Pearls of Wisdom: Rose Levy Beranbaum

June 27, 2012

Presenting Pearls of Wisdom -- in conjunction with FOOD52's Recipe Writing Week, we'll be bringing you pro tips from the food world's best chefs and writers. Stay tuned for more every day this week.

Up today we have Rose Levy Beranbaum, baker, cookbook author, and blogger. Her books are standbys when it comes to breads and cakes -- her Cake Bible, Bread Bible, and Pie and Pastry Bible are exactly what they say -- the definitive tomes on the subject.

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If you've ever tried to put your grandmother's special spice cake recipe on paper, Beranbaum's advice will speak to you. Precision, clarity, and explanation are key:

1. Offer descriptions of final results in the headnote, such as flavor and texture, so that the reader can make an educated choice. (Ruth Reichl agrees that headnotes are important!)

2. It's great to have step-by-step photos but the text should not be dependent on them. Give the reader landmarks as to what mixtures should look like at various stages of mixing and baking. (In JJ Goode's words, explain "what it should be.")

3. Add headings in bold for key stages of the recipe.

4. Give temperature readings where necessary in both Fahrenheit and Centigrade -- never pass up an opportunity to educate the reader and share your knowledge.

5. Include weights for all ingredients (except when they are in minute quantities). This makes baking faster, easier, and more consistent. Include metric weights -- it's about time we adopt the metric system and scales make it a no brainer!

6. If using a specialized or unusual pan, be sure to give an option for one that is more readily available, or the chances are the reader will pass over the recipe or make the wrong choice of pan and have the recipe fail. (Goode describes it as unnecessarily "discouraging.")

7. Be consistent in your writing. Create macros so that the same process is written in the same way. This gives the reader familiarity with your style and keeps the writing transparently in the background, making the instructions appear easier to follow.

8. Always advise how to store the final product, and for how long.

Thursday and Friday, we'll be sharing two (!) Pearls of Wisdom per day -- coming up on tomorrow, we'll be featuring the advice of Piglet co-founder Charlotte Druckman, and of the food blogger's food blogger, the fantastic Deb Perelman. Stay tuned!

If you're just catching up on Pearls of Wisdom, you can find Ruth Reichl's recipe writing advice here and JJ Goode's here.

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  • vvvanessa
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I'm Nozlee Samadzadeh, a writer, editor, farmer, developer, and passionate home cook. Growing up Iranian in Oklahoma, working on a small-scale organic farm, and cooking on a budget all influence the way I cook -- herbed rice dishes, chicken fried steak, heirloom tomato salad, and simple poached eggs all make appearances on my bright blue kitchen table. I love to eat kimchi (homemade!) straight from the jar and I eat cake for breakfast.


vvvanessa June 27, 2012
Rose Levy Beranbaum is my baking hero! When in doubt, I do what she says (in the kitchen anyway).
hardlikearmour June 27, 2012
I second that sentiment!