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How to write a good recipe: 23 top tips

olive magazine deputy editor, Lulu Grimes, has put together a step-by-step guide to writing a good recipe. Trust us, it's much easier than you might think. Remember: a well-written recipe is both inspirational and practical, and therefore more likely to be cooked.

  1. Write the recipe you have in mind out as much as you can, estimate quantities if you have to, and think through the method.
  2. Print out your recipe and test it, making notes on the paper as you go along. You can also adjust it on a computer, but sticky fingers don’t do wonders for your keyboard. Plus a paper trail of annotations may be useful if you end up making more changes.
  3. Add and adjust measurements, temperatures and timings as you go along.
  4. Work out useful tips as you cook. What colour should the caramel be? How soft will the steak feel if you press your finger on it? What size dish will work? Can you use a round or square cake tin?
  5. Give your recipe a snappy, mouthwatering title. Bear in mind SEO if it will be used online – ‘tiramisu’ is just that, and it’s what people will search for; not ‘coffee splashed sponge with boozy mascarpone’.
  6. Say how many people it serves.
  7. Work out how long it took to cook, and if you are a super speedy cook then adjust this to suit a home cook. Be realistic: a stir-fry sliced and chopped from scratch takes longer than 5 minutes.
  8. Consider whether the recipe is likely to be cooked on a weeknight or weekend. Family recipes are useful if they can either be made quickly, or prepped quickly, and then left to sit in the oven, freeing up the meal maker to do something else.
  9. If it will make the recipe easier, split it into sections and sub head the ingredients. This will stop any confusion about quantities of repeat ingredients.
  10. Make sure the ingredients are listed in the order they are used.
  11. Prep your ingredients in the ingredients list where the prep is simple and appropriate. Eg. 1 chopped onion
  12. If there is an ingredient that calls for more than one method of preparation, list them in the order you use them. For example, if you need the zest and juice of a lemon, list the zest first and then the juice, since that is the order you will do the preparation in.
  13. Use generic, accepted names for ingredients rather than what might be written on your pack. And keep up with supermarket packaging – cream cheese is now ‘soft cheese’, due to labeling changes.
  14. Don’t ever chop and change units of measurement. If you’ve decided to measure ingredients in grams and mls (most publications do this), stick to using those throughout.
  15. Write in plain English and use words that are easy to understand. Think about how you would like something explained to you.
  16. Assume nothing about levels of knowledge; be as helpful to everyone as you can without being too bossy.
  17. Break the method into easy-to-follow chunks – number them, if you like.
  18. State exact or approximate cooking times, with descriptive hints for when something is ready. If you can’t test it with a skewer, can you hear it is ready (cakes crackle like popping bubble bath)/has it reached a particular colour/has it pulled away from the tin etc.
  19. Read your recipe through and correct it.
  20. Read it out loud and correct any clunky wording.
  21. If you’re writing a blog, add step-by-step pictures if they are appropriate and helpful… remember to take them!
  22. Be kind to your readers; think about who has to do the shopping, and how much effort that will be based on the ingredients. Also you may love chilli and put loads into your cooking, but recipes should be written with others in mind!
  23. A well-written recipe is both inspirational and practical, and therefore more likely to be cooked.
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