Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to Write Recipes to Make Cooking Easier - Carrot and Apple Muffins

I was making carrot and apple muffins for my colleagues. Every muffin recipe uses two bowls and the recipe is always much the same. Wet ingredients go in one bowl, dry in another. They are combined with a few strokes, then the batter is dropped into the muffin tins and baked. Muffins are designed to be easy; hence the reason I make them so frequently. But the recipe I was (roughly) following for the muffins was making the process harder.

We food bloggers write a lot of recipes and we abide by some general guidelines to make it easy to cook from them. First, we always list the ingredients in the order they are to be used. For muffins (and everything else), this means that the method calls for the ingredients as you skim down the list, one by one. There's no jumping around.

When mixing a handful of ingredients all at once, we list the ingredients in order of size. If you are being asked to mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, then they will be listed in that order, biggest volume to smallest. This means the ingredients get mixed more thoroughly. Imagine how hard it would be to effectively mix in 1 teaspoon of baking soda if it's buried under 1 1/2 cups of flour. But when the flour is in the bowl first, the baking soda can be added after this and then evenly distributed though the flour.

We try to give you the measures you want and need. On Simply Cooked, the ingredients are given in both volume (cups) and mass (grams). I have been moving through the (huge) archives to update the recipes that were posted before I had the realization that this was important. I want everyone to be able to use my recipes. By posting with both volume and mass measures, you can follow my recipes no matter where in the world you grew up or which system you prefer.

Finally, dry ingredients are listed first, then the wet ones. This is where the recipe I was adapting failed, sadly. It makes sense to list the dry items first, because doing it the other way around means the measuring spoons are all wet when you need to use them the second time. While making these muffins, I was measuring out the wet items, and came to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. But I had already glanced down the list and seen that later I would need my 1 teaspoon utensil for both the baking soda and the cinnamon. I paused, and in the middle of my preparation, I turned to the dry ingredients instead. After measuring them all into the small bowl, I returned to the vanilla, using the same spoon that had just been in use for the dry ingredients. Measuring out the dry ingredients first means no stopping to wash the teaspoon. It saves that little bit of unnecessary frustration.

Fortunately for you, I have written the recipe below following all four guidelines. Your muffin preparation should be easy and fast.

Carrot and Apple Muffins
makes 12 medium or 18 small muffins
adapted from The New Canadian Basics Cookbook

1 1/2 c (180 g) whole wheat flour
1/4 c (50 g) brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 eggs
1/4 c (60 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 c (120 ml) buttermilk, sour milk, orange juice, or plain yogurt
1 t vanilla extract
1 T grated orange rind
1 c (110 g) grated carrot
1 c (150 g) grated apple
1/2 c (60 g) sunflower seeds, or any chopped nuts
1/2 c (75 g) raisins

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk (or sour milk, orange juice, or plain yogurt), and vanilla extract.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the wet mixture.

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix with as few strokes as possible, just until combined.
Spoon into muffin cups, filling to the top.
Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool for five minutes in the cups, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

What shortcuts do you use to speed up cooking?

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