Is there a generally accepted best way to experiment with recipes?

When starting with a recipe that is not 'quite right', if you wanted to tweak the quantities of various ingredients (and taste the results), what would be the most efficient or 'correct' way to go about this? I am asking in the context of baking where it is hard to know how something will turn out until it is finished.

Is it best to do one batch at a time, taking notes of how the result turned out and then tweaking next time around, but having to go through many batches before figuring out the best recipe? Or, is it generally better to make several mini-batches at once, and taste them side by side?

Is there an accepted standard for how to implement this experimentation process?



It is no different from other prototyping processes or exploratory research. You are not confirming a scientific hypothesis here, you are actively searching. So the most important thing is: fail fast.

So, for the question of mini batches vs. large batches, you certainly need mini batches. And in cooking it is more important than in other fields, as humans have a very poor ability to remember or record sensory qualities. In tasting two muffins side by side, you will notice differences which would not be obvious from notes from previous batches.

Another thing which people find hard to remember: beat the Not Invented Here syndrome! There is a lot of information out there about which ingredient does what, which ratios are good for a given type of baked good, etc. It is boring to research them if you could be baking instead - but in the end, experimenting alone in your kitchen without theoretical background will never give you results as good as those created by teams of specialists who have been doing this their whole life, and using other information sources beyond primary experimentation.

So, as with any good research, formulate your question first, and be specific. Then search for answers to this question. Only after you have found the theory, experiment how it applies to your recipe. Randomly changing things and hoping that you will hit gold is what many people do, but it is the opposite of a best practice.

  • 4
    On the flip side of combatting Not Invented Here syndrome, be prepared to discover that what others swear works perfectly may not always work for you, presumably because of some overlooked variable. – Cascabel Jun 27 '16 at 18:29
  • @Jefromi Always fun to find that your soufflé collapsed because setting 4 on Gordon Oliver's oven is not the same as setting 4 on your oven. – Nzall Jun 28 '16 at 12:44

With any experimental design, controlling the variables is a key problem, and this cuts two ways for your question.

Mini-Batches increase the relative effect of measurement errors and/or how critical the measuring is in general; but they reduce the impact of weather conditions such as humidity and temperature that will vary from day to day.

A full-scale batch (presumably) more closely matches how you would normally produce the recipe, but will be subject to changes in those variables that are not actually the thing you intend to change and observe the results of changing.

You might find that a blended approach gets the best overall "efficiency" - use mini-batches to point the right direction, then revisit with full-scale batches.

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