Recipe writing best practices

Do you cook much?  How often do you try new recipes?

This month, I used two cookbooks that were new to me.

Recipe 1: Savory – Pork & Coconut Soup by Stephanie Izard.  Recipe 2: Sweet – Rosemary Shortbread Cookies by Martha Stewart (ok, maybe a little savory too)

I had a frustrating experience with both when it comes to ingredients.    Martha gave me a line item: “1 egg, plus 1 yolk”.  I scrambled it together during prep; then, during the assembly process I read “put the 1 egg in the bowl”.  Turns out the white was to be reserved for later use. Cue 2 wasted eggs.  All it would have taken was “…(reserved)” added to the above line.  Given the pleasure Martha seems to take in rules and precision, it comes as a surprise.  Izard’s recipe had me gather myriad small volumes of ingredients, which ultimately all got dumped in at once; while other ingredients were a large volume that I used portions of throughout the process – “add 2/3 of the diced onions”. There is inconsistency in patterns between the two, and both caused frustration.

The basic recipe format we are used to seeing:

Ingredients

Process

I am a big fan of America’s Test Kitchen’s approach. They start every recipe with a “why this recipe works” and a short paragraph – it’s like screaming “hey dummy, read this” (but with more motivating copy) and is brief enough that it’s hard not to.  In this section they tend to call out things you can’t short cut, or important processes like “leave it in the fridge overnight…”.

ATK’s format:

“Why this recipe Works”

Ingredient group name

Ingredients

Ingredient group name (if applicable)

Ingredients 2 (if applicable)

(repeat)

Process – I noted a maximum of 6 steps (often 4 or less).  A correlation with UX processes like checkout.

They maintain consistent formatting throughout their reference-sized book.

As a person who is attuned to standards, it got me wondering if there is an agreed upon best practice.

It doesn’t seem publishing houses or cookbook editors are forcing adherence to an accepted standard; perhaps due to celebrity/personality being a primary purchase motivator, usability isn’t of much concern.  Given ATK’s research-driven approach to recipe creation, I figure it should be something like theirs.

What would be in your recipe writing best practices document?

recipe

Yum, Cobbler!

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4 Responses to “Recipe writing best practices”

  1. Karol Czyrka →
    February 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    Most people would think – what? some recipes are more usable than others? Absolutely. And, it has nothing to do with the recipe itself. You can make a recipe for boiling water seem complicated if you don’t know how to write out the steps in an easily consumable way.

    I took a technical writing class in college that was very helpful. It focused on how well you could write instructions (you can easily swap out the word recipe there) by having someone else int he class try to to the task you described.

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  2. Chad Cline →
    February 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Not surprisingly, you get it. “…having someone else do the task” (and you watch them, and can’t help) – sounds like a usability session!