Why Do Recipes Fail Even When We Follow the Directions Exactly?

In the previous post:“I followed the instructions on the packet but the results were poor. Why?” I mentioned points that are also reasons why a recipe might cause us disappointment, such as:

  1. The instructions were poorly written and/or the measurements were inaccurate
  2. Your interpretation of the instructions were not as the writer intended
  3. The environment is different – for instance you live at a different altitude
  4. Your equipment – cooker/oven/cooking vessels are different
  5. Your measuring devices are inaccurate or different to the writer’s (e.g. US cups are 240ml and UK cups are 250ml)

For this post we’re going to assume that the recipe is well-written and it seems like other people on the internet loved it.

Here are some reasons in addition that are more specific to why recipes “fail”:

  1. Your ingredients are different to what the writer used
  2. Your skill level and/or experience with this dish was insufficient to make adjustments to account for (1)
  3. Your expectation of what that dish should look/taste/feel is different to the writer and other reviewers – how often have we seen huge quarrels over what is “authentic”?

Let’s look more closely at the first point .

  1. Your ingredients are different to what the writer used

If the recipe writer is thorough, the recipe will include:

a) A couple of different ways to measure the ingredients

For instance, rather than simply saying “1 onion” or even “1 medium onion”, they will also say “approximately 225g” or “roughly 1 cup when chopped”so that you have some form of a benchmark. After all the size of onions can vary quite a bit from place to place.

b) Specific brands that were used, especially if the writer is aware that there is a difference in consistency/quality among the brands

c) Extra guidelines so you can look out for a desired texture/colour etc. while cooking so that you are better able to make adjustments.

Here is a very short video to demonstrate the different textures between 3 buttermilk brands. I noticed when I bought Avonmore buttermilk that it had quite a different consistency to the one I had previously used.

It’s just a slight difference and you can make adjustments if you’re experienced with cooking or the writer has made it clear what to aim for with intermediate/end consistencies. But if you’re unsure and the instructions are scant, then these small differences can add up to quite a different end product.

From the video we see that:

Avonmore: 125ml weighs 126g

Sainsbury’s: 125ml weighs 136g

St Ivel: 125ml weighs 142g

So St Ivel is somewhat denser and thicker than Avonmore. Many recipes call for a cup of buttermilk so doubling that quantity can potentially cause an even greater difference in the texture.

2. Your skill level and/or experience with this dish was insufficient to make adjustments to account for (1)

The easy answer to this is that the more (conscious) experience you have in the kitchen, the more likely you are to have the skills to cook with your senses. However, we can greatly accelerate this learning process by being taught specifically how to observe while cooking, how the different ingredients work (and therefore the effects of making substitutions), how the different variables (such as temperature) can affect the dish and so on. In the club, I put effort into doing tests and comparisons so that members have a better chance of getting the results they expect.

3. Your expectation of what that dish should look/taste/feel is different to the writer and other reviewers – how often have we seen huge quarrels over what is “authentic”?

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that people have different experiences of a dish and therefore we may have different expectations of what is “perfect” or “authentic”. This is of course compounded by the variability in our individual tastes as well.

Throughout the Cooking For Life courses and in the Club, we show you how to use our building blocks as a baseline and then make appropriate adjustments to achieve your preferred variation of a dish. For instance, what do you need to do to have softer scrambled eggs versus fluffier/drier eggs. Rather than tell you what’s perfect, we give you guidelines on how different variables can affect the outcome so that you can make more informed choices.

I hope this post gives you a little insight into why we sometimes get disappointing results even though we have made an effort to follow the directions exactly.

If you have any further questions, please email me: questions@cookingforlife.club or join our public group on Facebook and you can ping me your questions there as well.

See you next Tuesday!

Andrea

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