My 18 year old son is learning to make chocolate chip cookies. He already knows how to make scones, pancakes, waffles and a couple of pasta dishes, but like his big sister, he was slightly intimidated by the cookies. She suggested he start with a recipe from our Fannie Farmer cookbook, the same way she learned.
I realized I haven't followed a recipe for the chocolate chip cookies in a very long time. I learned with the Toll House cookie recipe on the back of the Nestle's chocolate chips many years ago. Once I got the hang of it, I started improvising. At first, I wanted to see what would happen if I used only brown sugar. At this point, my cookies are an adventure every time I make them. I throw in different flours, perhaps add wheat germ or flax seed. I might substitute olive oil for some of the butter, or experiment with the amounts of baking soda and baking powder. If I feel really lazy, I don't even use measuring cups, trusting my sight and touch to tell me if my measures are right. I follow my whims and curiosity. Baking is another outlet for my creativity.
And because my mind is so very random, I started thinking lately about how schools try to use a recipe for education--
Whip up 2 credits math, fold in 2 credits English. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 credits each social studies and science, 1 credit health education, and arts classes to taste. Whisk all subjects together and set in testing situations for at least 6 hours every year. Serves all students. (adjust serving size per district) Prepared for college placement.
The thing is, recipes are a good starting point, but if you want to make sure everyone enjoys the results, you have to tweak the recipe. I don't use eggs or nuts in my cookies if I know someone has an allergy. Sometimes I cut down on the sugar or salt. I add chips or cocoa to increase the chocolate goodness. I don't just bake cookies. I want this to be an experience that brings a smile and happy memories.
My son's first cookies were a bit messy. I think they needed more flour. They still tasted good. We're encouraging him to try again. With each batch, you learn something new about the nature of the dough and how to make them better. For me, the whole point of using a recipe is so that, eventually, you don't need a recipe.