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Recipe v. Formula


Fat Guy
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In several professional culinary texts I've seen, the term "formula" is used to refer to what in general-audience books is called a "recipe." What explains the different terminology?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
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Formulae tend to be ratios/proportions, that can be extended beyond the basic ingredients. But that's talking from a laboratory, not a foodie, pov.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Hi,

My take on this is that a formula is the basic proportions to make something and it is up to the chef making the dish to decide the amounts to use. A general-audience cookbook might specifically state a recipe for 4 people and give exact ingredients. A perfect example might be a vineagrette, sauce or marinade. Where a forumula would define 2 parts oil to one part vineagar. The chef at a small bistro would say use 2 cups of oil and 1 cup of vineagar, another chef feeding students in a university might take the forumual and use 2 quarts of oil and 1 quart of vineagar. A recipe in a general audience cookbook would just specify 2 tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of vinegar and specifically mention the quantities to use. Breadmaking also uses formulas as scaling there is in proportion to weight and not quantities.

Jeff

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Hi,

My take on this is that a formula is the basic proportions to make something and it is up to the chef making the dish to decide the amounts to use.  A general-audience cookbook might specifically state a recipe for 4 people and give exact ingredients.  A perfect example might be a vineagrette, sauce or marinade.  Where a forumula would define 2 parts oil to one part vineagar.  The chef at a small bistro would say use 2 cups of oil and 1 cup of vineagar, another chef feeding students in a university might take the forumual and use 2 quarts of oil and 1 quart of vineagar.  A recipe in a general audience cookbook would just specify 2 tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of vinegar and specifically mention the quantities to use.  Breadmaking also uses formulas as scaling there is in proportion to weight and not quantities.

Jeff

Great answer! And one that I heartily agree with. I do most of my cooking by 'formula' I guess, but I never have though of it that way. I've just always thought in terms of ratios when cooking. It certainly makes scaling up or down easy especially if you're numerically challenged.

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That hypothesis certainly tests positive with respect to the first book I randomly selected: "Crust & Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers," By Peter Reinhart. The formulas in Reinhart's book are expressed as percentages, for example:

MASTER FORMULA

FRENCH BREAD I

INGREDIENT .................. %

Unbleached all purpose flour ...... 50

Unbleached bread flour ...... 50

Salt ........................  2

Malt powder ..................  .5

Instant yeast ...................  .5

Water ......................... 66

Needless to say those numbers don't add up to 100%. I believe the way it works is that the flour(s) add up to 100%, and then you take all the other ingredients in ratio to the flour. So, if you have a kilogram of flour (500 grams of all-purpose and 500 grams of bread flour) the you'd use 660 grams of water, .5 grams of yeast, etc.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That hypothesis certainly tests positive with respect to the first book I randomly selected: "Crust & Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers," By Peter Reinhart. The formulas in Reinhart's book are expressed as percentages, for example:
MASTER FORMULA

FRENCH BREAD I

INGREDIENT .................. %

Unbleached all purpose flour ...... 50

Unbleached bread flour ...... 50

Salt ........................   2

Malt powder ..................  .5

Instant yeast ...................  .5

Water ......................... 66

Needless to say those numbers don't add up to 100%. I believe the way it works is that the flour(s) add up to 100%, and then you take all the other ingredients in ratio to the flour. So, if you have a kilogram of flour (500 grams of all-purpose and 500 grams of bread flour) the you'd use 660 grams of water, .5 grams of yeast, etc.

This is correct. The flour is the 100% ingredient. Everything else is a percentage of this.

Usually, I hear the term foumula and think baking (especially bread baking).

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Known as Baker's Percentages where the total flour is always 100%.

Formulas usually do not include the method, nor explanations as to how this recipe was handed down from the author's great-aunt's second housekeeper etc...

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That hypothesis certainly tests positive with respect to the first book I randomly selected: "Crust & Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers," By Peter Reinhart. The formulas in Reinhart's book are expressed as percentages, for example:
MASTER FORMULA

FRENCH BREAD I

INGREDIENT .................. %

Unbleached all purpose flour ...... 50

Unbleached bread flour ...... 50

Salt ........................  2

Malt powder ..................  .5

Instant yeast ...................  .5

Water ......................... 66

Needless to say those numbers don't add up to 100%. I believe the way it works is that the flour(s) add up to 100%, and then you take all the other ingredients in ratio to the flour. So, if you have a kilogram of flour (500 grams of all-purpose and 500 grams of bread flour) the you'd use 660 grams of water, .5 grams of yeast, etc.

Actually, that'd be 5 grams of yeast (we're multiplying everything by 10). :biggrin:

I, too, would much rather have a formula than a recipe. In fact, I generally convert recipes into formulas the first time I make them. At least this is for baking. For general cooking, where chemistry isn't quite so important, recipes can stay the way they are.

