How much information needs to be in a recipe? Food writers and cookbook authors are all over the place on this matter – some are very detailed and targeted toward beginning cooks whereas some are quite brief with the assumption of a certain level of knowledge. In many professional pastry kitchens, “recipes” are kept in a spattered binder and are just a list of ingredients usually in grams and ounces. No directions whatsoever. It is assumed and expected that you have the skills and the knowledge to complete the job. God help you if you don’t.
I teach a lot of people to cook and it’s a question I’m constantly asking myself – how much detail is really needed? For my purposes, quite a bit. Once, a recipe I had written called for chopped fresh thyme. I looked over and saw one of my students merrily chopping away on whole stems of thyme and realized I should have indicated to remove the tender leaves from the tough, woody stems first. What is obvious to me, may not be to others. We all got a little extra fiber in our diet that night.
Over the last several months, I’ve become quite enamored with Twitter. For the unaware (or uninterested), Twitter is described as a social networking tool where members send updates in 140 character messages. You create an account, select people to “follow” and receive a rolling list of their updates. You can follow your friends, bloggers, celebrities, politicians; whomever. You can choose to post your own “tweets” or not. I don’t use it socially so much as informational, following several chefs, food writers and folks in the culinary world among others. I find it all very informative and highly entertaining.
One aspect that has captured my fascination has been recipe tweets. Think about it. An entire recipe – ingredients, measurements, directions – in 140 characters. I don’t know that I could do that and yet Maureen, of at @cookbook, does it several times a month. A recent example:
@cookbook Cazuela de Boda: Spain. Lyr4T oil/tater&tom&onion&pep/2lb/kg lambchop/T herbs&garlic/repeat veg/.5t cinn&safron&s+p/c wt wine. 2h@200C/400F.
Catch that? Cazuela de Boda from Spain (that’s Spanish wedding casserole) … Layer 4 Tablespoons oil (likely olive oil) with sliced potatoes, tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. Top with 2 pounds/1 kilogram lamb chops (I’d use lamb shoulder steaks or lamb stew meat), 1 Tablespoon herbs (I’d use fresh rosemary) and 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic. Repeat with another layer of vegetables. Combine ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon saffron threads, salt and pepper (to taste) with 1 cup white wine. Pour on top and bake 2 hours at 200°C/400°F. (I’d cover with foil and keep and eye on it – 2 hours seems like a long time to me.)
Fascinating isn’t it? There’s a lot left unsaid so the format does require a certain bit of knowledge to understand what needs to be done. So have I tried any Twitter recipes yet? Well I busted out my first one this week.
Chef Rick Bayless … of fantastic Chicago restaurants (Topolobampo/Frontera Grill/XOCO) and Top Chef Masters champion … tweets A LOT. He’ll often send through a recipe. Salsa, moles, tortillas, tamales, taco fillings … you ask, he tweets it out. When this one for Chocó flan came through, I knew I had to try it. A chocolate cake with a layer of flan that’s baked together, at the same time in the same pan. I know, it really shouldn’t work.
But first, you need to check out how he sent the recipe on Twitter via three tweets or messages:
A rather complicated recipe in just 411 total characters and with 14 ingredients! I was impressed. It takes a few leaps of faith with the users knowledge and common sense. 5/3c flour? Well that’s 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour. Cajeta? You need to know that’s a caramel sauce usually made with goats milk and common in Mexican cuisine. Dulce de leche would work too. And you have to know what “bake in water bath” means and how to do it.
This was HANDS DOWN the COOLEST thing I have ever made. During baking, the cake and the flan magically switch places – it goes into the oven with the flan on top and comes out with the cake on top. Huh? I picture the two batters doing a curious little dosey doe in the pan, around and through each other during baking. Logically, it shouldn’t work at all – this should be one big fat mess in the pan. But when it’s unmolded, it’s the damnedest thing. Moist chocolate cake topped with a rich custardy flan layer, both clearly separate. Crazy, I tell you, crazy! I did one of my loopy happy jigs in the kitchen over this one. Swear. My neighbor even banged on the ceiling. Again. Note to self: probably shouldn’t do loopy happy jigs in the kitchen after 12pm on a school night.
I typed the recipe out as I would for my students with each step clearly explained. Rick did it in 411 characters. Me? 1564 characters, 292 words, 14 steps. Damn. I am not nearly as succinct.
I made a few tweaks to the original recipe as I felt my oven was a bit too high and I baked it a big too long so that’s reflected below. This will help in making a fudgier cake. A 10″ cake is pretty dang big. It’s very tasty but the thing is ginormous so invite a crowd over or maybe cut the recipe back a little. Little individual cakes baked in ramekins would be super cute. Maybe I should bring some to Crankypants downstairs.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: HIGH!!! This is the coolest science experiment ever with a super tasty result. I bet kids would get a big charge out of it. As I said above, the flan and the cake reverse positions in the oven and bake into clean, separate layers. It’s really trippy and goes against all logic. Plus there’s the added challenge of translating this hieroglyphic of a recipe. And the smug self-satisfaction that you know enough to understand what the hell he is talking about. So many levels of awesomeness!
RICK BAYLESS’ CHOCO FLAN
Adapted from his Twitter recipe(s)
1 cup cajeta or dulce de leche (purchased or make your own)
for the cake:
5 ounces unsalted butter (9 Tablespoons)
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons brewed espresso or strong coffee, room temperature
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
6 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons buttermilk
for the flan:
12 ounces evaporated milk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in the lower third of the oven.
- Put a pot or kettle of water on to boil and have a roasting pan nearby to hold the cake pan.
- Cover bottom of a 10” x 3” round cake pan with the cajeta
- For the cake: Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the 1 egg and espresso; mix until combined.
- Add the buttermilk and the sifted dry ingredients alternately, starting and ending with the dry.
- Pour the cake batter over the cajeta in the cake pan.
- For the flan: In a medium bowl, blend the evaporated milk, the condensed milk, 4 eggs and vanilla.
- Gently pour this mixture over the cake batter in the pan.
- Place the cake pan in the roasting pan and gently pour the hot water into the roasting pan, halfway up the side of the cake pan.
- Carefully place in the oven and bake 40-45 minutes until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted in the cake portion only comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack to room temperature then chill.
- Unmold when chilled.