The Hand-Hammered Oven-to-Table Cookware Your Kitchen Is Missing

When Jackson, an assistant buyer here at Food52, unveiled a textured, deeply blue-green skillet with a leggy handle in our weekly product review I was already intrigued. But when he shared that the carbon steel cookware is hand-forged by a small team called Blanc Creatives in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, I was seduced. (As was our Shop—it now carries the cookware.)

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Photo by Rocky Luten

I know Charlottesville for its surprisingly lively and well-regarded dining scene, for hikes in the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains, for a university that attracts prominent authors and poets, politicos, and psychologists, for Bodos Bagels. Unbeknownst to me, Charlottesville and its surrounding counties are also home to a skilled blacksmithing community, according to Corry Blanc, founder and owner of Blanc Creatives.

The expansive valleys surrounding the city are classic horse country, and the demand for fences, gates, and the like feeds the need for metalworkers to provide for these farms (and very expensive homes, at that). Add to that a modest but thriving arts scene, a keen interest in all things local and handmade, and a legion of fine dining chefs, and you have a nexus for the success of Blanc Creatives’ tough-as-nails, artistic cookware.

Blanc Creatives’ saute pans, skillets, and roasters have quickly earned a coveted spot on our shelves—and we don’t make room for just any old piece of cookware. Yes, they’re a financial investment, but we look at them as in investment in our many years of cooking to come, a piece that will become a cherished part of our table. The lived-in, loved-on roaster that your scattered family members look forward to seeing on the holiday table, just as much as the honey-brown chicken inside.

Corry came to Charlottesville in 2007 from Georgia and worked for Stokes of England, a well-known shop providing architectural metalwork to the likes of the Atlantis Resort, before opening his own shop. Working at local restaurants to pay the bills, he took commissions for small projects like gardening tools and bottle openers.

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I couldn't resist a shot of my beloved Shenandoah Valley (taken in December).

And then, Corry made a fry pan. A pretty decent fry pan he thought, and he set out to sell it at the Charlottesville City Market (see question in my notes). Alas, that first Saturday he didn’t sell a single pan. But not to be discouraged, he instead offered the pans to his chef friends, pinning his hopes on word of mouth. Slowly, but steadily, good feedback began to roll in and shortly thereafter he was producing 12 to 15 pans a week, with the help of one assistant. Corry’s first order came from chef Tomas Rahal, the owner of the eternally popular Mas restaurant, and somewhat of a Charlottesville institution. Tomas remains one of Blanc Creatives’ best customers, always one of the first to order any new pieces available.

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The humble, hard-working shop.

Blanc Creatives’ big break came in 2015, when they won the overall prize in the annual Garden & Gun Made in the South Awards, which seeks out the best Southern-made products in home, food, style, crafts, outdoor, and drink. From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to the kitchens of fine dining restaurants all over the U.S.—Dan Barber’s Blue Hill and tasting menu darling Contra in New York City, just to name a few.

a walk through the workshop

Corry and his team graciously allowed me to crash a day of their work to visit (and poke around) the small garage Blanc Creatives call home. Corry and I sat perched on stools in a corner of the workshop as the business of hammering and heating ticked on a few feet to the left.

Behind two roll-down doors, a team of ten hand-produces 50 pieces of the cookware a week, “80 if we’re really gunning.” Corry walked me through the entire process, snaking and looping around each station like a football playbook.

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Round, round, get-a round, we got some rounds.

Each carbon steel pan begins as a laser cut disc, sourced from nearby Richmond and sent protected with a layer of iron oxide. Each disc comes cut to a specific size, depending on the pan it will eventually become (12-inch skillet? 9-inch roaster? Time will tell).

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Look closely and you can see the lighter-colored disc sitting on top of the ring. The cylindrical piece looming above will smush it down.

The discs are transferred to a hydraulic press, where they sit on a metal ring perfectly sized to suit each pan. A cylindrical press lowers down and applies 15 tons of pressure onto the disc pushing its center down to create the basic shape, a flat bottom with curved sides.

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We've got sides!!

The crude beginning of the pan is handed off to the blacksmith manning the forge. The pan is carefully placed inside the ferociously hot mouth of the oven until it pulses a glowing, living red. The iron oxide layer is burned off in this process.

