Cookbook Editing

Do cookbooks go through the editing process? The best ones do. Along with having the actual recipes proofed–which rarely happens these days–cookbooks do well to have an editor.

Authors are so familiar with their recipes that most cannot view the instructions from the perspective of the first-time user. In addition to vague, incomplete, and often wrong instructions, there is ample opportunity for typos, which in other literary works might be amusing. However, when it comes to recipe ingredients the difference between 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon is not a laughing matter.

Authors often err with vagueness or lack of complete instruction. For instance in an interesting non-gluten shortbread recipe that I recently encountered, I am instructed to cut the butter into “tiny pieces.” Compared to what? Tiny could mean the size of pea or the size of a grain of amaranth. A good editor would have caught this omission.

Additionally, once the dough is chilled, I am supposed to roll it out. How thick? A quarter of an inch? More? Less? I had not made this recipe before and although I could have consulted a similar recipe, gluten-free baking is in a class of its own and the thickness of the dough may be an issue. My only option is to try a few at various thicknesses and see which ones turn out best.

And the most egregious error? No oven temperature. Just “bake for 15 minutes.”

But this recipe is in a book that I purchased. I did not download it from a free Internet site. And so I expect complete instructions, along with some hints about what might go wrong.

I recall another recipe I tried at least three times–a complicated strawberry bombe that imploded every time I tried to make it. I was so frustrated that I sent the recipe to my mother, an excellent cook and former caterer. I was sure she could successfully accomplish this pastry challenge.

Nope. She failed as well and called me to tell me the recipe was flawed. The ratio of liquid to flour was off, and she was not sure which wet ingredient to decrease and rather than waste yet a fifth round of expensive ingredients, she suggested I find a better recipe for something similar.

“Yeah,” I told her, “I’m cutting up some strawberries and serving them over ice cream.

Admittedly, the print publishing industry faces tough economic times, but this is no excuse to take shortcuts in the editorial process. Serious authors should demand that their works are properly reviewed before being rushed into publication.

Electronic publishers of recipes are no better, and here the time from authorship to publication can be done in barely the amount of time it takes to blanch tomatoes. Not a good idea if you care about your readers.

Cookbooks are inexpensive and recipes cannot be copyrighted. As a cook, your best bet is to invest in quality cookbooks produced by publishers that invest in copyediting and proofreading.

As an author you should demand to have your work edited, and if the publisher will not guarantee a professional editor, then spend the money for your own editor and/or proofreader.

Your reputation as well as your recipes are on the table!

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