- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (September 7, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416571728
- ISBN-13: 978-1416571728
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (428 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Paperback – September 7, 2010
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"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"
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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.
Edited 19 October 2015: Since I've read Ratios cover-to-cover several times now, I found it useful to create a chart of the ratios along with their basic techniques, encase it in clear contact paper, and post it on my fridge. Now, I don't read my extensive collection of cookbooks for recipes, but for ideas and flavor combinations to use with those ratios.
Still, there are certain things that remained mystical. For some reason, we think of dough as something only a baker can make. It's not. It's 5 parts flour and 3 parts water. Home-made pies are too much trouble, right? Wrong. I can make a pie dough in less time than a typical TV commercial break (and now I know where the term 'easy as pie' came from). Homemade mayo is great, everyone knows that, but emulsions are hard to make and easy to break, right? Wrong. Just make sure you have the proper ratio of water to oil and you'll be fine (and you can easily re-emulsify if it does break).
If you're a novice in the kitchen, this book is going to really do a lot for you. You'll walk past the cake mixes and straight to the bags of flour. You'll find yourself never throwing leftovers away because leftovers+stock=fantastic soup. You'll transcend simple bread baking (which is still quite enjoyable) and discover the splendor of choux paste.
More importantly however, if you're very comfortable in the kitchen as I was, but still see a division between home cooking and fine cuisine, this is even more so the book for you. It will help bring things to your plate that you thought were reserved for the outer world. The best bread is the bread you bake. The best sauce is the sauce you dream up. The best soup is the one you made from scraps.
Of special note is the very important fact that everything in this book is not just possible, but it's easy as well. I am a big Alton Brown fan, and his endorsement of this book played a big part in my purchasing it, but ironically it was Alton himself that gave rise to much of my fear of trying to make certain types of food. As much as I love him, sometimes Alton makes things sound more complicated and delicate than they are. Ruhlman does the exact opposite and makes you realize just how simple most things are (or the foundations of those things at least). I've made some pretty bad stuff in my experiments so far, but the important thing is I know what made them bad and how to correct next time. I also understand how to manipulate ingredients to vary the results of the finished food (even when baking), which is priceless.
The bottom line is this: whether you're an experienced home cook or a slave to box mixes, you will learn a lot from Ratio and will be rewarded constantly. There hasn't been a Sunday morning since this book hit my door that hasn't been spent enjoying fresh, hot biscuits (3 parts flour, 1 part fat, 2 parts liquid; 5 minutes from brain to oven).