tastier finished product. Thankfully, it worked out. The new glaze was vibrant and fruity; it transformed into a nice gel and didn’t upstage the strawberries. This small change makes a strawberry pie that’s even better than the original.

    I designed the glaze to use frozen strawberries, so it’s quick and easy, and I’m also including scratch recipes here for the whipped cream and pie crust. You can buy each of these pre-made to speed up your build, but taking a little time to make the whipped cream and/or crust from scratch will absolutely be worth the extra effort. Also, I slightly tweaked my previous Marie Callender’s pastry formula to make it more closely match the current pie crust served at the chain.

    Try my Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe below, and find more of my Marie Callender's pie recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    KFC Georgia Gold Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce

    After the early success of KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken, R&D chefs explored other sauce variations that could be drizzled over the chain’s Extra Crispy Fried Chicken and breaded tenders and came up with this delicious sweet mustard basting sauce. 

    For my KFC Georgia Gold Sauce copycat recipe, I mixed dry ingredients into the mustard, then drizzled the oil into the mustard blend while whisking to form an emulsion, locking everything together into a flavorful paste. The process produced an overly thick sauce since mustard is such a great emulsifier. In the end, I added a little water to thin it out so that it coats just right when the sauce is drizzled over fried chicken or strips. 

    You can use my recipe for KFC Extra Crispy Tenders here or cook pre-breaded crispy frozen chicken pieces.

    Find more of my KFC copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich

    Loose meat sandwiches were born in Iowa in 1926 when Maid-Rite started selling burgers made with ground beef that isn’t pressed into patties. These sandwiches quickly became a Midwest phenomenon, and they were often served with a spoon to scoop up the loose meat that would inevitably fall out. This dry and crumbly characteristic of the loose meat sandwich might be why, in 1930, a chef named Joe, as legend has it, created a tomato-based sauce, possibly with ketchup, which he mixed into the loose ground beef. Joe’s new sandwich had more flavor than its drier cousin, and the loose meat stayed in the bun.

    Sloppy Joes became a common restaurant and diner menu choice for decades, with the sandwiches selling for as little as 10 cents. In 1969, Hunts brought Sloppy Joes home with the introduction of the first canned Sloppy Joe sauce that, when added to 1 pound of browned ground beef, made enough filling to feed a family of four. It was easy, and it was cheap.

    The original sauce lists corn syrup as the second ingredient, but for my Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce copycat recipe, I chose to avoid corn syrup and even ketchup and instead built the sauce with ketchup ingredients, including tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, and spices. My version is also easy and cheap and tastes like the real thing, but because it’s fresher, it tastes a little bit better.

    Find more of my copycat recipes for iconic sandwiches here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Starbucks Pink Drink

    Many new food product ideas emerge from corporate test kitchens, but Starbucks’ Pink Drink was born on social media. That’s where customers learned to request coconut milk in their order of the chain’s strawberry-acai refreshers drink, and when they gave it a good shake it turned pink. That was in 2016. When high demand persisted for the “secret menu” item, Starbucks added the Pink Drink to its permanent menu one year later, in 2017.

    You'll have no trouble creating my Starbucks Pink Drink copycat recipe as long as you procure a bottle of the strawberry acai flavor of Dr. Smoothie Refreshers. This lightly caffeinated concentrated drink mix can be found online in 46-ounce bottles and will be enough to make 11 (16-ounce) Pink Drink clones. You’ll also need coconut milk, preferably one that isn’t too thick or chunky (Goya brand is good), and freeze-dried strawberries.

    Finish the drink by shaking everything together in a shaker with ice, then pour the pink goodness into a 16-ounce glass and consume with glee.

    Find more of my Starbucks copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    The Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce

    Since 1969, The Portland, Oregon-based Old Spaghetti Factory has been filling bellies with a comfort food menu full of fabulous pasta choices, and this signature meat sauce has been the sauce of choice at the 43-unit chain for more than five decades.

    To reverse-engineer the sauce for my Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce copycat recipe, I started by rinsing the original sauce in a wire mesh strainer to see what secrets could be revealed. Once the solids were visible, I noted the size and ratios of ground beef, onion, celery, and garlic, and I also noticed that there were no bits of tomato left behind. This meant the tomato was puréed, but rather than using canned tomato purée, I opted for richer tomato paste. Lemon juice helped match the zing of the original, and I rounded out the flavor with just a bit of sugar.

    This recipe will make 3½ cups of meat sauce, which is enough for several huge plates of pasta. Use it on spaghetti as they do at the restaurant, or whatever pasta shape you prefer.

    Find more copycat recipes for famous sauces here.

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    Dickey's Barbecue Pit Potato Salad

    America’s largest barbecue chain is famous for its great smoked meats. But Dickey’s Barbecue Pit also deserves a major shout-out for tasty potato salad that even potato salad haters will like. It’s sweet, sour, creamy, and speckled with just a bit of bell pepper and celery to make it interesting. And it’s easy to make a perfect copy at home with this handy Top Secret Recipe.

    For my Dickey’s Potato Salad copycat recipe, you’ll start by mixing a simple dressing and stir it into diced potatoes that cook in just 10 minutes. Add some minced red and green bell pepper—both cook al dente in under 5 minutes—plus a little minced celery, and your work is done. And you made it for much less than it would cost to buy the real thing.

