Kitchen Library: Ratio
Michael Ruhlman had me at pie crust.
Like a hungry tiger, it senses your fear. The more you fear it, the quicker it takes you down and rends your dreams of delicious pie limb from limb, crunching the bones while you weep into your kitchen towel. At one particularly low moment in my pie making history, I may actually have shed a tear in the kitchen over a crust myself.
But Michael Ruhlman promised, in his book Ratio, to set me free of recipes. He explained it all very neatly one Saturday morning in 2009 on KCRW’s Good Food. French chefs for generations have carried in their pockets cheat sheets, he said. These cheat sheets hold the secrets of all of the finer creations of the French kitchen from béchamel to vinaigrette. These weren’t recipes, Ruhlman insisted. They were, instead, just proportions of ingredients. I bought a copy of Ratio that very day.
A brief pause to say that I did really well at chemistry in school, particularly stoichiometry. Which is of course why I went to art school to study photography so that I could later become a web programmer. But that’s another story. The point is that I was a hungry nerd in need of reliable pie crust. So , naturally, it wasn’t until last summer that I took the leap of faith.
I’ve been cooking and baking since before Reagan forgot about those pesky arms deals. There’s plenty I can whip up without a recipe, and there are other things for which one seems essential. Like pie crust. But recipes were getting me nowhere, and I was desperate for homemade peach streusel pie like Mom used to make. So it wasn’t until the peak of the summer last year that I let go of the recipe and embraced Ratio.
If you’ve not already done the math in your head, that’s correct, the book sat on my shelf for six years before I actually tried one of the non-recipes. To say that my life was forever altered that day, for both the better and portlier, is no lie. Within days, I was trying the other ratios out to see if they actually worked. (It does!) Not much longer after that that I made my own cheat sheets which eventually become the Grimoire.
Love this book though I do, it’s not for the inexperienced. If you’ve never made bread or a sponge cake before, this is not the book to get you started. Other authors do a better job at describing the techniques for beginners. For the experienced cook with a creative streak, though, this book is a godsend. You will be freed from recipes and discover a new sense of confidence to experiment.
Just be sure to order a pair of Sans-a-Belt pants with your copy of Ratio. All of the delicious exploration of non-recipes is murder on the waistline!