How to Spot a Bad Viral Recipe

How to Spot a Bad Viral Recipe
Photo: karen roach, Shutterstock

Cheez-Its are, perhaps, the perfect snack. The toasty, salty rectangles that have been around for (are you ready for this?) 101 years, excel in not only their crunchy, buttery flakiness but their ability to be easily grabbed without even making eye contact with the box. The toast bubbles? Incomparable. Their constitution of primarily cheese? Exceptional.

So when I saw a viral video on TikTok explaining how to make them at home with a mere two ingredients, I knew this experiment was in my future. Why would one want to make a small batch at home when they can be purchased en masse for $5, you ask? Well, a few reasons.

Some of us like to feel the simultaneous coziness of baking and the self-sufficiency of being a snack frontiersperson. Also, as someone who would choose Cheez-Its over sweets as an after dinner snack any day of the week, it’s problematic for me to house full boxes in my pantry that can be mindlessly consumed to excess while watching Bridgerton after a perfectly healthy dinner. So, a finite tray of fresh-baked cheese crisps sounds like just the right amount — which mirrors my assessment of an ingredient list containing just two items.

I followed the instructions of a video I can no longer locate, because as anyone who’s been on TikTok knows, if you don’t like or save a video in real-time, you’ll never find it again. But here’s a similar one explaining the method.

As mentioned, the ingredients are simple:

  • Cheddar cheese slices
  • Flaky salt
  • Parchment paper
  • A straw
  • Baking sheet

The original video recommended using Ultra-Thin slices, but I used what I had on hand in my cheese drawer (yes, it’s a whole drawer): a few Sargento Medium Cheddar, and 365 brand mild cheddar (slightly thicker slices).

How to make your own “Cheez-Its”

Cut each cheese slice into four squares. Place the squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (Leave at least an inch between squares or they will bake together, which isn’t the worst thing, just more effort to pull them apart.) Poke each square in the middle with a straw, removing a small amount of cheese to create that trademark Cheez-It look. Sprinkle with flaky salt, and bake in 135°C oven for 22-25 minutes.

The results

So, did it Cheez-It? No, not really.

What came out after 22 minutes was more akin to those thin, textured crisps that pack on the cheesy flavour but don’t have the hard crispness of a Cheez-It. (Also, the straw was pointless; when the cheese melted, the holes disappeared.)

While the first bite does emit a satisfying crunch, subsequent bites were much chewier, and saturated by the traces of melted milk fat. Were they terrible? Not at all. But they were not Cheez-Its.

The takeaway

Why didn’t it work? In the words of Lifehacker’s senior food editor, Claire Lower, “This is just a bad recipe.” OK, fair enough. But how is a non-food expert to spot a bad recipe such as this?

After pointing out that the recipe’s main problem was that it didn’t have flour in it, Claire continued, “For starters, look at the ingredients list of the thing you’re trying to replicate. If your ‘hack’ recipe is missing any major components, that’s your first clue.” (First ingredient on a box of Cheez-Its? Flour.) Instead, she recommended this DIY Cheez-It recipe from pastry chef and Serious Eats writer Stella Park as a better option.

Bottom line: If you’re trying to replicate your favourite snack or mass-produced junk food at home, and a viral recipe hack looks like it may be too good to be true, it probably is. Read the label on the original. If the hack recipe doesn’t include some version of the main ingredients, proceed with caution.

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