    After it chills, give it a good stir, and your potato salad hack is ready for hungry mouths.

    Fans of Dickey's will also love my original BBQ sauce and coleslaw copycat recipes here.

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    McDonald's Mambo Sauce

    One of two new sauces McDonald’s debuted in late 2023 is inspired by the famous Washington D.C.-area sauce originally offered at chicken wing restaurants and Chinese takeout joints in the 1960s. The sweet, sour, and spicy mambo sauce—also called mumbo sauce—is used as a dip for all kinds of finger foods including fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, French fries, and eggrolls.

    But McDonald’s only offered the sauce in small blister packs, which were available for about a month. So, if we want to bring back the great flavor of the limited-time-only sauce we'll need a handy home hack. Fortunately, I got my mitts on enough of the sauce before it went away to whip up this exclusive knockoff.

    My McDonald's Mambo Sauce copycat recipe is super easy, requires only common ingredients, and will make 1½ cups of the versatile stuff you can use for dipping anything that needs to be perked up.

    You might also like my clones for McDonald's sweet and spicy jam, hot mustard, sweet and sour, honey mustard, and Szechuan dipping sauces. Find all my McDonald's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

    A great buttermilk pancake recipe will produce fluffy, tangy, and slightly sweet pancakes—the same qualities as the popular pancakes served at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. But Cracker Barrel’s flapjacks have a secret ingredient that sets the chain’s morning stack apart from other restaurants. And this Top Secret Recipe will reveal it.

    To create my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe, I first purchased a box of the chain’s pancake mix at the restaurant’s store to examine the list of ingredients on the package. In the list were the ingredients you'd expect, like wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening. But there was also a surprise: yellow corn flour. When added to the mix in the right ratio, the yellow corn flour contributed great cornbread-like flavor and gave the pancakes a unique crumbly texture that many seem to love.

    Does this special ingredient produce buttermilk pancakes which are superior to a more traditional recipe? It's easy to find out. Once you have corn flour and just a handful of other common ingredients, it takes just minutes to produce enough pancakes for you and everyone else to get a taste and decide if these are indeed the best buttermilk pancakes in the biz.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    El Pollo Loco Homemade Tortilla Soup

    Packed with tender chicken and vegetables, my El Pollo Loco Homemade Tortilla Soup copycat recipe is just like the original, which happens to be one of the most wholesome tortilla soups I’ve ever hacked.

    And the technique here is ultra-easy since you use chicken pulled from a supermarket rotisserie chicken, which is a good thing for a couple of reasons. You don’t have to cook the chicken, so you save time. And, since rotisserie chickens usually cost less than a whole uncooked chicken, you’re saving money, too. One 2-pound rotisserie chicken will give you around 1 pound of white and dark chicken meat, which will be perfect for this recipe.  

    Most of your time will be spent chopping the celery, carrot, and peppers, then it’s just a simple matter of sautéing the vegetables until soft and adding the remaining ingredients. Once the soup is hot, serve it topped with crispy tortilla strips, cotija cheese, and cilantro, and pass out the spoons.

    Find more famous El Pollo Loco recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Kellogg's Pop-Tarts

    It took six months for Kellogg’s product developers to figure out how to mass produce a par-baked filled pastry that could be crisped up in a home toaster. In 1964, Pop-Tarts hit grocery store shelves in four flavors: strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon, blueberry, and apple currant, and went on to become Kellogg’s top-selling brand.

    I set out to make a taste-alike version of the popular snack that looks just like the original and could be cooked for a second time in a toaster. It was apparent that I would need a pastry dough that was flakey yet sturdy, and with a familiar flavor reminiscent of Pop-Tarts, and eventually, I came up with a recipe that worked.

    As I completed the dough for my Kellogg's Pop-Tarts copycat recipe, I worked on the filling, developing recipes for two of the most popular flavors: strawberry and brown sugar cinnamon. The strawberry filling here requires seedless strawberry jam and the cinnamon sugar filling is a simple combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, and butter—like streusel. The filling is spread on the bottom layer of dough and then a top layer of dough is added, ventilated with a toothpick or wooden skewer, and baked just until light brown. 

    When cool, the brown sugar cinnamon tarts are frosted with cinnamon icing, and the strawberry tarts are frosted with white icing, and then topped with sprinkles. When the icing hardens your Pop-Tarts clones are ready to be finished in a toaster for eating at your convenience, just like the real ones.

    Try my Kellogg's Pop Tart copycat recipe below, and find more of your favorite breakfast copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa

    In March 2024, Taco Bell debuted the Cantina Chicken menu, featuring 2 types of tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a chicken bowl, each starring the chain’s new slow-roasted chicken. The Mexican chain also introduced avocado salsa made with peppers, tomatillos, lime, cilantro, and avocado as a companion to the latest items. But unlike all the other hot sauces, extra packets of the new sauce cost 20 cents each. And the 2½ teaspoons of salsa they hold doesn’t go very far. But 3½ cups sure does.

