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Chris Amirault

Michael Ruhlman's Ratio

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Michael Ruhlman has a new book coming out called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Here's a blurb from that Amazon page:

Ratios are the simple proportions of one ingredient to another. Biscuit dough is 3 : 1 : 2 -- or 3 parts flour, 1 part fat, and 2 parts liquid. This ratio is the beginning of many variations, and because the biscuit takes sweet and savory flavors with equal grace, you can top it with whipped cream and strawberries or sausage gravy. Vinaigrette is 3 : 1, or 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, and is one of the most useful sauces imaginable, giving everything from grilled meats and fish to steamed vegetables or lettuces intense flavor.

I'm very intrigued to hear more about this book. Ruhlman's last attempt at nailing the elements of cooking -- aptly titled The Elements of Cooking -- fell flat for me (you can read about why here) -- but I've been a fan of his "Chef" books. I'm also supportive of anyone thinking about weight-based ratios. Having said that, I'm a bit worried about oversimplification -- that biscuit dough up there gives me pause.

Anyone got a preview copy?

[Edited for spelling -- CA]


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

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No preview copy, alas, but I'm looking forward to seeing how he makes his case: I see no reason why there should be some magical simple integer ratios behind everything, so if that's his point color me skeptical. Then again, many of his other books are very good (Charcuterie in particular quite literally changed my life), so I will try to keep an open mind. I'll certainly buy the book, at any rate!

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No preview copy, alas, but I'm looking forward to seeing how he makes his case: I see no reason why there should be some magical simple integer ratios behind everything, so if that's his point color me skeptical.

I don't see why you would be skeptical about this. All he's doing is giving basic "master" recipes in scalable form. My question would be: what ingredient list doesn't essentially reduce to simple integer ratios?

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My go-to recipe for bread, reduced to integers, is:

910:450:23:16 (Flour:Water:Salt:Yeast)

So, while it does indeed "reduce to integers," I don't think that it is particularly "simple." So my concern is that what it will turn into in a book like this is "2:1 dry:wet" which does not actually provide enough information to make bread, and is not a very useful formula to know.

Maybe I'm just reading too much into the blurb, and it will be a set of very simple formulas intended as starting points (few of my vinaigrettes wind up at exactly 3:1, but I may start them close to that and adjust as necessary). It just seems like a stretch to write a book on that premise: I don't really understand what the point will be, but I suppose none of us really knows until it comes out.

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My go-to recipe for bread, reduced to integers, is:

910:450:23:16 (Flour:Water:Salt:Yeast)

So, while it does indeed "reduce to integers," I don't think that it is particularly "simple."

Yikes. How the hell am I, a simple boy from a cotton field, supposed to even know what an integer is? To me, well, it sounds like something we sprayed out of AgCats and Grummans before they banned DDT.


Edited by Mayhaw Man (log)

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My go-to recipe for bread, reduced to integers, is:

910:450:23:16 (Flour:Water:Salt:Yeast)

So, while it does indeed "reduce to integers," I don't think that it is particularly "simple." So my concern is that what it will turn into in a book like this is "2:1 dry:wet" which does not actually provide enough information to make bread, and is not a very useful formula to know.

Maybe I'm just reading too much into the blurb...

We won't know until the book comes out... but yes, I would suggest it's likely you are reading too much into the blurb. Not to mention that something like bread is not a great example, because (i) the amounts of salt and yeast are typically so tiny compared to the amounts of flour and water, (ii) the character of the bread can change dramatically with a relatively small percent change in hydration, and (iii) there really can be no "master recipe" for bread like there can be with a simple vinaigrette or flaky pie crust due the the fact that each kind of bread isdependent on a different kind of flour and a different percenty hydration (you'd have to give a different "ratio" for boules and loaf bread and ciabatta and so on...).

I do have to point out, however that your bread formula more or less amounts to 2:1 flour to water by weight -- a simple integer ratio. That said, and again I have no foreknowledge about the contents of the book, it seems fairly congruent with the thesis of the book to explain baker's percentages as part of the "break things down into simple scalable formulae" premise (in your bread example: 49.5% water, 2.5% salt and 1.7% yeast by weight).


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I think you're right: upon reading the whole page at Amazon, I think I was lead astray by the subtitle: "The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking." In my mind, "Codes" has distinct connotation of "magic" or something along those lines. But the rest of the blurb goes on to mention that it is actually a book with only 33 ratios in it: the idea seems to be that you make small variations to those ratios and can make basically anything. Since that's almost the whole idea behind all of cooking, I think now I buy it...

