My egg machine is a squat ovoid in a gleamy mint-green, like something the Jetsons would display proudly in their glassy space house, or like a giggly Pixar character that would be voiced by Jenny Slate. It looks simultaneously vintage and made right now—right this minute—to really “pop” on Instagram, where très mignons appliances in Easter-egg hues rule supreme. It defies all of my steadfast kitchen rules: no single-use doodads, nothing that came via Internet-influencer girlbossery, nothing that clogs precious countertop space in a New York apartment. And yet, here I am, every morning, making myself a fussy little breakfast with my fussy little egg machine. I have become something of an evangelist, a convert to the practice of Effortful Breakfast. You don’t need an egg machine to indulge in this practice, but it helps, especially if, like me, you never really learned how to properly soft-boil an egg.
I don’t come from a family of egg people. When I was growing up, my dad’s breakfast was a rotating selection of PowerBars, which he would buy in bulk from Costco and eat in the car on the way to work. My mother tended to skip breakfast and mainline black coffee instead. Maybe there would be a plastic mini-cup of yogurt, or a piece of toast smeared with the lightest wisp of Country Crock. Eggs were not a common indulgence in my house, let alone a daily breakfast staple. As such, I came to associate them with special occasions: the eggs Benedict I would order when we would have my grandfather’s annual birthday lunch at the golf course; the salty, cheesy omelettes a friend’s mother would make when I spent the night; a steaming Sterno dish of poofy scrambled eggs in a bottomless-brunch buffet at a middling hotel. It was not until I moved to New York, in my twenties, and started living off of greasy bodega bacon and egg sandwiches, that I understood that eggs could be a non-event, or even a total disappointment. I tried occasionally to re-create the egg breakfasts that I’d considered so exciting in my youth, and for the most part I failed. My yolks were overcooked, my whites slimy. The delicate act of poaching—and the confusing debate swirling around whether one should glug white vinegar into the roiling water—was more or less out of the question. I technically could cook an egg for myself, and it would be totally fine, but after enough rubbery centers I didn’t see the point. Mornings at home were for English muffins with a scoop of marmalade, or muesli with a splash of almond milk. Low-risk stuff. Foolproof.
A few years ago—in another life, before the pandemic—I began a seasonal ritual of checking myself into a local hotel to write. I never pre-planned a single stay. I simply waited until the urge to escape my apartment had grown from a low hum to something like a timpani drum charging through my brain, then decided it was time. I would click open the HotelTonight app and check in anywhere that looked halfway decent and was half off the normal price. I checked into the Bryant Park Hotel, the Arthouse Hotel, and Hotel St. James. The Shelburne. The Evelyn. The Lucerne. I’d stay for one or two nights, ostensibly to hammer home a big deadline with zero distractions, but really what I was paying for was the sudden escape from my routine, which shocked my system like a cold shower. Also, solitude, quiet, and the ability to read a novel at a hotel bar and tell the bartender to charge a Martini directly to my room. Plus, I went for the breakfast.
Is there any other simple indulgence as satisfying as a room-service hotel breakfast? You eat it in a bed, atop fresh sheets. The coffee, in one of those swirled plastic thermoses, seems endless. You can order eggs any way you like. Deb Perelman, of Smitten Kitchen, makes a homemade version she calls “castle breakfast,” modelled on the meals she ordered on a tour of castles turned hotels in Ireland: “The teapots and civility, the sunny rooms, the little jars of jam, the fresh fruit, so ideal for grazers like me.” During the height of the pandemic, staring at the walls of my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, I began to obsessively daydream about going to hotels again. I started to make Perelman’s version of castle breakfast, with scones and clotted creams and persnickety little pots of preserves impulse-ordered online at 2 A.M. But what I kept fantasizing about was a perfect plate of soft-boiled eggs, with a silky, spreadable yolk the consistency of honey. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to manifest this fantasy on my own. Enter the egg machine.
The machine is called the Dash Rapid Egg Cooker, and it can be found for less than twenty dollars, and it is probably the best thing I’ve purchased for my serotonin’s sake since the start of the pandemic. It is not a serious appliance. An Easy-Bake Oven has more gravitas than this thing, which comes in colors including buttercup-yellow and baby blue and plays an obnoxious, twinkly little ditty when it is done. (Well, the new models do; if you bought a Dash a few years ago, the alert apparently sounds more like a banshee.) It comes with a host of plastic accessories that enable a host of egg preparations. You can go poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, coddled. You can even make an “omelette,” using a plastic bowl, though I wouldn’t recommend it; it’s the one setting that results in something more like airplane food than bistro fare.
I use the machine almost exclusively to steam eggs inside their shells. The ritual is part of the pleasure. First, poke a tiny hole in each eggshell with the included thumbtack-like thingy, then nestle the ovoids gently into the machine’s six circular divots. Use the measuring cup—which is marked with lines for soft-, medium-, and hard-boil—to pour water into the base. Finally, press the Start button. You can’t really miss it, as the device has no other buttons at all. You can, however, mistakenly press the button before adding the water, in which case your cheerful breakfast incubator will make the hissing wail of a broken radiator. This is not an elegant marriage of art and science. When the machine has done its work, it does not open gracefully to reveal the eggs. It just fogs up like a locker-room mirror and lets you pry the lid off yourself.
Once you have a plethora of perfect eggs, they seem to demand increasingly baroque accoutrements. I now own many egg cups (the best are vintage, from eBay, in opaque milk glass or painted porcelain), egg spoons (smaller than an English teaspoon, larger than a Turkish one), and an egg “clacker.” The latter, which looks like something borrowed from a mohel, uses a spring-loaded system to slice away a circular bit of shell, for easy access. My personal castle-breakfast routine also includes toast, which I cut into strips (“soldiers” in restaurant parlance), and fresh O.J. Somehow, during the six months that I have owned the egg machine, it has become a crucial part of my imaginative life, a shortcut for turning my apartment, for a brief moment each morning, into a hotel of the mind. I am not alone in this. Everyone I know who has an egg machine passes the good word along to the uninitiated, sounding almost suspicious in their enthusiasm. They clarify that nobody paid them to do this, really. (Nobody has paid me to do this, really!) They just believe in the vibe-shifting power of a fussy breakfast. And so do I.