    For my Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa copycat recipe, I found there was no need to go through the extra time-consuming step of roasting fresh tomatillos and peppers when canned ingredients worked so great. The avocado, lime juice, and cilantro will be fresh, and the dry ingredients, namely the onion and garlic, will rehydrate nicely as the salsa rests.

    The first ingredient in Taco Bell’s version is oil, but for our purposes, we can reduce the ratio. Taco Bell chefs most likely add all that oil to their salsa to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, thereby extending its shelf life. The oil has the same function in my version, but I call for ½ cup, which is much less percentage-wise than the real thing. The oil will indeed extend the life of your salsa, but feel free to reduce the amount substantially if you plan to eat the salsa within a couple of days and prefer to avoid the added fat.

    Followed as written, this recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of salsa or the equivalent of 67 Taco Bell blister packs. 

    Try more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie

    For a delicious slice of your favorite iconic American pie, Marie Callender’s is the place to go. The chain serves tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, but it's mostly famous for great homestyle pies, and the classic coconut cream pie is no exception. Like many other pies I’ve hacked from Marie Callender's (Pumpkin Pie, Double Cream Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Satin Pie), the Coconut Cream Pie is sold in your store’s freezer section. But none of these frozen pies are as good as a fresh one you make from scratch. 

    The filling for my Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie copycat recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and if you use a premade pie crust, this becomes a very low-impact recipe. I recommend you make the whipped cream topping from scratch using the recipe here that will produce much better whipped cream than anything from a can, and it's also quick. The most time-consuming step is making the dollops of whipped cream that cover the top of the pie, but even that’s pretty fun.

    If you’d like to make your pie crust from scratch, I’m including a recipe from my previous Marie Callender’s pie hacks. It’ll add time to your build, but the extra effort will be worth it.

    Try more of my Marie Callender's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi

    This top entrée pick from Cheesecake Factory is a classic dish, but its preparation is far from traditional, and perhaps that's why it's so popular.

    The creamy scampi sauce is flavored with a handful of whole roasted garlic cloves, plus shallot, basil, and tomato. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried until golden, then arranged upright around the plate to keep their crunching coats from sogging.

    In addition to all the secrets you’ll need to assemble two servings of my Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi copycat recipe, I’ve also included a cool technique for easily roasting the garlic cloves in just 15 to 20 minutes, and you won’t even need to peel the cloves. After your garlic cools, the skins will slip right off.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Charms Blow Pop

    The fruity lollipop with gum inside is Charms' bestselling product, but the cool combo candy was the brainchild of a different candy company. Thomas T. Tidwell of Triple T Co. invented and patented his method for encasing gum inside candy in the 1960s, and sold his new lollipop, Triple Treat, for a short time. In 1973, Tidwell sold the product idea to the Charms Candy Company who renamed it Blow Pop, and for over 50 years the famous pop has been enjoyed by millions of happy mouths.

    I’m not privy to the details of Tidwell’s method, but I can see by the vertical seam on a real Blow Pop that it's probably made by sealing two halves of the pop together, one half with gum and one half without. I tried various silicone lollipop molds for my Charms Blow Pop copycat recipe with little success and decided instead to create a technique using half of a slightly altered cake pop mold. I first poured half of the pop into the molds, added the gum on a stick, and when it hardened I removed it, poured the other half of the candy into the mold, and added the hardened first half on top. When all was set, I had perfectly spherical pops with seams just like the original. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that my pops were more than twice as big as the real thing.

    I designed my recipe to call for 1 dram of LorAnn Oils which you can find online. The original Blow Pops come in five flavors, and I’ve got four of them for you here: cherry, grape, watermelon, and sour apple. I also made a batch of cinnamon pops just for fun and added those instructions to the Tidbits below. Real Blow Pops don’t come in cinnamon flavor, but after tasting these, you might wish they did.

    Click here to make more famous candy at home. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast

    Menu Description: “Honey Sesame Chicken Breast is made with thin, crispy strips of all-white meat chicken tossed with fresh-cut string beans, and crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling hot wok with our new delicious honey sauce and topped off with sesame seeds.”

    The limited-time-only availability of this entrée is unfortunate for those who claim it as their top choice at America’s biggest fast Chinese chain. But now, with my Panda Express Honey Sesame Chicken Breast copycat recipe, you can make your own homemade version anytime you want, and it won’t matter if the real one's yanked off the menu.

    The success of this clone depends almost entirely on how good the sauce is. The sauce needs to be sweet, but when I used too much honey the honey flavor overpowered the dish, so it was clear that some of the sweetness would have to come from sugar. Eventually, I found the right balance for a good sauce hack: sweet, salty, and sour, with a light back-end hit of red pepper.

    For the batter, I tweaked the coating in my hack for Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp, increasing the yield of the batter, so you won’t run out.

    After your sauce is done and the chicken is finished, build the dish by tossing green beans, yellow bell peppers, and crispy chicken in a wok or large sauté pan with the sauce, then spoon it over rice, and grab some chopsticks.

    Click here for more of my Panda Express copycat recipes. 

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Original Pancake House French Crepes

    It's not clear when Original Pancake House changed its French crêpes recipe. Old menus say the crêpes are filled with strawberry preserves and served with tropical syrup, but the current version switches out the preserves for fresh sliced strawberries, and the dish now comes with homemade strawberry syrup on the side. I can't say which is better since I never had the former version, but the current variation is as great as you would expect from this beloved pancake chain, and it's a dish well worth a home clone. 

