March 8, 2019 - 12:01am
In previous decades, it made sense. Recipes sometimes used to be hard to find, especially recipes for anything unusual.
But, for anyone with internet access, there is now pretty much just one valid reason to really modify a recipe, and that's when the original turns out wrong and there's no better version of it to be found. (Leaving aside such inconsequential changes as preferring a little more salt etc.)
Why take "Recipe A" and clumsily re-jig it to make "Dish B", when you know that there's a 99.9 percent chance of finding ten or a hundred different recipes that will give you "Dish B" directly?
There are many reasons why I take a recipe and modify it rather than finding a whole different recipe. Let me turn inward, examine my belly button for a while and see what I come up with. Actually, this is a thought-provoking question.
The first thing that popped into my head is that recipes aren't formulas-even when ingredients are weighed. My ingredients, my hand and my kitchen are a very different manufacturing plant than yours or anybody else's. I usually make a recipe as written, the first time-unless something stands out as incorrect.
Sometimes it is how 1 person handles ingredients that makes a HUGE difference.
My mother made biscuits that would float off the plate. Mine were more of a brickish nature-using her recipe! One day, we made biscuits-side-by-side, in HER kitchen, using HER flour , and HER oven. Hers floated-mine sank.!!!????!!! That was years ago and what I have since learned is that she had old (cooler) hands and even tho I handled the dough "lightly", it made a big difference. I have persisted and can make a light biscuit. Every time I say a silent thanks to Mom.
Next, I like to start a new adventure (or recipe) using familiar concepts and proceeding to the unfamiliar, as part of the learning process. That may be why I tweek a recipe. I have baked a long time and know a lot about how ingredients work/don't work. I can often improve a bakes outcome right at first try.
3rd- "Bonjour" (reference to THIS absolutely funny commercial. 15 seconds of truth!)
Do you really believe everything you read on the internet? Recipes are no exception. I have made MANY items that look beautiful on the original posters site but no-way, no-how could it work. I have never had this happen here, BTW. Fresh Loafers are too honest and really want to know why something didn't turn out.
Lastly, for now, I may simply like how something I made turned out and integrate the new idea so I have one recipe with multiple tweeks. I try to only make new recipes to file when it really is a new recipe or I want to attribute it-intact- to the original baker. I have my relatives recipes intact with their names. Makes me feel good when I look at them.
My more than .02. This may be interesting and another reason why I love this site. Bakers who think.
Lots of original recipes are wrong, or don't work for me as printed because of my conditions or situation. I mentioned those exceptions, and that's not what I'm talking about at all. I refer to (extreme example) taking a favourite recipe for gumbo and saying "This gumbo recipe is excellent! I'm going to modify it so I can make jambalaya!"
Very few people take it to that extreme, but that's what I mean - repurposing recipes.
I agree that in general, most of the time, a recipe is not a formula. But many recipes do have a necessary formula hidden in them (or maybe not so hidden). Hollandaise sauce is a formula for sure. X amount of baking soda plus Y amount of total acidity in the batter is a formula. Break those formulas and the recipes fail. Other pseudo-formulas can still be important - notice the frequent concern in discussions here over hydration percentage, proportion of starter to flour, and so on. Upsetting all the balances and still expecting a decent result is a big part of my point; finding a recipe for what you actually want to make, should at least greatly improve the chance for success.
"Know your ingredients and how they will combine" is good. "Use a recipe made specifically for your purpose" is good too. I believe that a strong "yes" to one or the other of them is necessary.
So that the modifier can claim to others or convince him/herself that the "new" formula is original because it's not IDENTICAL to the source. Make sense?
I hadn't thought of that kind of silly petty dishonesty. Maybe that really is a factor, or even the reason. I don't know.
I have been using the internet for recipes for the past three decades. Although I am circumspect about my sources my cooking and baking has greatly improved in that time!
I find deep satisfaction in tweeking a recipe .
Perhaps your use of provocative language is just poor taste. Works like "silly" and "re-jig" and "wrong" are outside the norms for civil discussion on this site. So, I'll attempt to explain why one might modify the received wisdom of the always "right" recipes posted on the internet and why culinary fundamentalism isn't always appropriate.
Recipes have two separate parts, as I see it - the ingredients and the methods. The ingredients in a recipe specify their "what" and their "how much." In baking, they often don't really provide a complete specification. For instance, the brand of flour or the protein content. This is an especially challenging issue when the recipe's author is from another country and has access to different flours than you do.
