Memorize these, and you're set.
While many of us aspire to be the kind of Rain Man-like cook that can whip up complicated dishes without a glance at a recipe, that is certainly easier said than done. However, there is one magical word that can make all of us look like cooking savants in no time: Ratios.
By memorizing a few key cooking and baking ratios, you’ll be able to navigate the kitchen more confidently, without constantly double-checking recipes to ensure you’ve got the ingredient balance right.
So what exactly is a cooking ratio and how will it help you quickly become a kitchen boss? A ratio is a predefined proportion of ingredients that will always result in the best basic end product. While some dishes are far more flexible, like sauces to soups, others—like most baked goods—will generally stick to the same proportion of ingredients, and can then be adapted and adjusted for a more personalized recipe.
Locking down these specific proportions in your mind will help you recreate dishes and scale up or down recipe quantities while making it look easy. Author Michael Ruhlman penned the book on this phenomenon, titled Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, which delves deep into the world of cooking ratios and how they can help you become a savvier cook than ever.
An important thing to note is that in each ratio, 1 “part” refers to the same consistent unit of measurement for each of the ingredients. The easiest way to remain consistent with these measurements is to rely on the weight of each ingredient, so when cooking with ratios, it’s best to keep a kitchen scale nearby. In simple terms, if you consider 1 ounce of flour 1 part, then each of the other parts of the ratio need to also be measured in ounces.
Though some added ingredients—particularly high-moisture additions—might throw off the balance of the overall ratio, in general, these bases are an excellent jumping off point for each of these classic dishes. Memorize these, and you’ll be looking and cooking like a pro in no time.
Ratios to Memorize
Vinaigrettes – 3:1
To create the base for any vinaigrette, memorize the ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. From there, extras like Mustard, herbs, and spices can be added to personalize your dressing.
Brines - 20:1
The key to mastering a brine for any kind of meat, from pork to poultry, is 20 parts water to 1 part salt. In addition to this base, you can include extra flavorings like sugar and bay leaves for different effects.
Stock - 3:1
To create any kind of animal stock from scratch, begin with the ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part bone. Remember that when we say “parts,” we’re referring to the weight, so be sure to check your bones on a scale to guarantee you’re getting the proportions right.
Pie Crust - 3:2:1
For any basic pie crust dough, you’ll need the simple ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts fat (e.g. butter or shortening) to 1 part water. For the best result, keep the fat as cold as possible before being combined with its two counterparts.
Bread - 5:3
Almost any kind of bread will follow the ratio of 5 parts flour to 3 parts liquid, with the addition of a pinch of salt and a little yeast or baking powder—about 1 teaspoon per pound of flour. After you’ve got the basic ratio down, you can put your own spin on it, adding the spices, herbs, nuts, and other additions to make the recipe your own.
Pasta - 3:2
No matter the shape or size of pasta you’re aiming for, the basic ratio to keep in mind is 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg. Reminder, that all ingredients must be measured for weight to guarantee the balance won’t be thrown off.
Crepes - 1:1:1/2
To perfect this delicate classic, which can be prepared sweet or savory for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, keep in mind 1 part egg to 1 part liquid to ½ part flour. Though the type of flour being used can certainly change depending on your dietary needs and taste preferences, this basic ratio will remain consistent.
Pancakes - 2:2:1:1/2
The essential ratio for the ultimate pancake comes down to 2 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg, and ½ part fat. For the smoothest result, whisk these ingredients together, slowly incorporating in the dry ingredients. The fat called for in the ratio can be butter or oil, with the option of adding a little sugar, vanilla, or baking powder for an upgrade.
Pound or Sponge Cake - 1:1:1:1
One of the simplest ratios to memorize, pound and sponge cakes call for 1 part flour, 1 part egg, 1 part fat, and 1 part sugar. The order in which the ingredients are combined will determine the kind of cake you get as a result. Pound cakes are made by combining butter, sugar, egg and flour in that order. On the other hand, sponge cake is made by either whipping the eggs and sugar together first, or paddling the sugar into the butter and then adding eggs followed by dry ingredients.
Cookies – 3:2:1
The ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts fat to 1 part sugar will result in a basic dependable sugar cookie that can be adapted to fit almost any cookie recipe, though additional ingredients might call for some adjusting of the original ratio.
Biscuits - 3:2:1
Perfecting your basic biscuit recipe is as simple as 3 parts flour to 2 parts liquid to 1 part fat—either butter or shortening. From there, your biscuits can be customized; for example, if you’re aiming for a classic buttermilk biscuit, simply use buttermilk as the liquid portion of the ratio.
Custard – 2:1
This shockingly simple dish comes down to two simple ingredients: 2 parts dairy and 1 part egg. This base will result in a savory custard filling—as would be found in a quiche—and will require the addition of sugar to make a sweeter dessert custard. While the flavor can be built upon from there—with some vanilla extract, cinnamon, or countless other ingredients—this ratio will achieve the perfect custard base.
Muffins – 2:2:1:1
The ultimate grab-and-go breakfast food, any flavor of muffin can be created with the ratio of 2 parts flour to 2 parts liquid to 1 part eggs to 1 part fat. Then, fun additions like chocolate chips and blueberries can be worked into the mix.