Your Recipe Doesn't Need a Backstory

Your Recipe Doesn't Need a Backstory

This problem is so common it became a meme and recipe-writers on the internet still haven't figured it out: we, the recipe readers, don't care about your life story. We don't need to hear how this dish has transformed your love life, or how the death of a treasured pet made you reconsider your mother's old recipes. We care about the recipe.

I often only care about specific details of a recipe, like the cooking time and temperature. I sometimes take a quick look at the ingredient list to see if anything stands out as new and different, but even then it's usually too late in the cooking process to dramatically alter the recipe.

It was pretty tasty but next time I'll find something not sweet like mushrooms to add. A bit one-dimensional
Ever had a pumpkin and apple risotto? Neither had I!

This may be because I'm a cook that loves to be inspired. I got inspired to make risotto one week, and so every dinner was a different flavor of risotto. I had the chance to give all the funky flavors I'd heard of in the past, and every dish was inspired by some extremely specific ingredient list. I made classic flavors, sure, but I also did a pumpkin-apple risotto I'd heard a friend talking about a few years back and an olive-flavored one where I replaced all the dairy with olives and olive oil. Not all of my experiments were good, but they were all inspired and required very little recipe checking.


It might also be that I've been cooking for a long time and generally know how certain foods are cooked. I know that a big loaf of bread takes around 45 minutes in my oven, and I know roughly how much water I need to have in a pan for a certain amount of pasta.

When I was younger I had no clue what I was doing in the kitchen and needed a step-by-step guide to follow. I used recipe books all the time because they were so good and laying out all the steps and ingredients in one, concise area. Internet recipes are not like this.

To find the ingredients for a dish I often have to scroll to the very bottom of the page, where the recipe lives in a little box. It doesn't render well on my phone, it's generally in a hard to read font, and it can be hard to find as you powerscroll past it and into the comments.

The instructions are often before the ingredients or, much worse, hidden in the author's life story. Italian dishes seem to be particularly prone to this, but I've encountered several recipes where the instructions for making the sauce were included as a conversation between two people in the story. At a glance, I would never recognize that as a step in the recipe.

Too much

Recently I wanted to make some whole wheat sourdough bread, and I was curious if I needed a higher water content to account for the different flour type. My guess was that I would need more water because of the extra tough bits of wheat that don't make it into bread flour. I found several excellent recipes for sourdough bread with great descriptions and instructions while trying to find the answer, but they were all too much.

Food bloggers seem to want you to read their page for 10 minutes at least, which makes some sense from an ad revenue perspective. But it makes it impossible to find all the information you want. Several blog posts did describe how water content should change based on the type of flour you were using, but it was 5 sections deep into the post.

Several authors decided that the whole wheat sourdough recipe would be their magnum opus. Sourdough is all the rage and so is whole wheat flour, so, again, this is understandable. But I can't dedicate 50 minutes (as estimated by Instapaper on one of these posts) to learning about the sourdough making process. On one site I made it less than a quarter of the way down the post before giving up. Maybe people get better metrics on their blog if everyone has to scroll to the blog? I don't know, but that's not the operation I want to run.

Good sourdough is sourdough you like to eat
A sourdough loaf I made sometimes last summer. An unfortunate air bubble on top and a terrible job of focusing by my phone, but otherwise stellar


I did find a recipe that seemed alright with ingredient quantities only a 1/3 of the way down the page. That was acceptable, so now I needed to check if their other steps lined up with mine. This took up the rest of the post, which I scrolled through in anger. With everything lining up so far, the big one came up: was there a comparable recipe by the same people with non-whole wheat flour? Thankfully, yes!

But there were several, so now I needed to compare several of them to find one that the most similar to how I normally try to make my bread. At some point I get frustrated trying to read through all the recipes to figure out what differences there might be between them and I ended up back in my seach engine. After maybe 15 more minutes of trying to find some site that would give me guidance, I found myself on page 4 of my search engine's results. Every link had been clicked, and every post that started with a story was immediately ignored. I gave up and actually read through all the recipes at The Perfect Loaf to find that, yes, I should probably up my hydration.

A better layout

There are no food blogs out there that come backstory-free. There are no versions of the recipe that are what I've come to miss from recipe books:

  • An image of the final product
  • The ingredient measures
  • The steps to create the dish
  • Images for the trickier steps, if necessary

There's a time and a place for a post about food that includes your history with it. Food is emotional and often strongly associate with family. For some of us, meal time was the only time we got to see everyone in the family at once.

But the reality is, most people don't want to read that when they're coming from a search engine. There are blog posts, and there are recipes. Blog posts can have recipes in them, but they should never be the recipe. Recipes can link to blog posts, and blog posts to recipes. I hope that I have the discipline to do this when I writing more about food in the future, but for now I'm just angry at everyone else.