This weekend I received a request for waffles. From habit I don’t use a recipe because it is simpler and easier to proportion everything on the eggs used. I separate the eggs. Whip the whites. Beat the yolks. Add a dollop of oil per yolk. A dash of salt and sugar. Then I add milk to double the volume of the yolks and beat in enough flour to make it gooey enough to fold in the beaten egg whites. No measuring tools needed. Just two bowls, a whisk, and a scraper. It is always ‘just right’.
Does anyone else have ‘just right’ recipes that they follow?
I don’t either because I grew up going to Italian and Chinese restaurants. I did not come from the stereotypical 1960’s background where mom knew how to measure flour by the fistful. All my cooking and baking is defendant on recipes.
I did not come from the stereotypical 1960’s background where mom knew how to measure flour by the fistful.
I suspect there were very few moms who could do that and produce a consistent product. The editor of Cooks Illustrated has pointed out that people don’t follow recipes because they think by doing so is an admission that they don’t know how to cook. Well, they probably don’t, if you use that benchmark, but I think that’s overly judgmental.
I have a friend that takes some pride in not using recipes and he does a pretty good job turning out some sophisticated meals, but he often overcooks the meat, produces dense bread, and underseasons. And when he is actually spot-on, he doesn’t have a prayer of duplicating his accomplishment, since he didn’t write anything down. He would be better served, IMO, to be a bit more humble and methodical.
I know that when I make last-minute changes to recipes, most often the result is inferior to what the recipe would have produced. For instance, I often boost the chocolate flavor of recipes that I use, but that change alone produces a bitter aftertaste, which can be fixed by some experimentally-determined increase in vanilla. Any improvement that I’m able to make usually takes quite a few screw-ups to get right.
I do make things without recipes, but like to be able to duplicate or tweak results. So it goes something like this. I’ll start with an idea, like a sourdough pizza crust made with durum. Then I fill in the details: I know I need 300g of flour for my size of family, and I want a small proportion of pre-fermented flour, both to extend the fermentation time to suit my schedule and also to help limit acid production, so I chose 9% pre-fermented flour (this lower amount is also easy because I have enough in my standard jar of sourdough culture to feed it, without having to build it up). Then I fill in the rest of the details for the levain: 100% hydration to maximize protease for easier shaping, and a little extra quantity to perpetuate the culture, then time it so that I’m using it a bit early in the feeding cycle for milder flavors.
For the main dough, I finished off my bag of fine durum flour, then filled in the rest with lower protein AP (I used Gold Medal unbleached). Hydration was 75% and I added 2% salt and also 2% sugar to help browning.
After eating the pizza, I’ll decide if the recipe is good enough to transfer from the paper I scrawled notes on to the computer for further refining.
Somehow it doesn’t quite come across like your freewheeling waffle method, does it?
I didn’t intend this thread as a screed against recipes. The waffle rule is a recipe. It is reproducible even if I haven’t done it for a year or more and it is something I remember without referring to written source. There are some recipes I make so often that they get committed to memory and I usually end up simplifying them to keep them in my head. I make cornbread frequently. So I have reduced the recipe so that I only need a one cup measure to make it.
Like Charles’s friend I would be a better cook if I could resist the urge to tinker with nearly every recipe. Why is it that I always want to fool around with something that I am preparing for guests?
Funny you should mention pizza. We just held our annual pizza bash. A vegan friend who won’t even eat dairy attended. My dough recipe uses buttermilk so I prepared a batch for him without. It was interesting to see the side by side comparison. Without the buttermilk the dough is slightly tougher, lacks a certain roundness of flavor, and doesn’t brown nearly as prettily.
Ooooo, your pizza bash! How was it this year? Do you bake in your home oven for that? Or an outdoor grill? wood-fired oven? I always get impatient when cooking more pizza than will fit on my stone, waiting for it to recover heat before the next batch of pizzas. I can only imagine that you were at it for a good long while
Without the buttermilk the dough is slightly tougher, lacks a certain roundness of flavor, and doesn’t brown nearly as prettily.
Interesting- those milk solids must do a lot for the dough! A quick pinch of sugar could fix the browning and roundness of flavor issues, though probably wouldn’t help much with tenderness.
