Adventures in Ratio Baking: The Downside

adventures in ratio baking: the downside

I love ratio baking. I find it much easier to whip up a cake this way than using a recipe. It’s also easier on my brain when it comes to having to chat with my kids while measuring all the ingredients. It hasn’t been the smoothest adventure, but what adventure should be?

But as much as I love ratio baking, it isn’t a perfect method.

  1. Baking temperatures and times are a guessing game. The standard temperatures are 350 and 375, but which one should you choose? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I usually use 375 and only turn it down to 350 when the cake is browning too much, but isn’t fully baked. Then there’s the matter of the baking time. Recipes are handy in that they list about how long to bake for, but, when you’re ratio baking, there’s no recipe with a baking time. I’ve discovered, though, that cakes using 2 eggs bake for about 20-25 minutes. Otherwise, I test after 15 minutes and, depending on how raw it still is, check again after another 5-10 minutes.
  2. More to clean up. I use more dishes and silverware. Instead of using just measuring spoons and cups and adding directly to the mixing bowl(s), I have to measure each ingredient separately. That means I use a bowl for the eggs and a bowl for the flour and sugar (when I’m trying to cut down on the amount of dishes). Sometimes I end up using two bowls for the flour and sugar. And sometimes I’ll forget what I’m doing and will toss a spoon into the sink before I’m done measuring everything out. Using a recipe, I use a mixing bowl, the mixing paddle, a measuring cup, and one or two measuring spoons. With ratio baking, I use the mixing bowl, the paddle, at least two bowls or cups, several spoons and measuring cups, measuring spoons, a knife to cut the butter, and sometimes the a glass container if I’m using leftover egg yolks because I need to pour them into something else to get their weight.
  3. No ingredient list to use as a checklist. Sometimes I forget to add something. Sometimes I forget to measuring something out and have to pull my scale back out. Sometimes I stick the cake in the oven and then realize I left out the baking powder. A recipe has a handy list. Ratio baking does not unless you write them down. I tried to get around this by keeping what I need in a corner or in my spice rack. But even then I miss something. I’ve forgotten to measure the milk. I’ve forgotten to add baking powder. I’ve forgotten to add vanilla extract. Once I forgot I was making a chocolate cake and didn’t measure out the cocoa powder, so had to start over with measuring out the flour.
  4. The math. Ratio baking requires some math. Well, if you’re doing a pound cake and following the 1:1:1:1 ratio, all you have to do is make sure everything weighs about the same. But a high ratio cake (the sweeter cakes you’re more likely to find in a bakery) is more like 1:1:2:2, which means you need to multiply by 2. Really, it’s not hard, but when the eggs weigh 97g and the sugar needs to weigh twice that…well, I don’t trust myself with adding 97 and 97, so still have to pull out a calculator. And then there’s the pesky percentage because everything should be within 20% of where it should be. So, taking the eggs that weigh 97g, the sugar should weigh somewhere around 200g, but must be within 20% of whatever 97 plus 97 is.
  5. Remembering the ratio. Making the 1:1:1:1 pound cake is super easy. All you have to remember is the one. But making other kinds of cakes require slightly different ratios. Cookies call for a 3:2:1 ratio, and I still can’t remember which ingredients are the 3, 2, and 1. I need to write them down for easy reference, but haven’t gotten around to it. And I think bread is 5:3, and that many odd numbers makes me dizzy. I don’t like math.

Don’t get me wrong; I love ratio baking. It’s fun. I feel more creative. There’s more I can experiment with. I don’t feel constrained by a recipe. The sky is the limit. But sometimes it requires far more clean up than I want to do. Sometimes I have to use a calculator. Sometimes I have to guess. Sometimes I have to hope my memory is being agreeable that day. But it’s fun.

I love being able to walk into the kitchen, decide to bake something, and then just start. Sure, it has it’s downside, but so does everything. It all comes down to whether or not you can live with it. I can live with these. It gives me so much more freedom. Of course, I’ve only done cake and cookies, so I might be changing my tune when I work my way up to bread. But I hope not.

So, tell me, have I scared you away from ratio baking or would you still give it a try?

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