When our daughter Chelsea was in third grade she did an assignment in a perfectly acceptable way. She even followed the directions but she did not follow the teacher’s interpretation of the directions so across the coloring exercise were big, bold red letters reading: “F.D!” Translated: Follow Directions! Without going into detail, suffice to say that was the moment we decided that public school was not for her or us.
Recipe directions are a two edged sword. By and large, it is good to follow the directions exactly. There is, after all, evidence-based science behind most recipes. Salt and baking soda or yeast interact chemically so it is important to get the measurements right. But once you know HOW to bake, you can adapt recipes a bit to meet your tastes.
Some significant people have spoken to this concept:
“Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” – the Dalai Lama.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso
Once you learn the basic rules and get a feel for baking, the fun begins. I have always seen recipes as guidelines, not rules. The recipes that I am including in Kneading to Remember are not to be considered gospel truth. Perhaps you choose to make one of these recipes in order to experience the person who passed along the recipe. Or perhaps you do it in order to feel part of the family for whom the recipe was prepared many times over. It is not the details of the recipe that are so important. It is the experience that I find connects me to the person who shared it with me. The recipes are something like cultural oral tradition. Stories are passed along through oral tradition. Behaviors are reinforced through oral tradition. Memories are maintained through oral tradition but we all know that telephone game about storytelling. The story starts in one way and then it gets 10 or 15 people down the line and it is a totally different story. Sometimes the characters are different, sometimes the events, sometimes the timeline. But there remains, usually, an element of truth, a crumb of what began as the original story. So, too, with these recipes. You may change them or alter them for your taste or because you know that they would be fluffier, or sweeter, or less sticker if you just did this or that to the recipe. Fine. Do it! And enjoy it and then make the recipe for your friends, your children, your grandchildren. Tell them the stories behind the recipes so they can bear witness as well. Then maybe someday they will make a recipe and remember you as well.
CAUTION: All that said, one word of caution: When a recipe calls for flour, the measurement can make a huge difference. Whether it is shifted or weighed and measured in a measuring cup, the best advice I can give is to always start with less flour than the recipe calls for. If it calls for 3 cups, add 2 cups and then a little more and little more until the consistency works for rolling out or cutting out or placing in bread pans…whatever it is you are going to do with it. You may end up using all 3 cups and adding even more. That is fine. You can always add more but once the flour is in the mix, you cannot take it out and you are stuck with what you have.