Recently, I was thumbing randomly through cookbooks and came across a recipe. Here was the first ingredient in one…
“One Octopus, cleaned“
That’s it. No explanation.
It’s like saying…
“One Whale, de-boned“
“Three Puffins, feathers and beaks removed“
I think those actions require perhaps a modicum of an explanation.
On the other hand, if a recipe says…
“1 cup almonds, chopped“
“8 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated“
…I don’t think chopped or grated need further explanation. And indeed adding those instructions to a recipe would make it unnecessarily long and daunting. Honestly, any recipe longer than one or two pages freaks me out.
Is it worth the real estate on the page to say…
“Lift the almonds from the bag or storage container and distribute them in an even layer on a clean and dry wooden or plastic cutting surface. Be sure the surface is flat and preferably waist-high. Use your hand to grab the wooden handle of the knife, being sure to avoid the sharp blade end. Lifting from your elbows, direct the knife over the almonds on the cutting board and press downward while gently rocking the knife back and forth, moving the knife as necessary over the almonds, to cut them evenly. If some almonds fling across the counter, set down the knife and retrieve the errant almond pieces. Add them back to the mound of almonds and continue chopping.”
Now wasn’t that a mouthful?
A few years back a very talented pastry chef from New York came out with his first book. In the book was a three-page recipe for brownies, complete with full-color step-by-step photos. Holy Mother of Betty Crocker! Is there anyone in America who doesn’t know how to make brownies? It’s one thing to present a recipe, and to show how neat and fabulous they look when stacked on a lovely white Crate & Barrel plate, but do we need to see what the nuts look like when scraped into the brownie batter or an instructional photo of the bowl of melted chocolate and butter?
A writer recently went on a bender about cookbook authors that don’t list water as an ingredient. Often that’s not up to the author, but an editorial decision based on space (space=money, especially in magazines.) Believe it or not, one or two sentences can throw a whole page off-kilter. I’ve had copy editors direct me to go through a page and get rid of 7 words (in editor-speak, the “widows and orphans”.)
But Kate’s right, it is annoying to be making a recipe and find that the 2 cups of water that your supposed to divide between the chocolate cake batter and the frosting, you’ve just added to the mixture, which now looks like a muddy lagoon instead of a smooth, luscious glossy chocolate batter.
While Adam’s on vacation, Lisa’s been dubbed the Amateur Gourmette by Pim and was making a recipe for Butterscotch Pudding and it didn’t come out right.
The recipe calls for “2 cups milk”, but there in her photo is a carton of 2% milk. She is so busted. The recipe turned out to be a disaster. In her defense, the main reason the recipe didn’t taste good is it only calls for ¼ cup of brown sugar, which would add negligible butterscotch flavor. But did the recipe indicate “whole” milk or just say “milk”? Whole milk is normally critical to a pudding recipe. In that case, the recipe writer is so busted.
I decided to let her slide by on this one since she’s just the substitute and everyone likes to pick on the substitute, but I’m sure when Adam gets back, there’s gonna be hell to pay.
So here’s a concise, and photo-free, recipe for Butterscotch Pudding:
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted), melted
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 1/4 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons dark rum or whisky
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. In a large bowl, make the butterscotch base by mixing the brown sugar with the melted butter (note the lack of a picture here.) Set aside.
2. Put the yolks in a small bowl and stir briefly (no photo here eith…Huh? ok, I’ll stop…it’s getting obnoxious.)
2. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with a small amount of the milk until smooth. Pour the rest of the milk into a heavy saucepan and scrape in the slurry of cornstarch and the salt.
3. Cook over medium heat, stirring with a whisk constantly, until the mixture thickens and begins to boil. Whisk a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks and then scrape the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.
4. Keep cooking and stirring the custard until it comes to a boil again. It will become quite thick and mound up like mayonnaise. Remove it from the heat and pour it into the butterscotch base. Add the rum and vanilla and whisk until the butterscotch has dissolved into the custard. Pour into large serving bowl.
Chill (…in the refrigerator, duh!)
Note: I’ve updated the recipe since several readers thought there was too much butterscotch flavor. Feel free to use light brown sugar in place of the dark brown for a milder flavor.