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Right -- and I think that baking is probably the least likely to lead to perfect single-digit ratios. However, I don't do much baking, and getting base ratios for what I do make in the kitchen that I can then tweak and fiddle with... that sounds good to me.

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I wonder, though, if Ruhlman's intent is to provide starting points or to provide absolute ratios. I think it's the latter. For instance, from the blurb above and from what he's said on his website, it seems that he's saying that the ratio for a vinaigrette is 3:1, not that it's a starting point.

From his blog:

My point throughout the book is that if we know the ratio for the vinaigrette (three parts oil, one part vinegar) we don’t simply know one French sauce, we know an infinite number of such sauces, whether a lime-peanut vinaigrette for a Thai-inspired salad or a chimichurri for grilled steak (both of which are discussed in the book).

This seems absurd to me. Yeah, it's a useful starting point, but how you can discount the difference in acid levels between vinegars, the oil used, and the food you're using it on? I make some vinaigrettes with equal parts oil and vinegar, all the way up to 4 or 5 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. And his mention of a "Thai inspired vinaigrette" is especially confusing -- the Thai salads I'm familiar with don't even contain oil in the dressings; they use fish sauce and sugar to balance the lime juice.

Maybe it's just me, but a book of ratios seems to be useful only in a very limited sense -- as a starting point for some sauces and baked goods. Not much else.

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Michael Ruhlman has a new book coming out called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Here's a blurb from that Amazon page:
Ratios are the simple proportions of one ingredient to another. Biscuit dough is 3 : 1 : 2 -- or 3 parts flour, 1 part fat, and 2 parts liquid. This ratio is the beginning of many variations, and because the biscuit takes sweet and savory flavors with equal grace, you can top it with whipped cream and strawberries or sausage gravy. Vinaigrette is 3 : 1, or 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, and is one of the most useful sauces imaginable, giving everything from grilled meats and fish to steamed vegetables or lettuces intense flavor.

I'm very intrigued to hear more about this book. Ruhlman's last attempt at nailing the elements of cooking -- aptly titled The Elements of Cooking -- fell flat for me (you can read about why here) -- but I've been a fan of his "Chef" books. I'm also supportive of anyone thinking about weight-based ratios. Having said that, I'm a bit worried about oversimplification -- that biscuit dough up there gives me pause.

Anyone got a preview copy?

Thing is, I didn't spot the word "weight" within the Amazon blurbs.

And I admit, that I tend to make vinaigrette, (yes, me) ... by (eyeballed) volume ...

Well, liquids do have a much more reproducible density than loose solids.

And I'm surprised that Chris Hennes 'go to' bread recipe should be under 50% hydration in Bakers' Percent terms. Which is distinctly dry.

"Bakers' Percentages" are a longstanding (and excellent) ratio-based means of comparing (and scaling) bread recipes. Its such an obvious tool that its hard to discuss bread recipes without employing it.

Its a real surprise when one comes across a baker/author with a contrary habit. Lalos quotes his recipes based on a standardised one litre of water ...

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(Good catch, I did the math wrong: my bread, which is around 75% hydration, is really 910:680:23:16. Damned ratios!)

I'd be very surprised if Ruhlman, who is a big advocate of weighing ingredients, wasn't figuring his ratios by weight.

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When I first saw this I thought it would be too simplistic to require a book length discussion. If the idea is that "ratios are the secret to cooking," that doesn't seem to useful and it seems constraining.

But I don't think I'm the audience for such a book because I've cooked enough and paid enough attention to it that my head is full of usable ratios or I automatically break recipes down into ratios myself anyway. For me, I always start by thinking of a standard (be it a ratio or a formula--I'd argue that ratios aren't the master code behind cooking, just one useful way to think of it) and then tweak it according to what the ingredients need or what I want to do.

I know a lot of people though who don't cook (or obsess about cooking) as much as I do and don't think in terms of ratios at all so they have a hard time when it comes to understanding how recipes work and how to improvise upon them. I suspect this book would be good for them. I found most parts of The Elements of Cooking weren't for me either--but they'd work for a different audience, like someone just becoming serious about cooking.