The pan is now malleable enough so yet another blacksmith can hammer the heck out of it on the anvil, shaping the sides to give each the distinctive look of a Blanc Creatives skillet, saucier, or roaster, and, of course, reveal its own unique variations.

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The forge: "Feed meeeee."

Next stop: the most dangerous tool in the Shop. An intimidating porcupine-like wire brush is used to burnish, or finish, the edges of the pan. Sparks encouraged.

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Actual quote: "Make sure to get the sparks in the picture!"

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Getting there!

Giving the pan its handle is next on the list. Each is handle is hand-hammered so it perfectly curves around the side of each pan until it lines up precisely. Holes are drilled in. The rivets are placed inside. As opposed to the earlier hammering that took place right out of the forge, this entire process is done “cold” hammered: working with the steel at room temperature. The metal warms up with each blow (hello middle school science!) but gets nowhere near as hot as the post-forge action.

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Baby's got curves.

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Cold hammering: better than a stress ball.

From there, the pan is given a blast of sand in the appropriately-named sand blasting cabinet, removing mill scale (flakes on the steel as a result of the hot forging) and small surface imperfections. It goes back in the hands of the team, who give the surface a final, exacting polish with the wire-brush for a smooth finish.

This is a sensitive time for the pans, because the iron oxide has all been burnished off and they are left without any protection from moisture, oxygen, and rusting. They must go back in a kiln (this can happen in large batches) and baked at high heat for another forty minutes. Heat reacts with the steel to regenerate the layer of iron oxide that has since been removed from the initial disc. This reaction gives the pans their signature blue-ish, green-ish, black-ish shade.

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The best internship ever.

Finally, the pans get a rub down with coconut oil while the pans are still hot—the oil seeps into the pores while it cools and gives it a nice pre-seasoned nonstick.

There you have it: the pans are ready to be on their way to your next great meal.

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Left: Blanc Creatives logos stamped onto muslin bags; Right: Shelves of pans ready to be shipped

why carbon steel?

Carbon steel cooks very similarly to cast iron. It retains heat well, gets more nonstick each time you use it, and develops its own characteristic patina over time.

But Corry points out a few key differences between cast iron and carbon steel:

  • Carbon steel is more lightweight than cast iron, so you won’t feel the need to do bicep curls in order to handle it.
  • Carbon steel is typically slicker than traditional, rougher cast iron (although not in the case of our silky smooth Smithey pan) for a nonstick surface with even more give.
  • Iron is very brittle, which is why cast iron pans are made as one single piece. The metal can’t accommodate hammering, bending, or stretching, and the handle is shorter to prevent breakage and cracking. And because the handle is a contiguous part of the pan, it picks up the heat of the cooktop quickly for a more burn-prone cooking experience. Carbon steel, on the other hand, is malleable enough to support a two-piece design, allowing for a slight air pocket between handle and pan, resulting in a cooler handle. Blanc Creatives’ handle is long and lithe, so you can steer clear of hot flames, and even have easier access to back burner cooking.
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Photo by Rocky Luten

And why these carbon steel pans? For one, look at them. Almost jewel-like in color, each pan bears the exacting hits of a metalworkers hammer leaving a dappled texture. The handles are like a ballet dancer’s legs, swooping and graceful but incredibly strong. From the thinned, delicate rim, to the arched opening the riveted handle creates, every corner and curve of the pans have received the concentrated, earnest attention of a team of artists’ eyes and hands.

Take a cue from the chefs who’ve adopted these beauties as part of their cookware cabal, who use it as a back-of-the-house to front-of-the-house piece. Imagine delivering a rosemary-perfumed leg of lamb to your family table in the roaster: It’s a stop-in-your-tracks piece of art, rustic charm married with rugged utility.

All images by author unless otherwise noted.

The Trouble Brewing Over a ‘Beer for Her’

A Czech beer company has entered the running for maker of arguably the most unnecessarily gendered product of all time.

Billed as a “premium lifestyle beer” that’s allegedly brewed in a castle in the Czech Republic, Aurosa comes in a marbled gray bottle, modeled on Instagram against backdrops that are almost entirely you-know-what pink, and according to its website, is the first-ever “beer for her” as well as a “representation of a woman’s strength and a girl’s tenderness,” which is a) confusing and b) kinda gross.