From experience, the baker may know from reading a received recipe that he/she would like it better with a modification of the ingredients, either the "what" or the "how much." For example, if I see a bread formula that calls for over 2% salt, I already know I will like it better with less. Most cookie recipes are much too sweet for our taste. My wife, the family cookie baker, usually halves the sugar in a cookie recipe, and they turn out just right to our taste. We also prefer breads with at least 10% whole grain flour. I essentially never make a purely white flour bread. Why make something I am not going to like?
The second recipe element is the methods used for mixing, fermentation, shaping, proofing, baking and so forth. I may prefer a different method for one step or another - hand mixing versus machine mixing, for example. On the other hand, a recipe may introduce me to a technique I have never used but looks intriguing, and I may apply it to another recipe which I have made many times to see how it changes the well-known outcome.
So, recipes I encounter are just starting points. Sometimes there is just one little piece of it I want to adopt, for example a new type of flour or a new way of shaping a bâtard.
When one has enough knowledge of ingredients and techniques, bread baking becomes a much more interesting, more creative activity. And for the home baker, there is not the need that the commercial bakery has to have your product always turning out precisely the same. An experimental and creative approach is one of the aspects of bread baking that makes it so pleasurable for me.
As they say, your milage may vary.
There is a handy demonstration of how productive this sort of freedom can be in the current topic on this site:
Read it and (hopefully) enjoy!
I think I need to publish a sort of disclaimer here. Maybe disclaimer isn't the right word, but you know what I mean.
David, the modifications YOU make to various recipes have NEVER (in my experience) fallen anywhere NEAR the category I'm referring to here. And I certainly didn't have you in mind when writing this. I did mildly complain when you were intentionally recreating a famous historic recipe and intentionally tweaking it already on the first try, because (separately) I happen to believe that recreating history gains nearly all of its value from doing it as exactly as possible & modern values be damned, because otherwise our history lesson only teaches us about the present and we already know the present... BUT that sentiment has nothing to do with this thread here.
The inspiration for this one was in fact not even bread-related - and that inspiration wasn't even a particularly egregious example of repurposing; it just kind of got me thinking.
tl;dr: I didn't mean you.
FYI, I plan to communicate further with my "informants" regarding SF SD authenticity. In light of this issue, you should know that the recipe I based mine on came from a man whose family owned Parisian, I think. And his recipe was significantly modified from that of the retired baker I cited in my blog post.
Gotta go now. I just got a message from the retired baker, Ramon Padilla!
Nobody is entitled to have someone bake a recipe the way they think it should be baked. We are all free agents and can do whatever we damn well please.
You have all my respect dmsnyder, please relay anything your informants tell you, we are all ears!
That being said, my current thinking is that adding whole wheat to a SF SD recipe massively changes the result. Whole wheat has more 5-carbon sugars, activating the heterofermentive pathways and creating more acetic acid. IMHO the starter itself has to be maintained on low-extraction flour for a long time in order to suppress the heterofermentive bacteria (which will make their own 5-carbon sugars if they are present) in order to get that heavily-lactic-acid flavor. That's why I'm not even trying that recipe until my 60% hydration pure-white-flour starter forked from another starter that smells San Franciscy (<-- New word. TM ) has had a few weeks to mature properly. (My current thinking might be completely hogwash, ymmv).
Ingredient and procedure choices are ultimately about your desired outcome.
I prefer a bit more acetic acid tang and the flavor complexity whole grain flours contribute. Thus, I make choices that I think will achieve my personal goal.
The other point is that the effect of most ingredients is not all or nothing. So, for example, my last bake had 25% whole wheat. My next one will have 5% whole wheat and 5% whole rye. That is a flour mix I have used many, many times with results that please me. Using this flour mix as a known "constant" with new procedures will be (for me) a useful experiment.
The bread equivalent of the type of recipe repurposing that I mean:
"Hi, I'm new at this. I love the new 100% rye bread I've been making! (though I haven't quite got the hang of starter maintenance yet.) Please give a newbie a hand - how do I modify that super-tasty pumpernickel recipe so that it will come out as croissants? Because I love croissants, and this is fun! Last night I made croissants by rolling the pumpernickel dough up as tight as I could, but it was pretty hard to do, and they don't quite feel right yet."