164026255_82b800c1ff.jpgI have a habit, whether it be good or bad I have not decided. I simply can not follow a recipe. How as a baker can this be? Well, a couple reasons… 1. I have a foundational knowledge of the science of baking and can slightly tweak recipes with an understanding that most likely the recipe will come out. 2. I have a lot of failed baking attempts. 3. My wanderings from recipes may be ever so slight.

So now I ask myself why do I do this?…1. Just as an artist does not consider a painting their own if they simply copied someone else’s work so I too do not consider myself a true pastry chef if I am using another’s recipe. But this is silly isn’t it? All chef’s use the recipe of another and then they may tweak it to suit their own needs but only after they have examined, tested and studied the original recipe. Am I right on this?

Well, obviously I am unclear on normal protocol, but what I am clear on is that everytime I go to bake I wander from the recipe and then once the finished product reaches my mouth I wonder…. “if I would have stayed with the original recipe would it be more moist, more flavorful, less chewy, more tender, sweeter, lighter, denser”… and so on and so forth. So then I am left to wonder if it was my alterations that caused the good/bad outcome or if I would have stayed with the original recipe would the results have been the same?

Take for example my bread baking experiences over this past week. When I go to make bread I love having the freedom to throw in some flour, water, yeast/starter and salt and then a few hours later have bread. But the thing is some days it’s perfect and then the next day it’s not. If I were to follow a recipe than my results would be more consistent and I would become more familiar with the product and once I have mastered that recipe it is then that I may tweak and know exactly what has occurred due to the deviation from the recipe. (Sorry for the run on sentence but it is late and I am trying so hard to make sense of this conundrum.)

So now the question is… should I devote myself to the discipline of following recipes so that later, when I have a better understanding of baking and the science involved, I would have more luck tweaking and creating my own recipes?

I am curious how others in the pastry business feel about this. Please let me know your thoughts on following/creating recipes.


10 Responses to “Not a follower”

  1. Kitchen lore

    Hi !
    I am a French chef (no cliches please). I am trying to write in my a blog about Why it doesn’t look like the picture in the book. I have a 5 years catering management training but always hated following a recipe, even in college! But rarely got myself into trouble. Excepted in the pasrty area. There are bases that you cannot go avoid. A bread dough is a bread dough, the proportions are the same since a very long time but what could make the difference is the kneading or the mix of flour used. It is the same with the mousses bases or cheesecakes mixes everything has to be precisely measured, the differences is in the use of the technics and how they are combined together, and the feeling and experience of the chef when it comes to combinations of flavour. In France all the chefs start in the pastry corner to learn rigour and discipline.
    Hope it helps.
    yann @ kitchen lore

  2. artisansweets

    Thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate that you used the word discipline as this is something that I have recently been really trying hard to implement in all areas of my life but have never thought to apply it to my baking. Thanks again for your insight.

  3. Helene

    You put into words what has been in my head for a few days.
    Examples: I did you banana choc.pound cake, but I tweaked it, not to improve on it, but all of a sudden I added rum and coconut, I felt like going tropical. I knew that my addtions would not destroy the cake,because I can read a recipe and know the outcome, given the quantities, ingredients, ratios of liquid to dry. Baking is a science but ti is very repetitive and once you have learned and repeated the basics, the sky is the limit! But like most savory chefs, there are basics doughs and preparations to be mastered. I believe that nothing in pastry is complicated, it is a work of carefully weighing, learning, whisking and whipping. Patience and time are the most important things to a pastry chef, that and knowing your recipe base! ( oh and being organized!)
    I could go on and on about the topic but you get my point.

  4. boone

    yeah, if you can get away with it, do it! i like to think i can do it too, but since one time it didn’t turn out well, i’ll never live it down.

    …it was at tim’s house and i was really hungry. they didn’t have a lot of food in the house. so i mixed together pancake mix (i love that stuff), cherries, chicken, and cheese… and ate it. good memories…

    on a more serious note, i like the look of your blog! and your blog entries are great. keep up the good work.

  5. Mary

    Hi Ashley, Even though I’m not a pastry professional, I do bake quite often. And being a scientist by training, I’ve found that having an understanding of how baking/pastry works allows me to not follow a recipe verbatim. Just like you, I know where and how I can tweak the recipe. Most of the time, I have good results. But some of the time, the “experiment” fails. But I usually can figure out why something failed and make the appropriate changes in the future. For me, experimentation with food is fun and fascinating at the same time.
    Mary (a fellow non-follower)

  6. jenjen

    Hi, I am by no means a professional, but I think the beauty of baking is that you can tweak and add or subract and get a different outcome everytime. I think that is the fun thing about baking. Sometimes the “tweak” may not work but I never regret tweaking.

  7. peabody

    In school we learned when it comes to pastry, discipline before desire. Ironically the more you follow it to a “T” the more the easier it gets to ad lib as you go along.

  8. marv

    I also dont often follow recipes but that tis mostily becuase I never have all the listed ingredients or one of my fmaily doesnt like something. I think you only learn to ‘cook’ by going off-recipe.


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