The trouble with writing recipes & walnut and lemon buttercream cake

There’s nothing more disappointing than finding out that a recipe you’ve posted hasn’t worked out for someone. Worse if multiple people have had the same problem. Luckily in this case, it’s not my recipe, but it is a recipe that I’ve written about for my Food52 column, Regional Italian Food. It’s for a torta di noci, a traditional walnut cake from Calabria in southern Italy. I was drawn to it because of it’s simplicity – there are only three main ingredients in this cake: eggs, sugar and walnuts. But it’s a delicate, very moist cake that relies entirely on the quality of its very few ingredients.

torta di noci - walnut with buttercream

It’s always hard to know how to help (I find particularly in the case of baking, which has such a chemistry about it) when in the shoes of another cook. Where was the mistake? Was it in the instructions, was it in the whipping, the measuring or the cooking time? Was it the oven?

In my own experience, living in rented apartments for years (and changing apartments often), home ovens, I find, can be pretty unreliable when it comes to evenly distributed and correct temperatures, particularly if they happen to be old. Over the years I’ve had electric and gas ovens that don’t cook from the bottom, ones that don’t cook from the top, ones that only burn from the top (seriously, this one only burned anything I ever put in there, I had to practically give up baking for a year!). One was always slow, I had to cook things for double the time of any recipe. Needless to say, this makes for difficult testing and recipe writing.

Luckily now I have access to a kitchen with a new Miele oven and I even bought an oven thermometer to make sure inside is what it says it is outside (and it is), so I can be confident about the recipes I test and make now.

torta di noci - walnut cake with buttercream

It would be easier to help if you could look over the shoulder of another cook that’s had problems with their cake and go through it again, step by step, cooking together.

Everyone has a different way of measuring ingredients, for example. I prefer weight because it is by far the easiest and most accurate way to cook. I have a simple, sleek digital scale that comes out for practically every recipe I make. But writing recipes for my American readers on Food52, I’ve realised there’s a lot of resistance to the weight measurements (one reader told me she didn’t have space in her kitchen for scales, which made me realise she had probably never even seen them, especially digital scales which are so slim and neat) and that only using weight in my recipes has been challenging for many — although I list ingredients in both grams and ounces, I still always get asked for the cup measurements too.

But the results for volume measurements can vary wildly, as Alice Medrich notes in this great article on how using a scale will change your life, “Every cook wields a measuring cup differently and even cookbook authors and pastry chefs use them differently from one another. If every recipe included reliable weights, and every one started using a scale, the overall quality of baking and desserts would improve overnight!”

torta di noci - walnut cake with lemon buttercream

What about the method? This particular recipe calls for yolks and whites to be separated, the yolks to be whipped with the sugar until fluffy and pale and the whites to be whipped to stiff peaks. This is such a simple recipe with few ingredients and no flour or butter to hold the mixture together, no baking powder to make it rise. So it is vital that these simple few steps be done properly.

It’s hard to know if they’ve been done with as much care by someone else. When I have to whip egg whites, I make sure to use a metal or glass mixing bowl rather than plastic as the whites whip better (fats stick more easily to the plastic, making it harder to whip to stiff peaks). I also give a little squeeze of lemon or a drop of vinegar, wiped with some paper towel down and around the sides of the bowl where I’m going to whip whites. This helps degrease the bowl to make sure there are no traces of fat, even clean bowls sometimes have them!

And then there is whipping to the right point. How to tell the peaks are stiff enough? I always tip the bowl upside down (or on its side, for a split second). If nothing falls or slides, you’re there! That’s not exactly how I would normally write the recipe though, so if that’s not part of the instruction, are there people attempting the recipe with slightly floppy egg whites? Am I assuming too much in thinking that everyone knows what stiff peaks look like?

Then there are the ingredients and this may actually be the most important factor, particularly with a recipe like this one, which is so simple. The quality of the walnuts is key, and it’s best to use caster sugar (superfine sugar) rather than regular sugar or raw sugar. Using freshly shelled walnuts makes a world of difference. I’ve tried it with both freshly shelled nuts bought directly from a walnut grower at the farmer’s market and with imported Californian walnuts from the supermarket. The best results, were, naturally with the first. By a mile.

