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Recipe development as a profession

Ever wondered how a recipe goes from an idea to a finished dish?  Well, today Adell Shneer is offering you a glimpse into her recipe development process, how she works from concept or assignment to finished product.

Recipes, in my opinion, from the outset, should be guidelines. They should assist the home cook to replicate the recipe by providing clear direction and ideas. Style can change, but my favourite recipes are ones that I can imagine the writer, standing beside me, coaxing me along. (Imagine Dorie Greenspan, Norene Gilletz, Bonnie Stern). I like recipes with personality as well as those from writers I know I can trust.

First you start with a problem: Create a recipe that fits specific criteria. This is similar to a design brief. (My first career was in graphic design.) This may be self-imposed or assigned. Perhaps it is to use a specific product, for a special occasion, or to meet a specific health requirement.

Next is the research component. I rely on travel, cookbooks, internet, and my own experience to come up with the information. Occasionally, I have needed to work with an unfamiliar product, so research is key. Recently, I have been doing some work for a gourmet food company. I was asked to develop recipes for Praline Rose, or Pink Praline.

I worked with this new product-Pink Pralines (Praline Rose)

Not only had I not worked with these before, I hadn’t even seen them. So the research was critical and formed the backbone of my understanding of the product and how to use it. Learning what others have done, to me, is important as a jumping off point for your own experimentation and development. Also chatting with colleagues proved very helpful as well. (Mardi Michels did some recon in Paris at Pralus for me!)

Next is writing the recipe. While this may seem odd to write before cooking, I like to have my recipe sketched out before going to the kitchen. This is a guideline that gets fleshed out once in the kitchen.  Sometimes this is typed, sometimes handwritten, but it is my own working copy.

Then I cook. I make the recipe, making copious notes as I go. I always listen to that voice in my head and use my experience to make adjustments. Perhaps I wrote down 1 tsp of salt, and while I am cooking I’ll say to myself, “Adell, what were you thinking?” and I adjust accordingly.

I make the recipe all the way through, making notes as I go.

When possible I take photos as well, a way to keep a visual diary for myself and make notes to remind myself of any details that will help me to write a better recipe.

Dough here was softer than I expected but after rising, the texture became more workable.

When I complete the recipe the first time through I critically assess the recipe.

When I worked in a team I had colleagues and bosses to work through this step – on my own I must be my own critic. Now is not the time to be gentle.  How does it taste? How does it look? Is it too complicated? Are there too many steps? Is it reasonably easy for a novice cook to replicate?

This first attempt at the brioche was too brown on top, and the structure collapsed.  When it cooled and I cut into it, I saw there were gaps which caused the collapse. I realized the pralines had to be integrated into the dough, not rolled in like a cinnamon bun. Also I added eggs to give a richer texture and colour and more strength.

Then I go back, make adjustments and try again. With this particular recipe, it took me three times before I was satisfied.

With the Pink Praline Brioche, my second time through, I thought it was perfect, but when I sliced into it, it was slightly gummy in the very middle. I hoped that was due to under baking and increased the baking time on my third run.

The third time, in this case, was a charm. I ended up with a result I was happy with.

With my third attempt I was happy with the result 

The job now, is to write the final recipe. It is critical to write in accurate recipe writing style, as well as to communicate effectively and efficiently. An extra pair of eyes, an editor or a friend to read through is really important. (An excellent resource is The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Ostmann and Baker)

At Canadian Living we had a formalized retesting process, taking weights and measures during retest for nutritional analysis. It is important that another person makes your recipe to test it. Is your time accurate, did you remember to write all the steps, is your oven calibrated properly, how many servings does your recipe make, is the flavour good? There are so many details that often without this extra step, it is easy to miss errors.

Finally edits adjustments are made to the final recipe and then you hope (and pray) that your readers will not only find success with your recipe in their own homes, but that they will love your recipe and add it to their family’s repertoire-so that instead of it becoming Adell’s Pink Praline Brioche, it becomes that of Great Aunt Mae, and is handed down for generations. That in my opinion is recipe development success!

Find the finished recipe for my Pink Praline Brioche over on the Qualifirst blog.

Wishing you inspired kitchen creations!

Adell Shneer has worked as a professional recipe developer for the past 12 years. While her work was mainly in editorial, for Canadian Living, from 2005 to 2012, she worked in development prior to that, for Dana McCauley and Associates, at Party Dish on Food Network (Seasons 1 and 2 -2203 and 2005) and for other clients. Follow Adell’s blog on Qualifirst and follow Adell on Twitter.

 

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4 Responses to Recipe development as a profession

  1. Calantha @ piecurious August 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Great post. Not dissimilar at all in how I go about creating my own recipes, only mine are not assignments, but fleeting thoughts or ideas of taste in my head!

    Something I’d like to know is how one becomes a recipe developer, or even, by relation, a recipe tester?

  2. Sondi Bruner August 9, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m curious – on average, how many attempts does it take to get a recipe just right when you are developing it? I’m always leery of getting uber-creative, especially in baking, because I’m afraid the result will be inedible and I’ll waste expensive ingredients.

  3. Dan @ Dan's Good Side August 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Great read. I hope to one day have this level of patience for perfecting something!! :)

  4. ClockworkLemon August 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    Love this article Adell! I am going to check out that Recipe Writer’s Handbook asap.

    The finished bread looks delicious.

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