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That's a good point, in that I doubt that many of us commenting here are the target audience for this book (which will not stop us from buying it and commenting on it, of course!). But I think that if you could communicate the idea that cooking is not magic, but rather a set of quite simple ratios that can then be endlessly modified, it seems to me that would be quite liberating to someone who is intimidated by the idea of cooking without a book. It will all be in the execution, but I think the idea has potential.

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Looking at the cover in more detail, every one of the items in the circle diagram is a baked item or something else made from dough, such as pasta.

Oil/Vinegar ratios in salad dressing aside, I wonder how much content is going to venture beyond this.

The other thing to take into account is that ratios can take you only so far.

Differences in raw ingredients mean that even in "precise" areas like baking, you use the ratios to get you close to the outcome and then knowledge of the feel/texture/look to allow you to fine tune by adding more flour/water/whatever as required. This leads to statements in baking books such as "the dough should be moist and sticky but stick to itself rather than your hands."


Edited by nickrey (log)

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Took a look at the Amazon sight and was a bit perplexed, see http://www.amazon.com/Ratio-Simple-Behind-...37007747&sr=8-2.

The description stated, "pie dough is 3-2-1 or three parts flour to two parts fart to one part water." My concern is it by weight or volume and more importantly how to measure a fart. That is on the Amazon sight, no kidding.


Edited by Tom Gengo (log)

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Content and spelling both, I think it best not to judge too harshly what a PR person put up on the Amazon "sight." :wink:

The other thing to take into account is that ratios can take you only so far.

Differences in raw ingredients mean that even in "precise" areas like baking, you use the ratios to get you close to the outcome and then knowledge of the feel/texture/look to allow you to fine tune by adding more flour/water/whatever as required. This leads to statements in baking books such as "the dough should be moist and sticky but stick to itself rather than your hands."

Given his previous books, it seems impossible that Ruhlman is going to trot out a bunch of ratios as anything other than a base for tinkering. It's one of the main premises of "Elements," in fact: try, screw-up, fiddle, repeat. Indeed, it appears that it's the next step from the "don't rely merely on recipes" theme in "Elements." I can't imagine he'd encourage people to treat ratios in a manner opposite to that.

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Given his previous books, it seems impossible that Ruhlman is going to trot out a bunch of ratios as anything other than a base for tinkering. It's one of the main premises of "Elements," in fact: try, screw-up, fiddle, repeat. Indeed, it appears that it's the next step from the "don't rely merely on recipes" theme in "Elements." I can't imagine he'd encourage people to treat ratios in a manner opposite to that.

Maybe he tinkered until there was no tinkering left! He has tinkered all the way to the exact ratios for everything!

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Took a look at the Amazon sight and was a bit perplexed, see http://www.amazon.com/Ratio-Simple-Behind-...37007747&sr=8-2

My concern is it by weight or volume and more importantly how to measure a fart.

How about by the spokes of a wheel.

But seriously, I think this book will be useful to some people. Thinking in terms of ratios is a powerful way to think about cooking and its a way most beginning cooks don't naturally think about the process of cooking. It's really basic, just like much of the content of _Elements_ was.

I think it's a good idea for the serious beginner. That said, there's of course a lot more to cooking then what you put in it, but "elements" and "ratios" are a good place to start. Technique, well that's another can of worms altogether.

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...

Thing is, I didn't spot the word "weight" within the Amazon blurbs.

...

However, when I looked on Ruhlman's blog, it was there: "My book, which is called Ratio, is about the fundamentals of cooking (and using weight-based ratios of basic ingredients), ... "

From looking at that blog entry, http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2009/02...e.html#comments it seems that he had a more generalised version of the 'Aha!' moment that I had when I discovered Bakers' Percent.

Using Bakers' Percent, one discovers that bread recipes almost all come down to something close to 3 weights of flour plus 2 weights of water or "66% hydration ± 5 or ±10 if you really must". AND that controlled variation within that range is responsible for one control over the type of bread you are making.

I can see the RATIOnality of that approach applied to other cooking areas.

Here's your middle of the road proportion, and here's a reasonable range to 'tinker' within to produce different characteristics.

Sure, when you churn and freeze a (creme anglaise) custard, you produce one type of ice cream (there are others!). However, I'd be surprised if the centre of the scale for creme anglaise was identical to the centre of the scale for proportions/ratios for ice cream-making.

