Suzi's Blog

Recipe Catastrophes

I guess it would be wrong to call this a crisis. But it surely is a catastrophe.

Our culinary world is now contaminated, and in danger of being overrun, by faux recipes. These are recipes that outwardly seem good, but that are not. These are recipes that fail because they are wrong, not because of anything you have done or your ingredients or because there is a full moon.

This problem has always existed on the periphery of the culinary world. But now, like a bad virus, the problem is literally eating away at our ability to cook with confidence.

Here’s an example, a real example.

“That’s disgusting,” Suzen said to me. She was pointing to a sheet of chocolate chip cookies that I was pulling hot out of the oven. The cookies should have been round and tender. Instead, the batter had completely spread out over the pan. There wasn’t a series of cookies in rows, just one melted mass of batter, paper thin, and inedible.

She looked at me. “Did you follow the recipe?”

“Yes,” I said. And I had, to the letter.

“Compare it with Tish Boyle,” she instructed me.

And so I have. Right below here are the ingredients from the best chocolate chip cookie you could image from Tish Boyle.

Ingredients That Work: Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies from Tish Boyle

  • 2 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup melted butter [1 ½ sticks]
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces chocolate cut into ¼-inch pieces [The chocolate can be bittersweet, semi, or milk]
  • ¾ cup pecans, chopped

 

And here is the chocolate chip recipe that failed, from the pack of a package of Guittard Extra Semisweet Chocolate Chips.

Ingredients That Fail: Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Guittard Package

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup melted butter [1 ½ sticks]
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips

 

The differences between the two recipes are highlighted. You’ll see that there is less flour, slightly less it is true, but less flour and more sugar. If you google “why cookies fail” you will find that a collapsing cookie is caused by too much butter and sugar and not enough flour. Also, we went from baking soda to baking powder with twice as much.

The changes may seem slight. But they are not. I’m pretty sure that this recipe, on the back of a package from a prominent manufacturer, was never tested. Never. Someone found a recipe, maybe changed it for whatever reason, and put it on the package. They never checked if it works properly. It doesn’t.

If you cannot automatically trust Guittard, who can you trust? Here’s the catastrophe part: there are fewer and fewer places that you can trust. Cookbooks used to be fully tested before being published [Suzen and her team spent 2 years testing every recipe in the last edition of the Joy of Cooking.] Now, to save costs, testing a cookbook is left up to the author and authors, shall we say, vary.

Websites? Well, we know of several prominent, popular sites that publish recipes that photograph beautifully. Do they test the recipes? No. So, the recipes may work, and they may totally fail. The attitude of the website team: we are here to make money, not food.

What can you do? First find trusted resources. I’ll plug the Joy of Cooking. And this website: if we post a recipe, we have tested it and it works. If you are trying a new dish, with a recipe that intrigues you, check out other books or web-based recipes to compare the ingredients and techniques. Use your common sense. Be wary. In the words of one US President, trust but verify.

There are authors, like Tish Boyle, whose recipes you can trust. I mention that in the blog posts and you and you can peruse the posts here to find authors of quality.

Suzen is a pro. I’m pretty good. When we had this cookie disaster, she scooped the dough and was not bothered. I read the chocolate chip recipe and made the dough. And still, still, we had a big failure. So the last piece of advice is this: if it fails, don’t beat yourself up. Toss the recipe, accept the lesson and move on. It’s not your fault. It is your environment.

 

 

Where Are The Posts, Brian?

Sorry. I’ve blogged very little in the past three weeks, my longest streak of being non-productive. What happened? My daughter visited from Seattle, got sick, got me sick, she left, I stayed here. I’m still sick. But, the posts will rise again.

Like later tonight!