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« /i have a crush on you | Main | plated dessert I - miso_fennel »

27 October 2009


I definitely found this as I attempted macarons again for the daring baker challenge. It seems to me that it really depends on each of the components what the quantities should be and that should probably be adjusted each time one of those components is changed. Unfortunately, a meringue isnt terribly forgiving, so a change involves a new batch.

I presume as a restaurant chef it is really important to be consistent, so it is very helpful to keep to strict boundaries in order to achieve the same result every time and keep the customer happy.

Wow. You've summed up and expressed it better than I ever could. I constantly struggle with making what occurs to me as an inspiration, a seized opportunity or happy accident into a published "replicable" recipe. Having to be able to make the results consistent withoug being able to control the variables for another person as I would control them for myself is agonizing. I was once served (very proudly) by a friend my "own" fish soup recipe. Instead of a white fish it was salmon. Instead of croutons made out of french bread they were made out of olive bread. Instead of red pepper aoli it was mustard aoli. Instead of a small chop on the carrots it was large chunks. You get the idea. Yet to that person the recipe had been followed.

How can you control all of that?

My solution is to write into my recipes as much as possible taste and textural clues and wherever possible to give the reasons why and educate. To give them the bones of the idea so they can know how to flow from it. That's easier to do in my blog posts than in my newspaper column, but I do try.

Thanks for bringing up the topic.

Amen & Hallelujah! for every student that comes to me in France to learn to cook, there are 3 who just want the recipes. sigh.

I smiled when I read this. I have a lot of food allergies (egg, all dairy, corn, soy, most beans, almonds, etc) and so I almost never follow a recipe exactly. In one case, I told my daughter to just follow the recipe for a cooked frosting. She took a look and said "It calls for white sugar, butter, buttermilk, corn syrup, and baking soda." I rattled off my substitutions to her.

"So the only thing I keep from the recipe is the baking soda?" she asked, "So in what sense am I following the recipe exactly?"

I decided to make hot and sour soup yesterday. I didn't feel like looking at a lot of different recipes before jumping off, so I settled for one from a vegetarian cookbook I like a lot. What I wanted was the shape of the soup, and, even though I used chicken instead of vegetable stock and tofu, different kinds of fresh mushrooms instead of dried ones, adjusted the seasonings to my preferences, and thickened with tapioca starch instead of corn starch, there was something about the essence of the author's recipe that shone through.

A great, GREAT post! I couldn't agree more. However, that's with one caveat...

I am a good cook. I have a good intuition for savory items, and for families of cuisine I've cooked a lot before. I will use a recipe once, but after that I wing it. I riff on themes. I know how ingredients work and mingle. And I almost never - except for maybe the first time I make an unfamiliar thing - actually use my measuring spoons or cups, but eyeball things and cook by taste and feel. It's like a jazz improv on a given theme.

BUT...(and here comes the caveat) - this doesn't work for baking. At least for me.

Sure, it works for baking once you know the rules and have them under your belt, such as you do. But I have had so many spectacular (!) baking disasters by applying the "just improvise and eyeball" theory that I am now quite gun-shy about baking. It wasn't until recently - in my 40's and under tuition of experts such as yourself - that I feel I am starting to learn the baking rules. But I am not yet at the point that I can deviate from a recipe without disappointment resulting. There be dragons...

I am not a recipe follower. I am trying to learn about technique and flavors and how to cook by intuition. But I post about things I make, and I'd like to help people recreate something equally delicious. I try to estimate amounts as best I can for those who need a little more structure, but my recipes usually involve more parentheticals than precise measurements. Most often I hope that the people who look at my site aren't following my notes exactly. I'd rather they use it as inspiration to get in the kitchen and make their own version.

Plus, as you note, there's so much variation. How much is one clove of garlic? Juice of one lime? It's silly to think that following even a professionally tested and retested recipe is perfect.

By the way, I love "They make me itch with their curved lines and that enigmatic dot at their end."

