How to Modify a Recipe Part 1: Basics

Have you ever cooked a dish, and despite scrupulously following the recipe, decided later that the dish “needed something?” Do you have a favorite recipe that you really enjoy eating, but it has overly involved process steps that make it a pain in the ass to make? Or, was the recipe too expensive because it called for costly and potentially unneccesary ingredients?

Welcome to the world of recipe modification! No longer do you need to be a victim, mindlessly obeying the dictates of some know-it-all cookbook editor. Instead, this three-part series of posts on how to modify a recipe will teach you to call the shots in your own kitchen. My goal is threefold:

1) to help you learn to configure recipes to your needs and tastes,
2) to help you learn how to improve recipes so they taste even better or become easier to cook,
3) to help you develop improvisational and adaptive cooking skills to make cooking more fun and expressive.

Today, however, we’re going to start with the basics. And as in all educational things, it really helps to have concrete examples. Therefore, as a first step, I’ll share some rather simple examples of how I’ve modified my basic waffles recipe.

In Part 2, I’ll share with you my six rules for all recipe modifications. Then, in Part 3, I’ll share a more complex example where I’ll give you a before-and-after comparison of the pre-modification and the post-modification versions of my granola recipe so you can observe the entire modification thought process.

When we’re through this series, you’ll be an adaptive, free-wheeling cook, confidently bending recipes to your will and whims.

…but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. :) We need to start at the start. So, if you haven’t already, please take a quick look back at the basic waffles* recipe. Next, take a look at these simple examples of modifications you can make to it:

1) Add 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.
2) Add 1/3 cup of oats to the dry ingredients (but add another 1/8 to 1/4 cup of milk to the liquid ingredients to compensate--we’ll talk about why in Part 2).
3) Instead of using 1 3/4 cups of sifted white flour, use 1 cup of white flour with 3/4 cup of wheat flour.
4) Add 1/2 cup chocolate bits to the batter (carefully stir in while you fold the egg whites into the liquid ingredients).
5) Add blueberries or other pieces of fruit to the batter (perhaps 1/2 a cup, give or take).

So far, this is nothing complicated, and perhaps you can already think of additional modifications beyond just this short list. If so, that’s great.

While you’re going through this process (and by this I mean before, during, and of course after you’ve sampled the recipe with your new modifications), I want you to be rolling these questions over in your mind:

1) Was this truly an improvement, or an un-improvement? (An "un-improvement" is Laura's term for when people make architecturally inappropriate changes to their homes)
2) What worked? What didn't work? Why didn’t it work?
3) What was the final form of the recipe and why was it better?

If you train yourself to think this way, you’ll instinctively begin to think of all recipes in terms of bending them to your will. Recipes won’t own you—you’ll own them. Before you know it, you’ll become a natural at improving, and improvising, on your cooking.

Keep in mind that this is only step one, and it’s a basic step at that. The goal here is to get your thinking pointed in the right direction. Check back soon for Part 2, where I’ll share my “six rules” for all recipe modifications!

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1 comment:

Janet said...

I have never done a good job modifying a recipe. It always comes out just a little off center. Hopefully this will help me. Thanks for posting this.