    For my Original Pancake House French Crêpes copycat recipe, I started with the strawberry syrup, and with only three ingredients it took just a couple batches to perfect, then I cleared the deck for the more daunting task of cloning the fantastic crêpes.

    But after a dozen or so attempts, I was still not happy with my crepes, so I headed back over to the Original Pancake House to hopefully obtain more intel. While polishing off a huge serving of three French crêpes, I chatted up the server for any information that might improve my batter and I got a great tip: add more cream. Back at the hack lab, I replaced the milk in my formula with half-and-half and was thrilled to have finally produced a great clone of the original dish.

    And I discovered another secret: use clarified butter in the pan before pouring in the batter. That's how they do it in the restaurant according to my informant, and I've made sure to include that step in the recipe so yours will come out looking and tasting just like the real thing.

    You might also like my recipe for the Original Pancake House German Pancake aka "Dutch Baby".

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane

    Fans of Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane don’t seem to care that the dish isn’t a traditional take on the classic dish. The restaurant chain’s version is indeed served with mushrooms and medallions of beef tenderloin just like the old-school recipe, but you won’t find any Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cognac, or cream that one would expect in a true Steak Diane. Instead, the chain douses steak with the same Madeira sauce served with its Chicken Madeira entrée, and it's delicious.

    I hacked the chain’s Chicken Madeira many years ago in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 but was happy for the chance to go back and improve the great sauce. After some fiddling, I came up with an improved formula that calls for less wine and uses a more thorough reduction to intensify the flavors. When shopping for ingredients for my Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane copycat recipe, it's okay to pick the least expensive Madeira wine on the shelf. Just know that Madeira wines have different characteristics, so your final flavor may slightly vary from the restaurant version.

    For your tenderloins, start with thick steaks, since you’ll be slicing the portions in half through the middle, making them thinner. You’ll need 7 to 8 small steak portions to be sliced in half for 14 to 16 medallions. 

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Red Lobster Walt's Favorite Shrimp

    Many identify Red Lobster as the restaurant that serves free cheesy Cheddar Bay Biscuits with every meal, but the chain has another claim to fame as the first chain to make popcorn shrimp a thing.

    Introduced in 1974, Walt’s Favorite Shrimp is butterflied, breaded, and lightly fried, making the crustaceans a simple-to-eat finger food. But there’s more to my Red Lobster Walt’s Favorite Shrimp copycat recipe than simply breading and frying a pound of large shrimp. First, we’ll need to add flavor to the shrimp with a brine. And instead of using a salt brine, I found that a brine of concentrated chicken bouillon worked wonders for flavoring the shrimp all the way through.

    After brining the shrimp give them three coats of flour and one with breadcrumbs, then it takes just a minute or so until they’re golden brown and crispy, and ready to serve with a side of cocktail sauce.

    Find more of my Red Lobster copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Lotus Biscoff Cookies

    Jan Boone first created the traditional Belgian speculoos cookies at his Lotus Bakery in Lembeke, Belgium in 1932. Spiced shortbread cookies like these are often enjoyed with a cup of coffee, so the new cookie was called Biscoff as a mashup of “biscuit” and “coffee.” The cookies didn't become popular in the U.S. until the 1990s when airlines began passing out the cookies to travelers on every trip.

    Recipe authors who claim to re-create these cookies with a blend of spices that includes clove, nutmeg, and cardamom appear to be confusing speculoos cookies from Belgium with speculaas cookies from the Netherlands. Many spices were too costly to import to Belgium at that time, so speculoos cookies were often made with just cinnamon, while the Dutch version got the more expensive blend of exotic spices.

    Biscoff cookies are called “caramelized cookies” because they’re made with Belgian blonde candy sugar (bruen leger), which is granulated sugar that has been lightly caramelized. This ingredient contributes a unique taste to the cookies that is slightly different from cookies made with American brown sugar, which contains molasses. You can find brun leger online or make it yourself with white sugar in your oven using the tips here. If you'd rather not fuss with that, you can substitute with domestic light brown sugar.

    Finish my Lotus Biscoff Cookies copycat recipe by slicing the rolled dough with a fluted pastry wheel to make fancy edges like the real thing, and you’ll have around 3 dozen of the classic European cookies that will fit nicely on one half-sheet pan for baking. I’m calling for all-purpose flour here, but if you want more tender, melt-in-your-mouth cookies, use fine pastry flour.  

    Find more of your favorite famous cookie copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder

    This phenomenal clam chowder, made with lots of fresh littleneck clams, was chosen to represent the state of Massachusetts at the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981—just a year after first being served at the restaurant—and has been served at every presidential inauguration since. I think it's the best clam chowder you'll get at any casual restaurant chain in America, making it a perfect home clone candidate.

    I could glean only minimal information from servers at Legal Sea Foods in Philly where I first tasted this fantastic chowder. Fortunately, the company has an online seafood store where I could order a quart of the soup—for a whopping 45 bucks with shipping—which provided me with an ingredients list on the package to aid in the hacking. The restaurant has its cookbook, which provides a few more clues, but the recipe there does not produce a soup that is anything like the version in the restaurant. Many of the ingredients I found on the label of the restaurant version are not listed in the cookbook recipe. 

