Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Take on Recipes

Last night my friend gave me his family's secret recipe for lemon cake. This cake was incredible with the most intense lemon flavor that was both sweet and tart at the same time, delicately moist, the kind of cake I envision angels serve saints in heaven. And as I feverishly copied down the recipe, my mind was already scrambling to rework the recipe into the base for a birthday cake.

That's the thing about recipes - they're not static and there is no one "right" way to make something (certainly there ARE wrong ways!). Recipes should be fluid and adaptable because the way I like lemon cake (tart, sweet, moist and with gobs of lemon icing) may not be the same way you like. Besides, if you're adhering to my kiss kitchen concept, then you'll end up needing to tweak most recipes in a return to fresh, simplified ingredients that are closer to nature. And even if you try to stick to a recipe exactly as it's written, you will still inadvertently change it - different brand of flour, different quality of fruit, slightly different techniques, etc.


I believe the best recipes are "communal" recipes - the ones where a whole bunch of different people are share their own twists and takes on the same basic recipe. The recipe grows and takes on a life of its own - just as it should. People who claim they have the "ultimate", "perfect", "fool-proof" or "exact" recipe that will "never disappoint" are usually trying to sell you a cookbook, dvd, magazine, blog or class. But don't be fooled - the best recipes aren't the ones you find in a book or on the back of package. They're the ones passed on by people. People you know, who have already added their own unique customizations. In fact, I like to peruse multiple takes on the same recipe (and comments from other users) before I ever make something new because the more perspectives I collect, the more likely I'll be inspired to try my own unique twist that's perfect for me or the people I care about.

A lot people get nervous at the thought of straying from the printed recipe. Or nervous at the thought of straying from "authentic" or the "traditional". But it all comes down to putting a little caring and love into your food. I know - there's that word love again. But I'm serious. When you realize cooking (or baking) should be a way of showing how much you care, you'll find yourself trying to inject some of yourself into everything you make. And once you get accustomed to thinking beyond the prison of the printed recipe, you'll get good at discovering amazing tweaks that will put that "ultimate" printed recipe to shame.

So am I against recipes? Nope, I use them all the time. And I'm not against recipe creators taking credit for their custom twists or techniques. But as I said previously, my favorite recipes are communal recipes - and even then I almost never follow a recipe as printed. I am always making big or minor adjustments and revising the recipe - even the first time I make it. In fact, I often keep a "working" draft of a recipe open on my laptop while I'm cooking so I can track changes on the fly. Once I've found a combination of tweaks I like, I'll save the recipe off as a reliable starting point for future iterations. We all forget what makes the lemon cake better one time than the next, so having that reliable starting point as a reference is helpful.

To be clear, I am relentless about testing my own original recipes with painstaking notes, precise measurements and detailed instructions before I ever share the recipe here on my blog. And it's not because I've stumbled over the Holy Grail or unearthed the most perfect of creations - I simply never, ever want to waste your time, ingredients or money with untested, unreliable recipes.

But I am against being chained to the specifics of a recipe - cooking/baking shouldn't be about mindlessly following instructions. It should be about...................love.

So when I share recipes here, don't feel bound to follow them! There is no fool-proof, perfect way and I only share what has worked reliably for me. So be creative and make any recipe your own - and then be generous and share what worked for you. Don't be shy - let's build a community of fearless, liberated cooking.



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