How to Write a Great Recipe — and a Great Story to Go With It
Why should you write down a recipe? So you can remember it—and you can share it with other people.
When professional chefs, food writers and cookbook authors write a recipe for publication, they start with a short intro (called a headnote) that tells why they think the recipe is special. The next part is describing EXACTLY how to prepare it—this means writing down everything from ingredients and equipment to step-by-step directions.
Want to write your own recipe? Here’s how you do it:
Start with a great headnote:
A headnote is the story that goes at the beginning of your recipe. Basically, it tells the reader what you think is the coolest thing about the dish you’re describing. It might be the story about how you learned to make it, something funny that happened while you were cooking or eating it – anything you think makes the dish memorable. Think about answering the question: Why is this recipe worth making?
- You can also include fun facts about the ingredients, creative new twists to add to the recipe or ways to make the dish work for people with food allergies/preferences (like vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, etc.).
- Your headnote can be as long or short as you like. In general, through, try to keep it to about 250 words max. If you’re typing on your computer, tablet or phone, use the word count feature to help you keep track.
- On your first draft, just write whatever comes into your head. The idea is to come up with an interesting story, so don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation at first. Of course, these are important when you publish your recipe, so it’s a good idea to ask someone to check your work when you’re happy with the story itself. (All the best writers have tons of respect for proofreaders and editors.)
- Describe how your recipe will taste. For example, is it sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy, tangy, earthy, nutty, delicate, pungent–or some combination of flavors? Are there layers of flavor, like when you first taste one thing, then another, then another, and then another (like the nutty, spicy flavor of the sauce)?
- What’s the texture like? Is it smooth, slippery, chewy, crunchy, mealy, nutty, coarse, tender, juicy, soft or something else?
- Think about when first prepared your recipe, then tasted it. Did anything interesting, funny, disastrous, creative or surprising happen? What was it?
- Does eating the dish remind you of anything? For instance, does it bring back memories from when you were a little kid? Does it make you think of a certain person or place? Or does it remind you a special occasion—like a birthday or holiday?
- Remember, these questions are here to inspire you—you don’t have to answer them all. Think of them as a guideline to help you figure out what YOU think is important to say about your recipe. After all, that’s the whole purpose of a headnote!
Now, on to the recipe:
When you write your recipe, keep in mind that the person who will be preparing the dish is going to count on you to give instructions that will allow them to recreate exactly what you did. That means: be specific!
Start with the name of your recipe—you can be straightforward (e.g., “Apple Pie”) or descriptive (e.g. My Family’s Ultimate Orchard-to-Table Granny Smith Apple Pie”).
Next, tell the reader/cook how much food your recipe will yield. For example, “Serves 6” or “Makes 6 Mini Pies”).
Now list your ingredients. It might be helpful to list them in two columns.
- The first column includes the name of the ingredient and any “pre-recipe” preparation (i.e., whether some prep should be before the person actually starts the recipe, like peeling, dicing, grating, etc.).
- Specific ingredients are better than general ingredients.
- For example, if your recipe uses Granny Smith apples, make sure to write “Granny Smith apples” instead of just “apples.”
- The second column includes the quantity of ingredient used in the recipe
- Use exact measures like teaspoons, cups, or ounces rather than “a heaping spoon.”
- If you think it’s fine to vary the amount of an ingredient (this is often true for spices), you can say something like “add salt and pepper to taste.”
- If you think it’s helpful, you can also provide a list of the kitchen equipment and tools needed for your recipe. If someone will need to use specialized equipment like an ice cream maker, stand mixer, food processor or panini press, it’s especially important to let them know this.
Next up: describe the procedure—EXACTLY how to make the dish.
- Write down a step-by-step sequence—remember to be as precise as possible. Don’t assume the person will just know what to do.
- If particular sizes of equipment or intensities of heat are important in the recipe, then they should be described in detail.
- For example, write down “heat a two-quart saucepan over medium-high heat” rather than “heat a pot on the stove.”
- As you write your recipe, think of what you wish someone would tell YOU if you’d never made the dish before.
The final step in writing your recipe should be a description of any plating or presentation instructions. You can also talk about fun garnishes, great food partners for dish – or anything else you like.
Let’s Get Cooking!