Some Thoughts on Writing a Cookbook

25 Comments on Some Thoughts on Writing a Cookbook

Chocolate fondant

Are you bored of these photoshoot updates yet? I couldn’t resist sneaking in a few final pictures from the week just gone. So that’s a wrap, the final Homemade Memories photograph has been taken, the last prop carefully washed up, crumbs cleared away and leftovers distributed to my nearest, dearest and hungriest. On Thursday I got the first round of printed pages to proof read and this weekend just gone – in between packing up our whole flat and moving in with my parents for renovation work to begin (phew!) – I set to work on marking up those final little amends.

Bruleed rice pudding

The process is far from over – Homemade Memories doesn’t publish until 4th June next year and in between there will be more edits, final page proofs, printing, shipping, marketing, publicity and promotion to think about – but as I made my final annotation to the text (for this round at least), I started to reflect on these last eight months. The closest comparison I can think of is planning a wedding – the whole project feels slightly daunting in that it’s unknown territory at the outset but you soon get stuck into the exciting tiny details that make up the bigger picture. Like a wedding, you have to try not to bore friends and family by talking about it all the time, but it’s tricky to find a balance when you’re living, breathing and eating every word and crumb. I can’t tell you what the end result will feel like after all this planning and excitement, but if it’s even a fraction of how wonderful our wedding was last year, I’ll be a happy lady. While the book goes through its final proofing stages and before I start the long countdown to publication, I wanted to share a few observations about the whole process (in case you’ve ever thought about writing a cookbook yourself, or you’re just interested, or just because).

Lemon sorbet

Give yourself time. I wrote the first draft in three months, which might sound like a long time. Less so when you consider that it’s not just writing but shopping, cooking, washing up, tasting, re-testing, writing and re-writing over 100 recipes. Plus a day job. I literally spent all day, both days of every weekend, elbow deep in flour and butter, scribbled notepads and bits of paper plus endless parcels and tins of treats on every visible work surface and in the freezer. Insanely busy, but in the best possible way.

Test, test and test again. Everything I’ve read says you should test a recipe at least three times before publishing it. Which sounds about right, until you come up something that tastes so incredibly delicious but you forgot to write down the exact quantities. Or you lose the piece of paper you wrote them on. Or you obsessively end up making it eleven times just to check whether different ratios of sugar and liquid sweetener could improve on perfection. This may or may not have happened to me. Several times.

Rolos and mint thins

Speaking of testing, employ an army of recipe testers. It’s almost a full time job in itself but it’s so important that people other than you try your recipes. Which doesn’t – as some of my friends were disappointed to hear – just mean eating them. Even though an editor should spot any glaring errors to the text (the fruit pastilles, for example, where I missed out the sugar in my instructions and my brave tester made – and amazingly enjoyed – them anyway), nothing can beat real home cooks making your recipes and telling you what they find. Added unnecessary but very welcome extras include physical samples of the recipes tested (thanks Rosie!) and a scientific, multi-page analysis of the whole recipe testing process (Jess, who would guess you’re studying for a PHD?!).

Kitchen disasters happen. Including grilling a bakewell tart in the new oven I couldn’t work properly and getting tipsy testing homemade alcoholic drinks at 11am. You can’t get everything right all of the time. Also, there will be washing up. Lots of it. No joke, I’d say writing a cookbook is probably 25% recipe testing, 20% writing, 15% shopping and 40% washing up. I may also, on occasion, have had to hair dryer my sieve so I could use it several times in quick succession.

Malt loaf

Have your family help out. I couldn’t have written a cookbook without the support of my Mum, Dad, big brother Max and Luke, plus extended family. My Mum gave herself nightmares about eclairs after a homemade piping bag burst all over her kitchen, my Dad ate ingredients as quickly as she bought them and when he wasn’t holding my hand through the process, Luke heroically spent the equivalent of several days down the pub to allow mespace to think and cook. But seriously, they were all – and are still – brilliant. People say writing a book can be a lonely experience, but I’ve never felt so surrounded and supported.

There’s a ton more I could say about writing a cookbook but the final thought I’m leaving you with is to get a good photographer. If you take beautiful photos yourself (like, say Izy or Emma), brilliant. If not, find someone who you love working with, who can capture your food beautifully and bring it to life in unexpected ways. I’m so so happy with the photographs in my book and can’t wait for you all to see what the my amazing photographer has done. Which brings me back to the reason for this post – to share some snaps I took on my iPhone of the recipes that look a hundred times more beautiful in the book. I’ll be back next week with a new recipe, a little less beautifully photographed, perhaps, but every bit as delicious.


