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Recipe Testing – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Kiley Fields

Cooking Mad Lib:

“I found a recipe online for (insert dish of choice) Coq au Vin. I followed the recipe exactly, and it (fill in the blank with a negative outcome) tasted like a rubber shoe after I spent hours in the kitchen with the highest expectations for a fantastic meal at home. What did I do wrong?”

To be honest, probably nothing. Just because you found it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. And it doesn’t mean the recipe was tested either. Although a dish sounds amazing, sometimes executing it through a well written (or posted) recipe is a bit more challenging.

 As a chef instructor writing and testing recipes is one of the more tedious yet rewarding parts of my job. I don’t recall ever writing a recipe perfectly the first time. There is almost always a re-write, or two…or five. And, depending on the mood I am in or the recipe I am testing, sometimes the test is done on a controlled group of one (me!) or a large cackle of friends.

I have learned over time that there is a right way and wrong way to seek feedback while testing recipes.

  1. Don’t overserve the testers before serving the food – I had a group of girlfriends over to test cocktails and appetizers – after the fourth cocktail they “L-O-V-E-D” everything. Seriously?

  1. Don’t expect your starving teenager to give thoughtful feedback – After he downed a plate of mussels in sofrito and polished off a grilled octopus salad he said was “ok” and asked if there was any leftover pizza.
  1. Be clear that you are seeking their feedback (not their co-workers) – I gave a friend a plate of whoopie pies. I ran in to her a few days later and she said she didn’t want the “calories” in the house so she put them in the lunchroom at work.

And although the recipe successes have outnumbered the failures…failures have existed. “I like the flavor, but the texture kind of makes me want to vomit.” That response is probably my favorite – that was definitely a “back to the drawing board” moment. Shout out to the “honesty”…but man that was a shot to the ego!

Anyone who cooks can relate – there is unbelievable pleasure in making someone happy through food. I am always appreciative of those that are willing to try and retry my food to make me better at what I do. Because, at the end of the day, a good, well tested, solidly written recipe makes my kitchen (and yours) a better place to be. 

P.S. Here are some of my favorite more reliable, almost always tested, online recipe resources: marcelsculinaryexperience.com; seriouseats.com; cooksillustrated.com; and thekitchn.com.

One-Bite Chocolate Whoopie Pies
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For cakes
  1. 1/2 cup butter, softened
  2. 1 cup brown sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  4. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. 1 egg
  9. 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  10. 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  11. 1 cup whole milk
For filling
  1. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, but still cool
  2. 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  3. 3/4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  4. pinch of salt
  5. 1 1/4 cup Marshmallow Fluff
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In stand mixer on low speed mix together butter, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and vanilla, until smooth. Add egg and mix until incorporated, then add cocoa powder and mix to combine. In alternating additions, add flour and milk in three parts, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Mix until batter is uniform with no lumps.
  3. To bake cakes, line rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Transfer batter to piping bag and snip off tip of bag. Pipe batter, about 1-1/2 inch in diameter, on to parchment lined baking sheet, leaving room between cakes as they will spread. A standard size 12” x 18” baking sheet should fit 36 cakes (4 cakes across by 9 cakes long). Bake the cakes until set and firm to touch, about 6-8 minutes. Let cakes cool slightly on baking sheets. While still lukewarm, peel cakes away from parchment and let cool completely.
  4. To make filling, in stand mixer, on medium speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add vanilla bean paste and salt and mix to combine. Beat in fluff on medium speed until well incorporated and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Transfer filling to piping bag and refrigerate until slightly firm, about 30 minutes.
  5. To assemble, pipe filling on one cake and top with second cake. Whoopie pies can be enjoyed immediately or stored in air-tight container in refrigerator if not enjoyed within 30 minutes. Bring whoopie pies to room temperature before serving.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

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