The milk solids give the crust a reddish brown color which I find appealing. The buttermilk also has just the right amount of acidity. Not enough that the taster can identify an acid flavor but enough that the tongue experiences completeness.
I have a Gaggenau oven with the baking stone option. The stone is heated by an element that sits just below the stone. This is the first time I bothered to read the instructions that come with the stone. It recommended 550F for pizza. I have used 470F being a little fearful of pushing the oven so high. So this time I used 500F which I liked quite a bit.
The instructions also say the stone can only bake 6 pizzas continuously. Whatever that means. During the parties I bake for 6 hours and I don’t notice any difference beginning to end.
Every year I vow I am going to record the number and type baked but inevitably the demands of the guests overwhelm my ability to record anything. I would guess we made somewhere between 25 and 30 pizzas. A chinese friend of mine likes to make his specialty. Hoisen, sesame oil, bok choy, tofu, pork belly. As a final hurrah I applied a layer curry paste which I topped with pesto and cilantro pesto. Some declared it the best of the night.
I do the “Just right” method mostly with sauces and gravies. Although I hardly make it anymore, I never use a recipe when I make sausage gravy for biscuits and gravy. I just pour what looks like a good amount of milk and then add a little flour, salt, and pepper to it. I also make a tomato paste-based sauce with various spices, diced tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, honey, molasses, and lemon juice to cook my chicken in and I never measure amounts of anything for that. It’s never the exact same whenever I make it, but I’ve made it enough times now that I get a consistent flavor to it. I also make a beef broth-based gravy in a similar fashion. I find with conventional cooking I have a lot more room for experimentation and not measuring exact amounts without adversely affecting the outcome of my dish. However, I am not confident enough with my skills and knowledge to try this with baked goods (except maybe when it comes to adding or subtracting spices or nuts). I am too worried I will have too much or too little of a critical ingredient and I won’t get a proper rise, or the texture and/or flavor will be way off to try this with baking. The only recipe for a baked item I’ve altered is one for Belgium waffles where I subtracted one egg from the recipe because it had too much of an egg taste to it. I also added cinnamon to it. Other than that I have never altered a recipe for a pastry or confectionery item.
I know you were not speaking out against recipes here or saying that using one means you do not know how to cook or bake. I will say, however, for those that do believe this is that just because you are using a recipe doesn’t mean you you don’t know how to cook or bake. You still have to execute the proper techniques in order for the dish to turn out the way the recipe intended it to. I think about some of Rose’s cakes I’ve tried to make that were ultimately a failure and I know it wasn’t because she wrote a bad recipe. It was because I messed up one or more of the techniques her instructions called for. And one time it was because I tried to make a cake (unbeknownst to me until it was too late) with half of a recipe for one cake and half of a recipe for another cake on the following page in TCB. What a mess that turned out to be! But that just proves the point that simply having a recipe is no guarantee you will have a successful end product. You need to follow the directions and properly execute the one or more cooking or baking techniques in order for things to work out in the end.
Many supper meals in my house are not recipe based—again, they aren’t always fabulous, but these meals are often the result of using what’s in the fridge. Most often I do this with tomato based sauces for pasta—I still follow a similar technique in building the sauce (I like Lidia Bastianich’s approach). I will also modify recipes when I see the need—although I sometimes don’t. I recently made a swirled cheesecake brownie and I noticed the chocolate brownie batter looked a bit weak…I considered adding some cocoa bloomed in hot water, but opted to try it as written. Big mistake…it hardly tasted chocolately—it looked brown but that was it. I wish I has followed my instincts on that one. As far as baking, I feel most confident doing this with ganaches/frostings because the consistency can be judged and usually the result is not totally useless.
Gene, that sounds like a great party! Ummm…wonderful flavours and a warm house (it’s -22C here today and it’s MARCH!!!) are enticing!
I don’t know if it really counts but I cook the perfect bacon and sausages! My tip is to line a cooking tray with foil, put your sausages on and cook for 5 minutes, add the bacon and cook for a further 12
mins or so (packet instructions will tell you how long the sausages need), turning regularly, and then my magic tip is to ‘dry fry’ everything in a pan afterwords to let it brown and get that lovely crispiness on the outside. Yum.