Book Review: Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

Ratio is a book that is difficult to categorize. Is it a cookbook or is it a book about cooking? I am sure to some people there is little difference. To me a cookbook has just straight recipes with perhaps a little fluff blurbs here and there and some pictures. A book about cooking talks about experiences, trials and tribulations.

The premise behind Ratio is that many recipes are just variations on more basic recipes which can be boiled down to “ratios.” Instead of need a recipe for cookies, there is a basic ration and then you just sub in what you want to use to make the cookies taste how you want them to taste.

When I first received this book through the KCRW Cookbook Club I couldn’t decide if I would use it like a cookbook or a book about cooking. As I ended up reading it cover to cover minus some of the ratios that I skipped out of disinterest. I am not sure if someone not interested in cooking would enjoy this book but for someone like me who views cooking & baking as a hobby, I found the book well written. It even had some humorous anecdote that made me laugh.

I like the concept behind the book. That I could create my own recipes essentially by understanding the ratios behind basic recipes. However, some of the “ratios” seemed like stretches. For example for bread dough he states the ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water (pluse yeast and salt). While this is true to extent, the amount of yeast and salt are very important to how the bread turns out. So just randomly throwing some in as an after thought will not do. He does provide information on how salt and yeast are used in bread and their purpose which is helpful but as a non-professional cook, I think I would still need a recipe to really make a good bread.

Another issue with the book is that Ruhlman stresses that the ratios work best when used with a food scale versus measuring cups. And while I respect that a scale is more accurate, I don’t think I have the patience for all the math that would be involved. I loath buying kitchen gadgets. And since I already have measuring cups and most other recipes I have are written for measuring cups it isn’t something I have an interest in. I understand his rational that a scale is more exact, I just feel like it is being a bit…nit picky. He does include cup measurements but it seems very grudgingly as if at some point his editor simply nagged him until he gave in regarding cup measurements.

I definitely felt like a lot of what I read was helpful but will need to review parts as I try out the ratios in the future. I think if you are a home cook who wants to widen your skills to recipe creation this is an ideal book. It gives you the building blocks and ideas so that you can branch out into your own creations.

Amazon Listing for Ratio

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