Let’s get down to business. You’re a food blogger so you have hundreds of delicious recipes you want to share with the world. That’s probably the main reason you started blogging in the first place. But a quick look on the Internet tells you that there are already millions of blogs out there and you know that if you want to be able to compete and be taken seriously as a food blogger then you’re going to have to be able to hold your head up high in the food-blogging world. It’s time to learn how to write a recipe.
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How to do it “properly”
I want to make something clear first of all: I am not going to/able to tell you which ingredients to add together or which recipes to post. That’s all you.
But, there are a number of conventions for publishing recipes that will make your writing-up process faster and easier for you to complete, and more professional and logical for your reader to follow.
Before you start
And before you do anything, I have two very important pieces of advice for you:
#1 Write EVERYTHING down.
I don’t just mean explaining things in your recipes (although that should go without saying – don’t expect everyone to know what a roux is). Rather, I’m talking about the recipe-development process itself.
To get a recipe to the foolproof stage takes lots of time and effort. And you don’t want to be stuck on recipe trial number 5 only to discover you preferred the blend of spices in trial 3 – but can’t remember what you did differently! So, when you develop and adapt things, make copious notes as you go.
#2 Test, test and test again…
Then get someone else to try it out for potential problems. And when you’ve finally written down a recipe you are proud of, try cooking it again following your own instructions – to see if it actually does work the way you think it does.
Lecture over, it’s time to start writing up!
The number-one rule about listing ingredients is that you should do it in the order they are required in the recipe.
Then, there are a few other issues to factor in:
- If an ingredient is going to be divided up, say, 400g flour first then 100g later- then say so! The usual practice is to put “500g flour, divided as 400g & 100g”.
- Make sure you state if an ingredient should be fresh, frozen or defrosted where applicable. For example if you are using prawns you might say 200g fresh raw prawns OR frozen raw prawns, defrosted. If it doesn’t matter, say that too.
- Think about what country your audience comes from and whether you’d be better using metric or imperial measurements (the USA is one of only three countries that still uses imperial). BUT
- Don’t let measuring conventions restrict you; if it’s easier to say “a handful” of something, “half a bunch” or “a mug full” then do that too – you want to make it as easy as possible for people to cook your food at home.
- Make sure you use actual tablespoon and teaspoon measures (not eating cutlery) and be aware that cup measurements can be unreliable as it depends if the ingredient is packed in or not.
- If you’re conscious of food waste – which you should be – it’s a good habit to use up entire packets of ingredients in your instructions, e.g. the full tin of chopped tomatoes. Nobody wants 1/4 tin left sitting in the back of their fridge.
Vital Information/Recipe Details
It’s necessary to specify the cooking time and temperature at the top of a recipe and to list the prep time separately where needed. You also need to tell the reader if they need to preheat the oven as many people won’t think of this and, as you know, it can have a huge impact on the cooking time and result.
Don’t forget to advise how many the recipe will serve; many good recipe themes include a handy tool so that readers can adjust the quantities of ingredients depending on how many they are cooking for.
The details from one of my recipes.
Also, if you want the reader to use a baking tin, saucepan or casserole dish of a certain size, then say so. You know that the wrong size vessel can have a negative impact on the food – like drying it out – but your reader might not.
Every time you ask the home cook to move to a new pan, method or ingredient then it’s customary to start a new step in the recipe method. You need to guide them through the cooking process slowly and logically so that the dish turns out correctly every time.
Some things to think about:
- If you didn’t already tell the reader to prepare an ingredient in the ingredients list (e.g. 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped) then don’t forget to do that at the right time in your recipe’s steps. And be specific; “chopped” and “finely chopped” are very different.
- Try to give helpful “non foodie” advice as you go and explain what things should look like and be doing, e.g. “continue to cook the butter until it has turned brown and smells nutty”.
- Don’t forget to explain any technical terminology that you use, e.g. stiff peaks, julienne or chiffonade.
- If a recipe is particularly long winded or complicated then sometimes it helps to subdivide the various steps, for example “make the sauce” – steps 1-4, followed by “prepare the fish” – steps 5-8.
- I like to offer solutions to potential mistakes too, as I find it encourages people to make my recipes more. For example, if I ask for whipped cream then I will add a note such as “if the cream is whipped too much and goes clumpy, simply stirring in a fresh tablespoon or two of runny cream should bring it back”. This gives the reader the confidence to try a new technique, knowing that any mistakes can be easily fixed.
