It seems all so simple. Read a recipe and execute. But not so fast. There is more detail between the foodie lines.
I have come a long way from a ‘Just wing it’ style chef that would push aside my measuring spoons. Whereas today as a recipe developer, I have to remind myself to measure, jot down quickly, then retest recipes to ensure the quality is suburb before passing along to you all.
This week’s topic of The Cooking Class Files is all about tips and tricks to reading a recipe correctly to ensure success and a less frustrating cooking and baking experience (and also help so you aren’t halfway through a recipe and realize you already threw in that 1 cup sugar…!)
Recipes for cooking are meant to be more of a guideline with loose instructions, enabling you to add your own personal spice and flare to recipes. This is one of the many reasons why I love to cook and cringe at the thought of baking. I am much more of a pinch of this, splash of that sorta gal and the act of measuring out every single ingredient precisely gives me anxiety just thinking about it. Which also explains why my baking privileges were removed by my fiancé during the first year of dating…
I have never been one to follow directions. Just ask my mother. I have always been the one to venture down the road less traveled and more times than not in the kitchen it has led to a disaster, while some have been a complete success with recipes ending up on this blog. But the process of creating and executing a recipe is more than just a pinch of this and a splash of that. I can’t recall the number of times that my culinary school chef’s stressed the importance of “Measure twice, cut once.” Similar to “Less is more.” You can always go back and add more salt but once you add that “pinch”, there is no going back.
As you approach a new recipe, take a moment to read over the recipe. The chef has already done the grunt work of finding the bumps in the road for you and leading you towards once specular recipe.
Let’s go over some tips of how to read a recipe:
1) Read through the recipe twice to ensure you understand. This may seem petty but as you read the recipe a second time you will pick up on things that you may have skimmed over the first time as you were processing the directions. Such as dumping in the entire cup of butter into the batter, only to realize later that you were supposed to save half for the frosting.
2) Determine the yield amount of the recipe. Ensure that you will be making a recipe for enough guests. It would be awful to make a cake that only serves 8 when you have a party of 12. You may receive some evil eyes when you hand them that tiny sliver of cake! But please note that scaling baking recipes is much harder than scaling cooking recipes. So please be cautious!
3) Make a Checklist of all your ingredients needed. Having a checklist and double checking that list to all the ingredients in your pantry is critical to making sure you are not heading back to the store while the stovetop is simmering or the cake batter is awaiting that extra egg you were positive you had.
4) Determine whether you need to preheat the oven. When writing out a recipe, I always note in step 1 if the oven needs to be preheated. This will ensure you cookies do not sit and loose form before heading into a cold oven.
5) Take note of the time it is going to make the recipe. It can determine whether or not you are going to make that batch of cookies that must chill overnight in the refrigerator or if you are going to go with the single bowl of cookies for that party in 30 minutes. It may seem silly to point this out, but the prep time, cooking time and inactive time are important to note as they are going to let you know exactly how long you are going to need to complete the recipe. And can fight off hungry family members that are awaiting a dinner on the table.
6) Respect the order of things. I am personally trying to get better at this, but respecting the order of the ingredients and process; such as separating the wet and dry ingredients before mixing will ensure a successful recipe. The recipe developer has saved you from frustration and save your dinner from heading into the trash. So follow along for best results!
7) Make sure you have all the necessary equipment and ingredients. Some recipes call for a specific piece of equipment to ensure recipe success, such as using a bread machine or something as simple as pureeing the ingredients in a blender. Not every kitchen is fully equipped with every gadget on the market. Not even a food bloggers kitchen!
8) See if you can prepare, make or need to make any part of the recipe ahead of time. Preparing veggies, boiling a pot of water, cleaning herbs or pre cooking meats before a busy week is a lifesaver. Read the recipe to see if you can pre cook the chicken and shred it ahead of time before preparing the actual recipe. Sometimes simple shortcuts such as that are the difference between smooth sailing and a hectic night in the kitchen.
9) Look closely to the grammar of the ingredient list. The way the ingredients are listed can drastically affect your recipe. For instance, if the recipe calls for “one onion, diced”, it is referring to one measuring the ingredient (one onion) and then preparing it as directed (chopped). Whereas, “1/2 cup chopped basil” prefers to prepare the ingredients (basil) before measuring (1/2 cup).
10) Lastly, make a recipe once before adding your own twist on it. Call it the foodie curse, but I hardly make a recipe the same twice and love to substitute ingredients, whether for health reasons or just for what I have on hand. But if you are unfamiliar with a cooking method, follow the recipe one time through before adding your own twist. Once you become familiar with how the recipe cooks and is supposed to come out, you will have a better handle on the substitutions you can make the second round!
**What are some of your kitchen tips for recipe success? Please, spill!**
*A little help from The Kitchn, The Kitchn 2, and For Dummies
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