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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
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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.
What we have here is exactly what the title claims and very little else - it's ratios for cooking. 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part water = pie crust; exactly what I wanted to learn. With a reasonably complete commentary on how to bake a pie, what to put in it, the best containers for pies, or even a lot of pie recipes -- mostly a discussion of the ratio (by weight) which makes it very clear, very quickly how pie dough differs from a muffin. He discusses the impact of butter vs lard vs shortening. And I found most of the ratios discussed we similarly treated.
I have plenty of texts that discuss in great detail the mechanical aspects (technical skill) that differentiate the muffin method, biscuit method, creaming, etc... I have plenty that offer recipes with ingredient lists. This isn't those. This is the very foundation that all of those should have been based upon, with personal variations, and provides the ratios not only to create a new recipe from knowledge but to debug or tweak an existing recipe based on common ratios.
Among my cooking hobbies is recipe writing and bread baking. I bake bread at least weekly, often more. I have often collected a recipe from the internet that just didn't seem write but I could exactly narrow down the problem. With these ratios, it's now easier to quickly check a recipe for reasonable variations before baking it. With these ratios, it's now easier for me to design a recipe based on the science without having to run through numerous batches of trial-and-error.
Sure, there's some other material that could be in here to make it even more helpful. But, there are other references out there that provide that information too. I might have even preferred, unlike many of the negative commenters, that Ruhlman had left out much of the commentary and recipes and provided an even shorter tome concentrated more purely on the math and chemistry.
Bottom Line: if you need a recipe book then this ain't what you want. There are plenty of those out there and if you tell all of your friends and family that you want some, you'll have a collection of 100's before you know it. Plus, internet. If you need a cooking school manual then this ain't that either. The best of those are a bit costly but there's always, internet. If what you want to do is take recipe analysis down to the bare foundation so you can create a new sort of muffin or cookie without baking twenty batches to get it close - this is near perfection.
Photo is my first run of my new pizza muffin recipe. Based on the ratios in this book. Second run will reduce the liquid just a touch but these came out marvelously.