Part 7 The Kitchen Formula Calculator v4 & The Logical Structure Of A Recipe

What is a recipe?

There’s more to a recipe than meets the eye. There’s an unseen mathematical framework for any recipe. If you write down what you do when you make Pork Green Chile, you’ll have a list of all the ingredients used, how much of each, and a given methodology for what to do with the stuff. If you do this, you’ve written a recipe. That’s the common sense understanding of “recipe”, which is true enough, but not enough. This understanding has limited practical ramifications. If you have a way to analyze the Pork Green Chile recipe to determine what are the ratios of each ingredient to the whole, you can understand it more clearly. You can also analyze any other recipe by entering it in The Kitchen Formula Calculator. Obviously, it’s useful to keep a record of recipes from great Chefs, and other reliable sources. The calculator is a way to organize, and store these things. Determining ingredient ratios is a very easy calculation, but cooks don’t do such stuff, and few understand the word “recipe” in these terms. Ratios exist, but they aren’t specified. For the most part cook’s don’t even think about it. They know about ingredient balance, and understand the concept of ratios of course, but not what can be done with the actual ratios if calculated. That’s why a Reverse Engineering calculator which is part of The Kitchen Formula Calculator hasn’t been invented before.

These ratios are what can be called “Cook’s Percentages”, and to be precise, the answer to the question is: a recipe is a list of ingredients, and its mathematical structure, viz. the ingredient ratios expressed as percentages of the whole. A recipe is its Cook’s Percentages. Just as Baker’s Percentages are the mathematical framework for bread formulae, Cook’s Percentages are the same for all other recipes. By this definition, given a list of ingredients, and a Cook’s % value stipulated for each, you’ve written a recipe. Ingredient weights are derivative data, determined by comparing its Cook’s % to the total weight of the formula. It’s a simple equation.

Ingredient weight = Total Formula Weight x Ingredient Cook’s Percentage

Methodological notes are obviously a practical necessity, but when we talk about a recipe, it’s really talk about a “formula”. Methodological notes are words. Formulae are written in symbols. The cook’s formula is the ratios of an array of stipulated ingredients to the whole. The formula consists of the Cook’s Percentages of all ingredients added together to equal the Total Formula Cook’s Percentage (which is always 100%). If a stipulated Total Formula Weight is given, then the formula can be applied to derive all the individual ingredient weights.

Methodology simply informs the cook about mixing and handling. Often the “methodology” isn’t necessary to express. All of my old Pastry Shop recipes are simply lists of ingredients, the corresponding quantities specified, and a stated yield. “Yield” in a very casual sense means how many portions it makes. This is how my Pastry Shop formulae expressed the concept of yield. The Cheesecake formula makes seven 10” cakes from which 10 slices can be had. Obviously, that's a standard of the particular establishment, and my Pastry Chef. The cheesecake batter might just as easily make ten 8" cakes, sliced into however many pieces some other Chef desires. Portions are subjective. It is not the same as yield. Experience, and repetition, teaches the aspiring pastry cook what to do with this basic data.

As a mathematical fact, any change to any of the ingredient ratios, by which I mean the ingredient’s Cook’s % value, produces a completely new recipe. The change may seem slight, but all of the other ingredient ratios update to reflect a change made to the single ingredient. The same thing does not occur if any one of the ingredient quantities is changed, i.e. no other ingredient quantities change. Only the recipe yield changes. On the other hand, a singular edit to any ingredient Cook’s % value changes all the other ingredient Cook’s % values. Why does it do so? Because the Total Formula Cook’s Percentages must add up to 100%. “Cook’s Percentage” means an ingredient’s percentage of the whole. The whole is 100%. It’s clear that the ratios of ingredients in a recipe, i.e. their Cook’s Percentages are the formula. Any change to an ingredient ratio in the Pork Green Chile recipe, no matter how slight, amounts to a new formula for Pork Green Chile. You have written a new recipe.

