I recently tested a recipe of such surpassing inscrutability
that I felt it merited a post of its own. Like last week's memorable disaster it was a
sort of pie. But unlike last week's, the fault could not be
chalked up to user error.
This one was a pork pie, with ground meat enclosed in puff
pastry (yum! I thought. Foolproof!). Since I'd already
made the puff pastry, I figured it would be a cakewalk. What
it turned out to be was a veritable glossary of mistakes not
to make when you're writing a recipe. Let's begin:
- Ingredients in the instructions but not in the
ingredient list: Having assembled all my
ingredients, I proceeded confidently to the recipe. But when
I got to step 7, I read: "Line the bottom and sides of each
crust with 2 pieces of prosciutto." Prosciutto?! No one said
anything about prosciutto! Surprise! I skipped
- Ingredients in the ingredient list but not in the
instructions: The recipe called for a tablespoon of
orange zest, but no zest was to be found later on in the recipe.
I guessed, and added it to the meat filling.
- Incorrect yield: The quantity of puff
pastry, rolled between 1/8" and 1/4" thick, was supposed to
yield 8 pies, including pastry lids. I rolled it thinner than
1/8" and had only enough for 6 pies and 3 lids. (Offering the
weight of pastry used would have helped. But equivalent
weights were offered for every ingredient except the
pastry.) I improvised lids out of scraps. On the
other hand, I had four times as much filling as
I needed. I made sausage patties to use it up.
- Specialized equipment: I don't fault the
author for using cake rings, actually, though she should have said
what size. But if you call for specialized equipment, you
cannot have an...
- Alternative that doesn't work!: The
alternative was a muffin pan. Good choice, I thought.
Everybody has those. Then I started trying to follow
the instructions: line the muffin holes with parchment paper, tie
with butcher string, insert 6" circle of pastry into holes, freeze,
line insides with parchment and pie weights. This leads us
- Inadequate testing: The laws of physics
did not endorse this recipe. There is no
way to stuff a floppy 6" circle of pastry into a flimsy
3" parchment cylinder to create a cup shape. You can do it if
you semi-freeze the pastry into the hole first, and then add the
parchment--so that's what I did. Once you've got the
parchment cylinder in place, there is no way you are going to
get more parchment--and weights-- inside that 3"
cylinder to line the pastry. I don't see how this recipe
could have been tested in a muffin pan. I have to guess that
the author simply baked it in her cake rings and then wrote the
alternative, thinking, this ought to work.
- Unexplained technique: "Stamp a
1/4-inch hole" in the pastry lids. With what - my
1/4" hole stamper? You'd need a very strong straw, or a
knitting needle or something. Whatever it is, it needs to be
described. I simply cut an X.
- Technique required but not offered: We're
instructed to affix the (frozen) lids to the (pre-baked) crusts.
How? "Press gently". This is like trying to stick
plastic to wood. You can press all you like, but
it's not going to stick without adhesive.
Egg wash might work.
- Timing inaccurate: The pies were done 15-20
minutes before the stated time. This turned out to be mostly
a blessing, since I was now horribly behind and the mob was at the
- Didn't look like the photograph:
Needless to say. The author's final product was a
smooth-sided, golden little pot with a neatly vented lid on top, a
bit like a chef's toque. My wavy-walled, falling-apart,
top-askew pie tasted fine, but was not even near ready for its
closeup. The point is that it can't have been tested
The results? Edible, even tasty, after I fixed the recipe
as best I could on the fly. I'm comfortable working with puff
pastry, and I'm used to salvaging dinner out of recipes that are
turning sour. But I don't think the normal weeknight cook
should have to go through this after shelling out $29.95 for the
If you've read my reviews before, you know I don't like to
go to the dark side, much. Mostly, I try to appreciate what
the author was trying to accomplish.
But what bothers me about a case like this is that I just know
the home cook will blame herself for the inevitable disaster that
ensues when she tries to scale the fortress of this recipe.
That's just not right. Yes, sometimes our own
ineptitude is to blame (I think I've demonstrated that
But sometimes, it's not you. It's the recipe.
I'm not disclosing the name of this recipe or the book it's
featured in for now. The review will likely be running in a few