Breaking The Baking Code

Ratio Cooking
If cooking is an art, baking is a science.

A lot of even seasoned chefs can get intimidated by the simplest baking recipes, because it comes down to knowing the exact ratios for baking.

That doesn't mean there's no room for experimentation. Far from it.

Once you understand how the ratios of baking work in doughs and batters, there's very little you can't do with your baked goods. For instance, pie dough is a ratio of three, two, one: three parts flour, two parts fat (such as butter), and one part water. When you get that ratio down, you can make pie doughs with any additive you want, such as lemon zest or maple extract.

It's all explained by Michael Ruhlman, a classically trained chef, in his book, "Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking."

Ruhlman visited The Early Show Thursday to go through the basics of making great breads, cookies, and everything from the oven -- all you need to know about dough!

According to Ruhlman:

The only way to measure these ratios is by weight. Once you understand that a bread is a five-to-three ratio, you can do five ounces of bread and three ounces of water, or 20 ounces flour and 12 ounces of water, or 500 grams of flour, 300 of water. Any way you mix these ratios, the bread will come out the same, because your ratios are exact.

Some basic measurements that might also help as you begin to incorporate ratios in your recipes:

  • A large egg is two ounces
  • A stick of butter is four ounces
  • A cup of water, cream or milk eight ounces
  • A cup of flour can measure from four-to-six ounces, so be sure to measure


    The following recipe is what's referred to in bakeshops as a basic lean dough, meaning there's no fat in it. It's pure bread and it's satisfying and delicious, especially sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil. It can be shaped into a baguette or a boule or stretched into the shape called ciabatta. If shaping it into a boule, I highly recommend cooking it in a Dutch oven. And it can be varied in countless ways, a few of which I describe here:

    Bread Dough

    20 ounces bread flour (about 4 cups)
    12 ounces water
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon active or instant yeast

    Set your mixing bowl on a scale (if using), zero the scale, and pour the
    flour in. Zero the scale again and add the water. Add the salt. Sprinkle
    the yeast over the surface of the water to allow it to dissolve. Fit the
    bowl into the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix on medium
    speed until the dough has come together. Replace the paddle with a
    dough hook. (The whole procedure can be done with a dough hook, but
    the paddle brings the ingredients together rapidly. This dough can be
    kneaded by hand as well.) Continue mixing until your dough is smooth
    and elastic, about 10 minutes. To test your dough, pull off a chunk and
    stretch it into a square. If it's elastic enough to allow you to achieve a
    translucent sheet of dough, it's ready. If it tears before you can do this,
    continue mixing, either in the mixer or by hand, until the dough is
    smooth and elastic.

    Remove the mixing bowl from the machine, cover it with plastic
    wrap, and allow the dough to rise to about twice its size. Push a finger
    into the dough. The dough should give some resistance, but not spring
    back. If it springs back, let it rest longer. If you let your dough rise for
    too long, it will feel flabby and loose when you press a finger into it and
    will be less eager to rise when you bake it.

    If baking it the same day, preheat your oven to 450°F (preferably 45
    minutes before baking). If you intend to use steam, put a cast-iron pan
    in the oven and add 1 cup water when ready to bake.

    Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it to expel excess
    gas and redistribute the yeast. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 10
    to 15 minutes. Shape the dough into a boule by pushing the dough back
    and forth on the counter in a circular motion until you have a round
    smooth ball; or shape it into a ciabatta by pulling it lengthwise so that it's about a foot long and an inch thick. For a baguette, stretch the dough
    into a rectangle roughly 12 by 6 inches; fold the top edge of the dough
    over on itself and pound the heel of your hand to pinch this edge down;
    fold it again, pounding the heel of your palm down to seal it, and continue
    until it is a roll; then roll by hand and stretch the baguette out as
    you do so to tighten its interior structure. Cover the dough with a dish
    towel and allow to rise, or proof, for about an hour. Or cover the dough
    with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a day; allow the bread to rise
    at room temperature for at least 11⁄2 hours before baking. When ready to
    bake a boule, slice an X or a pound symbol into the top of the dough to
    help it to expand; for ciabatta, stipple the dough with your fingers and,
    if you wish, coat with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. For a
    baguette, make long diagonal scores. Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F,
    then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until
    done, 45 to 50 minutes for a boule or baguette, 30 minutes for ciabatta.

    Yield: 1 standard loaf