Christmas time at @luxurybagsprague ❤️

A post shared by Aurosa (@aurosa_official) on

The description continues, “the two contrasting tempers, present in the female essence, are depicted through the elegant design yet the strong, unfiltered taste.” But wait, there’s more!

Here’s where “Aurosa for Her” starts to bill itself the lager of leaning in: “Aurosa was born to prove that women can succeed anywhere without having to adapt and sacrifice their natural femininity. Women have been disregarded in the beer industry but owing to determination and faith in herself, Aurosa is set to redefine the perception of beer.”

“She stands for all phenomenal women, she stands for all their successes and beautiful moments. She is here to remind them how important and exceptional they are. She is here to celebrate femininity in all its forms. Aurosa is a beer created by woman for women.”

The whole thing is cloying in its attempt to use fake feminism as a sales technique when really, all Aurosa wants women to do is lean into all those times people asked us “Are you sure you can finish that whole thing by yourself?” and everything that ever followed the phase, ‘For a girl, you’re pretty good at…”

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The Women Who Feed Us
by Sarah E Daniels

This whole mess was flying pretty much under the radar until last week, when Aurosa debuted in the UK, accompanied by the hashtag #BeerForHer.”

As it turns out, women had a strong and not particularly tender response to the discovery that all the beer they’ve ever had up to this point was apparently only intended for male consumption.

What do you think of a ‘beer for her’? Tell us in the comments.

The Salty, Sour, Spicy Sauce In Every Mexican Ice Cream Shop

Yes, Mexican cuisine is filled with intense heat and fiery flavors. But what’s perhaps the most quintessentially Mexican taste is a bit more complex—sweet, salty, sour, and spicy.

Chamoy is kind of like the Mexican umami,” says Fany Gerson, who features the sauce in her latest cookbook Mexican Ice Cream. “It’s very common in Mexico to add chile, lime, and salt to fruits and vegetables as a snack. This is the same idea, but in liquid form.”

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Add Chamoy to Your Bar Cart, Get a Salty, Spicy, Umami Margarita
by Adriana

Made from salted preserved apricots or plums, chamoy is naturally sour and spiked with chiles for varying degrees of heat. People eat both the pickled fruits or the liquid on its own. The bright red sauce is often used as a topping on fruit-based frozen treats, similar to sprinkles or fudge sauce.

“The origins are uncertain, but it is believed to have been derived from Japanese umeboshi, or salted preserved plums,” Gerson says. Chamoy became more popular in the last 20 years, with heladerías (ice cream parlors) pouring the sauce over fruit-forward or acidic nieves de agua (sorbets). But Gerson doesn’t recommend adding chamoy to any ice cream because the acid can make it curdle.

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For many Mexicans, chamoy is a nostalgic flavor, and homemade versions lack that processed deliciousness they expect. Gerson tried to experiment with her own chamoy recipe, but, ultimately, decided store-bought tasted best. You can buy chamoy at Latin American markets, or order it online.

To try chamoy at home, Gerson recommends pairing it with flavors from her book like cucumber, hibiscus, watermelon, peach, mixed berries, or lime. If you insist on sampling the sauce on ice cream, Gerson says coconut will be your best bet. Check out some of our favorite frozen recipes that we think will pair well with this Mexican treat.

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Strawberry, Rhubarb, and Lime Ice Pops
by Isadora

For more ice cream recipes, tips, and saves for when things go awry, check out Ice Cream & Friends, our cookbook dedicated to ice cream and all its pals: pops, gelato, milkshakes—sprinkles, cones, and so much more.

Have you tried chamoy? What flavors do you pair with it?

Starting Today, Whole Foods Is Selling Wine for as Low as $8

A quick Friday PSA: Starting today, Whole Foods stores across the country are selling graciously-discounted wines until this Sunday, July 23. It’s featuring 16 different wines, ranging from subtle rosés to canned Chardonnays to “chillable reds,” that belong to the store’s Sommelier Selects list, curated by in-house sommelier Devon Broglie. The store’s offering a 20 percent discount on these wines—the cheapest variety goes for $8, and almost all, barring one 1.5 mL Magnum of rosé, go for under $20.

