10 Ways to Level Up Your Cookbook

10 Ways to Level Up Your Cookbook

by Rev. Criss Ittermann

Have you ever picked up a cookbook and been frustrated by the style, the directions, the abbreviations they use, complicated directions, and other mistakes in cookbook design and development? A perfectly good recipe can be ruined by the use of a T instead of a t. Or you can get halfway through the recipe and become lost when they ask you to do something you can’t figure out.

As recipe authors and cookbook authors, we need to be conscientious and not leave everything to the editors. Some of us are self-published cookbook authors, and have to be even more self-reliant. Consistency is important, but so is a good eye towards clarity and simplicity. If we follow some basic rules in creating our recipes and revising our own cookbooks, we can conserve our editor and formatter’s energy for the really important stuff — like finding real mistakes, and making our book beautiful.

Here are some tips to help you improve your recipe-writing endeavors:

  1. Ingredient order is probably the first impression you’ll make when someone tries to implement your recipe. Professionals put the order of the ingredients in the same order as the ingredients are used in the recipe directions. If there’s any deviation from that, it may be that some recipes put the main ingredient first — for example the protein. The thing or things you’re most likely to need to go out and purchase. But don’t be lazy. Decide what method to use and stick with it, and if you can’t decide the order of use is the most consistent and truly helpful way to order your ingredients.
  2. Spell everything out — don’t abbreviate measurements, minutes, directions, etc. Unless you’re trying to fit your recipe on the side of a box of sugar, don’t be lazy. Use “pound” not “lb”, “package” not “pkg”, “ounce” not “oz” and avoid all the awkward abbreviations of “teaspoon” versus “tablespoon”.
  3. Pay attention to proper capitalization. Normal produce and ingredients (bell peppers, lettuce, onions) should be lowercase, and it shows professionalism and sophistication to know which ingredients need to have capitalized words (hint: they’re names of places, nationality, and nations). “French toast”, “Sherry wine”, “Champagne vinegar”, “Anehim peppers”, “Parmesan cheese”. There are also some exceptions to this rule. Even though it’s named after a place, “sriracha” is lowercase. Go figure.
  4. Add oven preheating in a place that makes sense. If it takes 15 minutes to preheat an oven, then you should start the oven 15 minutes before you need to use it. Help your cooks out by putting it into your directions at the start, or at about the point where it needs to be done. Otherwise they’ll be annoyed to get to step 7 which says “Bake in a preheated oven.” “Why didn’t you tell me that 10 minutes ago?!?”
  5. Eliminate articles (a, an, the, some) for ingredients. But don’t go overboard and eliminate articles for equipment. So it’s “Add orange juice to the pan.” not “Add orange juice to pan.” nor “Add the orange juice to the pan.” Bonus: don’t use “of” in your ingredients list. Say “1 cup sugar” not “1 cup of sugar”.
  6. Assign word processing styles in your document. You don’t have to figure out how to format them, but if you consistently label the text in your document by its purpose, you will eliminate a step for the formatter for your cookbook. Set up the following styles in ADDITION to normal “Headings” (which can be used for book parts, chapter titles, and sections when you create a cookbook): Recipe Title, Yield, Headnote, Ingredients, Directions, Afternote, Tip. Apply these paragraph styles to the different parts of your recipe to classify your information. You can even experiment with getting fancy and applying list numbers to the Directions, bolding your Recipe Titles, etc. Just make sure you’re changing the style itself, not the text on the page once the style is assigned.
  7. Eliminate brand names. Everyone’s tastes are different, your favorite mayo is not the next person’s. You can headnote or afternote your preferred brands or brands you find reliable or to give the taste you prefer, but in the ingredient list use “hot sauce” not “Tabasco”. In most cases, it’s not really much difference so avoid any legal hassles. Never use the brand name in the title of a recipe or cookbook. Only the company that owns the trademark gets to do that. So it’s not an “Oreo Sundae” it’s a “Cookies and Cream Sundae”.
  8. Use exact sizes when purchasing packaged goods. For example “1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese”. Have you noticed how many packages are getting smaller? We used to get 8-ounce packages of yogurt, then for a while they were 6 ounces. Now they’re 5.3 ounces. Your grandkids will need to know!
  9. Give clear and concise directions. Don’t mention substitutions that are in the ingredients list, just the main ingredient. Mention the optional ingredients in the directions as if it’s being used, no need to say it’s optional twice (“if you choose to use this” is redundant). The only exception is if a substitution or the use of an optional ingredient changes the directions somehow. (“If substituting honey for sugar, combine it with the wet ingredients.”)
  10. Simplicity. Don’t make people search YouTube for obscure cooking methods. Make it easy, not fancy. “Cook in liquid” instead of “braise” or “stir and fry” instead of “sauté”. Don’t make people scramble for help.

These tips will help save hours of editing later on, conserve time and effort while finishing and polishing your books, will help your team conserve energy for finding errors and tracking down true typos.

Now have a blast sharing and creating recipes that are used far-and-wide!!

If you need help with editing or formatting recipes and cookbooks, don't hesitate to contact Criss for help with your recipes and books.

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