Not only is quality a difference when it comes to ingredients but obtaining the right things to begin with can make or break a recipe. Something that comes up quite often for me is confusion due to language differences in US/UK/Australian English. Caster sugar and icing sugar are also known as superfine and powdered or confectioner’s sugar, respectively. Another recent recipe which caused quite a bit of confusion was a butternut pumpkin/squash risotto and although I try my hardest to use US English when writing for Food52, I kept stubbornly referring to the butternut squash as pumpkin (in Australia it’s a pumpkin to us, while squash is a flat, yellow cousin of the zucchini!). Needless to say, many US readers let me know my mistake in the comments — to them it’s a squash!

torta di noci walnut and lemon buttercream IMG_4548 blog

Then there are the expectations of the reader, which is the hardest to account for as the recipe writer. If it’s a dish that they have never tasted or seen, then it’s important to describe how it should appear (a photograph is all too important too). Perhaps I didn’t too this well enough in this particular recipe and this is actually something that doesn’t convey so well in a photograph. This walnut cake is a moist cake, but more than that, it’s a moist and crumbly cake (after all, it is flourless and butterless). It’s so moist that it may even appear to some as underdone. But leave it to settle (better if it’s even chilled in the fridge, and better the next day) and this unusual texture is not a flaw, but part of what makes this cake so delicious and unique.

In the end I retested the recipe, looking the whole time for the spots where difficulties might lie and I reposted my new notes from this new perspective, with a little additional test — a lemon buttercream frosting, suggested in the original recipe by Ada Boni to dress this cake. I didn’t try it in the first recipe as it didn’t seem very traditional to me, but then again it’s from Ada’s own recipe, which I was following after all. As it turns out, the buttercream — light, fluffy and lemony — is literally the icing on the cake with this cake. It holds the whole thing together, in terms of flavour, texture and physical structure. And the lemon flavour (I must admit, not what I would have immediately paired with walnuts) really lifts the whole cake.

It wasn’t part of the original Food52 post so I’ll post the entire recipe here. I looked at some of the buttercream recipes from Poires au Chocolat (whose instructional blog is my go-to when it comes to baking recipes), in particular this one, where I have simply replaced the rose water with lemon zest and juice.

I’m always really appreciative of the feedback that readers give in the comments, particularly on Food52, where the feedback is usually very much a discussion of what the results were, what variations or alterations were made – more so, I find, than what happens on my blog comments. It’s a valuable lesson as a recipe writer to get to have that immediate interaction. I realised as I was working on the manuscript for my cookbook that I won’t get this with a book. Not only do I have to wait until it’s out next year but then it will be in people’s homes, where anyone with an issue with a recipe will have to sort it out silently. I think I’ll miss that interaction and knowing whether the recipes went well or were enjoyed.

What are your experiences with following recipes or writing recipes for others? Have you come across issues like these?

torta di noci - walnut cake, plain with icing sugar

Torta di noci (walnut cake)

Some notes: This cake recipe is taken from a 1960s volume of Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, who suggests splitting the cake and sandwiching it with a light lemon butter icing. Alternatively, you can leave it plain and simply dust with powdered sugar. It remains moist for several days – if it isn’t eaten all by then.

Make sure to line your cake tin with baking paper. Remove from the oven when the top of the well-browned cake is firm to the touch. Let the cake cool in the tin before removing from the tin. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until chilled. This seems to give it a bit of time to settle and will be easier to handle. It will still crumble a little when slicing but if you are careful, you won’t have any problem getting pretty, nice slices.

This lemon buttercream is a great pairing for this cake and it also is wonderfully forgiving as it hides any flaws, including crumbling, splitting or even an inside that might seem too soft/moist! It also keeps very well for a few days and holds together very, very nicely.

For the walnut cake:

  • 340 grams (¾ pound or about 3 cups) walnut kernels
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 225 grams (1 cup) caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting or lemon buttercream frosting for decorating

For the buttercream (based on this one by Poires au chocolat):

  • 75 grams (about 2) egg whites
  • 110 grams sugar
  • 125 grams butter, at room temperature
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • about 2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the walnut cake:

Prepare a round 9-inch (23cm) diameter cake pan by greasing and lining with baking paper.

