Stories behind the most memorable Friends food — plus recipes!
There’s the coffee at Central Perk and that iconic orange sofa; the fountain from the opening credits; and of course, the haircut that will always be known as “The Rachel” – but a less definable, equally memorable aspect of Friends was its food.
For a show about a group of friends being there for each other through life’s ups and downs, of course food is going to enter into the picture. What’s friendship without a shared meal (or two or hundreds)? From Rachel’s enduringly disgusting “traditional” English trifle to Ross’s “Moist Maker” sandwich to Phoebe’s coveted family cookie recipe, there’s no shortage of memorable meals in the show’s expansive 10-year history.
So, as we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Friends’ game-changing debut on NBC, let’s pull up a chair and prepare to tuck in to the stories behind some of the show’s most nourishing moments meant to satisfy everyone from the world’s worst cooks (cough, Rachel) to the epicures of the planet (hi, Monica). While Joey might not share food, we’re more than happy to, so we’ve also included recipes for each of the meals we’ve chosen to highlight, straight from the pages of Teresa Finney’s The One with All the Recipes: An Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of Friends.
Rachel’s “Traditional” English Trifle
Season 6 gave us one of Friends’ most iconic food moments ever – Rachel’s attempt at making Thanksgiving dessert gone horribly wrong. In “The One Where Ross Got High,” Rachel volunteers to make a traditional English trifle, but when the pages of her cookbook stick together, she accidentally makes half of a trifle and half of a shepherd’s pie.
The error is uncovered as Rachel explains the layers of the dish to Ross and Joey. “It’s a trifle. It’s got all of these layers. First, there’s a layer of ladyfingers, then a layer of jam, then custard, which I made from scratch,” she rattles off. “Raspberries, more ladyfingers. Then beef sautéed with peas and onions. Then more custard, and then bananas, and then I just put some whipped cream on top.” It’s that line that sold the Friends writers on the entire concept actually. “We knew that one line would be so funny,” episode writer Greg Malins tells EW. “We just knew that would be a killer and that’s when we knew we had to do this.”
But where did the idea of combining these two dishes into a gourmet disaster come from? Malins says it stemmed from some confusion in the writer’s room about what a trifle actually was – some of the writers had mixed it up with tripe (the edible lining of a cow or sheep’s stomach). “We were like, ‘Doesn’t a trifle have meat in it?’ We’re like, ‘No, it’s got pudding in it.’ You have to understand back then there’s no internet, and there weren’t a lot of cooking shows on TV,” Malins tells EW.
After that disgusting mix-up, a genius story idea was born, but initially it was dismissed for being too outlandish. “There’s no way I can write this so that it’s believable,” Malins recollects thinking. “All credit to this, and everything else in life, goes to the cast. Because we could write the craziest s— and then they could make it believable every time.”
Once the decision was made to plow ahead with the idea, Malins says it was as simple as merging the two recipes for shepherd’s pie and trifle. “It seemed to me peas was the funniest thing to put in the dessert trifle and then you throw a little beef in there,” he explains.
One of the scene’s best moments was actually a stroke of genius from actor David Schwimmer. As Ross and Joey scarf down the meal to try to get out of there, Ross chokes and says, “It tastes like feet.” Schwimmer approached Malins and suggested the line during the run-through. “That was one-thousand percent David Schwimmer’s idea, and it was super, super funny,” he says. “I laughed right then when he pitched it.”
His other favorite line, Joey’s praise of the dish (“What’s not to like? Custard? Good! Jam? Good! Meat? Good!”), was a collaboration between actor Matt LeBlanc and Malins. “Of course Joey is going to like it,” he laughs. “I’m sure we both added things to that line.” LeBlanc also later revealed he accidentally ate some of Schwimmer’s regurgitated food thanks to a mix-up while shooting.
The final piece of the puzzle was making sure the dish looked right onscreen. “We did say at the production meeting that it should not look gross,” explains Malins. “Because Rachel needed to think she did it right and made a beautiful dessert. If someone puts beef and peas in a trifle, you can’t make that believable – but that cast made everything work.”
