ratio 101 • the math lesson

Hello there. It has crossed my mind that sweet-lab.com may not reach as many devoted bakers or dedicated cooks as I would like to for two basic reasons: 1) I use a scale rather than measuring cups. 2) I use ratios when I bake and perhaps some people are not very familiar how to approach or understand a recipe in that way. I will try to tackle each reason and try to offer solutions to each, so that you can fully take advantage of the content of this blog.

Reason #1: I use a scale and thus present all the quantities in weight units (ounces -oz) instead of volume units (cups, 1/4 cups, 1/2 cups, etc). A lot of people out there are more accustomed to using volume units, as so was I. But I’m so glad I changed from volume units to weight units. The scale pretty much does the majority of the work for me. All I have to do is place a large empty bowl over the scale, zero it in, and start adding flour or whichever ingredient I want to weigh. I strongly recommend this method because ratios are based on weight rather than on volume units. Whether you prefer to use grams or ounces, is up to you.

Why else do I recommend that you use a scale? Like I stated before, it simplifies your life and you can measure ingredients right into your bowl. It’s also much cleaner. Instead of having to get all your measuring cups dirty when baking, you can just simply set your mixing bowl right on the scale and spoon in and weigh the ingredients individually. Remember to hit the zero button after weighing each ingredients.

For example, to make a pie dough you need  3 parts flour : 2 parts fat : 1 part water. To assemble this ratio I would place my empty bowl on top of the scale, hit the oz button or grams button (whichever weight unit you prefer) and also hit the zero button immediately, so that the weight of the bowl is canceled out. Then you can start adding the ingredients one by one by 1) pouring in the flour – hitting the zero button to reset the weight to zero 2) adding the butter – hitting the zero button to reset the weight to zero once again. Combine. 3) Adding the water. That’s basically it. I just summarized the basic procedure of how you would use your scale to follow that recipe.

Reason #2: Perhaps some people don’t feel comfortable using a ratio to set the different proportions in a recipe. What I mean is that…okay…maybe you know that pie dough has the ratio 3 (flour):2 (fat): 1(water), but maybe you don’t know what to do with that ratio. What specific quantity do I use for the flour? If I’m suppose to use 2 of fat, how many ounces is that? AAAAAAAH!!!

But relax. I’m sure there many ways to set a proportions to a recipe, but I will try to show you the easiest way I know of. Let me just pretend I’m in front of a classroom full of 4th graders for a moment to present this lesson on ratios. It will make me happy.

Let’s take the same ratio that we have been talking about. Pie Dough = 3 parts flour: 2 parts fat: 1 part water. PS-this ratio is often called 3-2-1. The ratio is its name!!

Okay let’s focus now and get our math on. These are the steps.

1. We will take each individual proportion and really understand what each number represents.

2. Make the ratio become equivalent numbers (huh?). Well, you’ll see what I mean. To do that start with the highest quantity of the ratio (flour) and set a weight unit to it. For example 3 = 12 oz. We just created that. That will be your starting point. Once you make 3 be equal to 12, setting the rest (2 & 1) will be a piece of …pie!

Okay, so 3 = 12 oz. Why 12 oz? Well, because that’s how much I want of flour. Maybe you want a different quantity. To make muffins for example, your flour may be set to 8 oz (which is 1 cup) or 16 oz (which is two cups). You get to decide how much of something you want as long as you follow the proportions and they are set in a logical manner.

So..

3. Awesome. We now know what 3 equals. Now you have to find the quantities of the other proportions (2 & 1). Very simply you will just think of the number you multiplied 3 by to get 12. In other words 3 x__= 12 ? 3 times what number will give you 12? The missing number is 4 because 3 x 4 = 12.

Okay, so now you will multiply the other proportions by 4 as shown below:

4. Now do the math. 2 x 4 = 8….so 8 oz. 1 x 4 = 4…so 4 oz.

5. Finally, we have our proportions for pie dough.

3 (flour) : 2 (fat) : 1 (water) = 12 oz flour : 8 oz fat : 4 oz water. Voila!

Feel free to practice with other ratios. Let’s do some reinforcement and do the one that we have used for the previous two recipes of sweet-lab. The quick cake ratio that I used to make the chocolate-coffee vanilla ice-cream sandwich and the blueberry-lemon stuffed cupcake is 2:2:1:1.

That is–2 parts flour : 2 parts liquid : 1 part egg : 1 part butter.

Let’s do this!!! Remember to follow the same steps as before.

1. Take each individual proportion and really understand what each number represents.

2. Make the ratio become equivalent numbers. Set the highest quantity of the ratio (flour) become a number. In this case we will choose 8 oz. Why 8 oz? Because 8 oz is about 1 cup and i think that will be a good amount.  Remember that you can choose the starting quantity as long as it’s a reasonable amount and than go from there. Okay, so 2=8 oz

3. Then you have to find the quantities of the other proportions. Think of the number you multiplied 2 by in order to get 8. In other words 2 x__= 8 ? The missing number is 4 because 2 x 4 = 8. Okay, so now you will multiply the other proportions by 4 as well.

4. Now do the math for all the proportions

5. Finally, we have our proportions for quick cake!

2 (flour) : 2 (liquid) : 1 (egg) : 1 (butter) = 8 oz flour : 8 oz liquid: 4 oz egg : 4 oz butter. Voila again!

I can’t wink, but that’s me really attempting to wink at you for kicking booty on today’s lesson on ratios. You get an A +!  For extra credit, you can bake any of these desserts that have been used as examples during our discussion on ratios. Man, I miss teaching!

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