January 8, 2021

I can’t believe it’s not human

Attempting to bake an AI-generated bread-cookie hybrid recipe

I can’t believe it’s not human

I'm  definitely not an avid baker in any shape or form. While my baked goods would almost always turn out well, the mess I make discourages me from baking. Naturally, when I came across Sara Robinson and Dale Markowitz’s blog article Baking recipes made by AI where they use an AI model to generate recipes, I was intrigued. Very intrigued. So I did what we can all agree was necessary - I made the so-called breakies. Robinson and Markowitz describe the breakies as a bread-cookie hybrid. I love bread and I know sugar cookies are amazing, so what could go wrong?

Thoughts before starting

I enlisted my mom to procure the ingredients on her normal weekly grocery run. It was time! I was hopeful but I knew there were going to be a few hiccups (which I will discuss later). My mom predicted that they would resemble dense scones. My boyfriend had the most faith out of the three of us. He fully trusted that AI would successfully create a recipe.  I will admit, I had the least hope. Baking is a science and I knew I was starting on a bad foot.

Thoughts while mixing AKA The Problem Child stage

As stated, I ran into a few issues. Well, more than a few issues, if I'm  honest with you. First, I'm  not in the US so i had to convert the required 1 ¼ sticks of butter into grams. My scale gives round numbers so it was not exact. I can't say for sure if this had an impact. I also used salted butter and only realised after I added the salt into the flour. (Spoiler: they were not salty, so this was not an issue)

Secondly, I had to substitute baking soda (or bicarb) for baking powder. I tripled the amount of baking powder to account for this. My initial reaction was that this was not ideal - baking is a science in my mind. As such, I had a bad feeling.

Thirdly, I put a tablespoon of yeast instead of 2 teaspoons. I tried my best to remove a teaspoon (since you add instant yeast into flour and not the milk). Talking about flour, I used the “spoon the flour into the cup and then level it” method instead of packing it tightly. 10/10 don't recommend this method for this recipe.

Finally, I don't have a stand mixer and had to use a dough hook on my hand mixer. This was so difficult. It also meant that at first, I did not mix the “dough” well enough. I was also surprised that I did not have to let the dough rest or rise.

First attempt: a self-inflicted failure

Initially, I was going to pretend this did not happen. It was a total failure but I want this blog to be authentic. The mixture was a mess (image 1, below):

Image 1: initial dough after spooning out the first batch

After about 3 minutes in the oven, it was clear that the flour-to-butter ratio was off. They immediately spread into one large mess. Full transparency, I reshaped them after I took them out of the oven. I did not tell my family that they were off-limits until I took a photo of them despite them being a total failure. Consequently, they helped themselves to freshly baked cookies (Image 2, below).

Image 2: Fresh out of the oven with evidence of taste tests

The taste tester (who will remain anonymous) thought they were delicious and agreed that the butter-flour ratio was off. I refused to let this get me down, so I tried again.

Second attempt: problem solved!

This time, I added more flour and mixed the dough by hand until it resembled a bread dough a little more. It was no longer sticky but it was more cookie dough than bread dough. I let the dough rest for 15 minutes hoping that it would rise. It did not spring back after denting it so I abandoned the idea. The dough looked promising (see image 3, below).

Image 3: Fixed dough

I sat by the oven and eagerly watched them bake. They looked promising and I was genuinely excited that the AI recipe and that my problem solving activities worked. They were starting to resemble Robinson’s final product (See image 4, below).

Image 4: In the oven, looking good

Final thoughts

Success! I did it! They turned out so well (see image 5, below). I obviously asked my family what they thought. My mom preferred the first lot because they were sweeter and butter-y. She described them as crumbly not sweet enough cookies. My boyfriend enjoyed them the most and has eaten the most out of us all. I thought they were like sweeter scones if you used warm butter instead of cold butter. The bread-to-cookie ratio was about 25:75, in my opinion.

Image 5: Final product‌‌

While this was a fun project, I don't see myself making them again. I can say for sure that it will work if you use your intuition (lesson learnt). My take away? You don’t know until you try. Give it a try for yourself one day, you may find your favourite recipe.

If you want to learn how Robinson and Markowitz made the recipe, you can view the original article here: Baking recipes made by AI .

P.S. I apologise for the shameful Buzzfeed-esque title. I couldn’t resist.