Ratio

Do you harbor the suspicion that high school mathematics only served to help get you into college? Do you maintain that polynomial equations should be banned as torture under the Geneva Convention?ratio.JPG

You may be right, but basic middle-school mathematics remain essential to adult life, particularly the concept of ratio as amplified by Michael Ruhlman.

Baking always seems to be more wizardry than science. While rolling dough you must pay special attention to keep the butter from melting. With confidence only gained by experience, that is, the experience of failure, you must administer timely applications of ice water.

Firm in the belief that all sensuous pursuits require spontaneity, however, whenever Mr. Henry sings, bakes or makes love, he likes to wing it. And since winging it precludes thumbing through cookbooks searching for recipes, he rarely follows directions.

Ruhlman’s Ratio is the new bible for a chef in the heat of passion. No fumbling around for cookbooks. No fluttering the pages. No searching in the dark for your chef’s toque.

Do you judge a book by its cover? For Ratio, the book is the cover, that is, the treatise inside is summarized in the chart illustrated on the cover. Ratio is a Periodic Table of the elements of cooking, especially for custard, crust, dough and sauce.

Mr. Henry’s favorite ratio is phi, the golden ratio first described by Euclid in 300 BC (or very nearly). The angle of the Great Pyramid (Khufu) at Giza conforms precisely to this ratio. Some argue that the Parthenon does, as well.

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The golden ratio is 1 to 1.6180339887.  Unique among positive numbers, the ratio of the short part to the long part is the same as the ratio of the long part to the whole. That is, A is to B as B is to A + B. This ratio occurs naturally in the arrangement of branches along stems as well as in the geometry of crystals. Throughout the Renaissance the golden ratio was considered to be the guiding principle of aesthetics.

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What does the golden ratio have to do with food? Although Ruhlman fails to pursue this avenue of enquiry, a serious lacuna in his exegesis, fortunately for his readers Mr. Henry can report the surprising answer here:

Bread, the staff of life, man’s essential food, what Charles Issawi called “the only thing worth eating.”

In bread the ratio of water to flour is 3 to 5, close to the golden ratio of 10 to 16, arguably close enough to achieve mathematic and aesthetic harmony. Q.E.D.

4 Responses to “Ratio”

  1. ruhlman April 30, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    mr. henry, you are my kind of cook! and thanks mentioning my book and for this cool comparison to the golden ratio.

  2. Mr. Henry April 30, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    Thank you, Michael, for your wit and wisdom. Your books are fast becoming standard references – permanent contributions to the literature as well as to the craft.

    Indeed, Mr. Henry aspires to become your kind of cook. In case you’re interested, he wrote you up last fall in this post:

    http://manolofood.com/ruhlman-rules/

  3. Jinny May 1, 2009 at 2:28 pm #

    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg
    Jinny

  4. jelodi97 May 14, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    Sounds like a great title. If cooking is science and baking is wizardry, I put forth that candy making is nuclear physics. Most of my experiences in candy-making have had incredibly dismal results.