System for Making Food - No Recipes

Unlike coding or writing, when you make food you can simply enjoy your creation without worrying about anything else. I enjoy discovering and creating a variety of food but I really dislike following recipes. I've finally designed an alternative to recipes that has been working well over the last year - doing experiments and noting my findings!

I write down three things in a notebook each time I make something new, along with the date - the process, the outcome, and what I want to do differently next time. Here is an example from my Focaccia experiments:

Making Foccacia Bread Take#1:

The Process:

- 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, 1.4 cups of warm water, 1 salt + 1/2 tbsp of sea salt, 2 tbsp olive oil
- Mix flour, yeast, salt. Pour oil and water. Form a ball and cover with plastic wrap to rise overnight. (forgot to mix salt in water first)
- Rise from 3:30pm to 8:30am next day
- Slide it out onto the tray, fold it over like a burrito. Put back in bowl and cover for another 60 mins
- Stretch it out onto a well oiled tray, into a rectangle. Cover and rise another 60 minutes in oven with light on. 
- Preheat oven to 450F, create the dimples with fingers, sprinke the 1/2 tbsp of sea salt and drizzle olive oil.
- Bake 450F for 15 minutes + 2 minutes on broil

The outcome:

- The rise in the oven with the light on didn't really do much. I guess it make it possible for the dough to stretch all the way out to the edges of the tray
- Top was light color, bottom was almost too dark after 15 mins. Maybe more oil on top
- It was cooked all the way through, a little too thin may be. A hug bubble formed in the middle which made the browing uneven. 
- Sea salt was tasty on top. Maybe a bit too much.

To do next time:

- Too much salt. Put less salt on top and maybe even less in dough
- Put more oil on top and spread the oil more evenly
- Break any bubbles in the dough when making dimples so that the focaccia stays flat and cooks evenly.
- Too thin and chewy. Made the jaw hurt after eating a few pieces. Use more dough to make it a bit thicker. Put more water to make it "wetter"
Making Focaccia Bread Take#1
The process:

- 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4+ tsp yeast (active-dry), ~1.75 cups lukewarm water, 1 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp olive oil
- Mix flour and yeast, dissolve salt in water, add oil and water to flour. Form into a rough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise overnight.
- Take the dough out on an oiled tray, fold it like a burrito, round to a ball and let it rise for 1-2 hours. 
- Shape it out onto the oiled tray into a rectangle, let it rise in a warm place - inside the oven with the light on for 1 hour.
- Preheat to 450F, stretch the rectangle out to the corner of the trey, create the dimples with fingers, drizzle olive oil, sprinkle sea salt. Bake for 15 minutes. Let it cool for 10 min. Cut into strips (like liguria bakery). 
- Store in a plastic wrap inside a ziplock back in the refrigerator or room temp for a week.

The outcome:

- Bottom was done after 15 mins, pretty brown. Wasn't sure if inside was cooked so broiled on 'Low' for 2 mins. 4 cups of dough is enough, the water amount is good. 
- Thickness is good - not too thick, not too thin. 
- Salt is enough can even reduce it more. Oil is enough but could use more in the dough. Too much salt on top. The crumb and texture was good.

To do next time:

- Less salt in the flour. Less salt on top. 
- Let it cool down longer. 
- Try with toppings - rosemary, green onions, olives.
Making Foccacia Bread Take #2 

Notice that I've left out a number of details (so this cannot be really considered a recipe, not a good one at least) - for examples what is the size of my baking tray. This is not relevant to me as I only have that one tray and that's what I am going to use each time :)

To start the experiments, I do some research and discovery which involves reading some recipes and watching couple different youtube videos. From there, I come up with the starting process. Basically I make it up based on what makes sense to me. Because from then on, I know I can use the previous experiment's outcome to iterate on my steps.

Writing down my process in detail, describing the outcome, and adding notes for what to do differently next time, allows me to pick up right where I left off next time. I used to try to remember this in my head, but writing it down is much more freeing! There is a much better chance of improving and optimizing in the next iteration. Or being able to actually recreate something that turned out well in the past!

After several experiments, you will get the outcome you desire with very little in the "To do next time" section. At this point you can start following "the process" in your last experiment as your recipe. You don't have to go searching for online recipes or youtube videos each time you want to cook something. I keep my experiment notes in a notebook close to the kitchen.

P.S. If you do decide to follow this process I would love to hear about it. And of course if you're craving some focaccia bread you can use the process in take#2 as your starting point :)

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