    The real soup includes a little salt pork, which I have replaced here with bacon since such a small amount is used. For the best flavor, you'll want to use fish or seafood stock, which I found at Walmart, but you can substitute with chicken broth if seafood stock is unavailable. My Legal Sea Foods New England Clam Chowder copycat recipe makes over 2 quarts of the soup and will cost you a fraction of what I paid for just a single quart through the company's website. 

    Find my Legal Sea Foods Crab Cakes copycat recipe here.

    Source: Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step by Todd Wilbur.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Portillo's Chocolate Cake

    I can confirm that the secret recipe for Portillo’s Chocolate Cake is as simple as adding a cup of mayonnaise, a cup of water, and three eggs to a box of chocolate cake mix and baking it in two 9-inch pans at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The frosting on the cake is the kind you find in the baking aisle in tubs for $2. That's it.

    The recipe I've described would cost around $6 to make at home, and yet you'll pay $75 to have a frozen version of the real Portillo's cake delivered to your house. I know this because I did it. It was the easiest way to confirm my suspicions about the recipe. And sure enough, the cake packaging listed ingredients one would find in just about every box of grocery store cake mix: diglycerides, dicalcium phosphate, and propylene glycol. 

    Perhaps you prefer not to pay $75 for a cake you can make at home for 6 bucks. I get that. Maybe you also want chocolate cake that's not made with boxed cake mix because it’s, well, boxed cake mix. Same here. So, I wondered if I could make a similarly moist mayonnaise chocolate cake just like Portillo's, but this time from scratch, with wholesome ingredients in both the cake and the icing. Thankfully, after baking over a dozen different cakes I finally came up with a recipe that tastes like Portillo's Chocolate Cake but without the hard-to-spell additives found in the real thing.

    And if mayonnaise sounds like an unusual ingredient for a cake, fear not. Practically everything in it benefits your cake batter. The blend of eggs and fat helps keep the cake fluffy and moist, salt and sugar add flavor, as do the vinegar and lemon juice which also assist with the leavening process to produce a tall cake with a light crumb. You could say mayonnaise is the perfect ingredient.

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  • Not rated yet
    P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken

    I'm not sure why it took me so long to clone this dish, considering that it was my daughter's favorite thing to eat at P.F. Chang's when she was a kid. I recently tackled it and created a spot-on copy of the chain's signature sweet-and-sour honey sauce, and in the process found some new intel that improved on my earlier version of the chain's crispy chicken which I had already hacked for a different P.F. Chang's recipe. The dish came together beautifully on the plate, and it cleared the final taste test by earning an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my now-grown little girl.

    Since P.F. Chang’s sells a version of this dish in the freezer aisle of my local grocery store, I was able to improve my chicken batter formula by extracting some good info from the ingredients listed on the product box. Based on this new information, I added more cornstarch to the batter along with corn flour and egg whites for a much better, crispier coating.

    The sauce in my P.F. Chang's Crispy Honey Chicken copycat recipe is sweetened with honey and sugar, soured by wine and rice vinegar, and thickened with cornstarch and gelatin powder to create a flavorful finishing glaze that sticks to the crispy chicken like the real thing. In the restaurant, the chicken is served over a bed of fried maifun rice sticks so I’ve included prep notes for that in the Tidbits, but you may prefer to forego that step and serve the chicken over or alongside cooked white or brown rice.

    Check out more of my P.F. Chang's clone recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Jack in the Box Smashed Jack Burger & Boss Sauce

    In 2024, Jack-in-the-Box introduced the chain’s best-reviewed burger, the Smashed Jack, with a ¼-pound “smashed-inspired” burger, grilled onions, and a new secret sauce. A press release from Jack-in-the-Box claimed that consumers in a taste test picked the new Smashed Jack as the best burger compared to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King burgers.

    You may have guessed that “smashed-inspired” means that these burgers aren’t prepared like burgers that are smashed with a press or heavy spatula on the grill—a process that triggers the Maillard reaction when amino acids and sugars are browned to give food a flavorful crust. But Jack-in-the-Box created a secret shortcut for speed and consistency that still gives the burgers that crust and the appearance of smashing without relying on cooks to actually smash them.

    For my Jack-in-the-Box Smashed Jack copycat recipe, we’ll smash the burger for real, but we’ll start with a knockoff of the new Boss Sauce, which gets its smokey flavor from just a little bit of liquid smoke. Once that sauce is done, it’s time to cook the burger patty, which I found is best copied with ground Angus beef. Use a press or heavy spatula to press down on the burger as it cooks to create a browned crust on both sides of the patty.

    After the burger is flipped, grilled onions are stacked on top, followed by American cheese. Then, the burger is finished with thick pickles and lots of your copycat Boss Sauce. This recipe shows you how to make one burger, but you’ll have enough leftover secret sauce to make several more.

    If you're a fan of Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack or any of Jack's Shakes, or their famous tacos, click here for my clone recipes.

