The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baker's math applied to cooking in general - New book

dmsnyder's picture

Baker's math applied to cooking in general - New book

Last Sunday, I heard an interview on "A Chef's Table" (WHYY/NPR weekly radio program) with Michael Ruhlman, author of a cooking book titled "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking." His basic theme is that ingredient ratios, such as we use in bread formulas, is the key to real understanding of many other kinds of foods. It was interesting. Here's a link:

Has anyone read it?


crunchy's picture

read the book, but did read an interesting review of it on Slate ( I think I'll check the book out from the library to see how I like it.

hansjoakim's picture

I haven't read it myself, but got slightly turned off after reading this (great) review.

dmsnyder's picture

The review is interesting. My synthesis is that Ruhlman had a worthy goal, but he didn't reach it.

Although I've become very comfortable with baker's math, I must confess it never occurred to me to think about the relationships among different foods, e.g., muffins, pancakes, cakes, cookies, etc., in terms of differing ratios of flour, liquid, fat, etc.

So, now I can cook my banana-pecan quick bread batter as pancakes. Hmmmm .....


flournwater's picture

Thanks for highlighting the publication David.  I read the reviews and, from what was available, segments of the book as posted on  It's not a book I'd spend money on because "cooking" yields to approximations and, once you've got a feel for how heat and time affects various ingredients, it's not (IMO) nearly as complicated as bread making.  I've cooked successfully for many decades but was a miserable failure at bread making.  Having just discovered the "secrets" of baker's percentages I am more comfortable in that environment and far more successful. 

Incidentally, if you're ten years old and you want to make a birthday cake for your  mother with one green and one red layer, don't use the entire contents of one of those little bottles of food coloring in each layer  ;-)

Shiao-Ping's picture

Hi David  

Thanks for highlighting the book.  I think the author is too ambitious for what he thinks he can achieve.  The ratio relationship between ingredients is indeed important; for a good cook (not just a cook), however, what's equally important, if not more, is how different flavors react to each other and compliment each other.  In scientific terms, how flavors come about is like a chain of chemical reactions between ingredients.  Mastering the "secret decoder" (ie, ratio relationship) would just mean one can cook - but cook well?  No, that's an entirely different question altogether.    

The ratio is a starting place for people who can't cook or bake at all; but by no means it is all there is to it in cooking or baking.  Beautiful chefs can go out of that conventional box and make unconventional combinations work; not just work, but work beautifully.  To oversell "ratio relationship" can be a trap and limitation.  

Just some thoughts.  Thanks again for bringing that book to our attention.  


EasyTBear's picture

I am having a hard time understanding the breakdown of ingredients for figuring ratios. For instance, Michael Ruhlman sometimes uses Fat and other times uses Butter but does not break the butter down into fat, liquid, and milk solids. Going by his book, butter seems to be considered all Fat when figuring ratios. In reading Shirley Corriher's book Bakewise, she breaks cream down into Fat and Liquid, but butter only shows the Fat content with no Liquid considered, and buttermilk and milk are just Liquid with no fat consideration. (Re: page 16 The Great American Pound Cake recipe and page 33 "The Math"). I have seen reference in recipes that say to take into consideration the liquid in butter when substituting for shortening. Does anyone know the difinitive answer to this problem? I am trying to set up spread sheets that have ingredients taken into account the way they are supposed to be so that I do not have to do the math every time I want to create or try a new recipe, but nobody seems to agree on how to consider the ingredients. I appreciate any help I can get.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

both milk and buttermilk have so little fat because the cream/fat is removed to make butter.    Milk solids makes up about 10% of milk.  So they are roughly 87% to 90% water (whole to skim.)  There are no milk solids in butter, maybe a trace but if you melt the butter any milky water will form a pocket on the bottom under the 100% clear butter fat. Chilling the clarified butter makes it easy to separate the water from the fat solid.