Why would you want to reverse-engineer a recipe? Well, you might read about or see in a movie or on TV something that sounds delicious, and not be able to find a recipe ready to hand. Or you might have an historical or family recipe that you might want to try, and they've left off parts, like what spices, or how long you should cook it. 

Well, the best thing is to examine what you might have, and work from there. For instance, we know that Los Pollos Hermanos Chicken (from "Breaking Bad" is fried, with most probably a Southwestern or Tex-Mex flavor. It also uses a batter, not a rub. Well, then, you can start with a batter-recipe chicken, and add a Southwestern mix from a jar. For a proprietary texture, briefly fry the chicken, finish in the oven, the way a lot of fast-food places do. Perhaps you can lighten the batter with beer…too expensive!  Club soda! Garnish the plate with some lime wedges, and a small bag of blue rock candy (or coarse salt shaken with blue dye), and serve!

One of the worst things you can do is to over-think and over-elaborate: just because we Millenials have access to everything from white sugar to cà cuống, doesn't mean we have to use every spice in the rack. Lots of historical recipes (and a good number of proprietary recipes, too) are easy-peasy, their excellence due less to strange mixtures of flavors, but to good basic ingredients.(I can also add that you may have to chance such modern hazards as wheat, corn, under-cooked eggs, and whatever dietary menace that looms large these days. One dish of something wicked probably won't kill you.)

For example, Ernest Hemingway specified that he liked his hamburgers with "ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy. " Somehow, in the hands of a re-creator, this worked up into an all-day affair, which involved dried sage, several kinds of seasoned salt, and wine as a marinade. Probably not what he had in mind!

For King Biscuit Blues Biscuits, use soft flour, like the still-extant White Lily. For Serendipity 3's Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, use good bar chocolate, not the Baker's that's been turning grainy for months at the grocery. But if Apicius calls for "juice of sweet grapes", don't fret if all you can do is to press a few store grapes through a strainer, or use Welch's. You probably can't make the original Sole Marguery, since you aren't on the Normandy coast, and can't pick over a fisherman's net for shell- and trash fish. So improvise! Cooking is not an exact science...

So, let's reverse engineer a recipe.

The Battle for Yellow Cake
What we know: it's yellow, and made of dough cut out like biscuits, rather than a batter in a pan. It's (probably) Middle-European, and most probably Czech. The name is a pun on ore uranium -- "yellow cake", which is found in the Joachimsthal Mine, in the Czech Republic, and most probably gets its color from saffron, or perhaps marigold petals. 

Now. Is there a tradition of yeast cake in the area? Yes, there is, although the idea of punching them out in circles looks like  artistic license. Yes, saffron is used in some baked goods, also. Now, all we need is to make it special!  

What does yellowcake, the mineral, look like? It's a nice golden yellow, with a "pungent" smell. I have not smelled any uranium, m'self, but maybe some spices might be in order? Egg white makes a nice crackly top. Egg white and sugar makes a delicate wispy top. Egg white and sugar with a dusting of spices, say cinnamon or allspice, is magic

Now this is true luxury fare. But this is supposed to be what peasants eat every week, if not everyday. So, it's not covered with spices. Just eggs and sweetness, for the "peasant" version, and spices for what the Fat Cats are eating. 

Yum. And I haven't even baked a one.

And there are people, who don't have cooks that are willing to do all this, who are willing to pay, circa 1920…which just happens to coincide with the birth of quantum mechanics.

Lo, and behold, a recipe.
Watch, and learn.

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