This Is How 'Martha Stewart Living' Recipes Are Developed

Our food editors share a peek into their delicious process

Black-and-Pink Grapefruit Cookies recipe
Photo: Paola + Murray

Looking for ways to become a more confident cook at home? Our food editors are here to help. Each week, we're shining a spotlight on the exciting things happening in the Martha Stewart test kitchen. Our editors will share their best cooking tips, favorite products, new ideas, and more in our weekly series, Out of the Kitchen.

As you flip through the pages of Martha Stewart Living, you'll find recipes for weeknight meals that can be prepared in under an hour, recipes that help guide you to make classics like French Onion Soup and gnocchi, eye-catching spreads of seasonal side dishes and desserts, and extra-special dishes for the holidays. "We always strive to create content that, whether it was developed two years ago or 22 years ago, works, looks delicious, and will stand the test of time," says deputy food editor Greg Lofts. Even after they've developed thousands of recipes, our food editors still manage to create new and exciting recipes with unexpected flavors and ingredients issue after issue. So, we started to wonder, how do they do it?

The Pitch Meeting

Before they step foot in the kitchen, our food editors have a brainstorming session to discuss which recipes would fit with the themes of the magazine. "We try to provide a combination of stories that align with the theme, but also touch on all areas of the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and dessert), as well as the season," says editorial director of food Sarah Carey. For instance, the April issue generally covers the arrival of spring produce, Easter and Passover recipes, and recipes that celebrate Mother Nature in honor of Earth Day. And the editors take care not to overlap with recipes that have appeared in recent issues of the magazine.

"We can have a lot of great ideas but we have to make sure that they fit into the puzzle of the magazine overall," says senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell. "You don't want to have recipes or ingredients that feel repetitive. We spend a lot of time revising initial ideas and making sure that we diversify in terms of ingredients and flavors." Greg explains that when he's pitching a recipe, he's not just thinking about how it will taste, but how it will look, too. "I always visualize the idea before I even pitch it to know that we can make it beautiful for the page." Part of the food editors' job is to "put a lot of time and thought and resources into creating beautiful imagery, in addition to making sure that the recipes actually work," he says.

Into the Kitchen

Once it's decided what articles and recipes will appear in the upcoming issue, the food editors get to work. The recipes are developed by each editor who initially pitched them. Each has their own process for developing a recipe. Sarah types out a recipe as it would appear in print and then tweaks it as she cooks it. Greg, on the other hand, creates a rough outline of which ingredients he wants to use, but doesn't type up a formal recipe until he thinks he's nailed it. "I'll make notes on what worked and what I want to change, then I type it out and re-cook it based on how the recipe would appear in print," he says.

As for determining how much baking powder is needed for a quick bread or how many eggs are needed for a light and fluffy yellow cake, they turn to the archives. "We base a lot of what comes from our recipes (timing, technique, etc.) on recipes that we've already developed because we know they work and are good. It basically serves as a reference for, say, how much oil to use when searing four chicken thighs, or how long it takes to steam this vegetable," says assistant food editor Riley Wofford.

The pandemic has presented a whole new set of challenges for the team, too. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our food editors worked together in the test kitchen every day. This allowed them to taste the recipes that the others were developing and offer culinary solutions for any problems that their coworkers ran into during the development phase. Now that they're all working from home, there's less synergy.

Inspiration Is Everywhere

The food team says that they generally find inspiration on TV, in other cookbooks, and in restaurants. "I can be inspired by a painting that has food in it or the smells from a food stall that I walk by on the street," says Greg. For Lauryn, the Everyday Food column has taken on greater meaning since she started working from home full-time due to the coronavirus pandemic. She has found inspiration in her own kitchen and ideas for recipes that she knows other working moms will appreciate. "I have a different appreciation for what everyday food means," she says. "I don't want to have something that is not a success when it's dinnertime, and I don't want to clean a bunch of pots and pans." Greg also has found a new appreciation for easy and simple recipes while working from home, and says the editors always try to strike a balance of aspirational and inspirational recipes.

Sometimes, inspiration comes from team members outside of the test kitchen. Lauryn explained that the beautiful Bundt cake story in the May 2020 issue was inspired by a cake that art director James Maikowski baked and shared on his Instagram account. The team took that idea and ran with it. A few months later, readers were introduced to six brand-new Bundt cake recipes ranging from strawberry shortcake to orange cardamom to key lime pie.

On the Page

After the editors develop and test a recipe, it doesn't appear on newsstands for many months. The recipes they are developing now may become the focal point of your Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas feast later this year. Greg hopes that when you, the reader, open Martha Stewart Living, it inspires your cooking. "To me, a recipe is a roadmap or a guidebook and can inspire you to explore your own way of doing things. You can rework it and make it your own," he says.

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