Friday, December 14, 2007

Standardizing Recipes

Having a properly-written recipe is an excellent step in the right direction. And for most home cooks, that's going to be good enough. But for professional kitchens as well as for control freaks such as myself (I'm a nerd, it comes with the package), there's still plenty of work to be done.

Standardizing recipes offers many advantages in a professional environment. When every recipe in the chef's binder looks the same, his or her cooks and/or bakers don't need to guess at things. As you know from my previous post, clear and concise instructions are a must. But having recipes that compliment the flow of the kitchen will convert time wasted thinking about what to do into time used doing what needs to be done.

One of my favorite styles of formatting recipes combines a neatly-ordered and easy to access list of ingredients alongside the applicable instructions for each ingredient, or group of ingredients. Let's use my suspiciously-familiar chocolate chip cookie recipe as a starting point:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 300F.
2. Allow butter to warm up to room temperature.
3. In a mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
4. Add the vanilla extract.
5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
7. When the eggs are fully integrated, stop the mixer.
8. Whisk together and then sift the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl.
9. Mix at the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until the dry ingredients are just barely mixed in, scraping as necessary.
10. Stop the mixer and add the chocolate chips.
11. Mix at the lowest speed for just long enough to mix in the chips.
12. Scoop onto cookie sheets with a #40 scoop, leaving room between the cookies to allow for spreading.
13. Move to a 300F oven and set the timer for 12 minutes.
14. After 12 minutes, look at the cookies. When they are just starting to brown on the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool.


It's certainly much easier to reference here than in my tutorial, isn't it? This recipe serves as nothing more than a set of instructions for somebody who, presumably, already knows what they're doing in the bakery. They may not have seen this recipe before, but they can easily follow it.

Note the order in which I have the ingredients. Because the butter and sugars will be used first, they have been listed first. Wet ingredients are listed next, and then dry, because that's the order in which they will be added to the mixer.

In the instructions, you'll notice that I started with the oven temperature, since preheating it what will likely take the longest. In a professional bakery, the oven will likely already be preheated, but may not be at the correct temperature. Letting the butter soften takes a long time too, so it goes next.

This is a good recipe, but it we can improve upon it for professional use. Those of you that are deeply concerned about HACCP will appreciate these improvements.
 1. Preheat oven to 300F.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter2. Allow butter to warm up to room temperature.
3/4 cup granulated sugar3. In a mixer, cream together the butter and the sugars with the mixer's paddle attachment until light and fluffy.
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract4. Add the vanilla extract.
2 large eggs5. Add one egg and mix on low speed. When it is fully integrated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and the paddle with a rubber spatula.
 6. Continue adding eggs the same way, one by one.
 7. When the eggs are fully integrated, stop the mixer.
2 1/2 cups bread flour8. Whisk together and then sift the flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl.
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
 9. Mix at the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until the dry ingredients are just barely mixed in, scraping as necessary.
2 cups chocolate chips10. Stop the mixer and add the chocolate chips.
 11. Mix at the lowest speed for just long enough to mix in the chips.
 12. Scoop onto cookie sheets with a #40 scoop, leaving room between the cookies to allow for spreading.
 13. Move to a 300F oven and set the timer for 12 minutes.
 14. After 12 minutes, look at the cookies. When they are just starting to brown on the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool.

You'll notice that everything is in exactly the same order as before, but the ingredients are listed next to the steps that require them. This way we still have easy access to the ingredient list for shopping purposes and so on, without needing to read through the entire recipe to get everything. Also, the reader now has hints at a glance as to where exactly to expect the ingredient to be needed. This can help them prepare mentally in the middle of the actually cooking or baking process.

This recipe formatting may be overkill for most home cooks and bakers. But it may be helpful, if not essential, in many professional kitchens and bakeries. And quite honestly, it doesn't hurt the home cook either. In fact, they may come to like it.

Of course, this formatting will not necessarily be applicable to every professional kitchen. It may be that what we started out with is perfect for your operation. You need to analyze the needs of your staff and consider the other variables in the equation, such as kitchen layout, the ingredients that you work with, which equipment you have available, and so on.

The professional kitchen that wants to adopt this or similar formatting will want to make sure they do so for all of their recipes. You're not really standardizing anything until you do so. But having all of the recipes laid out in the same way, and having that way be efficient and easy to use will increase productivity.

2 comments:

  1. How do you parallelize that recipe format. It seems linear....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Matt: Most recipes are written in a linear fashion. I'm assuming you're talking about something like, "while Step X is happening, you can perform Step Y", correct? If not, what is it that you're interested in doing?

    ReplyDelete

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