The UX of recipe formats

The way most recipes are formatted annoys me. This might be amplified because cooking annoys me in general. But here’s my problem with them. Usually, a recipe looks something like this, annotated with my reactions to it in italics:

Chocolate chip muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

(okay, this ingredients list is fine aside from the imperial system measurements, but that’s another story.)

Mix dry ingredients and add chocolate chips. (what are the dry ingredients again, and how much of each do I use?)

Combine egg, milk, and butter and stir into the flour mixture. Do not overmix. (How much milk and butter again?)

Bake at 375° F for 20 minutes

It’s as if this format assumes either a superhuman short term memory for ingredient quantities or that everyone is doing mise en place, which seems like more effort (and extra dishes to wash) than it’s worth for something like this.

In some quick research on this topic (asking Jeeves), I discovered that this is just one of three common recipe formats (also described in this HTML version). The recipe format above is called the standard format and is meant to make the ingredient list easy to reference to determine if you have them on hand. I acknowledge it is good for that.

However, there’s also the active format, which shows quantities of ingredients alongside the instructions for what to do with them.

Strawberries in meyer lemon syrup

Place into large bowl; toss gently to coat:
4 cups quartered small strawberries
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice

Cover and chill for 20 minutes.

Place in medium bowl; stir constantly with a whisk until peaks form:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream

Serve whipped cream with berry mixture.

I think I’ve seen this occasionally, but I wish it were more common. It doesn’t require you to store the whole ingredient list (with quantities) in your short term memory or jump back and forth to sections of the recipe if that fails. It reveals only the information you need when you need it.

What would be even more useful is a combination of standard and active format: with an ingredient list at the top and also quantities shown with the steps in active voice. Could it be considered repetitive? Yes, but so is cooking.