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do you follow a recipe to the letter?

I don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, I measure, sift, weigh... and have still had some less than sufsccessuly outcomes? Finally realized problem was probably with eggs... al ALwAYS buy jumbos (from littl Asia market) and every recipe calls for large. I'm sure that throws a cake recipe off significantly... 3 jumbos have to be at least 4 large eggs?!?

For recipes other than baking... anything goes. Today I looked up a recipe for chicken caccatorie. It didn't call for black olives... but I had them and knew they'd work. If it's not baking... pretty much anything goes. If I like an ingredient and think it'll go with others... it's in there.

How about you?

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  1. I usually follow the directions the first time and adjust the second time if I like the dish enough to make it again. The only time I wing it is if it is the end of the week, I'm out of $$ and ingredients, and I'm trying to make do with what I have.

    1. For baking - YES, unless it's just a matter of adding more nuts or other extraneous stuff.

      For regular cooking - NO. I fly by the seat of my pants unless it's a recipe that has some intricate procedure that makes following it explicitly important.

      1. I always follow baking instructions, unless I've run out of something and need to substitute. When I know a baking recipe enough I play around a little. With regular cooking recipes are more a guideline.

        1. If I'm not talking about baking then I rarely follow a recipe to a T and therefor (I'm not big on online reviews anyhow) I never review a recipe. It's quite irritating on Epicurious and such when cooks change a recipe (usually for the worse) and then comment on the outcome.

          I know for a fact that I have both improved and ruined things due to my aversion to following the rules/recipes. Which sometimes I waffle over because as a very novice home cook I feel sometimes that following a professional recipe helps mold me and the other time I think that following my senses and intuition helps me grow as a novice home cook.

          The other day I was making a traditional Italian tomato sauce for pasta. I wanted to do things the traditional, correct way and it was all I could do to keep the boyfriend out of my sauce and just as my prep cook so he didn't stray from this important recipe. After all was said and done, we yearned for my multi veggie meat sauce that I've made for years and years. Oh, well.

          I have a dear girlfriend who is getting more interested in cooking and turns to me for advice. She marvels at my drunk off the cuff potluck cooking at 4am. I advise her to subscribe to Cooking Light, Clean Eating (she'd like to lose a few) and the Food Network mags and sites. Easy, approachable, etc. I also advised Cooks Illustrated but we all know how amazing that one is. The moral is I tell her to follow her recipes exactly to better understand all aspects of cooking.

          I think there is a time and place for exactly following a recipe and for winging it or combining multiple recipes (the one I'm most guilty of). My father, an amazing BBQ judge and Cajun/Creole/Southern home cook always tells me, "practice your recipes and commit them to memory and NEVER serve a first run recipe on guests. Why don't I listen to him!? If only you could see the terrible pin bone incident of the salt dome whole fish and the undercooked potatoes domino at my last dinner party. Takeout, anyone?!


          (Post Edit: Whoa! Sorry for my novelette!)

          1. I'm with all three posts so far. baking, I follow in orthodoxy.

            for all else I glance at a few recipes to get the mechanics and then it's a no holds barred MMA smackdown.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hill food

              Baking, YES. I must bake gluten free which is much trickier than regular baking so I definitely measure for that. Cooking, NO. Experimentation and improvisation are key in my kitchen.

            2. I rarely follow recipes to the letter, although I do measure more carefully when I'm baking.

              1. hillfood, I did not intend to respond to your post - just to the OP's question. For some reason it appeared as though I was answering you!

                2 Replies
                1. re: chefathome

                  hey chef@home, we've all done that and it fit the context. right now I'm trying to re-work some of my mom's trusted things to welcome gluten-intolerant soon-to-be in-laws into the family.

                  be glad you're not my guinea pig until those recipes are refined.

                  1. re: hill food

                    My husband and I were both my guinea pigs! Most things turn out well EXCEPT for yeast breads and doughnuts. When I was making my first gluten-free bread and SPREADING it into the pan instead of rolling it out, proofing, etc. I cried. It was quite pathetic really. Now I have recipes for pizza and cinnamon rolls, for example, that you can actually (sort of) knead!

                2. I seldom follow recipes exactly. Maybe the first time I cook a new recipe but often not even then. I know at least once, I took 6 recipes for the same thing. They all looked interesting. I put them all on a spreadsheet... ingredients, techniques and directions. I mixed and matched various ingredients and techniques until I had my own recipe and cooked it. Turned out great.

                  I take the attitude that the food police are not going to break the door down for not following the recipe. The worst case scenario... I make something that tastes like crap. It won't happen again.

                  For an expensive item, I probably wouldn't be so cavalier. If I wanted to cook a $60 goose or a couple of racks of lamb, I would probably follow the directions, carefully.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    I generally mix and match and play around with what I have. Because my meat is delivered through my cSA my amounts for a recipe are always off. Usually I read and adjust as needed. I shop once a week and if I don't have an ingredient I have to sub and adjust. I am not much of a baker but I tend to follow the recipe.

