The only thing better than a plump novel about food is throwing in recipes for readers to go with it. Not only does it give readers a chance to be a part of the story, but it opens up space for you to flex your creativity in a new way.
You love to read other people’s recipes, and you’re no novice in the kitchen, but how do you actually develop a recipe worth making?
Recipe development takes time and a lot of patience, so be easy on yourself. There’s no one way to do anything, but here are some tips for creating recipes readers will swoon over in your novel.
Choose Exciting Recipes for Readers to Make
First things first, add a recipe or recipes readers are itching to get in the kitchen and make. In both Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala and The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant, the authors drop their shining recipes at the end of the book. The recipes they include are items featured throughout the story. So, it’s a treat for readers to find those delicious sounding recipes, like chicken adobo and pan-seared scallops wrapped in jambon sec and prunes with balsamic glaze, laid out from start to finish.
Then there are authors like Joanne Fluke, who is known for sprinkling tasty recipes throughout the chapters. The creations in Fluke’s Hannah Swenson mystery series (now also on Hallmark Channel’s Movies and Mysteries) were so popular, she made an entire cookbook out of them.
When choosing a recipe to include in your novel, make it one that’s important in your story. You don’t want to throw something in there just because. Add recipes that have significance for your characters and story.
Also, readers will be more excited to make a recipe if they don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or money on ingredients. No one wants to spend $5 on a tablespoon of an obscure spice they’ll probably never use again or to be locked into a 7 hour cooking extravaganza. Be kind to your readers’ time and budget, and you’ll already have them swooning.
Research Similar Recipes and Create Your Own Twist
Just as the old adage goes that every story has already been told, every recipe has likely been created. With those creations also comes a lot of imposters. For Friends fans, you’ll remember the moment of horror when Monica realized that Phoebe’s grandmother’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe was actually the recipe on the back of the Nestlé Tollhouse bag.
If you have a recipe in mind, even one that’s been in your kitchen rotation for awhile, do some research on it first. A quick internet search of “recipe stealing” will pull up heaps of stories about celebrities and non-celebrities alike who have been accused of taking people’s recipes without proper credit. The truth is, though, a lot of folks may not realize they’re taking someone’s work.
For some things, there’s primarily one way to make it, like Caesar dressing or pasta. Pull up a recipe for either of those though, and you’ll find differences in the thousands of recipes.
The unofficial standard for changing a recipe to make it your own is that 3 things have to be different from the original. It could be cook time, temperature, measurements, ingredients, or the process.
Don’t let the sea of recipes already in existence overwhelm you. Instead, use it as an opportunity to create more flavorful, inventive and swoon-worthy recipes for readers and yourself.
Develop Your Recipes with Detailed Notes
Once you pinpoint the recipe or recipes you want to include, it’s time to hit the kitchen. Regardless of how many times you’ve made a dish in the past, developing recipes for readers is a different ballgame. The goal is to have a perfectly explained plan anyone can follow without additional help.
Most people don’t realize the extra pinch of salt they always add or that halfway through the cook time, they rotate the baking sheet in the oven. In fact, that’s why when New York Times bestseller Julia Turshen co-authors a cookbook with someone, she watches them in the kitchen, instead of reading their recipes.
Don’t have someone to observe your cooking habits? Grab your iPhone and film yourself. Jot down notes as you’re watching with questions you think readers may have regarding process or even ingredient substitutes.
For the recipe writing portion, list ingredients in the order they’re used and don’t forget to add time elements throughout the process. If you ever get stuck on how to map it out, grab a set of cookbooks or even scan food magazine websites for example templates.
Hire a Recipe Developer
Have an idea for a recipe, but not sure how to create it? Bring in the professionals to help you. Most recipe developers are also food stylists and even bloggers. They regularly work with brands and individuals to create unique recipes for a variety of platforms.
How do you find these folks? There’s nothing like a good internet search or even word of mouth. If you’re starting from square one, scan the acknowledgements of a food novel or cookbook, and you’ll find references to developers and testers. You can find the majority of those people mentioned at their own websites.
Sites like Upwork or even LinkedIn can also connect you with freelance recipe developers who would love to craft tasty recipes for your book. Just make sure it’s clear about how and when the recipe will be used, and if there are any rights the recipe developer will own.
Get Recipe Testers
Now that you have your recipe, you need to test it. If you used a recipe developer, they may have built in revisions for the process and may even help you find testers.
Developed the recipe on your own? Ask friends or family if they’d be willing to test your recipe and fill out a tasting note sheet. Sometimes, you may offer to buy ingredients or even pay folks to do this.
The important thing is to get usable feedback. You’re looking for notes about cook time, temperature, equipment, ingredients, and how clear your instructions are. If you estimate that there will be 24 servings of cookies, but a tester ended up with 36, that’s important to know.
Some questions for recipe testers can include:
- Did you follow the recipe exactly?
- If you didn’t, where did you change the recipe and why?
- Was the equipment easily accessible?
You want to ask questions that allow testers to share where they deviated from the recipe and why. Most people use their instincts in the kitchen, so if one of your testers skipped a process, you want to know why and see if it’s worth changing the recipe for.
Once you have your first round of feedback, decide how you want to adjust the recipe and have testers make it at least one more time. You’re creating a recipe to serve your readers, so the more intentional feedback you can gather, the better.
Feeling Confident about the Recipe You Choose
Creating recipes for readers to swoon over in your novel is daunting. You don’t know if it will work until the masses have their hands on it. But much like your novel, there are signposts along the way to help guide you.
Use your instincts, but also the feedback of your recipe testers and developers. Getting your recipe into the hands of real people is the best way to know what’s working and what’s not. And don’t forget that you’re painting a picture along the way.
As the late novelist Pat Conroy said: A recipe is a story that ends with a great meal. Give your readers just that, and you can be confident that the recipe you choose is the one they’ll love, even after they put your novel down.
Amanda Polick is a writer and book coach, who guides food folks through the writing process. Her work has been featured by Cooking Light, Food & Wine and Time. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee now, but a piece of her will be in California forever. To connect with Amanda, you can find her on her website.