Cookbook Recipe Testing

An interview with a home tester

Our newest cookbook, Zingerman’s Bakehouse Celebrate Everyday released on October 3rd! Given that we began this project in early 2021 and it became such a labor of love for myself and my 3 co-authors, there were times when I thought this day would never come! But here we are! And we couldn’t have found ourselves here, basking in the post-release relief, without all of the help we received along the way. The cookbook recipe testing process is a huge undertaking (with most of the nearly 80 recipes being tested at least 4 times) but, thankfully, we had assistance from many wonderful people, inside the Bakehouse and out. 

Wonder what it’s like to be a recipe tester?

I recently sat down with one of our fabulous home testers, Chelsea, to talk a bit about the process and her takeaways from it. Full disclosure: Chelsea has been a very dear friend since the early days of elementary school, when she claims she forced me to be friends with her (I was a painfully shy child!). Food has always been a big part of our friendship—eating it, talking about it, cooking it, dreaming up blogs about it—and she’s a thoughtful and intentional person so I knew she would make a great tester. Let’s hear her thoughts!

A woman and a baby reclining in a chair, smiling up at the camera.
Chelsea with her delightful daughter, Sunday.
Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have any background in cooking or baking? 

I’ve always had an interest in food and cooking even though I lack formal training. I do, however, have wonderful memories of helping my dad stir the chili on football Sunday and devouring warm Dutch Baby pancakes on snowy winter mornings. My mom has been a vegetarian her whole life and was using nut and rice milk in the 80s before it was “cool” and serving us things like steamed artichokes, avocado mash, rice pilaf, baked tofu and vegan hot dogs. I believe that this early exposure, combined with a family penchant for preparing most meals at home, contributed to my development as an adventurous eater and cook later in life.

How did you feel about being asked to participate as a recipe tester?

I was thrilled! As someone who is creative (writes, cooks, sings), I jumped at the chance to work on a project like this. And of course Zingerman’s reputation precedes itself so I bragged to anyone who would listen that I was a recipe tester for the cookbook. 

Describe the recipe testing process.

Corynn made it “plug and play” which allowed me to focus on sourcing the ingredients and recreating the recipe. Her instructions were clear and concise and I had fun following the steps, photographing the final result, tasting the food and providing feedback. I took my job very seriously and hope I was able to add value to the project.

Did you have to follow the recipes to a T or were you able to improvise at all? 

For the most part, I stuck to the recipes, though there were a few occasions where I just couldn’t find a particular ingredient and had to substitute something. If I had trouble, I knew other people might, too, so I made notes about the substitutions and how they performed.

Did you test any recipes that you wouldn’t have normally made? What did you think?

Without a doubt. I don’t typically make breads from scratch, for instance. I don’t know why though–the recipe for the pretzels and pizza dough were straightforward and simple. The Liptauer Cheese Spread is another one. I had never even heard of it! That is one of the reasons I was excited to test that recipe in particular.

How many recipes did you test?

10, I think.

Raspberry Marshmallow Bunny Tails
 What was…
  • Your favorite: The Musician’s Tart! I am a caramel girl over chocolate and the combination of salt, roasty nuts and caramel with the dried fruit was sublime. This masterpiece will get made in my kitchen again! 
  • The most challenging: The pretzels, just because of all the steps
  • The most surprising: The Musician’s Tart. More than the sum of its parts. SENSATIONAL.
  • Any that you have made (or will make) again? The Musician’s Tart, Cheddar Herb Scones, Bunny Tails
A successful Musician’s Tart test next to the Bakehouse version.
What was your favorite part of the overall process?

My favorite part was the process itself. The ritual of buying the ingredients, setting up my mise en place, measuring, tasting each nuanced flavor, writing down notes. I loved it all. It was fun putting myself in the shoes of the home cook trying these recipes and I thoroughly enjoyed envisioning what could simplify the process for them.

What was the most difficult part of the process?

Sticking to the recipes:) I am much more of a cook than a baker and love to take a recipe and put my signature on it. My palate loves certain things like salt, lemon, spice, vinegar, so I tend to “turn the dials and knobs” as I go along to make the recipe “mine.” For the purpose of the test, I needed to stick to the recipe, which I totally get. It was fun making mental notes about what I would do differently the next time.

What was most surprising?

Not being able to find barley malt!

Would you do it again?

10000% yes!

Hungry for More?

Corynn Coscia headshot

Corynn Coscia is the marketing assistant manager and photographer at Zingerman’s Bakehouse. After spending her childhood reluctantly in front of the camera of her hobbyist-photographer father, she was eager to move behind it, prompting her to pursue a BA in Film & Video Studies at the University of Michigan. With degree in hand, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in the TV and music industries before discovering her passion for food photography while working in marketing with a plant-based chef. 2 dogs, 2 kids, and 13 years later, she’s back in Ann Arbor doing what she loves and somehow getting paid for it. She recently completed a photography fellowship with her mentor, New York Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani, and has since been shortlisted for a Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year award. Her photos can be seen throughout the Bakehouse on the walls, on the website and social media, and in the Bakehouse’s series of cookbooklets; she hopes they’re making you hungry!

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Kelly DeMars
Kelly DeMars
9 months ago

Love this! 💚