Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a recipe tester? The goal of a recipe tester is to make sure that the recipes you work on will be successful, and to communicate the directions in the clearest way possible. Whether we’re working in the test kitchen here at Chatelaine or in our home kitchens, we’re all recipe testers at heart, making adjustments to recipes as we cook. Here are 10 standard techniques and tricks that recipe testers use on a daily basis to ensure the success of our recipes:
1. Weigh everything: A scale is one of the most important tools in our kitchen. We weigh everything from a cup of flour to a squash to a chunk of chocolate. Weighing ingredients helps us to control variables as well as analyze the nutritional content of our recipes.
2. Work with fresh ingredients: We’re always working ahead, testing recipes for upcoming issues, but in a test kitchen it’s also important to work with the freshest of ingredients. That means that we’re often working with what’s currently in season, developing recipes for next year’s issue.
3. Spoon flour into the measuring cup: The standard method of measuring flour is to spoon it into the measuring cup. This goes for the test kitchen too, as well as most professional kitchens and cookbooks. If you’re having trouble with the density of your baked goods, try spooning the flour into your measuring cups. Never dip or scoop, you will end up with too much flour.
4. Grating cold butter is the easiest way to make pastry: If you are making pastry by hand, rubbing the butter into the flour (without using a food processor) is the simplest way to incorporate the cold butter. By grating it, you end up with very cold butter in small particles, requiring minimal manipulation (preventing a tough dough).
5. Use a ruler, regularly: Bake 2 inches apart? Use an 8-inch pan? Cut into 1-inch sticks? We mean it. We measure everything precisely with a good-old wooden ruler. We’re not ordering you to pull out your ruler as well, but just know that if you get as close as you can to the recommendations, you’ll have the highest likelihood of success.
6. Taste, taste and taste some more: Every recipe that enters the kitchen is tested a minimum of three times, and often more. The Chatelaine team tastes together, and the testing rotates between testers in the kitchen to make sure the directions are clear and the method is correct.
7. Think about esthetics: Of course taste is the most important factor, but some of the pleasure we all have in enjoying the food we eat is how it’s presented. We always consider the appearance of a dish, whether it be the colour of a sauce or the cut of a vegetable. Try doing that as well — small, subtle changes can make a big difference.
8. Learn time-saving shortcuts: Does your recipe call for all the ingredients to be at room temperature and your eggs are cold? Soak them in a cup of warm water for 5 minutes and they will be good to go.
9. Work with sharp knives: Working with a dull knife is not only dangerous (you’re more likely to cut yourself using one), but it diminishes the quality of the meal. If a recipe calls for something to be finely chopped as opposed to diced, there’s a reason for it. You won’t get the results you’re hoping for if you’re stuck with shabby tools.
10. Parchment paper is your friend: I rarely remember my mom cooking or baking with parchment paper, yet today it’s commonplace. I’m not sure if it’s because it makes cleaning your baking sheets so much easier, or because it’s a safety net against sticking. When in doubt, use it and rest assured you won’t have a sticky disaster.