Why are some cookbooks just a little bit off?

Does anyone know why some cookbooks seem just a little bit off? I have the Buvette cookbook and a lot of recipes need just a little bit of tweaking. I'm sure some of this is just down to personal taste, but there are some things seem like they must be universal (i.e. The amount of lemon in the lemon risotto - I'm pretty sure 2 lemons is overkill for just about everybody). Has anyone else had this experience? Why do the recipes get published like this?

  • Posted by: Molly
  • July 2, 2016


C S. July 6, 2016
I think it depends a lot on your familiarity with cooking techniques. In many recipes you can adjust amounts to your own taste particularly if you have made similar items in the past. The exception of course, are some baked goods, i.e. cakes and soufflés and popovers. Sometimes common sense and experience gained from tasting and testing trump whatever is written on the page.

I rarely follow recipes to the letter, but rather get a sense of the method and the flavoring and then riff on that with what I have on hand. But that is after years of 4-H cooking clubs and 30 years of making dinners.
Kate P. July 6, 2016
My feeling is that often magazine and cookbook recipes are overly edited (in order to save space I guess) in the method section. I often feel that a bit of extra detail could make all the difference.

One of my favourite examples of this is in the Rose Bakery cookbook where a recipe asked you to cook a cup of millet and then 'put it to one side' and the recipe then never referred to it again, so 'to one side' it stayed!

Not that I want to make a big example of that book, but I think generally speaking, how the method of a recipe is written, makes a huge difference in both the understanding and expectation of a recipe.
Nancy July 4, 2016
To Molly and BerryBaby...
Even assuming your questions ("Why do they do this?!) are rhetorical, I'm going to plunge in.
I, too, get frustrated with vague or unit measures (one fruit, one tomato, etc) in recipes.
But here's my rule of thumb: when in doubt about a measure, start small, taste and then adjust (add more) if needed.
Why: it's always easier to add a flavoring or spice, than correct a recipe for its wholesale overuse or imbalance.
Side benefit: gradually, you'll get a sense of how much juice your lemons yield, or how much you and your household like in a certain recipe.
BerryBaby July 4, 2016
Thanks, Nancy. I do start small and add as needed. However, how hard is it for chefs on TV or cookbook authors to state, "2 T. of lemon juice" or to use measuring cups and spoons instead of "eyeballing". Not everyone has the same size eye. Just a pet peeve, I guess.
702551 July 3, 2016
Some people are sloppier than others. Some cookbook authors are less rigorous recipe testers. Some cookbook editors aren't all that good. Some cookbook authors simply aren't all that good.

It could be just one of these factors or a combination of many, probably varies from book to book.

It's impossible to please everyone 100% of the time. This isn't just about cookbooks, that's just life in general.

Sorry about that.
pierino July 3, 2016
I'll defend "Buvette" here. It's an excellent book, very clearly written. But when it comes to lemon you are on a slippery slope to begin with. There is more than one type of lemon. And unless you are growing them yourself you have no idea how ripe they are when they arrive in the market which has a big impact on sweetness versus sourness. Generally speaking you find that organic lemons have a softer skin and are more likely to be fully ripe. But that is an impression on my part and not a sweeping generalization.
702551 July 3, 2016
Yeah, but cookbooks are typically written with commonly available grocery store ingredients in mind, not something like a homegrown Meyer lemon picked at full ripeness.

I don't really follow recipes myself, but many do. In this case, the "Buvette" author came up short for this particular reader.

Is that the "Buvette" author's fault? That's ultimately something for that author to judge.

As I mentioned before, you can't please everyone 100% of the time.

I stand by my original response.
pierino July 3, 2016
Ultimately it's the cooks job to understand their ingredients. Don't blame the author if your soufflé falls. I'm in the process of finishing my own cook book now and there is only so much hand holding you can do. The best books---especially those written for a non-American audience---take that as a given. In my opinion, Simone Beck's books are better than Julia Childs' because they give the reader credit for having a basic understanding of how to handle food. Americans are perhaps too literal minded. Exact measurements come into play when you are baking (and I have nothing but the highest respect for pastry cooks) but for practically everything else your own judgement is what matters most. If you are reading a recipe think it through from beginning to end before you start.

When it comes to publishing (and I once worked in that trade) editors will be sure that recipes have been tested by others before they see print. I've done it as a favor myself for author friends.
pierino July 4, 2016
Your GuardianChef, you can be sure I will take you up on that offer.
Back to Buvette. I did go back and look at the recipe. It does say "Meyer lemons preferred" in parentheses. That makes a difference because Meyers are a hybrid which have an almost floral sweetness to their juice. That would definitely have an impact on how I apoach this risotto. I would want to build on that flavor.
BerryBaby July 2, 2016
I wish cookbooks/recipes would specify the amounts in measurements versus pieces. Two lemons vary so much in size that the amount of juice could be way too much or too little. Same with grated rind. Many recipes call for grating the rind of an orange. Different types of oranges, sizes, again vary. Tell me 1 t. or 2 T. Or when watching a cooking show they don't measure and throw 'just eyeball it'! What measurement is an eyeball equal to? What good does that tell me?
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