How to Develop a Recipe
After mastering the basics, it's common to work without recipes in many kitchens. This may seem odd because books and blogs are full of recipes. They make them seem like a necessity in the culinary industry. Often, this isn't the case. When you're integrated into a team, you all end up working to produce a similar product. You understand what each other mean when talking about ideas and describing preparations. You get used to working without recipes, utilising your techniques to guide you through your work. This is fine. You can go far working like this, but there comes a time where recipes are required. Recipes can become indispensable in the kitchen, but it can be a lot of work to make them yourself. You could turn to books and pull recipes from there, but, morals aside, that recipe might not reflect what you want out of the end product. It's missing the unique special touches that reflect your style. Time to make a recipe yourself and make things how you like them. Making recipes can be tedious, but it doesn't have to be. Through making your own recipes you get to make something that's perfect to you. You make something that's a true expression of yourself.
Why Go Through the Trouble of Making Recipes
First, for any baking application, you need to use or make a recipe. Baking is a science and therefore has little room for winging it. Recipes are also great for bringing new hires up to speed. When you've taken the time to codify the way you prepare a dish, you can transfer that skill to anyone in a shorter time. By preparing a dish the same way each time with a recipe, you can prepare it faster, without having to judge and correct a dish as you go. Standardising the preparation through a recipe will make it consistent and much easier to cost. With exact costing, the kitchen management can calculate a more accurate budget. Recipes become useful for calculation and consistency in the kitchen. It's worth taking the time to develop and put in place recipes to help make things run smoothly. || Read more about recipes and their benefits here. ||
Take Notes and Measures as you Prepare a Dish
Having worked for a while in the industry, you'll have your own way of doing things. Generally, you'll prepare menu items the same way each time, looking to create the same flavour as before. This is good. This will make turning the preparation into a recipe easier. The ingredients just need to be quantified so that they can be standardised into a recipe. Do your preparation as you normally would, but keep a record of how much you add of each ingredient. Keep track of the order you do things in making the dish. With this information, you can turn your notes into a recipe. For accuracy and ease of measuring, I recommend using weight measures. By using weights as opposed to volumes, you get more consistency in the recipe and you don't need to go through the trouble of measuring how many cups of diced onions a dish needs. Cut enough and then weigh them. Done. Do this for each ingredient, being sure to measure any seasonings you add to finish the dish. Continue this throughout preparation, then collect and clarify the information. Congratulations! You now have a workable recipe. You could call the recipe finished here, or you could go on to use this recipe as a base to iterate upon and improve through the recipe development process.
The Recipe Development Process
Researching and Comparing Existing Recipes
We start the recipe development process with research. When you know what you want to make, start pulling recipes from books and the internet. Then, look for common threads in the recipes. This will highlight the techniques behind the preparation and it will show which ingredients are necessary. Make note of these commonalities. They will help guide you as you start experimenting with the recipes. When creating a more original recipe, we want to find the simplest form of what we want our end result to be. From a simple preparation that focuses on the techniques behind the preparation, we'll build a great recipe. Choose a simple base recipe from your research to use as a starting point.
Next, you need to try the basic recipe. As you prepare it, record any issues you come across as well as any important observations. Judge the process and take note of how you might improve it or do things differently. Start thinking of what you would add to the basic recipe to make it unique.
Analysis and Modification
Assess the end product. Look for ways to improve it or make it more unique. For example, when trying a new cake recipe, it comes out looking nice, but the texture of the crumb is a bit off. It's too dense. You'd record this and then look for a solution. You could use a lighter flour, mix the batter with another technique, or add a little more leavener. When making changes, you have to rely somewhat on your intuition and knowledge base, but you can look to other similar recipes to see how they've done it. If you're not entirely happy with a recipe on the first go-around, I know that I rarely am, then you will have to try it again with your modifications. Start trying to add different flavours to bend the recipe closer to what you've envisioned. The key here is to be critical of the result and to try and find any and every way to improve the recipe. To make a recipe that's perfect to you, you need to be critical of it and take the time to make iterations.
This is where things can become a little tedious, but, iteration will lead you to a result you're happy with. After you've assessed your notes from trying the recipe and made your modifications, it's time to try it again. This time, you want to pay extra close attention to how your changes to the recipe affect the end result. Again, you want to record your findings as you go. Assess the final product and look to see how you might improve it more. If your previous changes backfired and you aren't happy with the result, make special note of what didn't work, so you can avoid this in the future. Continue this assessment and modification process until you get a result you love. This could take some time, so keep good notes and space out your attempts. You don't need to make a perfect recipe in an afternoon. It took me over a month, with research and iteration to make a recipe for yeast doughnuts that I love. This process takes time, but it's worth doing. You can get fantastic results that you can then use forever.
When you're happy with the end result, all you have left to do is record the final iteration of the recipe you used. You've worked hard to make this recipe, so keep it somewhere that you won't lose it. It's worth keeping your notes from the development process. With them, you can identify where things went wrong as well as what worked especially well. These tidbits of information may help when you develop similar recipes in the future. Whenever you prepare a recipe that you have developed, you should still pay attention to how you might improve or adapt it. When you return to a recipe in the future, with new insights and knowledge, you could think of a way to improve it that you wouldn't have considered when first developing the recipe. A 'finished' recipe shouldn't be set in stone. Yes, you can get a great result from it, but that doesn't mean that the recipe has peaked. There's always a way to improve.
A Note on Recipe Originality
Originality is difficult when it comes to recipe development. You need a starting point, but it can feel immoral to lift someone else's hard work. The thing to keep in mind is that everyone is in the same boat here. Most recipes are based on the key techniques that lead to the final product. The only real difference between different recipes for the same product will be their flavouring ingredients, which come down to personal taste. You can't own the techniques behind making a dish. Let's say you have the task of developing a recipe for alfredo sauce to use in a restaurant kitchen. You use the sauce frequently and want it standardised across the kitchen for consistency. Every alfredo sauce is going to be a similar recipe. With the correct preparation, It starts with butter and flour to make a roux, adding garlic, parmesan and milk, then cooking until thickened. The only difference will be in additional flavouring ingredients such as lemon juice, pepper and herbs. That said, if you develop a recipe that is still very similar to another recipe that you used as a starting point, you should cite that source if it's ever published. Someone else would have worked hard through iterations to develop that recipe. They deserve the recognition. Inspirations should also be cited, where possible. If there's a specific instance of a recipe that inspired you to go off and make your own, it was the source. Citing your sources for recipe ideas is important when you're publishing - you wouldn't want to be called out for plagiarism. When it comes to day to day use, recipes should pass hands often. One of the great parts about working in the food industry is that there's so much that you can learn, the possibilities are endless. By sharing recipes with others, you help each other learn new techniques and come up with new ideas. That is the exciting aspect of recipes.
Developing recipes can be frustrating and tedious at times, but, by working through the process with patience, you end up with fantastic results that you can use forever. By taking the time to do the research before starting the development process you can highlight the core principles behind the preparation. Use these to guide you through the iteration process as you modify the recipe. Taking rigorous notes as you test the recipe will help you find areas to improve the product. These notes will also come in handy when developing recipes in the future. If you run into the same problem again, you already have a solution that worked before. Put in the work and develop recipes. Keep them safe. They're now a part of your tool belt in the kitchen. Share the recipes you develop with your friends and colleagues. By sharing information, you spark new ideas that drive everyone to better, more inspired work. I know you might not want to give out your recipes after spending so much time developing and perfecting them, but, If a friend gave you a recipe that they put their heart into, wouldn't you use it?