When made just right, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food: smooth, creamy, warm and filling.
But how to get them perfectly smooth and creamy?
You could try a modernist technique pioneered by food writer Jeffrey Steingarten and refined by the British chef Heston Blumenthal. It adds a step, but it is worth it.
Steingarten discovered that gently heating the potatoes for a half hour in warm water before they are boiled improves the result.
This is because as the potatoes soak in water at about 160 degrees, the starch in them gelatinizes, producing a smoother puree on the tongue. The granules that contain the starch also firm up, making it harder to rupture them during mashing.
The trick is using diastatic malt powder. It is a powder frequently used in baked goods. It develops enzymes, which digest starches into sugar. When it is used in baked goods, it tends to result in sweeter, smoother and higher rises.
Modernist Potato Puree
Start to finish: 2 hours. Makes 4 cups.
2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons salt, plus additional for seasoning
1 1/3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon diastatic malt powder
Fill a large pot halfway with hot water. Set over low heat. Maintain the temperature at 125 degrees.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes.
Measure out 7 1/3 cups. Place the potatoes in a second large pot with about 2 quarts of water. Add the salt and sugar, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are very tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
Drain the potatoes, then transfer them to a food processor. Add the malt powder, then process until smooth and sticky.
Transfer to a large zip-close plastic bag, pressing out as much air. Place the bag of potatoes in the pot of 125 degrees water and cook for 30 minutes.
Empty the potatoes from the bag into a clean pot, then heat gently to at least 167 degree. Season with salt and serve immediately.