Baking Class: Ratios


I went to a baking class today! The class was based on Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio, and we all got a copy of it to take home. It was called “Baking with Ratios not Recipes” and was a lot of fun.

We started with eggs and sugar.


Not those eggs. Those are the whites and the shells, We used the yolks.

eggs with butter and big whisk

We whisked them with sugar to make Creme Brulee as well as the chocolate pie filling. It’s all about the other things you add and the temperature at which you cook it and use it. And check out that ginormous whisk! Unwieldy, initially, but ultimately effective.

The creme brulee was easier than I expected. Plus: ramekins!

pouring creme brulee


with crisp top

That’s the one I got to use the blowtorch on . I was nervous about it but determined to try and it was very rewarding watching the sugar burn into a delicate crust. Eating it was pretty rewarding too, although I limited myself to a few spoonfuls because of the pie.

Did I say pie? Oh yes, part of the class was about learning to make a pie crust. Now I don’t really make pie, as a rule. I’ve made a peanut butter pie for my own birthday with a graham cracker crust (yum) but I don’t like fruit pie so I don’t have much use for pie crusts. Or at least I didn’t, until this pie came along.

There were some casualties — not my fault! I swear! This was one egg accident I had nothing to do with.

egg accident

The chef herself, Gisselle Madariaga, knocked the eggs over. They were beautiful blue eggs, but alas, they did not make it to the pie crust. More eggs were procured, the pie crust was mixed, and just like on tv, an already created batter was taken out of the fridge as if by magic so we could work with it.

pie crust dough

What you can’t see, which is what that shadow is, is that we were told to whack that pie crust over & over with a large (think almost baseball bat-sized) rolling pin. Well, maybe more like baseball bat thickness and weight, if not length. There was a lot of whacking and I missed it all. After the whacking, there was rolling.

pie crust dough

Then Gisselle rolled the crust over a rolling pin and slapped it on top of a disposable pie plate. She cut off some of the excess, but not all of it, so she could fold it under at the rim and and make a nice thick (doubled) layer at the edge. Then she showed us how easy it was, using no tools other than your hands, to make a pretty pie crust edge.

pie crust edge

pretty pie crust

Those were put away for future use, and she took out a different pie crust to show us what could be done with the pie filling we’d made earlier. This was the same egg & sugar mixture we’d used to create the creme brulee with some changes, the most notable one being the addition of chocolate.

chocolate in bowl

chocolate pie

Oh, and then there was whipped cream, too.

adding whipped cream

spreading whipped cream

And she topped it off with some cacao nibs,

finished pie



So that’s what I ate instead of the whole ramekin of creme brulee. I think I made the right choice. People don’t make chocolate pie for me very often.

And we also made cookies! We made a very basic cookie dough, then added peanut butter, chopped pecans, and chopped chocolate pieces.

cookie batter

We didn’t measure any of the add-ins, just put some in, stirred, looked, put more in, stirred, looked, added eggs when it got too dry, stirred, and baked. They came out great.


They were almost cakey in terms of the dough itself, with these great little morsels of flavor. I didn’t taste the peanut butter much, but it provided a nice undertone.

The other thing we made, which probably took the most time, was the pâte à choux. These are hollow little pastries, I’m most familiar with them as profiteroles, with cream or custard inside, but we kept them hollow but added grated gruyere to the dough itself and sprinkled it on top as well.

dough for pate a choux

grating cheese into pastry bag

using pastry bag

pate a choux on silpat

adding cheese on top

As for the finished product, not only did I forget to take a picture of them at the class, I took some home and we all ate them before I discovered that I didn’t have one. In fact I’m pretty sure I popped the last one into my mouth at about midnight lat night. D’oh.

It was a great class. Sur La Table, which is where it was, is also a store, and although I find them highly overpriced, I got a 10% discount and had a gift card from Dave, so I bought a bunch of fun things and ended up only spending another six dollars.

Gisselle answered a ton of my questions about honey vs. sugar, vanilla bean paste vs. extract, ways to get great textures using whipped egg whites and whipped egg yolks, and more. Being a pastry chef, she had little interest in yogurt instead of butter, and felt it was not a good idea, but of course I have already discovered otherwise. That’s okay. She’s making gorgeous pies and cakes and pastries and wonderful desserts and doesn’t have to be concerned with such things. I don’t blame her, she seems to be having a blast. And she loved teaching this class.

This is her:

Gisselle Madariaga at the Sur La Table baking ratios class

I loved it. I learned some good techniques and will definitely use them, even if I don’t plan to make pâte à choux anytime soon. And while the ratios thing might not be of HUGE help with my muffins and quick breads, I think I’ll just start a baker’s notebook, not only noting the changes I make to recipes so I can blog them, but also doing experiments and seeing how they turn out. Maybe I’ll just have to improvise a lot more and take more risks so I can learn what happens when I do.

Here are some of the tips I picked up:

  1. Crack eggs on a flat surface, like a countertop, instead of on an edge. You can avoid getting eggshell shards that way.
  2. When creaming butter and sugar for cookies, you can get a lighter, cakier texture if you cream them past the point of “light and fluffy” to an almost frosting-like texture.
  3. Pastry bags work best folded over your hand so you can scrape the batter in more effectively. When using the pastry bag to make something like pate a choux or a meringue cookie, hold the pastry bag in one place as you squeeze instead of swirling it around.
  4. Vanilla bean paste is even better than vanilla extract, and you only need half as much.
  5. You can swap out honey for sugar in an equal amount, and you don’t have to adjust other ingredients. (I do believe you have to be more attentive to baking times, though. This needs more research.)

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