Pulverise the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal the texture of sand. Set aside.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine. Whisk the egg whites in a clean, separate metal or glass bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 350ºF (180ºC) for about 50 minutes or until the top is firm and browned nicely. (Note: Ada Boni says to cook at 190ºC/375F for 60 minutes but I found that at the higher temperature this cake tends to burn easily). Let cool completely in the tin before removing. To serve, either dust with confectioner’s sugar or fill with lemon buttercream. If filling, it is best to chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or overnight before cutting. Once cooled, wrap it tightly in glad wrap and place on a flat surface (a plate or board) in the fridge.

For the lemon buttercream:

Whip the whites with the sugar over a double broiler for a few minutes minutes or until the mixture is warm and you can no longer feel the sugar granules if you rub it between your fingers (if you have a candy thermometer, take the mixture to 70ºC). Remove from heat, beat 8 more minutes or until mixture has returned to room temperature. Slowly add the butter bit by bit, beating constantly until you have a glossy, smooth buttercream. Add zest and lemon juice and chill the mixture for at least 30 minutes.

To assemble the cake:

Carefully cut the cake in half so you have two thin discs (this is a little tricky with a crumbly cake but go slowly and don’t worry too much about it being perfect as this buttercream is very forgiving and will hide even splits! If the cake is well-chilled it is easier). Fill with about half of the buttercream mixture. Place the top disc on top and cover the rest of the cake with the rest of the icing (I covered the top and just did a “crumb coat” around the sides). I topped it with some diced candied fruit (some melt in the mouth artisan made candied melon that I bought in Florence!) for decoration but it’s lovely just as it is.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. Today I received an email from someone telling me how wonderful one of my recipes had been for her and she was telling everyone that it was the go-to recipe. Three hours later and a woman had a total disaster making the same recipe that I’ve had over 250 comments on.

    I don’t beat myself up about it. If I can make the recipe by following the instructions that’s one thing but knowing others can follow it and get the same results, I’m not going to worry about the one who failed. I do feel bad when it happens but only for a few minutes.

    I’d feel better with a piece of this beautiful cake for sure.

    • Emiko says:

      Haha good point, Maureen! But when more than one have problems with it I wonder if it has been my instruction (Although the original 1960s recipe had no extra instruction in there — makes me wonder if people needed less instruction back then or expect now to be held by the hand more with recipes?!)…

  2. Rachel says:

    I found this a really interesting read, and has made me feel but better about some of the pitfalls I’ve found in writing my own recipes for people. A bit of background; I’m British, so I weigh in grams, but my mother taught me to bake in ounces. I spent a year living in Los Angeles where there were already cups in my spare kitchen, so I learnt to use them and in my own kitchen back in England, when I’m following an American recipe that was written in cups, I happily reach for them.

    As for the weights thing, even when they saw that I used them for both grams and ounces depending on the recipe, and we had a simply massive kitchen among the four of us (you’ve got to love Los Angeles rentals) they still thought I was crazy when I purchased weights, and still continued to use them after I’d learnt to use cups. But I am totally on board with the accuracy thing; I just also know that my cookies would not die if I did not bother to translate from American cookbooks and just used cups. On my blog I give measurements in both grams and ounces, and give American ingredient translations in brackets.

    I feel comfortable doing this, because I know the ingredients. When people comment on my popular brownie recipe why I specify caster sugar, but in brackets for my American readers I say granulate sugar, they say why is one okay for one, and not the other. I’m happy to do that, because I’ve made the recipe in both countries and I know it works. Caster sugar is really cheap here in the UK, but at least on L.A.’s Westside I know it is a bit more expensive. But then there are other translations I would not feel comfortable attempting if I had not used the different countries ingredients. Cream for instance. In the UK we have single cream, double cream and whipping cream. America? Half and half, heavy cream, whipping cream. But Half and half is much thinner than our single cream, and heavy cream is the same consistency, but takes longer to whip than double cream. I have an ice cream recipe as part of a review of an American book coming up on my predominantly British read blog, and I would not have been comfortable even jumping straight in and testing with the cost of the cream making it with British ingredients, if I had not known what the originally ingredients should have been like.

    I have ambivalent feelings about the Food 52 comments section, and I know I’m not the only person who has contributed who feels this way. I contributed one of my grandmothers traditional jewish recipes to the Heirloom Recipes column, and some people were pretty nasty about the names and Hebrew translation I used, even though I was stating the version of the traditional recipe came from London, where the naming was correct, and the words are translated differently all over the world. Also, less of an issue I came under fire for using Mixed Spice. I could say in the comments that you could substitute Pumpkin Spice, but as I’d never attempted to buy it in an American grocery store, I had no idea that it did not exist across the pond!

