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A Simple Pleasure

Wednesday, Jan. 06, 2010 12:01 AM

Since acquiring the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, I've indulged in cooking/baking over the past few weeks.

The guiding principle is one chefs guard closely: the basic ratio between major ingredients that form the backbone of a recipe. But once you have the ratio down, you don't know just one recipe ... you know a thousand.

Ruhlman's book also explains the role of various ingredients in something like a cookie. Egg white produces a more delicate crumb; an increase in sugar adds crispness; more butter creates a softer, chewier cookie.

Thus, I've amused myself with pate a choux (cream puffs), gougeres (cheese puffs), pancakes from scratch, crepes, fresh pasta (no machine!), Yorkshire pudding, and fresh bread (no machine!).

And then I promptly took a deep breath and dove off the end of the pier. I am not an experienced baker; I've made bread only a handful of times, twice using a recipe by Jamie Oliver, and twice with the ratio provided by Ruhlman.

So attempting something like cinnamon bread is ambitious, to say the least - and I did write to Michael Ruhlman for advice on when to roll out the dough (answer: after the first rise). But the filling itself was an experiment.

The end result is a tasty cinnamon bread. In my opinion, I need to add slightly more sugar and cinnamon to the filling mix (my initial attempt was essentially a compound butter, 4 oz. butter, 3 tbsp light brown sugar, 1 tbsp. cinnamon), and add additional egg white as a leavener, since the rolling out process can cut back on the usual role of yeast.

I'll definitely try this again. Not only is making bread a surprisingly grounding/soul-nourishing thing to do, it's fun. What you'll produce isn't a store-bought loaf packed with fortifiers and preservatives, but simple, good food.

And you don't need a fancy bread machine to do it. It's about a 3 1/2 hour process from start to finish, but most of that time, your bread is rising or baking, and your actual hands-on time is fairly short.

I'm no Iron Chef, but Ratio will definitely help improve your game.

The Ministry has received 2 comment(s) on this topic.

Brin aka Bindyree - 2010-01-06 02:24:09
Yes, the conjuring of goodies, particularly in the bread family is always a wonderful accomplishment. There's nothing else that tastes like bread that you have made for yourself, and my idea of heaven is pancakes from scratch, because they remind me of my Gran. Thanks for the writeup!

honeypie171 - 2010-01-06 02:43:56
I loved the back round and everything u wrote.