Once upon a time, I bought a box cake mix. My cousin bought the same type of box cake mix. We made our cakes. Her cake was moist and delicious. Mine was dry and worthy of being a door stopper. I was tramatized and it was decades before I even tried to bake a cake.
What was different? She used the recipe as a starting point, I followed the recipe exactly (or so I had thought). But there are other factors why following a recipe exactly as written may not give you the results you had expected.
Freshness or ripeness of the ingredients
When a recipe calls for fresh or ripe, just how fresh and how ripe? Can it make a difference? Yes. As a young girl, I had made my first banana pudding. The bananas were ripe, a bit too ripe and soft. The texture of the pudding and the bananas literally melded and the taste of the bananas was disappointing. Over the years, I learned to purchase bananas when particially green, wait a few days and when they reach the texture I want, I make the banana pudding.
I love (even felt a little relieved) when I ran across this video from master cook, Mr. Jacques Pepin, illustrating just how ripeness can make a difference in preparing a dish:
Using the right tools for measuring
Yes, there are dishes that are forgiving if your measuring is a bit off. However, there is a difference when using volume measurement versus weight measurement. If you love to bake or want to bake more or want consistency in your cooking and baking, weight measurement is the preferred method.
I confess, that many of my recipes are volume measurement. The reason has more to do with using conventional methods, that is what my American readers are used to seeing in a recipes. But after seeing this Joy of Baking video on weight versus volume measurement, I too hope to convince my readers to use weight measurement through future recipes.
Gas range versus electric range
I have always cooked on a gas range. I LOVE, LOVE gas ranges both for the burner and the oven. In my last home, I had even invested in a gas conventional oven. However, when I moved to Wilmington, N.C., a lovely beach town, and downsized to an apartment, I found myself stuck with an electric range. I never had so many burned meals in my life! It has been enough to give me reason to want to call an interstate mover and rush back to Northern Virginia where I could easily find and continue to live my downsized life in an apartment with a gas range. But that goes on to another story.
Every oven ranges should be calibrated or recalibrated for accuracy. If instructions are not in the range instructions, hire a professional. Or purchase and insert a oven thermometer. In my rented apartment, I found that the brand new oven range heated 25 degress hotter, while my neighbor's brand new oven range was 15 degrees lower.
Is there a difference between gas ranges versus electric ones? Indeed! Some may dispute this. I stand in respectful disagreement. Still, be aware that most recipes refer to using a gas range. What's important here is simply take time to know your range, gas or electric.
- Electric cooking elements are slow to heat up and slow to cool. Thus, if the recipe instruction is to turn off the heat, then, this may be obvious, you should remove the pot from the heat.
- It's difficult to impossible to cook, roast or bake a dish that requires multiple heating temperatures, particularly when using the top range elements. One suggestion, has been to use multiple elements, one high and one low (see the link below.)
- My own personal suspension is that electric heat produces a dry heat and thus is more apt to dry out the ingredients or meat.
I'm not alone in my experience. Here's an interesting article by Emma Christiansan, on thekitchn.com, 4 Lessons I Learned From My Electric Stove.
Need, I say this: when making substitutions, expect even a nuance of difference in the recipe.
The quality of your ingredients can make a difference in following a recipe, expect it. The problem only occurs if the difference accosts your taste buds or you wish you had a little more or a little less of a particular flavor or doneness, etc.
You made something great inspired by a recipe you read. You make it again for guests but something went awry. Learn to use weight measurement and when to use it.
Become intimate with you gas or electric range. They each have their own personality! Perhaps we should even name these important objects of every cook's desire.
Most important, don't be afraid to go off script, experiment, get inspired, be bold. And make that dish more than just once. Flop or not, learn and make it again.