    • Emiko says:

      Oh yes, cream is a big problem for a recipe writer writing across borders! It’s a problem even when I ask my husband to go out to buy cream for me — I inevitably end up with a text message asking for which one! I hear you with the Food52 comments, I think that often people tend to forget that the recipes belong to individuals who read those comments (not like a blog, for example, where you know it’s one person’s story and recipes), which is unfortunate.

  3. I often wonder how people do it, post recipes twice a week and such. I test mine so many times just because I am very worried I have missed something or explained something not well enough. Sometimes I will type water instead of milk and read it over and over only to have a reader contact me to say, you mention water but the recipe states milk… Such horror when that happens. With writing my book it’s the same fear as you, you can’t alter a book unless it’s in a second edition, you can alter your blog.
    Because I am not a professional cook, I tend to feel insecure sometimes when writing recipes, especially with pastry which needs to be perfect. For me it slows down the whole thing, this is what is taking so long with my book, the wanting to get it right! 😉

    • Emiko says:

      You’re right, it’s hard to post so often if you want to be particularly precise and confident about your recipes. Writing the book has really opened my eyes to trying to be as precise and perfect as possible with the recipes! Luckily the editor does an amazing job at catching things like the milk typo you mention but gosh, that recipe testing sure takes time doesn’t it?!

  4. I just read the comments on your Food52 posting, I am quite astounded by the comments there. Much respect to you for putting up with such comments which are often clearly fueled by ignorance (what is caster sugar? really? Google is your friend I say!) Not owning kitchen scales really goes beyond me…
    Good work answering those comments, I don’t know where you get the energy! x

    • Emiko says:

      Ha, “Google is your friend!” I love it. It’s the first thing I always think too, as that’s what I do if I’m reading about an ingredient or a method that I’m unfamiliar with! I google everything and I thought everyone else did too! 😉

  5. Lynn says:

    Have you ever tried this recipe with other kinds of nuts? I can’t eat walnuts but I’m curious about the texture of this cake.
    As for people not getting the same results, there are so many things that can go wrong with baking that I usually assume I messed up if a recipe fails. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the internets default. If you’re not in the kitchen with them there is really no way to know what went wrong.

  6. Sara says:

    I find that it is absolutely necessary to have measurements by weight. I’m confused as to why so many acclaimed food writers (especially in North America) continue to leave weight measurements out of their recipes, even though they discuss the importance of it. In any case, I really like the look of this recipe. The walnut cake I usually make is the one from Marcella’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This looks a bit different and I’d love to try it.

    • Emiko says:

      I agree entirely! And thanks for letting me know about Marcella’s walnut cake, I didn’t know she had one but now I’m going to look it up!

  7. Francesca says:

    Emiko, you do a fabulous job at choosing and explaining recipes. If someone prefers not to weigh ingredients, well, they should know that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. I would stick to weight (and metric measurements at that). Even if you start adding volume measurements, some people will still find faults with your recipes because we all know how unreliable those measurements are.
    I am from Italy but have lived in California for 22 years, and I don’t understand this resistance to weighing ingredients for baking. I just consider it one of many American quirks, like most knitters here having an aversion to purling and going to great lengths to avoid it. I see parallels between recipes and knitting patterns, in that the person writing the recipe/pattern has to make many choices and no matter what, they are not going to please everybody.

    I hope you ‘ll keep doing what you are doing, because you are very good at it. And by the way, not everybody on Food52 is American. 🙂

    • Emiko says:

      Ha that’s funny, about the correlation you’ve found between knitting (I didn’t know this about Americans!) and measuring in recipes! And you’re right, it’s hard to please everybody and that’s the thing I will have to keep reminding myself to not get down about it when a recipe is problematic or someone complains about a word I’ve used for an ingredient! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

