The Chocolate Cult: Top 10 Cookbook Fails

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Top 10 Cookbook Fails

As I'm working my way through another cookbook to review for you all, I am accosted by problems that I see constantly in cookbooks. To vent, I've made a list. Check it out then leave a comment about the problems you've found in physical cookbooks not online or ebook ones. While I could show you covers of cookbooks with all of these problems, I don't want to single any one book out; you can find my criticisms in the reviews I do!

#10 Unrealistic Photos!

This is the least important problem because you the buyer should know that the cookbook author or publisher wants to put their best results forward. They may make dozens of cookies then take the best six to show in the photo. Plus a professionally published cookbook will have professional photography so the lighting, the backgrounds, everything will be of the highest quality. So how is this a problem? It is only a problem when people trying the recipes think less of their abilities because "it doesn't look like the picture" a very common complaint I hear and read.

#9 Too Few Photos!

While it can be a challenge to not judge your results but a photo, not having a photo at all can lead to more insecurity. Many times I simply won't try a recipe unless it has a photo because I want some model to compare to what I'm doing. Plus a good photo can help with some of the more serious problems of cookbooks.

#8 Too Many Photos!

I know you're thinking -- make up your mind about photo, Chocolate Priestess! With print books, photos add costs; this is the main reason what #9 likely happens. We are becoming accustomed to tons of photos from finding recipes online or in ebooks but adding photos to these formats does little to increase cost. Some cookbooks want to really attend to the needs of the novice cook so they they use a lot of photos to show the steps. Instead they could have a how-to section which shows the steps commonly used once.

#7 Poor Editing!

As with any book, the author will be judged by the contents even if the publisher should have spent the time proofing before the final print. Poor editing of cookbooks tends to result in misnumbered pages, mislabeled chapters, missing pages, and mislabeled ingredients. You don't want to see a "T" next to salt if it really should be "tsp" -- YUCK! Sadly the author will be the one targeted, not the publisher, because most readers do not understand who is in charge of what what it comes to putting out cookbooks (or any books). By the way, target the author if they self-published because then it does all fall back on them.

#6 Unnecessary Sections!

As with photos, the number of pages adds to the cost of a cookbook. Some cookbooks are part biography or therapy and then include pitchy comments or tiny tales to try and engage the reader. There is nothing wrong with that if the buyer knows what is included in the book. However, seeing a small 1-2 paragraph narrative taking up an entire page over and over in a book starts to feel like these personalizations were added merely to pad out the cookbook. The best cookbooks attached these tiny tidbits to the recipe pages themselves so you can read if you want but not feel like they are just adding pages.

#5 Traditional Bindings!

I realize that spiral bindings may look "poor" but in terms of cookbooks I love them. Why? Because no matter the size of my space, I can lay that book down flat and not have to have a bookstand or heavy objects to hold it open. There are few things more frustrating that trying out a new recipe and then having the pages move or the book close while your hands are covered in whatever ingredient you last used! Breaking the spines of books to force them to lay flat only lower the lifespan of that book, making it likely that pages will fall out.

#4 Gourmet Kitchen Expectation!

I applaud the cookbooks that tell you upfront what equipment and ingredients you'll need in a starting chapter; I wish they did this in the book descriptions before I buy or agree to review a cookbook. My kitchen has limited space and therefore I have limited gadgets, pans, and ingredients that I can store. Toss into that the fact that not everyone has a lot of money to spend on ingredients or even access to some ingredients. What you the author might think of as "common" may be exotic to another person. The best cookbooks offer substitutes for ingredients and processing. The newbie trying out your recipe may not realize that things can be done a different way and they will simply return or toss out a cookbook whose recipes are beyond their kitchens.

#3 Mixing Up Measurements!

While this can be an issue of poor editing is this not missing or mislabeling but using multiple measurement systems. I've seend Imperial and US Customary Units used alongside Metric Units within the same recipe! If you aren't familiar with one, this will only add to your confusion. Likewise, you can measure by weight or by volume but they are not the same. A cup of cocoa may not be the same amount as 10 ounces of cocoa and that difference definitely changes your recipe.

#2 Missing Steps!

For the experienced cook or baker, a missing step in the directions might not be obvious -- of course, I need to stir occasionally or preheat the oven, we might realize. However cookbooks need to be written for folks with little or no experience, too. Plus not all dishes need a preheated oven and some need to be stirred all the time or not at all. A missing step can lead to a ruined dish.

#1 Missing Ingredients!

I've discovered recipes for baked goods that didn't list all of the ingredients I know that they need. I'm not talking about an optional spice but something like eggs, or a flour, or any type of moisture. Unless the recipe is labeled as "X-free" there are just certain things baked goods need. But if you are not experience you may not realize that and then you end up wasting time, money, and food.

Do you agree? Did I miss some cookbook problems? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!


Karen said...

That pretty much sums up my list!

I read cookbooks like novels, though, so I am more forgiving about the random blocks of personal text. But I completely understand that I am a weirdo that way, and that most people are probably wondering why there is so much fluff/filler.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother was famous for leaving out an ingredient. We did a family cookbook and she left out the bananas for her banana bread recipe. When we asked her she said "It's banana bread. Of course it has bananas in it." like we were a bunch of ding dongs.

TammyJo Eckhart said...

I'm glad you can see where my concerns are about that point. How many cookbooks do you think you read, Karen?

TammyJo Eckhart said...

I can understand doing that, kimsnarks, for a family recipe. But we live in a world where not listing "dairy" as an ingredient for "milk chocolate" can get a recall. Not everyone is as logical plus how many bananas, Grannie?

Emilie Johnson said...

I am a food historian, so I read a LOT of cookbooks. I think the editing and amount of detail is getting better, slowly, with time. I actually like it when recipes list special equipment needed IN the recipe, as well as at the beginning of the book. Not everyone has a chinois or a madeleine pan handy!

TammyJo Eckhart said...

I hear you, Emilie. It is good to know that cookbooks have improved over the years. So many recipes I've wanted to try but simply haven't because I don't have the equipment and I have neither the money or the space to add it my kitchen.

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