READER QUESTION: How do you develop your recipes?

Hey all! I’ll be back to posting recipes on a weekly basis starting April 10th, but in the meantime I got a Tumblr question that I’ve been asked many times in one form or another. Since there seems to be a lot of interest in this question, I wanted to answer it in entry form!

Shout out to Tumblr user viiernes, whose question was the catalyst for this entry. Her question was worded as follows:

“How do you go about making your recipes? Do you alter current ones? Or just go for it?”

Cheflette says: “The short answer is that it’s a combination!”

Now for the long answer:

I’ve been working in pastry long enough that I’ve assembled a pretty wide variety of “base” recipes that I know work. Those recipes are usually pretty similar regardless of where you look at them, because you don’t fix what isn’t broken. For example, every macaron recipe is nearly the same, with only slight ratio changes to be found. If you mess with it too much it won’t be a macaron anymore.

Honestly, no pastry chef creates new recipes without some sort of foundation. Pastry isn’t as forgiving as savory cooking, so you need a basic balance of ingredients and/or a knowledge of workable ratios of ingredients to be sure it won’t be a spectacular failure.

To give you an idea of how I use a foundation of base recipes and new recipes, I’ll tell you about the Sailor Pluto Dessert I’m making right now. It’s chilling in the fridge waiting to be photographed, so the process is fresh in my mind.

Designing is a process all on its own.

My desserts generally aren’t based on a pre-existing dish, so step 1 is usually lots of sketching and planning. I don’t want to gloss over this stage, because it’s incredibly important. Even if I’m going to experiment, I always go in with a detailed plan.

Making recipes is a combination of previous knowledge and experimentation in the present.

The components of Pluto’s dessert are mirror glaze, cardamom cream, blood orange mousse, and chai shortbread. Here’s how I developed each one.

MIRROR GLAZE: All mirror glaze recipes are basically the same, with few meaningful variations. The first time I did Pluto back in 2015, I created the glaze completely from the ground up. I essentially just made a blood orange liquid I loved the taste of and then set it with a ratio of gelatin to liquid that I knew would result in a good glaze consistency.

The first version of this glaze looked fine and tasted quite good, but I wanted a more opaque glaze this time to make hiding flaws easier for anyone trying it at home. A standard mirror glaze was perfect for that.

BLOOD ORANGE MOUSSE: I have a set ratio I like for fruit mousses in terms of gelatin:whipped cream:fruit puree. It’s one I’ve figured out over the years, and I have it memorized. It works for essentially all fruit mousses, though fruits that could interfere with the setting of gelatin (such as kiwi and passionfruit) may require further tweaking.

To develop a blood orange mousse, I cooked down enough juice to hit a flavor strength equivalent to a puree. I generally prefer to cook down fresh fruit rather then resorting to pre-bought purees, as the flavor is really superior. I sweetened it according to my taste (writing amounts and cook times down at every step) and did the rest according to the ratio I like.

CARDAMOM CREAM: When I made this recipe in 2015, I used a cremeux recipe base. A cremeux is basically a very thick stovetop custard that’s often set with gelatin for extra stability. While I liked the taste, I found it didn’t freeze as nicely as I wanted.

This time I used a crème brûlée base, flavored with cardamom to taste. Crème brûlée is one of those recipes that’s similar everywhere, though my version has a higher fat content than most. It’s a change I made a while ago because it results in an absurdly creamy final product. I chose a crème brûlée primarily because I know from experience this recipe freezes exceptionally well.

CHAI SHORTBREAD: I began with a classic German shortbread recipe with just 3 ingredients: powdered sugar, flour and butter. You may have even seen it before; it’s the same one used to make the Schwarz-Weiss Gebäck in my German Christmas cookie entry. I knew that this base recipe would have the texture I wanted, but not the flavor. I tweaked the spices and added ground fine chai accordingly, until I liked the taste.

Sometimes it’ll take multiple tries to get it right.

Example: I attempted a storebought blood orange base for this dessert because I thought it’d be easier for readers. However, it made the mousse too soft and made controlling the sugar content impossible. Adding more gelatin would have made it jello-y and unappealing, so it was back to the drawing board. As you can imagine, I had a bunch of cakes to get rid of. Thankfully my husband has a sweet tooth.

It isn’t that the attempts are outright failures, but they aren’t where I want them in terms of quality. Also, if a recipe works for me once but it’s a huge deviation from a base recipe or just one I made up on the spot, I try to make it multiple times to be sure the results will be easy to replicate.

…and that’s how I create my recipes! Maybe this will shed light on what I mean when I discuss “recipe development” and the many hours it can take up.

My passsion for making good recipes is also why I always ask for honest feedback, good OR bad. I’m not offended by critiques, so never hesitate to let me know if I missed something or if something just didn’t work for you. Making truly good recipes and that involves listening to you guys!

As a final aside: this is also why I get really emotional when people compliment my recipes. I’ve gotten some comments from people telling me that they felt a recipe of mine was very precise, well-written or just generally good… and I have cried about it. Just bawled with joy at my laptop like a giant baby. So if you made one of my recipes and liked it… well, by golly, let me know! Chances are you’ll make my week.

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