  8. Valeria says:

    I never had a comment on my blog about a recipe that didn’t work. However, I once saw that one of my most popular posts and by far the most pinned recipe on Pinterest ( a Turkish yoghurt cake with figs) had been pinned by someone who had then left a comment underneath the pin saying that the recipe was tasteless and had a funny texture. I had made that cake many times and I knew where the problem might have been – that is, the type of yoghurt used and the quality of the Orange blossom water. These are the details, like you say, that can really make or ruin a recipe. I was recently talking to a published foo writer and Persian chef about this – she had received some bad comments about recipes on her book on Amazon. As she tests her recipes weekly for her events, she knew exactly where potential problems would lay in her recipes and she tried to make a guide to ingredients and techniques but some people just thought it might still work their own way and when it didn’t they left a nasty comment/review. I read the comments on food52 and I see a lot of resistance to weight still – like Rachel said above, I happily reach for both depending on the recipe, but find this laziness to not even google conversions but just expecting the author to provide them mildly hilarious – oh you have so much patience and a way with word! Ok enough said, I’m going to try this soon as it looks fantastic and let you know – I’ll try without buttercream as I really don’t like frosting a! 🙁 Now a silly question to make sure I buy enough: do you happen to remember how many walnuts in the shell ( weight wise) you needed to get to yield enough for the cake? Leftovers are welcome so if it’s more than needed all the better 🙂 thanks emi for this beautifully written post and recipe. x

    • Emiko says:

      That’s annoying isn’t it, when someone knowingly doesn’t even follow the instructions given but expects it to turn out perfectly? That also happened with my baci di dama! It’s a tricky recipe in terms of getting the right shape so really so there are some things that MUST be followed and to see people leave a comment saying it didn’t work, oh but I didn’t chill them before baking, well then….! I do hope you try this recipe, I think you’d really like it. And do it without the buttercream, it’s still wonderful. I don’t remember how much it weighed in the shells (now that is one measurement I probably should have added!), I just kept going until I had enough walnuts! But — as Regula put so well, google is your friend! So I’ve googled it and it seems that the shell can weigh about double the nut meat (depending of course on the size and type of walnut)! So that at least gives you a rough guideline!

  9. This is such a good – and important – post. People can be so silly about recipes, but equally problems can occur that are completely out of their hands (eg oven temperature, which is so tricky). I invested in a new oven when writing my cookbook too – it’s so important to know that it’s absolutely accurate in the written recipe, even if readers’ ovens aren’t!! x

    • Emiko says:

      Yes! So important having a good oven isn’t it?! I don’t know how I could have possibly tested the recipes for this cookbook without an absolutely perfectly functioning oven so this was really worth it. So at least the recipe is right and hopefully people know their ovens well enough that they can adjust to make it work!

  10. I think that people expect recipes to always come out perfect on the first try, which can be unrealistic, especially in baking. Sometimes it takes a few attempts to get that new cake recipe to turn out just right, and you learn something new with each try. I admire your positive attitude about this experience– it’s tough putting yourself out there!

    • Emiko says:

      Thanks! It can be a bit tough can’t it? I’ve certainly learned to grow a thick skin over the years though mostly I have to say, it’s been great experience and really good interaction, so it’s not all bad 😉 But you’re right, baking can be so tricky for so many reasons. I’d hate for someone to fail on the first recipe they try of mine though and not ever try to do another! Worst thought ever for a newbie cookbook author!

  11. A very interesting post, Emiko… some people don’t realise things like the fact that the tiniest trace of fat in a mixing bowl or on a spatula or beater can affect the egg whites; and so on. I agree that weight is important… and when writing recipes details such as ‘1 stick butter’ need to be elaborated on. I had to send out a tweet to ask for the quantity just the other day, as the US writer had not specified the weight. Personally, I do try when I’m writing a recipe to ensure that my instructions are as detailed as possible too, but occasionally I leave things out inadvertently. In terms of the ingredients, as cookery writers we cannot really dictate in each recipe that people should use market fresh walnuts rather than supermarket ones, for instance, but you can note this in your glossary or introduction perhaps? If you’ve tested your recipes and are confident that the recipe works, then you can’t really be held responsible for the recipe not working for a reader. There are too many variables. But yes, you can perhaps theorise as to why it didn’t work.

    • Emiko says:

      Very good point about noting the type of walnuts — I do try to put this sort of information in the notes but you never know if people read all of it or skim that bit!

