When I first started ratio baking in 2019, I worried about the ingredients I would need. Without a recipe with a handy list, it was hard to know exactly what to use. And, as I later found out, to remember to add it.
Fortunately, ratio baking has some basics. Since it’s based on ratios, it has to say what ratio to what is necessary. The cake ratio has a 1:1:1:1 ratio of fat to sugar to eggs to flour. The cookie ratio is a 3:2:1 ratio of flour to fat to sugar. Bread has a ratio of 5:3 of flour to water. Just from this, it’s clear flour, sugar, fat, eggs, and water are necessary to make any one of these.
Beyond that there’s little guidance. Though if you’ve spent some time following recipes, you’ll have a good idea of what else you need, like vanilla extract and baking powder. My first chocolate cake was a bit of a disaster. I added too much cocoa powder and completely forgot vanilla extract and baking powder.
Over time, it’s gotten easier to remember everything, and it helps to keep things simple. I haven’t experimented too wildly yet, which makes it easy to pull together a simple list of ingredients. Even better, they’re commonly stocked so, chances are, you could whip something up right now! Stress baking, anyone?
Basic Ingredients for Cake
There are a lot of different kinds of cake, from pound cakes to sponge cakes and red velvet cake. But, as far as I can tell, they all use the same basic ingredients.
- Flour. I’ve only used all-purpose and gluten-free flour, but haven’t had a problem, so I imagine most, if not all, flours should work fine.
- Sugar. I haven’t tried liquid sugars like honey, but, considering the amount high ratio cakes use, I’m going to stick with granulated sugar.
- Fat. This is your butter, margarine, shortening, oil, etc. I always have butter on hand, but, since the ratio just calls for fat, any kind should work. It’ll just influence how it tastes and the texture.
- Eggs. Eggs are binding ingredients. They help keep the batter together. I know there are substitutes like bananas, but, personally, I feel safer sticking to eggs. More yolks will yield a richer cake.
- Vanilla extract. For flavoring. Though if you’re going for a flavored cake like lemon, you could swap it out for the corresponding extract.
- Baking powder. This will help it rise and look fluffy. A teaspoon or two is usually all I need when I use three eggs.
Of course, that’s just to make a basic pound cake. High ratio cakes, which have twice as much sugar and flour as eggs (in weight), also require a liquid, like milk or water. Chocolate cakes replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. Funfetti cakes need sprinkles. But this is a basic list of ingredients for cakes.
Try: Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake|Black Forest Inspired Cake|Funfetti Cake|Knock You Over the Head with Lemon Cupcakes
Basic Ingredients for Cookies
I’ll be honest. I haven’t experimented with cookies as much. I’m finding them to be a little more complicated. Though, if you love shortbread cookies, stick to the 3:2:1 ratio and you’ll be happy. I keep trying for those gooey bakery style cookies and it’s just not working. But the basic list of ingredients doesn’t seem to change.
- Flour. I use all purpose flour, but most other kinds of flour should work.
- Fat. Fat is important when it comes to spread. Using different kinds will yield cookies that either spread more or less. I’ve read those made with shortening spread well, but haven’t tried it yet.
- Sugar. I’m sticking to granulated and brown sugar, especially when it comes to chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know how any other kind of sugar will impact the cookie. Granulated sugar will give you crisper cookies while cookies made with brown sugar will be softer.
- Eggs. Again, these are the binding agent. I haven’t found any clear guidelines on how many to use, but using more whites will yield a crisper cookie and more yolks will give a softer cookie. I usually add two eggs, but, again, haven’t found anything that says how many eggs works best.
- Baking powder/baking soda. From what I’ve read, baking powder will make cookies puff and baking soda will help with the spread, but it needs to react with an acid. One way to use baking soda is to also add a bit of baking powder, or use brown sugar.
- Salt. Cookies can be quite sweet, so salt helps cut through the sweetness.
- Vanilla extract. For flavoring. It doesn’t have to be vanilla, though.
Like cakes, cookies are relatively easy to add to. My kids love chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve been adding a lot of chocolate chips. I’m still playing with ratios and ingredients, but this is a basic list.
Basic Ingredients for Bread
When the weather is amenable (meaning nice and warm), I love making bread. Surprisingly, this has gone the smoothest for me. My family won’t stop eating my bread. Fortunately, bread is insanely easy to make with the easiest list of ingredients.
- Flour. Since I’ve only just started baking bread, I’ve only used all-purpose, but I’m anxious to try using gluten-free flour one day.
- Water. The other main ingredient in bread. Yeast packets will demand warm water. I almost always use cold and haven’t had any adverse experiences. The bread disappears just as fast.
- Sugar. This one isn’t necessary though packets of yeast will say to mix some sugar into the warm water and then add the yeast. If I know my yeast is fine, I don’t even bother with sugar or proofing. I consider sugar to be optional, though, if you’re making a sweeter bread like brioche, you should add sugar.
- Salt. From what I’ve read, 2% of the weight of the flour is needed, though I’ve found it too be a bit too salty for me. Or maybe I’m just doing my math wrong.
- Leavener. Yeast or baking powder. I’ve only used yeast so far, and done it on cold days, so my dough hasn’t risen much. But I don’t think it’s the yeast’s fault. I’ve found this article on lifehacker to be the most useful.
Easy, right? It’s even easier with a stand mixer and dough hook. I’ve heard that, with bread, the sky’s the limit with what you can do and add. My family isn’t adventurous, so I’ve just been working on brioche (which adds butter, eggs, sometimes sugar, and milk), when the weather is agreeable and provides a warm enough day so I don’t have to turn on the heat or use the oven to get a decent rise.
Check out: How to Make Bread
So there you have it. A basic list of ingredients for cakes, cookies, and bread. The best thing is, even if you have just a small amount of one thing, it’s relatively easy to tweak the amounts to fit the ratios since ratios are based on weight.
For more of my adventures in ratio baking or more recipes, drop by the Kitchen.
8 thoughts on “Adventures in Ratio Baking: Basic Ingredients for Cakes, Cookies, and Bread”
So cool! I’ll probably wait to try ratios in retirement, but I like the whole experimental idea of it all.
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It’s a lot of fun! I haven’t gotten too experimental yet as I’m still trying to master the basics, and I have a really picky family, but I’m really excited to be making my own creations one day.
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Thank so much for the knowledge.. i am starting a bakery someplace in Tanzania Africa.. wonder if you assist more.. name- Sameera- +255784844976
I’m a self-taught baker learning as I go along, so I don’t think I would be too much help, but I wish you all the best of luck!