Wednesday, 15 February 2012

My bloody Valentines

Are food bloggers big fat fibbers? Hell, while we on the subject, why stick to food bloggers...are cookery book writers, photographers and stylists liars?
Ever had the experience of finding a great recipe in a book, in a magazine or on a blog, going out, buying all the ingredients then gearing yourself up to make it? And... it doesn't work out. That gorgeous cake turns out to be a messy half risen blob.
When I was writing my cookbook, I was chatting to some professional restaurant chefs about it, who rather shocked me when they said "Oh it doesn't matter if the recipe doesn't work, the home cook will blame themselves". And we do.
You never know do you? Is it your crappy skills in the kitchen? Was when you replaced their gourmet ingredient with something maybe a little more available (ie at Tesco metro on the way home from work) and a little less expensive? Or....did the recipe never really work except in the author's head and in the photographer's software?
Yesterday I'd prepared for my readers a Valentine's post, pretty and topical, about white chocolate covered raspberry ganache flavoured lollies. Mmm, sounds good huh?
I amassed the ingredients, even the specialist chocolate transfer sheet, and got to work. Result: an icky unworkable mess. However, with skillful photography, nice lighting and a little fudging, I could have presented you with ta da! ...this:
Ok granted it's not quite as good as this:
... the original shot from the Valrhona cookbook. My chocolate transfer technique could use a little work but hey not too far off.
But the reality was more like this:

 While the above elegant valentines pictures...actually turned out to be...
 ...more like this: impossible to turn out of their moulds, melting within minutes, and ending up coagulating into the coating chocolate. The freestyle chocolate truffle balls as suggested by the book didn't work either. The ganache simply unfroze too quickly. 

I dunno. Was it me? 


  1. I have cooked recipes to the letter in some cookbooks and they absolutely didn't work. I always thought it was me - never questioned it. Perhaps I'm not that bad a cook after all! Love your work though x

  2. What a disappointing and costly scenario.
    In reply to your first question, in a depressing number of cases, I think the answer is yes.
    Years ago I used to buy cookery books on a whim. Now I try to find at least a couple of recipes on the interwebs to try for this very reason.
    I would never blame myself if I had followed a recipe and it didn't work.
    Also I would never buy a book where it is clear that the pictures don't correctly represent the recipe.

  3. Its true, if I follow a recipe exactly and it doesn't work I will assume the fault lies with me or my oven/equipment. However I always worry that when someone tries one of my tried and tested recipes and substitutes an ingredient/skimps on a technique that they will blame my recipe! Must stop with the self blame :)

  4. Happens to the best of us:

  5. ALL the time... thank GOD for photoshop!

  6. Yes, some just don't work - or there is some quirk in the difference between one ingredient and an obvious substitution that breaks the whole thing. Recipes are often annoyingly imprecise about which bits *really* matter, and which you can be a bit more flexible with.
    I've heard it said that magazine recipes are better tested than those in books - because the author tests them, the test kitchen will try them and then the food stylist makes them too. Book publishers don't often test the recipes, apparently.
    By the way, I find those silicon moulds impossible to use with anything frozen - even ice-cubes. Everything sticks to them when they are cold.

  7. Guess we all have our bad days! I have tried some recipes in cookbooks that I know I cooked alright and they were downright awful so...I don't always

  8. Using mainly spoons: yes most of the food magazines seem to test thoroughly. I retested or had a friend retest all of the recipes in my book so hopefully they all work.
    I agree, the recipes don't tell you what's essential to be accurate about...

  9. Great post!! And couldn't agree more!

  10. I say this with a degree of trepidation, as my own book will be out and under similar scrutiny later this year, but I really hate the attitude that it doesn't matter if recipes don't work.

    It does matter. I think if you are writing a recipe book you have a responsibility to do your utmost to make sure they do work - because if you don't, not only are people wasting food, time, money, but it can put them off cooking and baking altogether. I recently reviewed a certain baking book which had recipes in it which didn't work - a few weeks later I was talking to a mother whose 16 year old son had bought the same cookbook and had tried the same recipe I had tested (and had got other people to test) and he was so despondent, he almost gave up. She was furious.

    These days, food is expensive and many people don't cook. Providing recipes that don't work is, or simply neglecting to test adequately is irresponsible and just one more nail in the coffin for cooking from scratch.

  11. I agree entirely with Catherine. It's refreshing to read about complete balls ups. Reminds me that the authors are human!

    I wrote, with much joy, about the chutney disasters I experienced last year—wrote off two of my pans. At least I was warning readers about the perils of chutney making!

    Thanks for yet another great post x

  12. Catherine: yes it's a dread of mine, being told that your recipes don't work. It is a responsibility. You still up for our Caribbean night? We will both be put to the test :)

    Rachel: just discovered your blog...a great read! I don't know how I didn't come across it before.

  13. It's not just recipes, I often wonder if anyone has actually made something from some of the craft/knitting/crochet patterns I buy. I am experienced enough now to know when it is not my fault.

  14. just the other day i began having doubts about my kitchen prowess, after producing a platinum award-winning cake wreck.

    despite following the recipe down to the very last gram, my chantenay carrot cake was a total disaster; it looked horrible and tasted even worse. your post is a refreshing reminder that cook is not always to blame.

    just as fashion stylists pinch the back of the garment on the mannequin with a peg to get a snug fit, cookery books and food photographers indeed have a lot to answer for!

  15. Some stuff is just not tested properly now. Quite often older books from the 60s and 70s are much more reliable, especially for more fiddly stuff like cakes and deserts. However the illustrations are not what you would want to emulate....

  16. If space if a premium, some of the instructions are edited out. This often removes a critical bit of info. It's such a waste when things don't work out though.
    I do appreciate when people share the bad stuff as well as the good online though - some blogs are just so perfect (and life's not like that!)

  17. This is probably a common occurrence amongst people who buy cookery or baking books. I have one or two books now where I have tried at least 6-8 recipes that have all failed. I would say that in my early days of baking I would have blamed myself. Nowadays I have all the kit and over thermometer and all but still they fail so I know it's not me. This is annoying on several levels, the cost of the books being only one of these. Moreso the disappointment having baked the dish from the 'celeb' book only to end up with something you don't want to eat or share. A waste of time, ingredients and energy. Foolishly for the chefs, I just won't further books they produce so in the long term they lose out.


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)