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One of the Best Wines in the World Is an $8 Rosé
by Mayukh Sen

The chillable reds, along with Broglie’s notes, include:

  • Lieubeau Cabernet Franc: “Lively, fresh, and full of berry notes,” Broglie says.
  • Santa Julia Tintillo: Broglie attributes its vibrancy to Malbec and Bonarda grapes.
  • Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile: It’s on the sweeter side, “fruity” and “frothy.”
  • Tendu California Red Wine: “Fresh, irreverent, delicious,” Broglie claims—a fine set of traits!
  • Planeta Frappato: As aromatic as rose petals.
  • Jadot Beaujolais-Villages Combe Aux Jacques: Best cold, Broglie says, so its “delicate floral and fruit notes” are preserved.
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5 Wine Myths That Should be Put to Rest
by Tamara Lover, D.W.S.

As for the other offerings:

  • Le Pillon Gascogne: Broglie likens its mouthfeel to that of a “freshly-picked green apple.”
  • Bieler Family Daisy Pinot Grigio Blend: “Intense, peachy, racy,” Broglie boasts. “Perfect outside with ceviche or fish tacos.”
  • El Terrano Albariño: A fine companion to paella or grilled shrimp.
  • West Side Wine Co. Chardonnay: A canned cold wine, ideal for the beach.
  • Charles & Charles Rosé: “Ten glasses of wine in each magnum—party on!” he encourages. “Spicy, floral, fresh berries. I like it with Mediterranean food… or fried chicken.”
  • Monterustico Piemonte Rosso: Broglie lauds it for its “intense structure.”
  • OTWC (Oregon Trails Wine Company) Pinot Noir: An ideal accompaniment to grilled salmon, with notes of rosemary, plum, and “just a hint of cherry cola.”
  • Bodini Cielo Rojo Red Blend: Rich and fruity, according to Broglie, it goes well with carne asada or grilled sausage.
  • Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon: “Dense, ripe, toasty,” Broglie says, adding it’s best with flank steak.
  • Vacanze Italiane Prosecco: It’s got the taste of peaches and apricots.
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Image courtesy Whole Foods Market.

These sound rather lovely. Please note that the discount, of course, applies to all Whole Foods stores across America that sell wine—approximately 400 of the chain’s 445 US stores, per a Whole Foods representative I spoke to earlier today. The closest Whole Foods location to me that sells wine is over in the Upper West Side in Manhattan. If you do live near a location that stocks wine, though, mosey on over before the weekend comes to an end.

Read more about the sale here.

How to Make Any Muffin Into A Blueberry Muffin

Blueberries straight from the pint—does it get much better? Oh, it does. We partnered with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to share simple, flavorful recipes that are sweet, savory, and everything in between. Today: Blueberry muffins, every which way, from our resident baker Erin McDowell.

If asked about my favorite muffin, I’m likely to say blueberry. It brings me back to my earliest memories of berry picking: tossing four in my basket, then six in my mouth. Then, with baskets full of berry spoils, heading home to decide what to make with them. The answer, almost every time: blueberry muffins. Sweet and tender with a crispy top and plenty of juicy pockets of the good stuff inside.

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Learn all the ways to blueb up your muffins below!
Photo by James Ransom, Graphic by Tim McSweeney

But why do traditional blueberry muffins get to have all the fun? Like with so many simple baking recipes, muffin recipes are perfect for tweaking—and you can add a dose of sweetness, gorgeous color, and those famous health benefits to almost any flavor your heart desires. Check out my fave combos above and then read all my my tips for perfect blueberry muffins, every time:

Prep your blueberries

The best blueberries are so good for a reason: They’re chock full of juice. This juice makes the seemingly small ones pretty heavy, and therefore extremely likely to sink inside your otherwise perfectly-mixed muffin batter. To prevent this disaster, just toss your blueberries in a tiny bit of flour before you add them to the batter. My golden rule is to take about 1 tablespoon of flour out of the amount dictated by the recipe for every 1 cup of blueberries. For particularly juicy berries, you can also toss them in a light dusting of cornstarch (toss the berries in 1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch to coat, then add the berries and discard any leftover starch – do not add to the recipe).

