Cooking Without Recipes: Michael Ruhlman on Ratios

Think baking is hard? Afraid to cook without a recipe? Chef and author Michael Ruhlman has some simple-but-profound advice: Start thinking about cooking in terms of ratios. Last week, Michael Ruhlman stopped by KCRW’s Good Food with Evan Kleiman to talk about his new book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.

In short, the book is a guide to cooking without recipes and with, as Kleiman noted, “a truly easy confidence.” Ruhlman says ratios are the backbone of all cooking and by understanding them we can create endless recipes.

The ratio concept came to Ruhlman as he was working on cake batters. There is a continuum, he explained, that begins with a very stiff bread dough that is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water, and as you add more liquid, it moves into pie and cookie dough and then into batters for cakes and crepes.

But it’s all just one thing; one idea. “If you understand the ratios, you understand the interrelatedness of all these things that we tend to think of separately,” he said.

The American practice of measuring ingredients in cups and spoonfuls instead of weights makes cooking with ratios more difficult. For instance, Rhulman said, a cup of flour can weigh anywhere between 4.25 ounces to 6 ounces. And by using such an imprecise measuring system, he added, “no wonder baking is so difficult and why we think it’s so difficult.”

We've certainly been frustrated by baking before, and we're now in the market for a good scale. Stay tuned today for thoughts on some electronic models.

Related: Cooking by Feel: Moving Beyond the Recipe

(Image: Flickr user Lisa Brewster, licensed under Creative Commons)

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