If you’d like your own spin on Rachel’s trifle, we’ve got a recipe for you – don’t worry, there’s no meat (so even Phoebe can enjoy it).
The shredded coconut in here is meant to represent the ground beef in a shepherd’s pie—should you accidentally combine two different Thanksgiving recipes into one! Don’t worry, your friends will love this dessert and no one will complain that it tastes like feet.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings • Prep time: 25 minutes • Chill time: 1 to 8 hours
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups instant vanilla pudding (half of a 3.4-ounce box)
1½ cups unsweetened shredded coconut
6 tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread
24 ounces pound cake, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
24 ounces fresh raspberries, washed and dried
fresh mint springs (optional)
To make the trifle:
- Into the bowl of a stand mixer set to high speed, or using a hand mixer, pour the heavy cream. Mix on high speed until soft peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator while you continue making the trifle.
- Prepare the instant vanilla pudding according to package instructions. Refrigerate while you continue with the recipe.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir the coconut and chocolate hazelnut spread to combine. Set aside.
To assemble the trifle:
- Place about half of the pound cake in a 7½-inch glass trifle dish or a large glass bowl. Spoon about half of the raspberry jam on top of the pound cake and spread using an offset spatula or butter knife.
- Spoon half of the vanilla pudding on top of the jam, then top with a layer of the coconut and chocolate hazelnut mixture. Spoon about half of the whipped cream on top of the coconut and chocolate hazelnut. Top this layer with half of the fresh raspberries.
- Repeat with the remaining ingredients, to the brim of the dish.
- Let chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
- Top with fresh mint sprigs, if desired, right before serving
While no one wanted to eat Rachel’s trifle, Rachel and Chandler couldn’t get enough of Mama’s Little Bakery cheesecakes. In the aptly named “The One With All the Cheesecakes” from season 7, Rachel and Chandler become obsessed with a cheesecake accidentally delivered to his door. So obsessed that they then steal another one from in front of their neighbor Mrs. Braverman’s door and eventually resort to eating it off the floor. The idea for the story came from a slightly-less-sweet mix-up.
“Somebody on staff had got sent a box of fruit that was not for him, and he ate it with the justification that by the time he tracked down the person it was supposed to go to, it would have gone bad. So he was really doing the world a favor,” writer Shana Goldberg-Meehan tells EW. “We thought fruit was not tempting enough. We needed something better than fruit.”
For Goldberg-Meehan, it was a pretty simple storyline. “They have to keep upping the stakes and eating it off the floor seemed like the logical ending,” she explains. “Writers are super into food. There were definitely people who have eaten stuff off the floor in that room.”
The pay-off of the entire scenario comes, as food-related storylines so often did, through Joey. When he happens upon Rachel and Chandler picking bites of cheesecake off the floor, he doesn’t chastise them but instead kneels down, pulls out a fork, and asks, “What are we having?”
Goldberg-Meehan says co-creator David Crane was initially extremely resistant to that comedic button. “I remember David being like ‘He’s not a cartoon. He doesn’t see giant hams in people’s eyes. He’s a human being. He doesn’t walk around with a fork in his pocket,’” she recounts. “But on the second take, he let us try it, and it got a really good reaction. He was like, ‘You know what? I guess Joey’s a human who does walk around with a fork in his pocket.’ He let us keep the moment, even though it was probably a little bit larger than stuff we normally did.”
One side effect of a cheesecake heavy storyline? A LOT of cheesecake on set. “We went through a lot of cheesecake, and there was cheesecake at the craft services table for people who were craving it after seeing it so much on set,” Goldberg-Meehan remembers. For people craving it? Or just a way to get rid of excess prop food? We may never know.
If this story has you craving some floor cheesecake of your own, pull a fork out of your pocket and try this recipe.
