Whether you’re writing a recipe for a clippings folder, your friends or a publication, the process requires a deft and precise touch. A poorly written guide can result in wasted time, money and effort, not to mention a disappointed gaggle of hungry mouths and a touch of kitchen rage. It’s something we take very seriously at BBC Good Food, which is why we triple test our recipes. It’s also why our kitchen team have revealed some of their secret writing tips.
The starting point of all recipes is a table of ingredients. Our senior food editor, Cassie Best says that whatever time of year, seasonality is the key for achieving the most flavoursome results. She says: “When thinking of recipe ideas I tend to start with what’s in season, then from this I’ll think of what flavours lend themselves well to these foods.”
Former BBC Good Food cookery assistant, Adam Russell says it’s then good to build the recipe from a base to get the right balance of flavours. “First look at flavours that work well together as a foundation,” he says. “Then experiment with their quantities to get the right balance, so that they complement instead of overpower each other.”
If people want a speedy and simple dish, it’s best to cater for this with a short list of ingredients. Cassie says: “Don’t overcomplicate things – less is more! Too many ingredients can put people off. Keep your recipes simple and try not to use ingredients if they are unnecessary.”
Managing editor Lulu Grimes says it’s essential to test your recipe. “I tell my students to research and write their recipe first, then test it and make any amendments,” she says. “Finally, read it aloud as that helps you see if your method instruction is deficient,” Lulu suggests.
BBC Good Food contributer, Caroline Hire says that the method section and the ingredients list should correlate to make a recipe as easy to follow as possible. “List your ingredients in the order they appear in the method. Check the method against the ingredients to make sure everything coincides,” she says. “You also need to explain your method clearly to allow for both beginner and more experienced cooks – and make sure you add the number of servings.”Precision
It’s important not to be presumptuous when writing your method. Lucy Netherton creates recipes for BBC Good Food and Easy Cook and says that an outside party can often cast light on any grey areas. “Sometimes when it’s your own recipe you can assume your readers will understand what you mean and you may leave out important information,” Lucy says. “I always get someone to read it through for me to check it make sense to a third party – or even better if you can get someone to have a go at the recipe and identify any points that may need clarification.”
A slapdash approach to certain elements of a recipe can destroy the end result, so steer well clear of guesswork. Caroline says: “Be precise, especially in measurements, timings, oven temperatures and tin or dish sizes. This is doubly important for baking recipes.”
It’s best to very carefully spell out how an ingredient is to be used. “Clearly describe how the ingredients should be prepared,” says Cassie “There’s a fine line between finely chopped, chopped and sliced, which will make all the difference!”
Without the correct measuring facilities, a few errant grams can ruin a recipe. “Use exact measurements,” says Caroline. “So for teaspoons and tablespoons, use a set of measuring spoons rather than table cutlery.”
Caroline also warns against mixing dimensions. “Create your recipe in either imperial or metric,” she says. “You can include conversions if you like but the most important thing is not to mix the two.”
To avoid surplus, it’s good to consider the quantity in which people will be buying ingredients. Cassie says: “Try to use whole tins or packets where possible, this saves money and waste!”
Know your audience
BBC Good Food food editor Barney Desmazery says “When you are writing for a magazine write recipes for the reader, not for your ego. If you have a clear idea of who you are writing that recipe for then it’s easier to write.
Lulu says: “It’s important to question whether a person has budget restraints, time restraints or access to specialist ingredients, and whether terminology used in the method is universal. Considering these factors will deliver a clearer, practical recipe that people are more likely to cook. Also, you may love chilli and put loads into your cooking, but recipes should written with others in mind!”