Lots of recipes are published with an additional “notes” section at the bottom. This is a great place to tell the reader more information about the cooking process – can you share a tip about the method stated? A definition? Offer alternatives for different diets/leaving alcohol out if cooking for children/ways to cut corners/alternative flavours? It’s the kind of information that would just clog up the steps of your recipe method, but is actually also very helpful to have.
I do not display the nutritional values (calories, sugar, fat etc.) on my website because my niche is meals with six ingredients or fewer and I feel that that is already specific enough for my audience and complicated enough for me to develop without worrying about calories too.
However, there are a lot of blogs that benefit from publishing nutritional information – health/diet/exercise-based ones, obviously, but also those that feature meal planning and calorie-controlled desserts.
If you are going to include it, then it’s as simple as inputting the amounts of each ingredient used, with as specific a description as possible (low fat? in syrup or water?), followed by the number of people the recipe serves, and let the calculator do all the hard work for you. This is a great online programme that does it for you if you want to just type up the results yourself.
The aim of the game is to keep readers on your site as long as possible – don’t send them elsewhere for information you could give them.
This is why lots of sites offer a related-recipe link; offer up something that uses the same protein, is from the same cuisine or uses the same cooking method, and you might just get click after click after click.
Categories, Tags and Other Labels
A category is usually the first way that people will search through all the recipes on your site. These are your big headings and usually include things like “main courses”, “desserts”, “seafood” and so on. If you specialise in just seafood, then you might like to have categories that subdivide raw and cooked seafood or the different cooking methods you employ; if you specialise in desserts then you might have “chocolate”, “fruit”, “cakes” and so on.
A tag is a quick descriptive word you can assign to your recipes to help readers find them in the first place, e.g “spicy”, “summer” or even “editor’s picks”. They’re generally not big enough fields to be considered their own categories and you probably only have a handful of recipes that fit the bill for each tag chosen. Nevertheless, they can be an extremely helpful way of guiding readers through your content.
Cuisines are a great way of labelling your recipes, too. Upload a series of flag images to accompany each cuisine and enable a “search by cuisine” function on your homepage. You can also label by the number of ingredients (if that’s your thing) or by the cooking method (one pot, slow cooker, 30 minutes) if it applies too.
Finally, most food blogs allow you to search by ingredients so that people looking for an easy chicken recipe don’t have to wade through beef, lamb and pork to get to what they want.
Note: sometimes things fall under more than one category and/or tag but that’s great! Give your audience as many different ways possible to find your fabulous food.
What to post
OK, I said I wasn’t going to tell you what to post. But, one final bit of advice is: choose your niche (your particular specialism) very carefully.
Then stick to it.
When I set up my food blog, I simultaneously got it very right and very wrong; I knew I wanted to focus on easy recipes that only had 6 ingredients or fewer. Bingo! Great niche and popular content. But to start with, I applied the six-ingredients rule to all kinds of food: desserts, sauces, breakfasts and main meals. It took me six months to realise that it’s actually quite easy to come up with desserts using just six ingredients, but it’s much more difficult – and clever – to develop full main dishes with only six. And, of course, it was when I really started focusing on the latter (“niching down”) that I began to get a better response from my audience. My audience appreciated meals that had simple ingredients and could be thrown together after work (I was actually writing that slant before Jamie Oliver was!) and they appreciated the skill it took to develop these clever recipes.
So, if you want to make vegetarian food, then great! But you’ll be up against some stiff competition. Could you specialise further? Vegetarian food for under £1.50 a head? Vegetarian food for kids? Vegetarian food using only things you can grow at home?
Think about your audience
In everything that you develop and write, you should be thinking first about your audience. What do they want you to cook? What difficulties might they encounter while following your recipe? What problem do they have that you can solve? Then really focus on helping them and solving those problems. That’s how you pick your niche and that’s how you make your blog a success.
Whatever you choose, I’m sure it will be delicious.
Of course, the fastest way to “sell” a delicious recipe on your blog is to take some really spectacular photographs to go with it. Check out my Food Photography 101 for everything you need to know!
Have you started writing recipes yet? Let me know in the comments!