Staff Picks: Books
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The Codes Behind the Craft
We know that analysis of many great works of art has revealed they employ what’s known as the “golden mean,” a geometric ratio said to produce aesthetically pleasing results. Well, what ratios lead to delicious results?
Michael Ruhlman new book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking uncovers the relationships that define basic recipes.
The book doesn’t provide do-this-or-else directions, nor does it offer The Ultimate version of anything. Instead, Ratio shows the basic governing relationships of a recipe so that you can see how to go from cake to muffins to crepes, and then wing it.
Each section in Ratio covers a different food group and includes recipes as well as opportunities for variation. Doughs and batters are first. The ratio for pie dough is 3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water. The book’s basic pie dough recipe is known as pate brisee, the all-purpose classic. Repeatedly folding and rolling this dough will increase its number of layers and make it perform like puff pastry. Adding sugar and it’s a pate sucree to be used in some sweet pies and tarts.
Other sections are devoted to stocks; meat-related ratios such as sausages, mousseline and brine; fat-based sauces (mayonnaise, vinaigrette, hollandaise); and custards. There’s a recipe for standard mayonnaise as well as an “instant” version using an immersion blender instead of a whisk.
Ruhlman says that “Ratios liberate you — when you know the ratio and some basic techniques, then you can really start to cook.” Though his book contains recipes, he likes to think of it as “an anti-recipe book, a book that teaches you and frees you from the need to follow.”