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  • Not rated yet
    Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie

    Every March through November, Marie Callender’s sells fresh strawberry pies made with the chain’s signature flakey crust piled high with whole strawberries tossed in a sweet glaze and finished with a crown of whipped cream.

    The pies are made-to-order to ensure the freshness of the berries, but the glaze that’s added to the beautiful berries tastes like the everyday goopy red stuff found in grocery store produce sections that’s usually made with corn syrup and other crud, and no natural fruit. For my Marie Callender’s Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe, I set out to improve the glaze by making it with real strawberry puree, hoping to get a tastier finished product. Thankfully, it worked out. The new glaze was vibrant and fruity; it transformed into a nice gel and didn’t upstage the strawberries. This small change makes a strawberry pie that’s even better than the original.

    I designed the glaze to use frozen strawberries, so it’s quick and easy, and I’m also including scratch recipes here for the whipped cream and pie crust. You can buy each of these pre-made to speed up your build, but taking a little time to make the whipped cream and/or crust from scratch will absolutely be worth the extra effort. Also, I slightly tweaked my previous Marie Callender’s pastry formula to make it more closely match the current pie crust served at the chain.

    Try my Marie Callender's Fresh Strawberry Pie copycat recipe below, and find more of my Marie Callender's pie recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    The Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce

    Since 1969, The Portland, Oregon-based Old Spaghetti Factory has been filling bellies with a comfort food menu full of fabulous pasta choices, and this signature meat sauce has been the sauce of choice at the 43-unit chain for more than five decades.

    To reverse-engineer the sauce for my Old Spaghetti Factory Rich Meat Sauce copycat recipe, I started by rinsing the original sauce in a wire mesh strainer to see what secrets could be revealed. Once the solids were visible, I noted the size and ratios of ground beef, onion, celery, and garlic, and I also noticed that there were no bits of tomato left behind. This meant the tomato was puréed, but rather than using canned tomato purée, I opted for richer tomato paste. Lemon juice helped match the zing of the original, and I rounded out the flavor with just a bit of sugar.

    This recipe will make 3½ cups of meat sauce, which is enough for several huge plates of pasta. Use it on spaghetti as they do at the restaurant, or whatever pasta shape you prefer.

    Find more copycat recipes for famous sauces here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich

    Loose meat sandwiches were born in Iowa in 1926 when Maid-Rite started selling burgers made with ground beef that isn’t pressed into patties. These sandwiches quickly became a Midwest phenomenon, and they were often served with a spoon to scoop up the loose meat that would inevitably fall out. This dry and crumbly characteristic of the loose meat sandwich might be why, in 1930, a chef named Joe, as legend has it, created a tomato-based sauce, possibly with ketchup, which he mixed into the loose ground beef. Joe’s new sandwich had more flavor than its drier cousin, and the loose meat stayed in the bun.

    Sloppy Joes became a common restaurant and diner menu choice for decades, with the sandwiches selling for as little as 10 cents. In 1969, Hunts brought Sloppy Joes home with the introduction of the first canned Sloppy Joe sauce that, when added to 1 pound of browned ground beef, made enough filling to feed a family of four. It was easy, and it was cheap.

    The original sauce lists corn syrup as the second ingredient, but for my Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce copycat recipe, I chose to avoid corn syrup and even ketchup and instead built the sauce with ketchup ingredients, including tomato paste, sugar, vinegar, and spices. My version is also easy and cheap and tastes like the real thing, but because it’s fresher, it tastes a little bit better.

    Find more of my copycat recipes for iconic sandwiches here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 2)
    Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa

    In March 2024, Taco Bell debuted the Cantina Chicken menu, featuring 2 types of tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, and a chicken bowl, each starring the chain’s new slow-roasted chicken. The Mexican chain also introduced avocado salsa made with peppers, tomatillos, lime, cilantro, and avocado as a companion to the latest items. But unlike all the other hot sauces, extra packets of the new sauce cost 20 cents each. And the 2½ teaspoons of salsa they hold doesn’t go very far. But 3½ cups sure does.

    For my Taco Bell Avocado Verde Salsa copycat recipe, I found there was no need to go through the extra time-consuming step of roasting fresh tomatillos and peppers when canned ingredients worked so great. The avocado, lime juice, and cilantro will be fresh, and the dry ingredients, namely the onion and garlic, will rehydrate nicely as the salsa rests.

    The first ingredient in Taco Bell’s version is oil, but for our purposes, we can reduce the ratio. Taco Bell chefs most likely add all that oil to their salsa to prevent the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown, thereby extending its shelf life. The oil has the same function in my version, but I call for ½ cup, which is much less percentage-wise than the real thing. The oil will indeed extend the life of your salsa, but feel free to reduce the amount substantially if you plan to eat the salsa within a couple of days and prefer to avoid the added fat.

    Followed as written, this recipe makes 3 1/2 cups of salsa or the equivalent of 67 Taco Bell blister packs. 

    Try more of my Taco Bell copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes

    A great buttermilk pancake recipe will produce fluffy, tangy, and slightly sweet pancakes—the same qualities as the popular pancakes served at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. But Cracker Barrel’s flapjacks have a secret ingredient that sets the chain’s morning stack apart from other restaurants. And this Top Secret Recipe will reveal it.

