Newbie cooks, inexperienced cooks and those who say “Oh, I can’t use recipes” can all benefit from tips for following a recipe successfully. Freestyling can work perfectly well for some people but more often than not, unless you’ve got a good basic knowledge and can find your way around ingredients, a recipe is your friend in the kitchen. The thing is, cooking is a science. It’s alchemy and certain things need to go together, and certain proportions are needed, simply to make some things work. Even the most skilled baker will still always measure their ingredients for a sponge cake. If you want fluffy cupcakes, crisp pie crusts and sauces to die for, these tips for following a recipe are indispensable.
The first thing to do for any recipe if you like the idea of the resultant dish is to assess whether it is appropriate to your skill level. That doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself though – if you are aiming to be a better cook, you need an element of challenge. Don’t think that a long list of ingredients means that it is hard. That can be misleading, as you might throw a whole load together in one easy step. One of the best tips for following a recipe I have learned is that the number of steps is usually a good indication of how complicated a dish is.
If you are following a recipe, you obviously need to have it somewhere you can see it. Prop it up, use a recipe book stand … whatever – but it must be handy but not be in the way. Also, make sure it stays open because if you’ve got hands covered in ingredients, you don’t want to be finding your lost page or tapping your tablet screen. Otherwise you might “do a Rachel” and produce a meat trifle. While you’re at it, make sure you’ve got enough space to work on too.
Read the recipe once, as said in step one. Now read it again. You have already judged whether it meets your needs, but during the second reading you can pick out any tricky bits. You will also spot things where you might change the method – for example, blend by hand rather than by machine.
Have you go everything you need? Don’t just think you have – check! That pinch of dried spice that is called for does not mean the jar of congealed clog that’s been in the cupboard for 4 years. If you get halfway through your bouillabaisse and then realize you’ve got no saffron, all you will end up with is a bog-standard fish stew. And chocolate chip cookies minus the chocolate chips are not half as much fun.
Make sure you have time to complete the recipe. This includes any chilling, marinating, resting and cooking time as well as preparation. Recipes aren’t usually designed for short cuts. If it says something takes 20 minutes to cook, it usually does.
This is absolutely the most important tip for following a recipe. The recipe follows an order to reach an end goal. Follow it step by step. As I said in the beginning, cooking is alchemy – stray and you won’t turn lead into gold. All you might end up with is an inedible mess. Don’t take short cuts – that’s for skilled, experienced cooks who are practiced alchemists. If a recipe tells you to whip your egg whites, it does so for a reason.
I know it can be tempting to change up a recipe – especially if you want to make some healthy swaps – but this is probably requires more skill than creating the recipe in the first place and is high risk. Unless you know exactly how much applesauce you can use instead of butter or oil in a cake recipe, just don’t do it. Honestly, my advice for successful recipes is that there is absolutely no need to make any substitutions. There are billions of recipes online – find one for the same dish but an alternative recipe that includes the swaps you want.
Recipe writers spend hours and hours creating, combining, mixing and trying different ingredients to bring you recipes that work. That’s the whole point. To be a decent cook, all you have to do is to follow the instructions. Do you think these tips for following a recipe will help you become a domestic goddess?