How to Test a Recipe – Poached Pears

Pears poaching
Pears poaching

I have a confession to make. I love to test recipes. It’s creative, it’s finicky, it’s challenging. The aromas are marvelous, the workplace is comfortable and familiar, and you get to taste and share what you’ve just tested.

When I talk about testing a recipe, I’m talking about preparing one for publication. It may be a recipe I’ve snitched from a magazine (rare), one I’ve made up (frequent), or one that someone has described to me, from their own repertoire (almost always).

Whatever the source the result has to be perfect, like the recipes in my upcoming book In a French Kitchen. A perfect recipe gives a perfect result and makes for happy cooks and eaters.

Here is a step-by-step for testing a recipe.

  • The recipe idea – this usually occurs (in my case) when I’m at the market. It can also happen when I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else and my mind slips into its favorite activity – thinking about food.
  • Make a template – write down the way you think the recipe will work. This gives you a template to work from.
  • The shopping – once the idea is there, you need to get the ingredients.   Buy twice the amount you think you’ll need.

    The template
    The template
  • The testing – this is where the fun really starts.
    Put your template on a clipboard, and date it.
    Get a pen or pencil
    Slip a measuring tape around your neck
    Get out your scale/measuring devices
    Get out the ingredients


    As you do the mise-en-place, weigh and measure everything and note everything on the template
    Get out timer/stopwatch
    Have measuring devices at hand
    As you cook, pay strict attention to timing, temperature, color, sound, texture…anything that will allow you to                             clearly describe what is occurring.
    Note everything on the template.

  • Your first test may not be successful, particularly if you’re creating the recipe. That’s why you bought twice the necessary ingredients.
  • Re-write your recipe, based on the test. If you need to re-test, note everything you’ll need for the retest such as “Needs to be smaller” “needs acid” “not enough for four”…whatever will help you adjust when you’re on the firing line. Each time you test, date your test, keeping a record of when you tested.  For re-testing, I recommend waiting a meal, or a day. This allows you to think about the recipe and come up with solutions in your head, before you waste time and ingredients in the kitchen.
  • When to stop testing: I never trust a one-test recipe. Even if it works out great the first time, I do it again. I stop after five tests. If I cannot get a recipe to work after the fifth time, then that recipe goes on the cutting house floor. It may have been a great idea but sometimes, as in that phrase that you love and know will make your book a bestseller, you have to lose it and move along.


Tomorrow: Writing a recipe

A very successful test....
A very successful test….


This recipe is inspired by my friend and colleague David Lebovitz.

1 quart (1 liter ) water
1 1/3 cup (265 g) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
5 fresh ginger slices
1 strip lemon zest
4 firm pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and quartered

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the water, the sugar, the spice, the ginger, and the lemon zest until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer for about 8 minutes, so the spices have a chance to flavor the poaching liquid.

2.  Slide in the pears and cover with a round of parchment paper, with a small hole cut in the center.

3. Simmer the pears until cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the pears.

4.  Remove from heat and let the pears cool in their liquid.

Serves 4


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