How I come up with new recipes is a question I get asked a lot. I have no professional pastry chef or recipe development training; what I know comes from books, YouTube, friends, and/or trial and error. And, as I’ve just spent several months planning and writing recipes for my cookbook, Even Better Brownies, I thought it might be interesting to share my process with you.
As a general overview, here are the steps I go through when developing a recipe:
- Step 1: Inspiration
- Step 2: Visualization
- Step 3: Research
- Step 4: Drafting and Testing
- Step 5: Writing the Recipe
However, before I get into my recipe development method, I wanted to briefly touch on a fundamental idea that affects hundreds of various meals, particularly in baking: the culinary ratio.
Baking is a science, and you’ve probably heard it before. Culinary ratios are the foundation of our favorite cookies, cake, and other recipes. Understanding these goods’ fundamental architecture distinguishes professional bakers from imposters.
A culinary ratio is a predetermined proportion of one or more ingredients to another. Consider bread as an example. The culinary bread ratio is 5:3; 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. This indicates that if you combine 5 ounces of flour and 3 ounces of water, or 500 grams of flour and 300 grams of water, you will have a decent bread dough (if well mixed). A small amount of yeast is required, but the exact amount is highly variable, so it is not a relevant element of the ratio. Salt is required for flavor. However, this is a personal preference. And the dough must be mixed until it has enough flexibility to hold the gas generated by the yeast. So, while there are laws to obey and technical difficulties to consider, these are not included in the ratio. The flavors and types of bread you can bake are only limited by your imagination. You can make herb bread using rosemary or thyme or savory fast bread with lemon and poppy seeds.
It may sound apparent, but you must begin with a concept. It might be anything from an ingredient/ingredient combo to a dish title to anything bizarre that just comes to mind. Organic inspiration is often the source of a new dish for me. For example, I have a cuisine or dessert in a restaurant, bakery, or cookbook that I can’t stop thinking about. Sometimes it’s the flavor, sometimes, it’s the texture, and sometimes it’s just the dessert’s appearance.
However, I strive to retain an open mind when producing dishes that do not come into my life naturally. On the inorganic side, I get inspiration for my meals by listening to what people desire, whether it’s through Instagram DMs, recipe comments, or popular current search keywords.
When I have an idea for a meal, I try to see it in my mind. I believe it is critical to begin thinking about how your food will look early in the process; after all, you’ve probably heard the expression, You eat with your eyes first.
I begin drawing the dish after I have a vague notion of how I want it to look.
Drawing a dish is a fantastic way to get your head around not only the design of the food but also which secondary components you might add for improved flavor, texture, and presentation. These Key Lime Pie Bars would have looked very bland without the lime zest and small lime wedges on top.
Once I’ve decided on a recipe and how I want it to look, I research what’s available. If it’s a well-known dish, such as apple pie, I ask myself if my proposal adds something relevant to the discussion, such as a new flavor or texture, fewer or more accessible components, an easier approach, or simply better outcomes. If that’s the case, I’ll go on. If not, I try to think of a method to distinguish my recipe from the others.
This research stage is extremely important since it allows me to record ingredient ratios, cooking procedures, timeframes, and temperatures. Of course, this stage is just for information and not for copying someone else’s work.
Testing and drafting
This is where the magic takes place. This procedure is highly dependent on the recipe. When a recipe or technique I’ve used before can be re-used, I’ll take bits and pieces from my other recipes to create something new.
I build a recipe that I think will work based on culinary ratios for the dessert I’m cooking, proportions I see in my study, and flavors I like together. I’ll jot down ingredients, quantities, and a few essential words before I begin cooking.
Once I start cooking, things change; if a batter appears unusually wet, for example, I’ll alter it accordingly and make a note of it. It is critical to keep a pen and notepad in your workplace at all times!
I test each dish three times on average, making any necessary changes to ensure the recipe is as delicious and simple to follow as humanly feasible. After I’ve produced and tested it myself, I give a recipe to someone else to see what they think. If I notice that something is missing or off right away, I’ll ask my fellow recipe developers to assist me in troubleshooting a specific aspect of the dish.
If the recipe requires more effort or is simply not correct, I will amend or redraft it completely before returning it to the testing stage. This is why you might see me working on a recipe on IG stories, but it will be a long time before it appears on your screens. It’s rare that I abandon a recipe entirely, but some recipes require more than a minor modification before I determine they’re ready to shoot and post.
Writing the Recipe
Then comes my least favorite part: going over my scribbled notes and writing out the recipe in my flour and chocolate-covered notebook. The principles for writing recipes are rather simple and basic. However, failing to exercise them can leave a cook befuddled, despairing, and with a batch of inedible food.
Are the instructions concise, clear, comprehensive, and simple to read/understand?
I never presume that everyone has the same cooking talents as me, who spends a lot of time in the kitchen. So I try to be as precise as possible in the directions and write as if I’m speaking to a buddy. Beginner cooks want clarity, so I strive not to be unclear.
Are the proper phrases used to express the required steps?
For example, “stir” or “fold.”
Are the recipe yields and serving sizes included? Are they correct?
Are any recipe peculiarities explained?
For example, “the batter will be thin” or “the mixture will appear curdled.”
Are there any pointers or cautions?
For instance, if something should not be overcooked or if a meal will continue to cook after it has been taken from the oven.
Are there any other methods that may be utilized to achieve comparable results?
For instance, melting chocolate in a double boiler versus melting in a microwave.
Can advance or partial cooking instructions be added?
Are there any instructions for storing or freezing?
This is not an entire list; rather, it is an indication of what I prefer to consider while putting down the full instructions for every given dish.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Writing Recipes:
- Ingredients should be listed in chronological sequence. One of the most significant elements of a recipe is the components list, which should be provided in the same order as the directions list. Make sure to be specific and list the exact amounts required, as well as the status of the materials.
- Ingredients for crucial phases in a recipe should be separated. If the recipe is for a doughnut with a glaze, for example, include a subheading for “donut” and one for “glaze,” with the components sorted in their respective categories. When possible, this should be extended to the instructions list as well.
- List the stages in chronological order, keeping instructions brief and to the point. The directions should be followed in the same sequence as the components.
And they should be as brief and straightforward as feasible. Try to outline the simplest approach to complete the steps in the recipe.
- Give specifics about completion. Avoid phrases like “cook until done”; how can one know when something is done? Provide a cooking time and a doneness indicator, such as “when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs.”
- Include storage advice. Include instructions for storing leftovers, such as temperature and container size.
- Provide more techniques or substitutes (where tested). Offer additional information, such as gluten-free and vegetarian procedures or ingredient replacement ideas, for extra points, but only if you’ve tested them yourself and know they’ll work.
- Include dietary information. It’s usually a good idea to incorporate nutritional analyses depending on the serving size of your dish utilizing the USDA database. This function is available in several nutrition software applications.
Having a dish fail – or several recipes fails in a row – may be demoralizing. I’ve been there. Try not to let it bother you. Remember that cooking is a skill that, like any other, takes time and effort to master. Rome was not created in a day, and neither will your food innovations.
Mistakes will diminish as you practice and develop your intuition, while wins will rise. Furthermore, because you’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, you’ll be able to create new recipes more quickly and efficiently.
Learn more: How to Make Stovetop Popcorn