This cheesecake is so good, you’ll be willing to cheat, lie, or steal for it. Just as long as you don’t resort to eating it off the floor…. Ideas for cheesecake toppings are caramel, chocolate or berry sauce, and whipped cream.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings • Prep time: 10 minutes • Cook time: 68 minutes
• Chill time: 8 hours
For the graham cracker crust:
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9 sheets of graham crackers)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup granulated sugar
For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce) blocks full-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
juice of 1 small lemon
3 large eggs, room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.
- Pour the graham cracker crumbs into a medium mixing bowl, add the melted butter and ¼ cup sugar, and stir to combine with a rubber spatula. Press the graham cracker crust mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared springform pan.
- Prebake the crust for 8 minutes, remove from the oven, and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Allow to cool slightly.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer set to medium speed or using a hand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the sour cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice, and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition but be mindful not to overmix.
- To make a water bath, boil a medium pot of water. While the water is boiling, wrap the aluminum foil around the sides of the springform pan. Pour the cheesecake batter on top of the graham cracker crust, using a rubber spatula to spread the mixture evenly.
- Place the springform pan inside a large roasting pan. Carefully pour the boiled water about an inch up the sides of the roasting pan. Place in the oven and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the center of the cheesecake is nearly set. Remove from oven and set aside while you make the frosting.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk the sour cream, remaining sugar, and vanilla until well blended; carefully spread over cheesecake. Bake cheesecake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the frosting has set.
- Turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake inside and open the oven door slightly. Let the cheesecake cool down inside the oven for 1 hour. Remove and let cool at room temperature.
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours before slicing and serving.
Ross’s “Moist Maker” Sandwich
While Joey might not share food, Ross is perhaps even more possessive about his meals – particularly his Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich, which includes an extra gravy-soaked piece of bread he’s dubbed the “Moist Maker.”
In season 5’s “The One With Ross’s Sandwich,” an already on-the-edge Ross snaps when his boss steals his sandwich from the work fridge (and worst of all, threw most of it away).
Writers Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen say the idea for the Thanksgiving sandwich came from their own childhoods. “Everyone could relate to loving that leftover sandwich, and it being one of the best parts [of Thanksgiving],” Cohen tells EW.
Though the sandwich was there from very early outlines, the name “moist maker” came later, though neither Cohen nor Reich remembers exactly where it came from. “We didn’t call it the ‘moist maker’ in the outlines, but we did have the gravy-soaked piece of bread in the middle in there,” says Reich. “It could’ve been that we were looking for a detail that made this really special and I came up with that, but it’s not like we had a test kitchen in the writers’ room.”
While How I Met Your Mother immortalized “moist” as the worst word of all time, Reich and Cohen say they purposely chose the name to have an icky feeling. “It’s a really gross word,” says Cohen. “It’s always been a gross word.” But Reich isn’t so sure it inspired quite the level of disgust it does today, saying, “Now it’s just shorthand for hated word. I don’t remember at the time if it was reviled.”
Part of what has made the sandwich so memorable is Ross’s outsized reaction to it. When he finally learns his boss was the one who ate it, he blows up, a response so over-the-top he scares away the pigeons in the park in a cut-away shot. But that’s probably Reich and Cohen’s least favorite part of the storyline. “That was the best way we could think of to rescue the story from seeming insane,” says Cohen, while Reich adds, “What were you going to see him leap over the table and attack his boss? We had to get out of that scene, but there was always something that feels not great about cutting outside and seeing those pigeons flying off.”
More than that, there are those who point to Ross’s explosive response as an example of toxic, entitled behavior that leads them to hate on the character. But Reich defends the character choice, saying, “Yes, it’s big, but on the other hand, he’s just been divorced again. Part of this is where it happens in his arc. He’s at such a low moment, and he’s just hanging on to At least I have this delicious sandwich. It’s not really about the sandwich; it’s all the stuff with Emily and everything that has led up to it. It’s so easy to s— on Ross, but man [Schwimmer] is so funny.”
As Ross himself forlornly tells Chandler, “Look I’m 30 years old. I’m going to be divorced twice and I just got evicted. That sandwich was the only good thing going on in my life.” So if you also need a bright spot in your life courtesy of the “moist maker,” try this recipe.