Recipes are about responsibility. Less than "certainty" they represent what someone else says works. When a recipe doesn't work, the blame remains with that "someone else." When we follow our intuition, we place the burden of responsibility on our selves. Interestingly, when a recipe works brilliantly, we suddenly efface the author, taking sole credit for the execution.
Recipes aren't there because we want someone to hold our hand through the process, they remain so popular because they allow "someone else" to bear the burden of responsibility for failure.

Aaron, you're brilliant, as always. xx shuna

When you first tackled this topic a few posts ago, I wrote this ode to your questions, called Sweet Little Bossy Boots.

Thanks for asking more.

Amanda, thank you so much for your comment, your own beautiful & lyrical blog, and the 'ode.' I am honoured. ~ shuna

Do recipes get in the way of learning to cook, bake?

Not for me. I like recipes that teach me technique and allow me to riff. It's through recipes that I am now able to judge what I substitute if I don't have everything or what technique I need to use to achieve a flavor I'm thinking of. I'm a novice baker, now I need recipes for baking. Baking seems more exact to me so I don't feel comfortable winging it yet except in a very few things. As I try different recipes though I grow and since I don't have my grandmother beside me to teach me what dough should feel like for her fatayer, I have her recipes to try and try again and tweak to my memory.

Now for my husband, yes, recipes are a huge hinderance b/c he takes them so literally. Once he wanted me to define exactly what "slightly thickened" was. If the recipe says cook garlic on high for 2 min it doesn't matter if the garlic starts burning in the meantime. He's too afraid to let go of the recipe.

Maybe my training in post modern literary theory allowed me to know that the reader creates the text not just the writer so it freed me. While my husband does a more literal interpretation of text and assumes the author must be right.

hello latenac, i hope you won't mind if i just highlight a sentence of yours, ...the reader creates the text not just the writer... thank you very much. ~ shuna

The first word that came to mind about recipes is HOPE.

I agree with what you said about recipes and intuition, but I also find that recipes can lead to further inspiration and ideas and these things have helped me create new ideas in my baking.

Back to hope.

I love it when I see a recipe or a post about a recipe (especially with pictures) about a dessert that I thought seemed too difficult to make, but seeing that someone else made it happen by having a recipe as a guide. Or, if I shared a recipe or technique that maybe inspired someone to try something new, and enjoying their excitement and that I could have played a small part in helping them take courage to try it themselves.

This may not answer any of the questions you posed, but just a glimpse of what I thought while reading your thought provoking post.

An excellent piece! Interesting, balanced, insightful, and eloquent!!

I, too, see the ingredients as being alive, by themselves say one thing and once combined can create a beautiful symphony or the sound of nails on a chalk board.

I also have food intolerances to many common ingredients and have to substitute and rearrange almost everything. I have experienced the fear that you mentioned - will it turn out 'wrong'? Will they like it?

The freedom that comes with the ability to let the food be what it is, and then learn from whatever the outcome is has been my saving grace. It lets me create with no judgment, and lets me grow as a cook.

Well written & so engaging. I am an intuitive baker, and too wild to be tied down with recipes. I love a good idea & take off platform though. Enjoy building off a good recipe base, and the freedom spurs me on. Loved reading this post Shuna!

Thank you.
The work of the hands is work of the heart. Recipes? Initial guidelines, a brief bolstering of the intellect in the name of execution-- if I stay there too long, or stray too far from intuition, my food is lost.

recipes and intuition, like reading and writing?

I just found this blog for the first time tonight, and this was the first post that I have read.

That was beautifully written, inspiring, and I couldn't agree more. For me, cooking by feel instead of by the book is when it stops being labor and really becomes a joy.

For any Chef the recipe is both good and evil. I use them but I change them, read them like a novel, think outside the box. Like Shuna I have cooked in large format, 500 plated desserts, and then I cooked a few at a time, not sure what I liked best, the hurry up approach keeps you on your feet. Now that I am Vegan I have a daily challenge and miss eggs the most.

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