This post is written by Salted editor, Alyssa Mandel.
This weekend was my little sisters birthday and I was thrilled to have an excuse to bake something sugary, indulgent, and delicious. I was even more excited when she told me she wanted to help, as she rarely participates in my culinary endeavors. We decided to make her favorite cookie recipe, and jumped right into the process without a second thought; we were eager to get started, and overly trusting of my pantry stock. It wasn't until halfway through that she and I realized we were missing some essential ingredients. We tried to salvage the partially assembled dough, but ultimately abandoned our efforts entirely. The failed attempt to bake together was still fun, but the experience reminded me that there are steps home chefs can and should take to avoid the disappointment of an unfulfilled recipe. Below are my top 5 tips both for preventing and conquering those unfortunate kitchen snafus:
1. Don't panic. There are always solutions! Our Chef Hotline is designed for this exact situation.
2. Prep thoughtfully. Rather than jumping head-first into a recipe, be sure to first read the prep and cooking instructions all the way through. Always review the ingredients and time requirements before you get started. Prepare your mise en place prior to combining any ingredients to confirm you have exactly what you need, and to streamline the process overall.
3. Educate and familiarize. Get to know which ingredients can be successfully substituted and with what. Baking requires more precision than other methods of cooking, but understanding why certain ingredients are included in a recipe will allow you to play more freely within its guidelines. Tutorials like Chef Rose Lawrence's "Everything You Need to Know About Sweeteners" and "An Introduction to Leaveners" are excellent examples of resources for this kind of knowledge.
4. Timing is everything. Give yourself enough time to make mistakes and corrections.
5. Be flexible. Things don't always go as planned when working in a kitchen, but cooking, above all, should be fun. While some skills and recipes require exactitude, we encourage learning through trial and error. Take note of what you do, what works, and what doesn't. The best way to improve as a chef is to keep experimenting (within reason), even if the results don't turn out precisely as you imagined. Allowing yourself to deviate from the prescribed list of ingredients can help strengthen your understanding of flavor, texture, and dish composition.