Thursday, 19 December 2013

Reading the instructions

I am quite renown for changing or adapting recipes with varying levels of success. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes it happens inadvertently. I'm not always good at following instructions step by step - but I'm getting better at rescuing recipes gone wrong before it's too late. Apparently you can learn how to force yourself to read the instructions first. Sometimes, not following instructions correctly can lead to disastrous consequences.

I wonder whether there is anything similar for people writing instructions. As well as the multitude of Engrish instructions out there in the market, I often come across recipes that haven't been proofread or tested by a cook or baker. You can identify them by their missing ingredients, missing steps, ingredients that haven't been used, random steps that either don't serve any purpose or instructions that simply won't work.

How often do you see a recipe that has obviously been written to a formula but makes absolutely no sense? It's almost as though the writer is flying on autopilot; you start by preheating the oven, cream the butter and sugar, sift the dry ingredients, etc ... right through to serving with ice cream and enjoying (or whatever).

Take this Allyson Gofton recipe for lemon shortbread, for example. Predictably, it begins with an instruction to preheat the oven to 150ºC. Then, a few steps later, it says "refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or overnight".

Now, I'm all for being prepared, which is something I need to improve on when baking, but preheating an oven the day before cooking something is going a tad too far for me. I have also seen a muffin recipe that requires you to sift the dry ingredients first. The only problem is, one of the dry ingredients was six Weet-Bix. Good luck trying to sift them!

Common sense would save these recipes, if there was some to be found. Employing a good editor or a recipe tester who has not made that recipe before would be even better. This is especially important for experienced cooks or people attempting to transcribe family recipes that "Gran has been making for years". Sure, Gran can whip up the recipe from memory in no time at all and adjust the temperature automatically if it gets too hot or change something if it "doesn't look right", but this doesn't mean she is consciously aware of what she's doing intuitively after hundreds of hours of experience.

So, I'll make the lemon shortbread mixture on Saturday and refrigerate it overnight but won't preheat my oven until I'm ready to bake the biscuits on Sunday. Just as well I didn't follow the recipe this time!

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