This sort of incremental tweaking of ingredients is a natural part of what happens after a recipe is written. The cook carefully prepares the mise en place for the recipe, then tests the recipe by cooking it up. This is called a “cook test”. One makes notes of any changes to ingredients, time, and temperatures made during the test. After which, the cook updates the recipe by revising the affected variables in the calculator table. If the Chef is satisfied, the updated recipe is entered into the Kitchen Guide.

The actual ingredients list, and the quantities of ingredients used to make Pork Green Chile are flexible, reflecting a cook’s style, and preferences, or whim. If you change ingredient quantities, but retain the ratios of each to the other, you’ve not changed the recipe, you’ve simply changed the yield. To change a recipe, you have to change the ratios of ingredients, or change the list of ingredients, or both. Ratios are the mathematical superstructure of a recipe. Ratios are recipe logic.

Why are Baker’s Percentages vital, but understanding Cook’s Percentages is not?

The difference between the recipes cooks use, and bread formulae that baker’s use is there’s greater leeway for a cook to adjust the ratios of recipe ingredients without fundamentally changing the resulting product, and most importantly, ratios of ingredients can be changed during the cooking process. In fact, adjusting the ratios during cooking is advisable methodology. Taste it as it cooks, add more of the critical ingredients as deemed necessary, not all at once to start. This is why “salt to taste” is a common proviso. Such in-process tinkering is not the case for most baked pastry items, and never for bread once in the oven. The formula must be properly assembled prior to baking. You don’t get a Mulligan. There’s a little bit of truth in the statement “baking is Science, cooking is Art”.

Regional variations of the same preparation illustrate this. Individual cooks might play with the ingredients list, but a Pork Green Chile is still Pork Green Chile even if there’s more or less pork, this or that pork muscle is used, more or less garlic and chili, or more or less of one herb or another. Whether or not the pork is seared prior to stewing, it’s still Pork Green Chile. What liquid is used depends on local customs, a recipe cost target, and the cook’s creative whim. Indeed, a cook might make the same preparation somewhat differently from one day to the next. That is exactly why cooking is interesting. A cook has this leeway, plus the intrigue, and fun of the “in-process” level of steering the product along. For the baker it’s a different sort of interest. There’s science, and there’s understanding the various process phenomena that take place during the mixing, fabrication and baking stages (especially for bread), and the need to be precise breeds a sense of focus that’s inseparable from life in the bake shop. The final product depends on what goes on in the oven. These are the process phenomenon I described at length in my Meditations On Baking previously posted to this blog. It’s interesting stuff. It’s science. Did you know that the geometric configurations of a baked item affects how it bakes? Of course it does. If you want to know why, check out the article.

Just because you do not need to think about, or even know that such things as Cook’s Percentages exist to cook well, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know how they can be utilized. Understanding the mathematical structure of a recipe means you can use it productively. The time wasting, often error prone process of doing recipe yield re-scaling is eliminated. As noted above, it was a prime cause for developing the recipe writing tool you are reading about. I will post an article about how to use the updated *Kitchen Formula Calculator v4* soon.

Understanding Cook's Percentages as the mathematical basis of a recipe doesn't mean we have to write recipes using Cook's Percentages as bread bakers typically do with Baker's Percentages. The fact is that ingredient weights can be derived if we know the ingredient percentages, or percentages can be derived if we know the ingredient weights. This is true for both Baker's Math and Cook's Math. However, in the bakery, formulae are almost always written using Baker's Percentages because bakers understand the changes to be expected if an ingredient percentage is changed. In the kitchen it's a different matter. Cook's wouldn't know what to do if Chef gave them a recipe for Pork Green Chile written in Cook's Percentages. This doesn't mean Cook's Percentages are not important, it means getting Chile made is going to be simpler if it's written in volume and weight measures as usual, or in weight measures if the Chef is enlightened.

Both calculators for the bread baker and for cooks have a *Reverse Engineering* table that can be used to derived the percentages for any formula if these are not given in the formula. I will write more about that in a later installment. We want to know ingredient percentages for practical reasons as have been explained in detail in the previous post, Part 6. These boil down to being able to instantly and flawlessly re-scale a recipe to yield more or less than originally written, and also for the purpose of being able to do recipe costings.

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