Here are a few tips on developing and writing recipes that I’ve noted as a food editor for a major women’s lifestyle brand.
1. Don’t think too far outside the box.
Get a good feel for the audience and keep the reader in mind when developing and writing recipes. Epicurious has an audience that is very different from Taste of Home. Do your readers live in major cities or in rural areas? Realistically, what ingredients do they have in their pantries or at their grocery stores? Will your home cook be willing to go to a specialty store for lime leaves? Does he have a ricer in his kitchen arsenal?
2. Don’t complicate things.
Keep recipes logical, simple, and brief. Eliminate extra kitchen tools (especially multiple mixing bowls) and list garnishes added during photography as optional ingredients. The order of your listed ingredients should match the order in which they’re used in the recipe. And, of course, all ingredients listed should be accounted for in the recipe method.
3. Don’t assume experience.
When you’re constantly immersed in food trends and culture, it’s easy to forget the gap that exists between the food we talk about and aspire to make and the recipes that the average home cook is willing to tackle. (This is where knowing your audience is key.) There’s a fine line between talking down to a reader and giving plenty of info, but err on the side of giving visual cues, and adding tips and potential ingredient swaps.
4. Don’t go rogue.
The chances are high that your editor has an editorial hole your recipe will fill—he or she might need a chicken dish for a particular story, or a recipe that’s under 30 minutes. Maybe the digital team needs an açai bowl recipe in response to what’s trending online. Whether it be flavor-, ingredient- or season-driven, take editors’ direction into account when you’re drafting concepts and/or recipes. Follow the directions and specifications assigned/discussed.
5. Don’t skip testing.
Flush budgets and extra free time are both hard to come by, but please don’t skip the recipe testing. I’m willing to pay developers more when I’m confident that their recipes are buttoned up and will require minimal time (and money!) in on-site testing. (And my go-to developers are always the people I know will deliver recipes that work the first—or second—time they go through our in-house testing.) If you don’t have the time or budget to test each recipe, consider cross-referencing timing, temps, and/or methods with similar tried-and-true recipes in your recipe box. It’s certainly not foolproof, but it’s a good starting place, and can potentially eliminate multiple testing runs.
Carrie Boyd is a food and entertaining editor for the Better Homes & Gardens brand. She’s into short stories, road trips, and egg rolls.