When I was in high school, I took my first non-survivalist cooking class. It was a pretty basic Home Ec curriculum, but it was the first that focused on technique and elements of cooking that didn’t boil down to “this skill will keep you from starving or seriously injuring yourself.”
However, the teacher had an idea that really resonated with me: the benchmark recipe. Every Friday of the class, we would bake chocolate chip cookies. Same recipe, same ingredients, same tools. Every Friday. Each kitchenette would present their “best” cookie to the teacher, for display and grading.
After the eight or so morsel laden delights were arranged, she’d ask what we thought went right, and what went wrong. It was only after the third go ’round that you could start to see that people were improving. Avoiding over mixing. Adding the wet ingredients to dry. The differences between softened butter and molten cow magma. Undercooked vs overcooked (damn straight I like a gooey cookie, Mrs. Anderson, and I’ll take my 8/10 instead of a too-crisp 10/10)
Then, the last couple weeks, we were allowed to diversify, tweak, and test. We had set our baseline and were allowed to deviate. There were some awful cookies those last few weeks, but there were also a few gems. It was also discovered that there is a natural limit to the amount of chocolate a single cookie can contain.
The point is, we learned a recipe, and learned to do it well. Anyone that cooks with regularity has a recipe like that, or at least should. For my dad it was meaty marinara. He knew it by heart, and could improvise at will. If I were to ask for a recipe, his response would be, “y’know, the stuff that goes in it. And simmer it long enough. Gotta simmer.”
There a family joke from when Dad’s mom was trying to teach my mom how to make proper cinnamon rolls. The “recipe” was a slip of paper, torn from the bottom of a legal pad. It read:
1 egg of butter
A room temperature egg
And that’s it. That’s was the whole recipe. Grandma wrote it down, and passed it like an Olympic torch. The metaphysical weight of that enormous responsibility passed to another. She had carried the ring to Mordor, but Samwise had to throw it in.
My mom looked at it, and asked, “How much of each?”
After an incredulous pause, Grandma replied with pity in her eyes, “Until it feels right.”
So, now I frequently make pancakes, and they always feel right.
- ¾C whole wheat flour
- ¼C oat flour
- 1 T dark brown sugar
- 2 t baking powder
- ¼ t salt
- 1 cup of whole milk
- 1 egg
- 2 T melted coconut oil
- ¼ C chocolate chips (optional)
- ¼ C frozen blueberries (optional)
- Whisk together (use a fork, an actual whisk is overkill) in one bowl: whole wheat flour, oat flour, dark brown sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- In a 2-4 cup liquid measuring cup, combine whole milk, egg, and melted coconut oil.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until it comes together.
- If mom’s not home, fold in chocolate chips, frozen blueberries, or other fillings.
- And then cook them on a skillet over medium heat.
- Flip those bad boys.
- Eat those suckers with a drizzle of maple syrup.
Fun fact: I’ve found that a tablespoon for batter makes pancakes that stack nicely in a mason jar. Make a double batch and refrigerate. Boom, you’ve got snacks covered.