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A Well Constructed Cookbook & Recipe

We've heard a lot of pet peeves about recipes & some gripes about cookbooks in general, so why don't we just get down to basics & see how we can reinvent the wheel?

Cookbooks - how would you like to see the table of contents & index? Paper back/ spiral/hardback? Color background, pictures, details?

Recipe - how would you like to see it - ingredients first, grams or ounces?

Do you currently own a cookbook that is laid out just perfect? If so, what is it?

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  1. Not going to attempt to address all your points, I'll just start with the cover of the book. One thing I love is a hardcover book with a wipeable cover and no dust jackets. A lot of the British books are coming out this way. Fuchsia Dunlop's new book, for example. Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty is another example.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MelMM

      Agreed - and no spiral binding. I like to be able to see the title when it's on my shelf.

      1. re: thursday

        I have a love/hate relationship with spiral cookbooks.
        Love the spiral when I have a lot of stuff on my too small table - folds in half & saves room.

        Hate the spiral when I try to tuck it in the bookshelf along with another spiral
        cookbook...spirals get hung up on each other & next time you pull it out, you have a tangled mess, besides not being able to see the title of the book.

        Oh well, guess I will opt for no spiral.

        1. re: cstout

          No spiral for me either, though sometimes there are covered spirals, which are a bit more manageable both from the perspective of not getting caught on other spirals, and also because these have a title on the spine.

    2. These are all excellent questions, cstout.

      I would love to see indexes that are cross referenced between ingredients and recipes. For example, Miniature Pecan Tassies, which are a recipe in a book I own, are listed under Miniature, but not under tassies or pecans! I finally bookmarked the bloody thing.

      One thing I hate is light colored type. The Gourmet Cookbook is famous for that one, with its hard to read light yellow headings in the index.

      I prefer photos to be on or near the page of the recipe, rather then bound into the center of the book, which I know is a more inexpensive way to to produce a book.

      I love ingredients listed first with the measure, then ounces then grams. I can take my pick for all of the ingredients that way. Clearly, I prefer to measure a tablespoon of something rather than weigh it.

      1. I'm in total agreement with "roxlet" on the issue of index cross referencing.

        I prefer the spiral binding so the book can be laid flat and cover page finishes that can be wiped clean in the event they become soiled. Whether the cover itself it hard, paper, or hard paper makes no difference to me as long as it's durable.

        Again quoting "roxlet",

        "... photos to be on or near the page of the recipe, rather then bound into the center of the book..."

        "... ingredients listed first with the measure, then ounces then grams..."

        Temperatures should be listed in both "F" and "C"

        I do prefer to weigh ingredients for baking but for general cooking tasks the bulk measure works fine so I'm a fan of seeing the ingredients presented in both ways.

        I have perhaps a hundred cookbooks. Some have some of the features I like, most do not.

        One point you didn't include - proof reading.
        I hate to spend money on a cookbook and find that the proof reading didn't include careful testing of all recipes, including ingredient and ingredient measurement accuracy as printed. When I find a cookbook that has had to publish page after page of errata and I have to spend time making corrections in the book I'm unlikely to buy another book by that author, especially if he/she used the same publisher.

        2 Replies
        1. re: todao

          Just to clarify, todao, it really isn’t the proofreader’s job to test recipes. What the proofreader is paid, often very little, to do is to make sure the printed copy agrees with the manuscript. It is the author of the book who has received the advance and will be paid any royalties who is expected to deliver an accurate, fully tested manuscript. Often a good editor or copyeditor will catch and query the most obvious errors such as a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of salt or a clear imbablance of liquid to dry ingredients. But it is the author’s job to get the information correct in the first place, so you are right to be wary of both author and publisher if a cookbook contains an unacceptable number of errors.

          1. re: JoanN

            Thank you, JoanN; as they say, you should learn something new every day. I appreciate that lesson very much.

        2. Page numbers should be large enough and dark enough -- and at an *outside* edge of the page. The book (close at hand just now) "Planet Barbecue!" has the page numbers in a sort of khaki -- too light against the white page, especially in artificial light. Readable, but what good is an index if you can't see the page numbers readily!
          If the page number is deep inside the book, not at an outside corner, you can't flip through easily, the book has to be opened all the way, or set down on a table. Annoying when your hands are wet / foody.
          Pages with pictures should clearly show where the pictured recipe can be found.
          And everything else that everybody else says!

          1. Most cookbooks I own are in volume measurements and I have a particularly difficult time if I only have one set of clean measuring cups/spoons available, otherwise I end up washing and drying. Since I like to do all my mise en place ahead of time, I would like an ingredients list designed for a person like me. Starting with dry ingredients, then semi-wet, then wet, etc. This is probably best illustrated by an example.

            Say an ingredients list is:
            1/4 cup milk
            1 Tbsp honey
            1 Tbsp yogurt
            2 Tbsp flour
            1/4 cup cornmeal
            1 tsp sugar
            1 tsp salt
            1 tsp cayenne
            1/4 tsp nutmeg
            1/4 tsp cornstarch

            I would reorder this:
            1/4 cup cornmeal
            1/4 cup milk
            2 Tbsp flour
            1 Tbsp yogurt
            1 Tbsp honey
            1 tsp salt
            1 tsp sugar
            1 tsp cayenne
            1/4 tsp cornstarch
            1/4 tsp nutmeg

            The thinking is that the 1/4 cup measure scoops up the dry cornmeal and then I can pour milk into it, but if I measure the milk first, I have to rinse and dry the measuring cup before scooping the cornmeal. If I measure the flour first, I probably still have to rinse the Tbsp measure, but at least I don't have to worry about drying it before I dip it in the yogurt, and then pouring sticky honey into the Tbsp measure should obviously be last. Salt usually never sticks, and even if some sugar sticks, it's okay for a granule or two to end up in my cayenne, versus the other way around. And cornstarch might not shake off supereasy, but I definitely don't want any nutmeg residue or wetness (from washing and not drying well enough) in my cornstarch.

            I have hundreds of notes with reordered ingredients lists stuffed in my cookbooks, but it really makes life easy for me in the long run. If I try to reorder in my head as I go along, it's so easy to skip something. This is a very personal sort of thing, I guess. I know weighing solves this problem, but I feel with volume measurements I get a better sense of the recipe and by the tenth time or so I don't even need to measure most ingredients any more.

            3 Replies
            1. re: bmorecupcake

              I much prefer, and it's pretty standard cookbook practice, to have the list of ingredients in order of use. But to solve your wet/dry problem, I have two (actually, three) sets of measuring spoons--elongated for dry ingredients so they can reach into spice jars, and oval and round spoons for liquid measure, and two sets of measuring cups--both level for dry ingredients and the standard Pyrex cups for wet. Much easier than having to reorder the ingredients in all my recipes.

              1. re: JoanN

                I have multiple sets, too. It's just I have limited counter space, cook away from home a lot, and often only have one clean set of measures. But I appreciate the wisdom behind the standard "order of use" method, too.

              2. re: bmorecupcake

                Ditto, bmorecupcake. I don't need ingredients in order of their introduction to the recipe. That's what mise en place is for. Once I've measured out the ingredients using mise en place I can arrange the little containers in order of their intended introduction and never miss a step.