by Caroline

A friend of mine reviews reviews for websites; you read that right: if you write a product review of an item you buy online, chances are she or one of her colleagues will vet your review before it is published, checking for inappropriate language, slander, and other no-no’s. But even acceptable reviews are often riddled with punctuation and grammar errors, and I often think of my friend, waging a lonely, one-woman battle against misplaced modifiers and comma splices. The excerpts she posts on Facebook every day — especially the ones with grammatical errors that introduce unintentionally hilarious meanings (think, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”) — make my day.

But it’s got me thinking about recipe-writing and reviewing. I use recipe websites all the time, and often use the reviews to guide my choices, but I’m always amazed (and kind of amused) at the reviews that say something like “This cake was terrible!! I cut the sugar by 50%, replaced the butter with pureed prunes, and used wheat germ and ground flax instead of white flour; it was so dry! it wasn’t nearly sweet enough! I won’t ever make this again!!” (Online reviewers always use multiple exclamation points). Yes, well, serves you right, I think.

I adapt recipes, and I do often cut sugar or replace shortening with ground flaxseed meal, but usually not until the second time around. It doesn’t seem right to tinker until I really understand what the recipe’s doing. And when I tinker, I’ll let you know so that you can make your own decisions about the changes.

The chocolate zucchini cake recipe I made this week from Epicurious has a raft of reviews and for some reason this time they really drew me in. As usual, a number of reviewers simply praised the recipe; others (helpfully) explained changes they made and their result; others criticized the recipe after make unsuccessful changes; and then — my favorite — others told off the critics who had made ill-advised substitutions:

“Yep, if you start making substitutions, don’t blame the recipe.”

And even better:
“Did anybody actually make THIS cake???? By the time you make all the substitutions and revisions, it’s not the same cake. Who gives a rat’s behind about what everyone did to alter the cake, just RATE THE DAMN THING! Whooo, now that i got that off my chest, yes, I do feel better. Incidentally, the cake I made using THIS recipe, was fabulous.”

I have to agree. I made this cake and it is good.