Michael Ruhlman's cookbook is an epiphany for me. I have long been a bread baker and pie maker, skills infused in me by my mother, but I have rarely tried my hand at pastas, biscuits, cookies, pâte à choux and other baked goods. Ruhlman's short cookbook Ratio explores the continuum of these combinations of flour, water, and egg. Ratios are the key to doughs and batters. He uses the same logic in other sections on stocks, sausages, mayonnaise, vinaigrette, hollandaise sauces, custards, and desserts. The key to each is their mathematical ratio, the proportion of simple ingredients, and the way that specific flavours are in addition to these ratios. My epiphany was to see the connections between foods, and the realization that recipes are simply variations on these themes.
A culinary ratio is a fixed proportion of one ingredient or ingredients relative to another. These proportions form the backbone of the craft of cooking. When you know a culinary ratio, it is not like knowing a single recipe; it is instantly knowing a thousand. Here's the ratio for bread: 5 parts flour: 3 parts water.
Aimed at beginning cooks, the Ratio is, for me at least, full of techniques that I am not familiar with, and machinery that I do not own. Ruhlman stresses that this former point is important. Cooking is about ratios and about techniques. I understand the technique of bread making, but, not for many of the other recipes. I am now excited to return to a kitchen, with an oven and more than one electric burner, to put ratios to the test.