  12. Jesse says:

    Hey Emiko,
    Crazy comments! I always try not to read them on articles I like, I find it just ruins my mood, or how it makes me feel because normally they are horrible! Cooking is different, and I’m sure Food 52, since it’s a community wants some interaction.
    It made me think of this disclaimer from a company in the US called Anson Mills — ancient grains mostly from the south. take a look, it’s just about their recipes, how they are tested for their specific products, and they can’t guarantee that they will work with store bought ones….

    • Emiko says:

      Oh wow, yes, that Anson Mills disclaimer is interesting! And good. I might have to take a stance like that on my recipes too! It’s true though that ingredients of differing quality can make or break a recipe, especially when it’s a simple one. For example, one of the recipes I tested the most for my cookbook was a dead simple Florentine pork roast. The ingredients are pork and herbs, but I just couldn’t get it right until I switched from standard supermarket pork to a really good, proper, free-range one. And then, like magic, the same recipe I had been doing came out so perfectly juicy. It’s what makes the difference. And although I don’t want to sound hipster by specifying free-range, biodyamic pork, um, I might have to (or at least include a disclaimer a the front!) if I want to make sure people are happy with the recipe in the end!

  13. Mary Frances says:

    Honestly I think that anyone who sees fit to complain about a recipe that failed needs to recognize that all cooking, much like science, comes from trial and error, and that sometimes factors and variables can make or break a recipe. And they shouldn’t blame the original chef for that! At the very least I hope that your pleasant comments always outweigh the negative ones.

  14. Bec says:

    What care and concern you demonstrate for your readers. This post has raised some thoughts about the way I follow recipes in general – particularly your comments about egg beating! Cannot wait to purchase your book, I am sure it is going to be just wonderful. Keep up your amazing work, it is very inspiring indeed.

  15. Carmen says:

    I am going nuts about this tart. I find it absolutely wonderful. But… the first tim I baked it, it almost crushed all over the top, fell apart and was a bit crumbly. I thought the mistake is that I use a 20 cm. diameter cake pan. Next time I made it in a 28 c. can and the cooking and texture was good, but still my cake was a bit sunken in the centre. As to the methods I tried to replicate your recipe exactly.

    I make a wonderful Tarta de Santiago, almost to perfection and I would really love to get this cake as good as the Santiaguiña. La Tarta de Santiago has the same proportions for sugar, almonds and eggs, I wonder whether the 325 gr. of walnuts is too much.

    At the moments, this tart is a bee on my bonnet and I am obsessed about getting what I think the consistency and the flavour of your tart is.

    Sorry, sorry for this lengthy comment. And a millions thanks for sharing with us your wonderful recipes.


    • Emiko says:

      I understand completely the frustration! The recipe itself is from Ada Boni’s 1960s cookbook and having researched other similar recipes, this seems to be the regular quantity for this cake. A bit crumbly is the very nature of this cake — it gets better as each day passes, still crumbly, but even more moist. It’s also very rustic, which doesn’t help when trying to get something ‘perfect’ as its rustic nature means a little sunken top, a little crumble, are all part of its charm if you ask me! Sounds like you’re doing very well with this cake!

  16. Wonderful post, Emiko. I read it a couple of weeks ago but am only commenting now because I saw a recipe of yours on Food 52 & it reminded me – “ah! that amazing post…”

    There are so many variables and many people just do not appreciate that. It’s really amazing, actually, that people can produce consistent results for ANY recipe with the huge differences in ingredients out there. Food manufacturing has at once made things very uniform and incredibly variable between products. Throw an oven in there and, wow, that’s a recipe for disaster 😉 So much depends on the quality of your produce, even with stovetop or salad recipes. This is particularly true for italian cuisine.

    I feel a similar way when seeing people be rude in restaurants or cafes…clearly they had never ever worked in hospitality before, to be treating the wait staff in such an entitled, un-empathetic manner. So often people need to look inward rather than project their disappointment and blame others. A little pause & breathe before casting stones might be nice, hey? x

    • Emiko says:

      You’re so right — the right ingredients and quality makes all the difference, which is why I suppose top restaurants know what they’re doing, hey?! And speaking of restaurants, yes, we could all do with pausing and breathing a little more often I think! 😉

