Jun 08, 2011

Getting to Know Our Team: Recipe Tester Jo

A few weeks ago, we gave you a peek inside our team with our Design and Style Intern, Natalie.  This week, we are introducing you to our amazing Recipe Tester, Jo.  Jo has been on the AAE team since January and is our main tester for the book.  Yes, friends and relatives have taken a crack at some of the recipes, but it is essential {and usually required by publishers} for recipes to be tested by a professional for a cookbook.  There is good reason for this.  Not only does it ensure that the recipe works by a second person, but it also allows for a person with a different perspective and/or taste to give input.

Now let me back up and give you a sense of the scope of testing. There are over 100 recipes in the book.  Yes, you heard that right.  These recipes are for the home baker which means they have to be tested in a home kitchen.  Ahem, that would be my home kitchen.  More often than not, recipes will have to go through a few rounds of testing {and this is after I conceptualized the recipes, tweaked them to give a variety of recipes for the book – save that for another post because that is another 400 word post, and developed the original recipes – all of which is a huge project}.  You can do the math on the testing alone. 100 recipes. Few rounds of testing.  Let’s just say there hasn’t been a shortage of flour {or pounds} rising in the Atlas household.  You can also say that Jo has been the fifth roommate in my home for the last five months!  Well, if we’re counting that adorable baby in her belly, she is the 5th & 6th roommates.

You know how I’ve been saying this book has been an enormous project?  I think I’m giving you a teeny glimpse.  This is of course not considering crafting choices, testing for crafting, styling, writing, design choices.  Man, this book better be good.  Okay, I got sidetracked.  Back to Jo…..  Lucky for me, I’ve had this amazing woman by my side for the last several months.  Jo has tested for the Saveur test kitchen, the Good Housekeeping test kitchen, and has been trained by The ICE and the Leith’s School of Food & Wine.  I think anyone can attest to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, but Jo even rivals my perfectionism when in the kitchen.  Jo and I can laugh about it now, but getting the curd to be less grainy and getting the pie crust to be perfectly flakey took many, many rounds.  “Just one more test,” we often both look at each other and say.  Jo also has the skill to know what is going wrong in a recipe while we’re testing, and as a home baker, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from her.

PS – I think I have told you all that I have a very big cookbook collection {I’ve always been a major cookbook hoarder}, but I do have a new-found appreciation for every recipe in all of my books.  Each one is carefully crafted, and tested over and over again.  Did you ever think of it that way?  Makes you want to make all of the recipes in your cookbooks, right?  I kind of appreciate every recipe more and feel like they have to be made.  Does this make sense to you all? Yes, I will be hugely disappointed if you don’t try my flakey pie crust {or any of the other recipes!}

Okay, on to meeting Jo.  I only wish you can hear her charming British accent through her answers:)


I am Amy’s recipe tester.  I have been testing all of the recipes that are going into Amy’s book to make sure that they will work for readers at home – no matter what kitchen they are cooking in!


Amy is the best in her field and the experience I am getting here is invaluable. Its really exciting to be able to work on a book project from start to finish and see the whole thing take shape. Its also great to be able to work on such a wide variety of recipes in such a creative environment.


Anything rich that contains chocolate.


My biggest challenge has actually been when there is a problem with a basic recipe.  Amy talked about the pie crust above.  Making a good pastry dough for pie crust can only be done in so many ways. There are well established principles for what works.  Yet, the recipe has to be original so there are no copyright issues.  If you make a simple adjustment, the copyright questions come up.  We tested that recipe so many times so that it would be original, yet still meet our very high standards.  I think maybe ten times.  I had to take a break and then come back to it after a while! Small issues kept coming up (first it was too buttery, then too floury, then not flakey enough).  Amy and I discussed it and tried tackling the problem from many different angles. I have to say, I learned a lot about pastry dough while trying to master that project.  We didn’t give up when we were close to perfection.  We had to master it.  And master it we did.


Getting to work with and learn from people who are very good at what they do.  I also get to make lovely desserts all day:)


My advice is to work hard and get as much relevant experience and knowledge as you can. Make sure you really think about the food you taste and how its presented and develop a critical eye and palate. Enjoy testing a lot of cake!






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