The funny thing is that when people ask me for a bread formula, let's say, they complain that everything is in grams and not tablespoons and cups. I'm a firm believer that instant read thermometers and scales should be the first culinary concepts taught to people when they learn to cook and bake.

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I love bakers percentages, but the standard system stops being useful when you're dealing with dishes that have a main ingredient besides flour. Are there variations that bakers use in these cases?

When I've worked on dessert recipes, and needed to compare known recipes to find out what's going on, I've often had to use a different ingredient as the 100% ingredient. Typically chocolate!

A lot of tortes, mousses, and even brownies have little to no flour in them. But standardizing the chocolate at 100% puts them on an equal footing. Other kinds of baked goods might be best described with yet a different 100% ingredient.

Is this a standard way to do it, or is there more accepted (probably smarter) way?

Notes from the underbelly

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In several professional culinary texts I've seen, the term "formula" is used to refer to what in general-audience books is called a "recipe." What explains the different terminology?

I think its just making a simple process compicated when you go into this formula lark.

Why percentages and ratios?

Whats wrong with exact quantities in grams or ounces

I am also a firm believer in weighing ingredients as apposed to cups and tablespoons.

Do cup sizes not vary in the US? They do ever where else.

Norman

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What explains the different terminology?

I'm been dealing with food scientists/consultants recently. I refer to my recipes, they refer to my formulae. We're talking about the same thing, just coming at it from two different angles.

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I think its just making a simple process compicated when you go into this formula lark.

Why percentages and ratios?

Whats wrong with exact quantities in grams or ounces

I am also a firm believer in weighing ingredients as apposed to cups and tablespoons.

Do cup sizes not vary in the US? They do ever where else.

One reason is to make scaling much easier. A bread baker knows if he needs to make two loaves or a hundred, and in each case how many kilos of flour it will take. He can start with that flour weight, and with very simple math calculate the amounts of all the other ingredients.

Another reason is to help compare recipes. When they're given in bakers percentages, you can directly compare any of them. With traditional recipe format, you'll be dealing with whatever recipe size the authors chose to give you. You have to do math just to get the recipes on a common footing. And obviously, this is an even bigger nuissance when the recipes use volume measurements.

Cup sizes do not vary in the U.S., (it's always 8 fl oz) but no matter where you are, how much flour actually fits in a cup will depend on how it was transported, stored, handled, scooped, and measured.

Notes from the underbelly

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Strangely - while I was off-line during the past week I too discovered formulae. It was quite by accident. I have been hired to do some recipe development on a very small scale and I was perusing recipe books for ideas and stumbled upon the notion of formulae as opposed to recipes and it seems to put a whole new light on developing "original" recipes. If you know, for example, that a vinaigrette generally requires x amount of oil, x amount of acid and x amount of herbs then you have all sorts of room to play about. I pursued this line of thought and came across many, many recipes that are simply variations on a formula - EUREKA! :biggrin: (I am a very slow learner!)

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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The funny thing is that when people ask me for a bread formula, let's say, they complain that everything is in grams and not tablespoons and cups. I'm a firm believer that instant read thermometers and scales should be the first culinary concepts taught to people when they learn to cook and bake.

I definately learned this when I first started baking with sourdough. There is an amazing difference in consistency between 1:1 flour:water by volume, and by weight, and that difference is evident in the finished product. It's also a lot easier to weigh things than it is to dirty up measuring cups and spoons.

My layman's take on the original questions is that a formula is a way of generalizing recipes in terms of ratios. So I know the ratio of oil:vinegar that's good for a vinagraitte - one peice of knowledge that lets me make hundreds of different kinds and quantities. I look at formulas as templates from which to generate recipes. It makes cooking sort of object-oriented in a way that appeals to me.

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My layman's take on the original questions is that a formula is a way of generalizing recipes in terms of ratios.  So I know the ratio of oil:vinegar that's good for a vinagraitte - one peice of knowledge that lets me make hundreds of different kinds and quantities.  I look at formulas as templates from which to generate recipes.  It makes cooking sort of object-oriented in a way that appeals to me.

That's exactly what I was trying to say - thanks for bringing clarity to the issue.

It's just incredibly freeing to discover that there is no magic involved and that anyone can develop recipes once they discover this secret! Of course, to create memorable dishes, you still need that spark of creativity that separates a great cook from a good cook.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Someone may have mentioned this, but in "Cooking without recipes" , author Helen Worth gives 'patterns' for various dishes instead of recipes. for example she gives a pattern for cream soups. She leaves the specifics up to the chef.SHe says(for example)"1/2Cup pureed vegetable and juice".

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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