  17. Emiko – This is a great post. I too cringe when I make a mistake or if a recipe that I have written hasn’t been successful – even if it is just one person.
    Having worked America’s Test Kitchen for almost 20 years, I understand how hard it is to write a full-proof recipe. OMG – the things that can trip one up in the kitchen is endless! Weighing ingredients is certainly helpful in baking, but my experience with testing and developing recipes is that small variations in weight usually result in minor differences with the occasionally not-so minor. More likely it’s something else that slipping readers up in the kitchen, and probably more basic than you would assume. Some of the more common mistakes usually happen because folks don’t read through recipes before starting. Ignoring or overlooking recipes that call for ingredients to be at room temperature can wreak havoc – try making a cheesecakes with cold cream cheese! And how about using the wrong sized pans or making substitutions. It’s really astonishing how significant equipment comes into play. I recently made a pie for a photo shoot using a fancy/pretty pie dish and it didn’t give me the same results as my trusted glass Pyrex pie dish. Browning meat in a crappy skillet is almost impossible – the meat will burn, not brown and the fond will be toast. Roasting potatoes in the wrong sized pan, you’ll end up with steamed potatoes rather than brown and crispy. I recently had a reader roast her bones for my turkey gravy in a small baking dish, rather than the noted roasting pan. She wondered why her bones didn’t brown and why it was so cramped in the pan. If she had taken the time to look at the photos, she would have noticed the size of the pan and how much space there was for the bones and vegetables. I could go on and on and on…
    I also think here is also the potential to go to far in covering all the bases. Sometimes in the pursuit of writing a recipe with clarity and complete thoroughness, instructions can be over-wrought with details. So much so, it can leave readers numb and overwhelmed. It’s really about finding a balance. Being a visual person, I’m all about the pictures!
    Good luck with your cookbook and send your editor a box of chocolates and a big thank you note!

    • Emiko says:

      Eva, thanks so much for bringing this up! You’re right about people not reading through the recipe properly before starting. But the right equipment – this is so very important and I didn’t even go into this! It is truly hard to get that balance you speak of – and all the more so when there is a certain ‘style’ to follow with particular cookbook publishers. Thanks for the tip on sending my editor a treat, she certainly deserves it! 😉

  18. StefZero says:

    Thanks for sharing this walnut recipe to me. I hope I can make it today because I want to give a surprise to my husband.

  19. Mari says:

    Hi Emiko,
    I made this for a party last weekend and everyone loved it. I think it was slightly underdone (baked for about 46 minutes) but had an amazing chewy texture – no crumble problems. I topped with a few blueberries which complemented the lemon nicely. My question is that the buttercream seemed fine until I added the lemon juice at which point it seemed to break a bit and got a bit runny. It firmed up again in the fridge but did not have the smooth, glossy quality. How could I prevent that in the future?
    Thanks for a lovely recipe!

    • Emiko says:

      It sounds like your buttercream split, which can happen with adding fruit flavourings to buttercream. I’m not an expert on it but I have heard that you can try a couple of things — one is to keep beating and supposedly it will come back to how it is meant to be. Another is to use less liquid (I had no problem with this but you might want to try just the zest or half the juice). I’ve also heard very gentle heating (over bain marie) and whipping while warm can bring it back. Hope that helps!

  20. beejay says:

    Oy! I am so there with you. I used to teach Chinese Cooking classes (among others) in a Hotel and Restaurant program. In a recipe for Mapo Dofu, I said to cut the tofu into 1″ cubes. While I was making my rounds of the kitchen to check student’s progress and answer questions, I came across a student with the very smallest wok we had, laboring mightily to stir fry about two pounds of cubes of tofu that had only been cut in half, so about 2″ x 3″. I stopped her and asked her why she hadn’t cut up the tofu (and chosen a larger wok). The responded, “You only said to cut them into 1 inch cubes.” Huh.

    So, it became clear to me that there were people, perhaps many people, who did not have clue one as to what constituted an inch. After that I made a template page for all my recipes that had a couple inches of a ruler printed down one side. 😉

    Then there are the people who say that a traditional pound cake recipe was “awful,” dense and tasted too strongly of butter and egg. Uh…and you can explain the whole one pound of each ingredient thing and no other leaveners, only to see them look at you blankly. Then say again that the recipe is awful and must have something wrong with it. You can’t change people’s perceptions. Logic just doesn’t work. You can only make it as clear as you can.

    Thank you for the chance to vent. 😉

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