                  2. Baking and playing with things like agar, sodium alginate, etc yes, I weigh everything.

                    Other than that, no, I actually think following a recipe for a standard savory application can be a bad thing many times as differences in product, humidity, cooking vessel etc can all cause slight changes that need to be tweaked to create the best result.

                    1. I was making moussaka for me and a friend while we hung out in the kitchen. At one point, she said, "oh wow, you actually follow the recipe!" as she always wings it (and her food is great). But then I'd never made moussaka before...So I guess I do.

                      Once I was watching a beginning (now more experienced!) cook make lasanga and I noticed, to my amusement, that her recipe called for 450g (i.e. had been converted from an imperial measurement), but the meat she had bought was in a 500g (i.e. standard metric weight) pack. She had removed the 50g difference, which wouldn't have affected the recipe at all. It was excellent lasagna.

                      1. Me, too -- baking, I usually follow pretty closely, unless it's a regular recipe for me, in which case I've usually made it so often I know where I can fiddle and where I can't.

                        If it's non-baking and something I've never made before, I'll stick pretty close to the recipe the first time, although it's doubtful the measurements are going to be exact (the extra 50g of meat in the lasagna mentioned above is a good example - I'd have just pitched the 50g in there and dealt with it).

                        By the time I've made something a few times, I might have the recipe out so I don't forget something, but it's usually only there as a reminder at that point.

                        1. Almost never. Honestly, I don't use recipes very often, and when I do, my thought process is more like "I think maybe a minced shallot would be good sauteed with the carrots here", so I just add stuff that sounds good (like you said). This is also why I do not make a great baker....

                          1. yes and no. If it is a new dish, I tend to follow the recipe as lised. Risotto is a good example. After years of cooking long grain, it was a learning curve to cook the short grains - so found about 3 recipes - one chicken one seafood one vegetable and followed the recipes exactly. Now its oh risotto and just wing it but without the recipe following initially - would have ended up back with safe box rice.

                            1. regarding cooking reviews - i slightly disagree - I mentally throw out the haven't made the dish but heres the review and the I altered the recipe such and such (the alterations clearly make it a new recipe. BUT if everyone said in a seafood paella risotto - that the clam juice in the broth is too fishy/salty - I listened and used fish stock instead. GREAT call - still my go to base line recipe for risotto

                              1. The answer is 'NO' for cooking. I belong to the "What if...?" school of cooking specializing in "cuisine impromptu."

                                The answer is 'YES' for baking because it is chemistry. BTW, I'm still using yeast for bread and pizza that is more that 6 years past the expiration date. It is kept in a glass jar in the fridge. A vacuum packed pound of yeast goes a long way and is much less expensive than a 3 pack. Don't discard yeast because of an expiration date. Proof it first before making a decision to discard it.

                                1. The first time I use a recipe, always. Otherwise, what's the point of reading it? For anything complicated, I follow the instructions unless the result isn't up to expectations, or I have a real reason to substitute.

                                  A lot of cooking doesn't need recipes at all, once you've a little experience. Vegetables, for instance, involve only a few basic techniques and the rest is seasoning, tasting, and doneness. But for baking, and making desserts (when I do - not often), it's always by the book.

                                  1. If you carefully scan a carton of supermarket eggs you will usually notice some variation in size. I assume the packers make sure that the total weight in the carton is what it should be, which is 24 ounces in the case of large eggs. 4 large eggs should be 8 oz. 3 jumbo should be 7.5. It does not seem like a half ounce of egg would make a noticeable difference.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      BUT...when the recipe calls for 3 large, as the OP mentioned, it would require about 6 oz. Substituting 3 jumbo at 7.5 would be 25% more egg than called for...which could indeed skew the results.

                                      Conversely, if you only used 2 jumbo, it would be about 5 oz -- a 20% shortage, which would be just as detrimental as too much.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Perhaps the OP's recipe called for 3 large, but s/he did NOT indicate what the recipe said.

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          just pointing out that there could be a significant difference, depending on how one goes about the substitutions.

                                    2. I first read the recipe carefully, so I get a feeling for what the author intends - sometime it is obvious that I need to follow the recipe to the letter, but often it is evident that I can follow it in spirit or even deviate wildly from it (in technique and/or ingredient) without risk.
                                      It is usually techniques involving boiling sugar or emulsifying things that alert me to the need to be careful.

                                      1. If it is a dish I haven't made before then I will follow it pretty closely--especially if it's a cuisine I'm not familiar with I don't like to waste food or to serve a dish that just doesn't taste good so until I'm clear on how the various flavors work together I'll stick with the recipe. That said, I rarely use a recipe since our favorite meal is some variation on pasta with vegetables/meat and that is determined by what we feel like eating or what's in the frig.