The Agony and the Ecstasy of Testing Book RecipesJanuary 8, 2010
The cookbook I am currently working on has 175 recipes. That’s a lot of sugar, flour and butter. When I go to the store I put a bag of flour, a bag of sugar and 5 pounds of butter in my shopping cart. Then I look at my list.
Testing a recipe for a cookbook is different than testing and putting a dessert on a restaurant menu. I have to rely on 2 different skill sets. One is the creative side of my brain where I have the fun of brainstorming what sounds good. The other part is the meticulous measuring and documenting exactly how I make it. For a restaurant dessert I can write them in pastry “shorthand” as I know what level of experience the cooks have. I am also there to explain anything if they have questions. For a cookbook I have to think about what parts of the recipe a home cook could get confused on and make sure they don’t. The recipes need to be much more precise. More people are making them and people interpret things differently. What does it mean to slice something thick vs. thin? What does whip until stiff mean? People have different kitchen equipment and ovens work differently. I can’t just say bake for 25 minutes. I have to give a clue of knowing when it is done- skewer clean? Cracked on top? As much as I love my KitchenAid stand mixer I know not everyone has one. If you use an electric hand mixer mixing can take several minutes longer. I have to account for this.
When I get an idea in my head for a book recipe, I first think about how it will work and then I go into the kitchen and test it. Very rarely is it finished in one try. It takes several attempts and sometimes up to 6 or so to get it just right. After I have tested something 6 times and I am not close I give up. I admit to myself it was a better idea than it was a dessert that someone would actually want to eat. Sometimes after 4 tries I feel I am getting close to having it correct but I will ask myself-Do I really like this or am I just tired of testing it and want to go on to the next recipe? It’s easy to lose perspective after you have tasted something that many times. Often that’s when I ask my husband to taste it or send the recipe to my home baker friends and relatives. I ask them to bake it and let me know what they think. This is very helpful as it keeps me on track. I write recipes for home cooks as it puts the control and fun in their hands. They don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat a good dessert. They can enjoy it at home. They get the pleasure of creating something with their hands and the pleasure of sharing it with others. I gauge a good recipe by if a home cook can 1) make it, 2) enjoy it and 3) want to make it again.
During testing it can be a bit discouraging when I have a recipe that has numerous penciled cross outs and notes in the margins and I decide I need to make it “just one more time”. When I get a recipe right and a home baker lets me know that they made a recipe of mine and they loved it, it’s all worthwhile. It gives me the energy to wrestle the next middle of the night idea I have to a working recipe that someone will bake over and over. If you want to be part of my testing team send me an email. I would love to include you in my recipe creations.