25 RESPONSES TO Some Thoughts on Writing a Cookbook

  1. Jess -

    Ask a PhD student in IT to test your recipes and a multipage analysis you shall get… fortunately testing recipes always leads to something edible- which cannot be said for software. Loved every moment LL!


    • thelittleloaf -

      I loved every moment reading your feedback, best recipe tester ever! 🙂

  2. Great read, as someone who is at the very start of her food blog journey getting to where you are is a distant dream in a land far far away! I used to work for Raymond Blanc, and I saw the effort, photography, hard hard work and stress that went into a cookbook – I admire anyone who succeeds!(Also I used to work in events – so can relate to wedding stress!) I have made a note of the release date 🙂 Love your blog x

    • thelittleloaf -

      Aw, thank you so much! x

  3. I love this post! Writing a cookbook seems like a glamorous process, but I love your truthfulness about it (especially the washing up part!)

    • thelittleloaf -


  4. I love the insight you give us into cookbook writing, and especially seeing the “behind the scenes” photos. It makes me appreciate something as familiar as a cookbook so much more. It must be a bit exciting to be proofreading, to see it all come together.

    • thelittleloaf -

      It’s so so exciting, I can’t wait to share the finished product!

  5. Tori -

    Congratulations! It looks so beautiful- you must be so very proud. Oh, the washing up. It is thankless and endless. Thank god for podcasts.

    • thelittleloaf -

      Thanks Tori 🙂 ps loving your latest book, as does my husband! x

  6. This was a really sweet post. Thank you for sharing! It’s really fascinating to learn what goes on behind the scenes on such a big project. I’m sure all your dedication and hard work will pay off when you get that beautiful first copy in your hands 🙂

  7. Wonderful post. I know the process of development can be extremely stressful, but it is going to be so awesome to hold the finished product! I’ll be in line to hold a copy myself! 😉

    • thelittleloaf -

      Aw, thank you Valentina. Stressful at times but mostly so much fun and so rewarding. It will definitely be worth every second in the end!

  8. Kate, how did you write a draft in 3 months? I’m stunned! I worked for 1 year straight on my ms and I wasn’t juggling a full time job at the same time. You are a wonder woman!
    And I hear you about the 40% cleaning up. The epic piles of dishes still haunt me;)
    I cannot wait to see your cookbook. It’s hard to wait until next June.

    • thelittleloaf -

      I could HAPPILY have spent a year on it 🙂 In a way I guess it was nice to have the pressure and condense it into a mad 3 months. But yes, it was pretty full on! So excited to send you a copy – if it’s half as beautiful as yours I’ll be a happy little loaf xx

  9. The photos and styling look absolutely stunning and I am sure, although it looks like an enormous amount of work, that it feels amazingly rewarding at the end of the day. I can see how the Waitrose cashier looked at you strange :)) It’s like when I go buy vegetables for a shoot and they need to be asbolutely perfect, and the greengrocer looks at me like I am a complete nutter – lots of eye rolling 🙂

    I am thrilled to see it oublished, and it is beautiful to see it coming to life through your posts – thank you for sharing them with us!

    • thelittleloaf -

      Aw thank you so much Valeria x

  10. Love love LOVE this post, its so insightful! I am so nosey its great to find out what writing a cookbook is REALLY like. Shame about the washing up – that would be the absolute WORSE part for me! L x

  11. Rach -

    40% washing up – ha, yes, weep and wash. In this house it was also 10 crying, mostly Luca, while shouting I want to help and not understanding why I might not want him (3 years old) to help fry things. I love our due date sisterhood on this. All best and hope we get to have a drink and talk more about washing up and how editing after a drink is a bad idea. Rachx

    • thelittleloaf -

      I’d love to catch up over a drink sometime. So excited for your book (and mine!) – the countdown starts here 🙂 xx

  12. I loved this little insight – I am still in awe at how you have managed to pull off writing a cookbook while working full time. Also, the pictures you have shared here and on instagram look beautiful – I am so looking forward to seeing the finished book!

  13. Lynsey -

    You have inspired me to start my own food blog as my daughter has a,wheat allergy and I have altered many recipes especially cakes so that she doesn’t miss out. PS, she is now 27 and still loves,my cakes.

    • thelittleloaf -

      Ah, what a lovely comment to receive! I was allergic to quite a few things when I was little – I wish all these wonderful food blogs had been around then!

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