Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How To Write a Recipe

I'm a little under the weather today, so I'm cashing in my last free post card and referring you to a short piece I wrote for the alumni advice column of my college magazine. I described the process I use to write recipes; you may find this helpful if you want to record old family favorites, submit recipes for publication, or incorporate more recipes into your own food blog. If you're already expert at writing recipes, what are your tricks, and what advice have I left out? The original piece is here (scroll down about halfway), but I've cut and pasted it below:

Writing Your Own Recipes
Share Your Kitchen Creativity with Confidence

With the growing popularity of food blogs and forums, opportunities abound for creative home cooks to share their recipes online. These steps will ensure that readers can reliably reproduce your signature dishes in their own kitchens:

Prepare the dish yourself. Keep a pencil handy to list ingredients, record procedures, and note cooking times. Number the steps and indicate any that occur simultaneously. Don’t overlook preparatory steps like greasing cookie sheets; jot down a reminder to include these at the beginning of the recipe or during a waiting period while vegetables marinate or dough chills.

Make writerly decisions early on. Will your tone will be chatty or matter-of-fact? Will you spell out or abbreviate words like teaspoon and tablespoon? Be consistent. Use frequent paragraph breaks and numbered lists to help readers orient themselves in the text.

Be precise. There’s a difference between “2 cups of walnuts, chopped” and “2 cups of chopped walnuts.” Use specific measures, rather than “a pinch” or “a dash.” If your recipe calls for chopped, sliced, or minced ingredients, list the size and number of items to be used, not just the measured amounts needed—for example, “1 cup sliced carrots (2 large)”— so readers will know how much to buy.

Describe how the food should look, smell, and feel. Don’t just say “saute the onions.” Instead, say “saute the onions for 3-4 minutes over medium heat, until they become fragrant and turn golden.”

Go easy on the dishwasher. If groups of ingredients are to be prepared separately and later combined, avoid dirtying extra bowls and pots. If dry ingredients should be mixed in a large, deep bowl to allow room for liquid ingredients later, say so.

Prepare the dish yourself—again. Follow your own recipe step by step, and make corrections as needed.


  1. What a great post!

    This is so perfect for me!!! I always avoid showing recipe on my blog because I usually cook without recipe, I cook meals depending on what I have on hand most of the time. Sometime though, I'm inspired so much by someone's recipe, I would link that recipe. Maybe it's time for me to start writing my own recipes, you've just inspired me to give it a try, thanks:)

  2. Good tips! I think I follow most of these without even thinking about it...I'm bad about forgetting to include information about baking pan and casserole dish sizes though!

  3. this is super helpful! thanks :) hope to use it in the future

  4. Great info. I just found your blog and will be back for more reading soon!

  5. I agree with everyone, these are very helpful! Especially (for me), these two...

    "If your recipe calls for chopped, sliced, or minced ingredients, list the size and number of items to be used, not just the measured amounts needed.."
    This is a peeve of mine when using recipes, and I just printed one like this yesterday that called for a cup of mashed bananas. Do I have enough ripe nanners on hand? Who knows! Grrrr....

    "Describe how the food should look, smell, and feel. Don’t just say “saute the onions...”
    Guilty as charged. I always figure everyone knows what I mean by "sauté onions." :-)

    Writing an easy-to-follow recipe is really an art form, harder than it seems! (So is photographing food, I've discovered, and I'm blown away by the professional-looking food photos I see on so many vegan blogs, including yours!) So thanks again for sharing these helpful tips!

    Hope you're feeling better!

  6. This is going to sound maybe silly but here's my question. I create a lot of recipes for one person.

    My latest recipe can easily be adapted for two but do I list the cook time as doubled? For instance, one gratin cooks for 10 minutes. Would two take 20 minutes for them to come out at the right consistency?

  7. Hi Anon,

    That's a great question! The answer is, it depends. I'm not exactly sure what a gratin is (some stuff in a casserole dish with cheese that melts?), but if you're doubling the ingredients and using a bigger baking dish, then yes, it will take longer to cook through. It might not need double the time, so you'll have to make a double portion and test to see if it's cooked through at 15 minutes, then 20. Good luck!


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