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Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Hardcover – April 7, 2009
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About the Author
Michael Ruhlman is the author of twelve books, including the bestselling The Making of a Chef and The French Laundry Cookbook. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, daughter, and son and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Gourmet as well as his highly popular blog at Ruhlman.com.
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
Top customer reviews
For example, a cook will get some decent bread by using the 5:3 ratio in the book and a standard breadmaking technique. However, if she reduces the water, the bread will be better for bagels and pretzels. If she increases the water, it will tend toward a ciabatta or pugliese. Changing the salt and yeast will affect the rise time and flavor. That's how knowing a ratio becomes useful. The cook knows altering it little in one direction will change the results in a predictable way. Some of this information was haphazardly indicated in the chapter introductions, but it would have been much more effective if it were thoroughly explained and organized in the context of the recipe ratio.
To me, this was the information missing that would have made this book an invaluable resource. It's not just knowing the ratios - it's knowing how to tweak them to get the results I want in each particular instance. I think any mid-level cook knows that adding a few herbs and spices to their homemade biscuits won't break the recipe. But if she wants to be able to tweak her basic biscuit recipe so that just a little more moist and tender to go with fried chicken, or a little more sturdy to stand up to a lot of sausage gravy, this book doesn't offer anything. Many problems with recipes can be solved by altering the ratio slightly: cookies spreading too much, cakes collapsing, biscuits not rising, bread too dense, pie dough overbrowning, etc. (Of course, these problems can also sometimes be solved by technique, but because technique is not the theme of the book, I'm not going to fault Mr. Ruhlman for hardly mentioning it.) If the book explained how slightly altering the standard ratio affects the result, not only could I have improvised the perfect biscuit for each situation, but I could have better used the book to fix unsatisfactory (but promising) recipes.
Since the entire book could probably be summed up in a chart (with baking times and temperatures when required), I think the price is way out of line with its value. Since most passionate home cooks probably already have a decent set of recipes that duplicate what the book offers, I can't say it's even worth the recipes. Two stars for a good idea.
He was correct. My son enjoys this book.
This book provides ratios of cooking. You can take some amount of flour, add some amount of water and you have pie dough. You want more, just increase the ratio. You need less, decrease the ratio.
Memorize a few ratios and you have a cookbook in your head. Start experimenting, as any teenager wants to do, and you can soon figure out what happens when you add too much water or too little to your pie dough. You will quickly be able to come up with what you think is the best pie dough for your liking.
I enjoy reading cookbooks and I enjoy learning new skills. I think I might not use this book as much as my son who really enjoys the math and can easily memorize. For me what I liked was reading about the ratios and then reading the recipes that were attached to that. So, a chapter in the book might look like this....here is the ratio for cookie dough and here is why it works and how you can change it and here is a sample cookie dough recipe.
If you're already pretty handy with the steel, this book's writing and design are not going to be enough to make it worthwhile. If the idea of all recipes descending from a knowable set of ratios sounds radical and intriguing to you, this book is going to be a great choice.