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How Should Recipes be Written?

I have been searching for the very best method for writing recipes. Ideally, baking recipes should have both weight and volume measurements, since I like to weigh as many ingredients as much as possible.

Should the ingredients be put into some sort of table, a la Rose Levy Berenbaum? Or do you all like it when the ingredients are on the left side of the page, lined up with their time of usage on the right side of the page? Do you prefer numbered steps, or more of a narrative style?

I personally hate it when a recipe introduces an ingredient that wasn't listed with the other ingredients, either by oversight or by the thought that an ingredient like water doesn't deserve to be listed....

Then there's the old Gourmet magazine method - does anyone remember way back when they did not included ingredient lists at all? That was really baffling!

EDIT: I ran across a website a while back called something like Recipes for Engineers which really had a different style....I'll look for it and post back....

Any thoughts?

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  1. http://www.cookingforengineers.com/

    I would imagine the recipe style would vary according to how it is to be used. Published? Family Share? Food Blog etc.?

    Some people are visual and like photos (I really don't like it if I can't see a product), others like concise, spare me the teaching details, others need/want a step by step, teach me as I go style.

    I do not think there is a one size fits all recipe template. YMMV.

    1. I've thought about this a lot and don't have a perfect answer, but I do like the approach I've come up with when handwriting recipes for myself. I list all the ingredients on the left side of the page or card, indicating how they are to be prepared before starting the recipe (e.g., 6 oz onion, sm. dice). Then I draw brackets around groups of ingredients that are processed together, and indicate on the right side of the page what is to be done with them (e.g., saute until translucent). I use arrows to indicate when groups of ingredients are to be mixed together.

      This gives me a visual picture of the process without any extraneous explanations about techniques I know well. For baking, I'll also include something like "oven to 350; grease 13x9" at the top of the page.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        I do this too, Isolda, I try to distill it down as much as possible, but that's only for something I'm keeping for myself. If writing it up for someone else, I try to elaborate a bit more.

        1. re: Isolda

          I do this as well- picked it up from Julia's (we're on a first name basis) Mastering The Art of French Cooking. You have your ingredients along the left, and you don't have to look up and down for the method.

        2. Introducing new ingredients/components mid-way through a recipe drives me batty. I'm looking at you, Joy of Cooking1

          For me, it depends on the recipe. I'm a decent cook and have no trouble following a chatty "recipe" a la Laurie Colwin for something easy. I'm not that great a baker, so in that case I prefer clearly outlined steps.

          6 Replies
          1. re: LeoLioness

            I prefer JOC style to the overly wordy style of Cook's Illustrated.

            1. re: sueatmo

              Ah, see I like the Cook's Illustrated preambles because I'm interested in why certain techniques/ingredients work better than others. It's also gratifying to see some of my own past failures be documented by the professionals at CI--it wasn't me, it was the recipe!

              I can see how others would not, however. I do find their actual recipes fairly straightforward, however.

              1. re: sueatmo

                Yep, another JOY fan here. Maybe because that's the one I learned to cook from. I can scan the entire recipe and see what ingredients will be used together, and group them on the kitchen counters accordingly (prep stuff on the island, cooking mix-ins next to the range).

                I do post my recipes on CH both ways, depending on the recipe.

                Since I do kitchen design and space planning for a living, the JOY method just may feed my need to be organized.

              2. re: LeoLioness

                I never bought JOC for this very reason. I prefer all ingredients listed together, in the order they are needed, then the directions. Their format drove me crazy every time I looked at it in the bookstore.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  Even worse is Elizabeth David. Great recipes that are a giant PITA to follow.

                  1. re: NanH

                    And she stated that vanilla did not belong in food!!! Heresy!

              3. cookingforengineers is definitely a style I can relate to...I'm an engineer/manager. But as a cook/baker (home schooled), I prefer to see ALL ingredients up front so I can estabilsh my own mis en place, a list of recommended hardware (pastry cutter vs. two-knife method, or sheet pan vs. jelly roll pan, etc.) and step by step directions WITH pictures so I can judge my own success criteria.

                1. I gotta say, I LOVE that method on Recipes for Engineers. That chart on the bottom was such a nice, easy, concise way to show the recipe.... and I'm not even an engineer! lol