Relive Thanksgiving the next day with this oh-so-good creation. This sandwich is made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey and an extra slice of gravy-soaked bread right in the middle, making the concoction marvelously moist. A sandwich this good is steal-worthy, though, so make sure you label it with your name!
Yield: 1 serving • Prep time: 5 minutes • Cook time: 2 minutes
3 slices white bread
4 ounces turkey, thinly sliced
½ cup leftover turkey stuffing
½ cup turkey gravy
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, warm the gravy, about 2 minutes.
- Place one slice of white bread on a small shallow dish. Spoon half of the turkey gravy on top of the bread and let soak completely while you prepare the rest of the sandwich.
- Place 2 ounces of sliced turkey on a slice of white bread.
- Top with some of the turkey stuffing, then spoon a little of the turkey gravy on top of the stuffing.
- Using either your fingers or a spatula, place the gravy-soaked slice of bread on top of the stuffing on the first slice.
- Place the remaining turkey and stuffing on the gravy-soaked bread, and top the sandwich with the third slice of bread. Serve immediately.
Phoebe’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
In season 7’s “The One With Phoebe’s Cookies,” Monica goes to great lengths to try to unlock the secret of Phoebe’s coveted family cookie recipe – only to discover that the recipe is the one on the back of the chocolate chip package and Phoebe just believed Nestlé Toulouse (that’s Nestle Tollhouse to everyone else) to be the name of her great-grandmother.
It’s a classic Friends reveal, but one that was a last-minute flash of inspiration from staff writer Cohen. “We were looking for an end to that story. It was stumping us a little bit, and we had tried a bunch of things,” he tells EW. “I can’t remember where it came from. We’d done some things like that with Phoebe before where it’s not that she’s dense, it’s just that she’s not as culturally educated as everyone else.”
“She’s such an eccentric, out-there character that her believing that seemed real and believable,” adds episode co-writer Sherry Bilsing-Graham. “Her slow realization we knew would be fun.”
“It really just came from – it is a French company; it’s got the accent on the end of it,” Cohen elaborates on how it came to be. “Sometimes the brain works in weird ways, and it’s very hard to go back and recreate it. I’d like to say it was well-thought-out, but it was probably just something I blurted out.”
For the entire writers’ room, they knew they had gold after the first table read. “[Lisa Kudrow] read it without flinching and got a huge laugh and so we knew it was going to work at that moment,” Bilsing-Graham says.
In no way was the gag an intentional bit of in-show advertising. “A lot of people think there were these very crass product placements that we did, but it never really worked that way,” says Cohen. But regardless, it did result in an unexpected benefit for the writing staff — a bunch of free Nestle Tollhouse products at the office. “It was ridiculous,” says Malins. “[It was] literally 200 boxes of Nestle Tollhouse cookie mix that were delivered to the office.”
“It was overly generous,” Bilsing-Graham adds, laughing. “They were thrilled with it.” And she says, now she can’t make the classic chocolate chip cookies without thinking about the sitcom moment. “Every time I see the name I think of the first time Ted pitched it and my realization of what he was saying,” she reflects. “It was just as funny as watching Phoebe say it on TV and realizing what she’s saying. You can’t help but remember it.”
You could always just go look at the back of a Nestle Tollhouse bag, but we have a recipe for you just in case.
This is a truly classic and delicious chocolate chip cookie. The recipe is from the back of a popular company’s chocolate chip bag and definitely not from anyone’s “French” aunt. You no longer need to experiment with tons of different recipes to find the perfect one!
Yield: 5 dozen cookies • Prep time: 10 minutes • Bake time: 9 to 11 minutes
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup nuts (your preference), chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, gently whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt just to combine. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer set to medium speed, or using a hand mixer, cream the butter for 1 minute. Add both sugars and continue to cream until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Crack in the eggs, add the vanilla, and mix to combine.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low
- Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using, by hand using a rubber spatula.
- Drop by rounded tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the edges have begun to crisp and the cookies are golden brown.
- Let cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to a cooling rack.