These days I spend most of my time writing and working on a documentary series. Though I do love my work, I miss the camaraderie of professional kitchens. So when some chef friends recently invited me to join them for the day, I jumped at the opportunity. Shortly after we turned to peeling and chopping, I noticed two cooks at the other end of the kitchen whispering excitedly to each other. I waited a few minutes, hoping they’d invite the rest of us into their salacious conversation. When they didn’t, I impatiently demanded to know the subject of their gossip. Rolling her eyes, one of them responded, “We’re talking about a recipe, Samin.”

I blushed. And then I asked for the recipe.

Usually when a friend hands me a beloved recipe, it comes with a warning not to change anything. My inability to follow recipes as written — without obeying the devil on my shoulder telling me to replace ingredients or change the temperature — is well documented. But this recipe, for something I’d never tried called butter mochi, was different. Written in cook’s shorthand, it seemed simple enough — just a few ingredients stirred together in no particular order, then baked. And at the top, a note promised that the cake was “easy and forgiving” to adaptation.

I decided to make the recipe once as directed before getting creative, but my commitment was tested immediately. The original list of ingredients included evaporated milk, an ingredient I’d never used. I had to suppress the urge to replace it with heavy cream, as I do when I “follow” the pie recipe on the label of Libby’s canned pumpkin. But I remained strong. Peeling back the lid, I realized evaporated milk is just milk that has been cooked down to a thicker, sweeter version of itself. I stirred it into the batter along with the other ingredients, poured it all into a large cake pan and slipped it into the oven.

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