Math is all around us. I disliked hearing that growing up. It is ironic that I am now using these same words when I try to diffuse my students’ math anxiety. Given how much I struggled with math growing up, I never thought that I would ever teach basic math and related bakery math. Just the other day, I was using paintings by Wayne Thiebaud to help visualize and compute fractions, decimals, and percentages. After the lesson, a few students said that they wished they had a teacher like me when they were learning these concepts in school.
I was surprised. How could I, as a struggling math learner, teach math? A colleague said that it was because I had such difficulty with it, I am able to break it down into more comprehensible chunks before bringing it all back to the larger picture. And so, with that observation, I embraced math with another ‘chota’ (small) hug.
But I digress. Math is really all around us. It is especially true in the kitchen. Sure, we use tools to measure, but it goes beyond just that.
The first Michael Ruhlman book I read was Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. He’s written quite a few more, but this one was fascinating to me. I read it during a time where I shifting from boxed mixes to baking from scratch. I wanted to glean as much knowledge and information as I could about baking and the science behind it. After pastry school, using and understanding ratios in the kitchen really hit home for me. I realized just how freeing and creative you can be once you know some.
In his book, Ruhlman argues that you don’t necessarily need a recipe as long as you know the ratio. The basic premise of the book is that it provides ratios, yes the same ratios we learned in math, except for things like cookie dough or pasta or soups. The book defines a culinary ratio as “a fixed proportion of one ingredient or ingredients relative to another.”
Ruhlman has broken down recipes into its most basic form. He states that once you know a ratio, you can adjust it accordingly. With a ratio, you have the basic recipe and can increase or decrease the amount of the ingredients easily, enhancing the product and making the recipe your own. With ratios, not only can you be more creative in the kitchen, you can also be spontaneous too. In theory, you’d be able to look in your pantry and based on what you have on hand you can use a culinary ratio to make a delicious meal or a sweet treat.
My favorite ratio is for ganache. Essentially, it is equal parts chocolate to cream. So, you can start with a 1:1 ratio or change it up. Try 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream and see what you get. Or even 1 part chocolate to 2 parts cream, which happens to be the base of one way I like to make hot chocolate, but that’s a story for another time.
Ratios in the kitchen is definitely an intriguing idea that not many use. I should rely on them more often as they can make delicious meals and treats.
Do you use ratios in the kitchen? Which one is your favorite?