I recently wrote an article about following rules and breaking rules. About knowing that sometimes rules are meant to be broken or bent, and in other times they’re meant to be followed strictly and carefully. There are often good reasons for rules, and often rules are just tradition. And advancements can maybe be better made when you bend and break the rules, create your own new rules.
As I thought about that article later, I got to thinking that recipes are very similar to rules — they’re essentially rules. They are chemistry project rules, effectively. I started cooking when I was 10 years old, and I started with making my grandmother’s chocolate bread pudding recipe. Oh, so good! In fact, I didn’t know there was a flavor of bread pudding other than chocolate until I was like twenty-one. What’s with this vanilla thing that they serve? But anyway, I very diligently followed the recipe, and the dessert, the pudding, came out perfectly every time.
When I was 15, I had been making the recipe long enough that I felt comfortable modifying it. I effectively created a new recipe by using stale oatmeal cookies, because the kids I was babysitting wanted a dessert, they didn’t want those cookies, and it turned into chocolate oatmeal bread pudding. (Except I used the cookies instead of the bread.) It was really good. That gave me confidence to experiment with other recipes along the way.
Several years ago, I decided to make a Bête Noire — a chocolate, flourless cake. I didn’t intentionally not follow the recipe, but I put in all the ingredients it called for, and only later did I realize I was supposed to have reserved a little of the sugar or water for later. (I don’t remember which.) I poured the batter into a springform pan, and I put that into a larger pan for a hot water bath as it baked in the oven. I carefully did everything. And it didn’t quite look done when it was supposed to be done, so I cooked it a little longer. And when the time was up and it looked good, I turned it upside down on top of the plate, and Sploosh! I had chocolate sauce across my stomach, the potholders, and all across the kitchen in a big circular sploosh. I called my sister-in-law who’d been taking cooking classes, and she explained to me that by putting everything in at that time, it actually changed the chemistry. I had no idea. I’ve never made that mistake with that recipe again.
My husband’s great-aunt, great-grandmother — somebody — has a beautiful pecan pie recipe. And I have gotten to take over making it often, and one thing I learned, the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla or a tablespoon of rum. I put in both. And I learned I had to increase the flour to absorb the extra moisture. When I didn’t, it was just this sweet, goopy mess that never really set properly. So that was another wonderful way for me to learn that there are consequences to not following rules, not anticipating how to modify the rules or recipes that you are working with.
So, I just wanted to plant this idea in you that rules are tradition, and they have a purpose. But at some point, it’s appropriate to step away from that purpose, to bend the rules, modify the recipe. And you never know what you might think of like, what about chili powder in the pecan pie recipe? Hot and sweet or good together. I like it. My husband doesn’t. Or chocolate chips? Yeah.
What rules or recipes will you modify and break and bend in your life? I’m Kit Cassingham with Live In Focused Energy. I think I’ll go bake something now.
The article about following and breaking rules, Calvin Ball, focuses on learning the rules before you break them.