A Piechiatrist Hint: Follow the Directions
Sometimes I get emails from folks who have drastically changed ingredients or steps in one of my recipes and then ask me why it didn’t turn out. They may rant and rave about how the seasoning was off, or ask why it didn’t turn out like their Auntie Edith’s pie. I ask questions so I can best figure out what happened and many times there is a lengthy email thread that ensues as we diagnose. Sometimes it’s as simple as misreading tablespoon for teaspoon, or 3 g for 3 cups. In either case, that can be a big difference…especially in seasoning. Can you imagine what the end result would taste like if 3 cups of salt instead of 3 grams were added to a filling? This hasn’t happened yet thank goodness. On occasion, I’ve been asked to diagnose a recipe that the reader has adapted from someone else’s cookbook. I’ve given up on trying to do that.
Yesterday Joe Yonan, the food and dining editor at the Washington Post posted on Facebook:
“A reader writes to complain that one of my recipes — fusilli with corn sauce, a favorite! — was ‘very bland.’ I respond by asking whether she fully salted the pasta water, added all the salt and cheese called for, and added more salt and pepper to taste as instructed. She responds that she doesn’t add salt to anything because of her blood pressure. That gets my blood pressure going, too.”
His post started a rather lengthy thread of responses about how frustrating it is when a well crafted and fully tested recipe is changed by a reader who complains that it didn’t work. With changes and substitutions you may get lucky and it still turns out, and you may stumble upon an easier way of doing things that works for you, but if you stray too far from the given ingredients and procedure your results may be, and usually are, different.
Just for fun, I responded to Joe’s post but before you read my response, please read this *disclaimer.
*No one, let me repeat that, NO ONE has ever sent me a comment telling me how they changed ingredients like what you are about to read. If they did, The Piechiatrist might suggest that they enter therapy as soon as possible and learn to follow directions more carefully. She would also say to use some common sense when adapting a recipe. For example, just because flour is white doesn’t mean you can swap out any white powder for it. Good recipes are repeatedly tested. Wording is carefully and thoughtfully considered. She strongly suggests that you try a recipe exactly as written at least once before changing it.
Now, on to this totally imagined and fictitious comment that Joe called “Priceless!”
I tried making your recipe for “Joe’s Best Apple Pie Ever” to serve at a special family gathering last week. I followed your directions exactly but it didn’t come out at all like you said it would. In fact it didn’t taste anything like apple pie or look like a pie for that matter, Joe.
Here’s what I did:
- I didn’t have any green apples so I used zucchini squash. They’re both green it so shouldn’t have made any difference.
- And then ALL those brown spices you listed…well, I didn’t have them either except for cloves, so I put a tablespoon of them in because that is what all the other spices would have added up to if I had had them.
- My nephew was home and had used up all my sugar on his Fruit Loops in the morning. He did leave the Cocoa Puffs so I ground up a cup of them and used them to sweeten the filling. I’ve always liked Cocoa Puffs. I knew they would be perfect in the pie and SO much better than the sugar you listed.
- I used the last of the garbanzo flour I had to thicken the filling. Flour is flour right? Except then I didn’t have any left to make the crust so I used powdered milk.
- I cut in the shortening just like your recipe called for but when I added the water? Well, it turned incredibly gloppy, Joe. Your directions called for me to roll it out. I think it would have been a little more accurate if you had said to spread the gloppy glue like paste onto the bottom of the pie pan.
- Speaking of which, I didn’t have a pie pan so I took a spatula and spread your glop over an unheated pizza stone which I hear is really good for baking in case you were wondering.
- I spread the green filling on top. It was really runny. How come you didn’t say what to do about that, Joe?
- Finally I put the pie into the oven, turned the heat on, and baked for an hour just like your directions said to do. Then instead of taking a nap like I needed, I played solitaire and lost every single game.
- When it came out of the oven, the results were really disappointing. The filling never set up like your directions said it would, but I served it anyway since it was the big finish to our celebratory meal, and everybody was waiting for “Joe’s Best Apple Pie Ever.”
Well Joe, it was horrible. Absolutely horrible and a waste of my time and ingredients. And you call yourself an expert! Hardly.
A Better Baker Than You
P.S. I think you should refund me the cost of the ingredients.