Mix gently

Blueberries are delicate! If you mix too hard, they’ll burst. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like the swirly effect, but their deep pigment can discolor your batter in a heartbeat! To avoid this, mix in blueberries at the very end of the mixing process, and use a wide, flexible spatula to gently fold them in. If your recipe has you mixing your batter with an electric mixer, mix it fully, then add the blueberries in by hand.

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Perfect Blueberry Streusel Muffins
by Posie Harwood

Substitutions welcome

If you have a favorite muffin recipe that uses fresh fruit—it’s easy to substitute blueberries instead. For other berries, you can substitute in equal quantities. For larger fruits, try to think of things in terms of volume. If 1 peach gives you about 3/4 cup chopped fruit, then sub in 3/4 cup blueberries to replace it. Or just wing it—there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing—at least when that thing is really delicious in-season fruit.

Go halfsies

If you’re trying to decide what kind of fruit to use—don’t compromise! Blueberries pair perfectly with many other fruits (and even veggies; talkin’ to you, zucchini muffin fans!). The easiest route is to go half and half—reduce the fruit additions in the existing recipe by half and substitute an equal amount of blueberries for the half you removed.

Add other fresh flavors

Muffins are practically a blank canvas for which to add your creative stamp—and in some ways, almost anything goes! Some of my favorite additions to fruity muffins include citrus zest (lemon, lime, or orange) and fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, or basil). They’re such simple, delicious additions to many muffins that really kick the flavor up a notch.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
by sweet enough

Mix it up, spice-wise

Sure, cinnamon is pretty much a muffin standard—but don’t be afraid think outside the box. Other warm baking spices can make perfect additions, like cloves, nutmeg, and ginger to name a few. But I also like to add a little kick of cayenne on occasion, for a surprising twist!

Search your pantry for inspiration

When in doubt, take a look at what you’ve got on hand. Some of my favorite combinations have come as a result of what I’ve just had lying around! Got a handful of nuts leftover from another recipe? They add a great crunch to muffins (I especially love pistachios, almonds, and pine nuts with blueberries). Some already toasted coconut handy? Add it in! Don’t forget dried fruit, as it pairs great with fresh! Golden raisins, for example, make a lovely addition to blueberry muffins. I especially like the little kick that some chopped candied ginger adds to my favorite blueberry muffins.

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Chocolate Streusel is the Secret to Great Banana Muffins
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Don’t forget a garnish

My always muffin rule: A sprinkling of coarse sugar on top of the batter just before baking results in an amazing, crispy, lightly caramel-y top crust that I adore. Turbinado, demerara, or sanding sugar are all fair game in my book. Or when you like a little sweet-salty thing going on, try adding a sprinkling of coarse sea salt to the tippity top of your muffin for a serious win. And don’t forget the trusty BFF of many muffins: glorious, glorious streusel.

Variations to try

Numbers correspond to the infographic above!

1. Carrot: Add 1 cup blueberries and reduce golden raisins to 3/4 cup (this combo is delicious, actually!).
2. Bran: Replace raisins with blueberries and add 1/2 teaspoon of cloves to dry ingredients.
3. Zucchini: Add 1 cup blueberries and use pine nuts instead of pecans.
4. Lemon Poppy Seed: Add 1 1/2 cup blueberries and 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme.
5. Corn: Add 1 1/4 cups blueberries, 3/4 cup chopped pistachios, and use butter instead of bacon fat.
6. Coconut: Replace cherries with blueberries and add 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger to the batter.
7. Banana: Add 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup toasted chopped (or sliced) almonds to the batter, and/or 1/3 cup of sliced almonds to the streusel.
8. Chocolate Chunk: Add 1 1/4 cup blueberries to the batter and garnish the tops with a pinch of cayenne pepper or flaky salt spicy, for salty chocolate-blueberry combo.

What is your favorite blueberry muffin combo? Tell us in the comments!

We partnered with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to bring you a slew of simple, flavorful recipes you can pop blueberries into easy-peasy. Get more recipes, ideas, and tips for blueberries here.

This article links to other articles not associated with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.