Ruhlman, who explained the basic ingredients, tools, and cookbooks essential to the home chef in The Elements of Cooking (2007), now offers an illuminating read on the magic numbers that lie at the heart of basic cookery. He divides the book into five parts (doughs, stocks, sausages, sauces, and custards). In each section he explains what essential properties make the ratios work and the subtle variations that differentiate, for instance, a bread dough (five parts flour, three parts water) from a biscuit dough (three parts flour, one part fat, two parts liquid). While making his case that “possessing one small bit of crystalline information can open up a world of practical applications” gets a little repetitive, it’s certainly a lesson worth taking to heart. This revealing and remarkably accessible read offers indispensible information for those ready to cook by the seat of their pants; with a handy grasp of these ratios (and a dash of technique), willing chefs should have no excuse to remain tethered to recipe cards and cookbooks. --Ian Chipman
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"Cooking, like so many creative endeavors, is defined by relationships. For instance, knowing exactly how much flour to put into a loaf of bread isn't nearly as useful as understanding the relationship between the flour and the water, or fat, or salt . That relationship is defined by a 'ratio, ' and having a ratio in hand is like having a secret decoder ring that frees you from the tyranny of recipes. Professional cooks and bakers guard ratios passionately so it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Michael Ruhlman is forced into hiding like a modern-day Prometheus, who in handing us mortals a power better suited to the gods, has changed the balance of kitchen power forever. I for one am grateful. I suspect you will be too." -- Alton Brown, author of "I'm Just Here for the Food"