    To create my Cracker Barrel Buttermilk Pancakes copycat recipe, I first purchased a box of the chain’s pancake mix at the restaurant’s store to examine the list of ingredients on the package. In the list were the ingredients you'd expect, like wheat flour, sugar, salt, and leavening. But there was also a surprise: yellow corn flour. When added to the mix in the right ratio, the yellow corn flour contributed great cornbread-like flavor and gave the pancakes a unique crumbly texture that many seem to love.

    Does this special ingredient produce buttermilk pancakes which are superior to a more traditional recipe? It's easy to find out. Once you have corn flour and just a handful of other common ingredients, it takes just minutes to produce enough pancakes for you and everyone else to get a taste and decide if these are indeed the best buttermilk pancakes in the biz.

    Try more of my Cracker Barrel copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Charms Blow Pop

    The fruity lollipop with gum inside is Charms' bestselling product, but the cool combo candy was the brainchild of a different candy company. Thomas T. Tidwell of Triple T Co. invented and patented his method for encasing gum inside candy in the 1960s, and sold his new lollipop, Triple Treat, for a short time. In 1973, Tidwell sold the product idea to the Charms Candy Company who renamed it Blow Pop, and for over 50 years the famous pop has been enjoyed by millions of happy mouths.

    I’m not privy to the details of Tidwell’s method, but I can see by the vertical seam on a real Blow Pop that it's probably made by sealing two halves of the pop together, one half with gum and one half without. I tried various silicone lollipop molds for my Charms Blow Pop copycat recipe with little success and decided instead to create a technique using half of a slightly altered cake pop mold. I first poured half of the pop into the molds, added the gum on a stick, and when it hardened I removed it, poured the other half of the candy into the mold, and added the hardened first half on top. When all was set, I had perfectly spherical pops with seams just like the original. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone that my pops were more than twice as big as the real thing.

    I designed my recipe to call for 1 dram of LorAnn Oils which you can find online. The original Blow Pops come in five flavors, and I’ve got four of them for you here: cherry, grape, watermelon, and sour apple. I also made a batch of cinnamon pops just for fun and added those instructions to the Tidbits below. Real Blow Pops don’t come in cinnamon flavor, but after tasting these, you might wish they did.

    Click here to make more famous candy at home. 

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  • Not rated yet
    Starbucks Pink Drink

    Many new food product ideas emerge from corporate test kitchens, but Starbucks’ Pink Drink was born on social media. That’s where customers learned to request coconut milk in their order of the chain’s strawberry-acai refreshers drink, and when they gave it a good shake it turned pink. That was in 2016. When high demand persisted for the “secret menu” item, Starbucks added the Pink Drink to its permanent menu one year later, in 2017.

    You'll have no trouble creating my Starbucks Pink Drink copycat recipe as long as you procure a bottle of the strawberry acai flavor of Dr. Smoothie Refreshers. This lightly caffeinated concentrated drink mix can be found online in 46-ounce bottles and will be enough to make 11 (16-ounce) Pink Drink clones. You’ll also need coconut milk, preferably one that isn’t too thick or chunky (Goya brand is good), and freeze-dried strawberries.

    Finish the drink by shaking everything together in a shaker with ice, then pour the pink goodness into a 16-ounce glass and consume with glee.

    Find more of my Starbucks copycat recipes here

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie

    For a delicious slice of your favorite iconic American pie, Marie Callender’s is the place to go. The chain serves tasty breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees, but it's mostly famous for great homestyle pies, and the classic coconut cream pie is no exception. Like many other pies I’ve hacked from Marie Callender's (Pumpkin Pie, Double Cream Blueberry Pie, Chocolate Satin Pie), the Coconut Cream Pie is sold in your store’s freezer section. But none of these frozen pies are as good as a fresh one you make from scratch. 

    The filling for my Marie Callender's Coconut Cream Pie copycat recipe takes just 10 minutes to make, and if you use a premade pie crust, this becomes a very low-impact recipe. I recommend you make the whipped cream topping from scratch using the recipe here that will produce much better whipped cream than anything from a can, and it's also quick. The most time-consuming step is making the dollops of whipped cream that cover the top of the pie, but even that’s pretty fun.

    If you’d like to make your pie crust from scratch, I’m including a recipe from my previous Marie Callender’s pie hacks. It’ll add time to your build, but the extra effort will be worth it.

    Try more of my Marie Callender's copycat recipes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
    Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi

    This top entrée pick from Cheesecake Factory is a classic dish, but its preparation is far from traditional, and perhaps that's why it's so popular.

    The creamy scampi sauce is flavored with a handful of whole roasted garlic cloves, plus shallot, basil, and tomato. The shrimp are lightly battered and fried until golden, then arranged upright around the plate to keep their crunching coats from sogging.

    In addition to all the secrets you’ll need to assemble two servings of my Cheesecake Factory Shrimp Scampi copycat recipe, I’ve also included a cool technique for easily roasting the garlic cloves in just 15 to 20 minutes, and you won’t even need to peel the cloves. After your garlic cools, the skins will slip right off.