While 'ratio' is important to an understanding of the process, scale (or rather quantity) is also important, unless you don't mind lots of leftovers. How much do I need for an 8 inch tin? Hey, can I freeze this leftover creme anglaise?

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I received an advance uncorrected proof (ie, a pre-print, bound version for final checking) a week ago and have just published a lengthy review of it on my book review site here.

On the positive side, Michael Ruhlman is very clear in saying that ratios are basic rules to work from, but that it takes understanding and skill to produce a good result when cooking. The theme is that of potential from fundamentals. It has Ruhlman's trademark relaxed, friendly style and is full of useful tips and many recipes.

On the negative side, I felt it was confused and inconsistent, highly repetitive, and lacking the pedagogical clarity needed for this sort of book. There are, at least in the advance uncorrected proof, no diagrams at all. Although most ratios in the book *are* weight-based, the text and recipes show that this was a problematic endeavour -- Ruhlman found it too difficult to stick to weights, just adding to potential confusion. And lastly, there didn't seem to be any understanding of the legacy of tradition -- the fact that home cooks of a few decades ago traditionally worked in proportions or ratios or final quantities for many preparations rates barely a mention.

There are about 50 extra pages in the published version, so I'm not sure what the additional content will contribute (it can't all be index pages! :wink: ). I'll be revising my review once I see the final product or if people leave helpful supplementary info.

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Has anyone seen the published version yet and what do you think?

The idea behind this book very much appeals to me, but at the same time I'm sceptical in the same way as many posters upthread.

Would love to hear from people who have read the actual book.

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My copy just came from Amazon this week. I remember the part of the making of a chef where this concept started and I was excited about the concept as well. I could not be happier with this. Its is one of the rare food books built from the ground up to be used as a basis for your own creativity. I personally bought it for the baking portion. I want to use it in conjuntion with books like bakewise to get my baking skills to the same level as my cooking skills. That alone was worth the price for me. The parts about stocks and force meats I found less usefull for me as I have several other books (one by Mr. Ruhlman) that deal with similar subject matter. If your goal was to get someone in the kitchen experimenting with new and fun things then you're sucsessful lin my case at least Mike. Thanks for the book.

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My copy just came from Amazon this week.  I remember the part of the making of a chef where this concept started and I was excited about the concept as well.  I could not be happier with this.  Its is one of the rare food books built from the ground up to be used as a basis for your own creativity.  I personally bought it for the baking portion.  I want to use it in conjuntion with books like bakewise to get my baking skills to the same level as my cooking skills.  That alone was worth the price for me.  The parts about stocks and force meats  I found less usefull for me as I have several other books (one by Mr. Ruhlman) that deal with similar subject matter.  If your goal was to get someone in the kitchen experimenting with new and fun things then you're sucsessful lin my case at least Mike.  Thanks for the book.

I think you nailed it here.

I was one of a small group of people who tested every recipe in this book. As with most of what Michael does, this book is aimed at drawing home cooks into the kitchen and experimenting. The recipes are solid and they work. The aim wasn't to give the best recipe ever for bread dough for example, but to give someone a springboard from which to take a basic ratio and use your imagination.

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I'll look at the book for sure, but it's the first Ruhlman that I'm not inclined to just order w/o seeing it first. From the descriptions here I somewhat doubt that I'll have much use for it nor do I really see where a beginner would benefit much from it, at least not more than from a good all round cookbook with actual recipes and addtl explanations etc.

Seems like ratios are something one can learn from recipes and then transpose on self created dishes quite easily. Does the book contain a good number of sample recipes? Or is it mostly "to make this dish use 3 of this, 1 of that, 2/3 of that there and a pinch of this here"?

Guess I'll have to plan a trip to the book store - not a bad thing actually :-) But this is one of the rare cases where just reviews don't tell me enough.

{edit to add:}

Just looked at the contents on Amazon and there's a lot of info in the book that I'd personally never use, I don't make anything sweet except christmas cookies (based on my grandmother and great grandmother's recipes) which I hardly eat any from either. I'd have little use for pie, biscuit, cookie or any batter ratios, nor for the chocolate etc things towards the end of the book. Just a personal preference of course, I never make desert and hardly ever order it when going out. I just wasn't born with a sweet tooth, except that one for Haribo Gummy Bears - but only the ones you can buy in Germany :-)

{end edit}

Oliver


Edited by OliverB (log)

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