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Score: 5.00 (votes: 3)
    Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane

    Fans of Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane don’t seem to care that the dish isn’t a traditional take on the classic dish. The restaurant chain’s version is indeed served with mushrooms and medallions of beef tenderloin just like the old-school recipe, but you won’t find any Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cognac, or cream that one would expect in a true Steak Diane. Instead, the chain douses steak with the same Madeira sauce served with its Chicken Madeira entrée, and it's delicious.

    I hacked the chain’s Chicken Madeira many years ago in Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 but was happy for the chance to go back and improve the great sauce. After some fiddling, I came up with an improved formula that calls for less wine and uses a more thorough reduction to intensify the flavors. When shopping for ingredients for my Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane copycat recipe, it's okay to pick the least expensive Madeira wine on the shelf. Just know that Madeira wines have different characteristics, so your final flavor may slightly vary from the restaurant version.

    For your tenderloins, start with thick steaks, since you’ll be slicing the portions in half through the middle, making them thinner. You’ll need 7 to 8 small steak portions to be sliced in half for 14 to 16 medallions. 

    Now, how about dessert? Find my copycat recipes for Cheesecake Factory's signature cheesecakes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip

    It’s creamy and cheesy and doesn’t skimp on shrimp and scallops. Bonefish Grill’s Imperial Dip might very well be the best seafood dip at any chain, and after several visits in the early evening to take advantage of the Happy Hour price, I got even happier when I could construct a great clone.

    Sitting at the bar allowed me to chat up the server and obtain several helpful preparation tips. That’s when I discovered that shrimp stock is the secret to the dip’s great taste. And that’s why my Bonefish Grill Imperial Dip copycat recipe starts with an easy way to make your own stock with the shells harvested from the shrimp that goes in the dip.

    After sautéing the shrimp and scallops, it takes just minutes to prepare a sauce with the shrimp stock, cream, and cheese. Then, everything is combined and poured into a cast iron skillet. After a quick broil to brown the top, you’ll have a great match to the real thing, except your version will be three times bigger.

    You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

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  • Not rated yet
    McDonald's Mambo Sauce

    One of two new sauces McDonald’s debuted in late 2023 is inspired by the famous Washington D.C.-area sauce originally offered at chicken wing restaurants and Chinese takeout joints in the 1960s. The sweet, sour, and spicy mambo sauce—also called mumbo sauce—is used as a dip for all kinds of finger foods including fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, French fries, and eggrolls.

    But McDonald’s only offered the sauce in small blister packs, which were available for about a month. So, if we want to bring back the great flavor of the limited-time-only sauce we'll need a handy home hack. Fortunately, I got my mitts on enough of the sauce before it went away to whip up this exclusive knockoff.

    My McDonald's Mambo Sauce copycat recipe is super easy, requires only common ingredients, and will make 1½ cups of the versatile stuff you can use for dipping anything that needs to be perked up.

    You might also like my clones for McDonald's sweet and spicy jam, hot mustard, sweet and sour, honey mustard, and Szechuan dipping sauces. Find all my McDonald's copycat recipes here.

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  • Not rated yet
    Raising Cane's Sauce

    This chicken finger chain makes a big deal out of its "secret" dipping sauce recipe, even requiring employees to sign a confidentiality agreement to protect any details about the recipe. As far as I can tell, it's a very simply recipe made with just a handful of pretty obvious ingredients. All you do is mix everything together and let it sit for a bit in the fridge. This may not be the exact recipe the chain uses, but it tastes the same, and that's all that matters. 

    Get the full recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Step-by-Step".

    You might also like my bottled Chicken Tender Sauce, inspired by the sauce at Zaxby's and Raising Cane's.

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  • Not rated yet
    Nothing Bundt Cakes White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

    While sharing a Bundt cake one day in 1997, amateur bakers and close friends Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz realized they could do better. After much experimentation, the duo discovered a batter that produced a moist, delicious cake, which was a huge improvement over the dense, dry cake usually associated with Bundts. But they weren’t done yet.

    The next step was to decide how to best frost their new Bundt cake. Traditionally, Bundt cakes are glazed by drizzling warm icing over the top, which drips down the sides and dries there. But the pair didn’t want to use glaze. They had a cream cheese icing they thought tasted better than any glaze, but it took some time to figure out how to apply it. They eventually settled on frosting their Bundts with large piped vertical ropes, so the icing looks like it’s dripping down the outside of the cake.

    To make a Bundt cake that matches the moistness and crumb of the real Nothing Bundt Cake, it’s important to start with the right flour. The cake has more bite to it than one made with only cake flour, but it isn’t as tough as one made with all-purpose flour. That’s why I settled on pastry flour, like the one from Bob’s Red Mill. Pastry flour contains more protein than cake flour, but not as much as all-purpose flour, so it works perfectly here. If you can’t find pastry flour, no need to worry. I’ve got a way for you to hack it by combining cake flour with all-purpose flour in a 2-to-1 ratio.

    The raspberry puree is made from scratch using frozen raspberries and it’s swirled into the batter before the cake goes into the oven. While the cake cools you can make the cream cheese buttercream icing. Get a 1A tip, which is a wide, circular tip for a pastry bag or gun, to make ropes of icing over the top and down the sides of the cake all the way around, just like the original.

    Get this recipe in my book "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" only on Amazon here.

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I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For over 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original copycat recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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