Ratio-Inspired Pound Cakes

slices of blueberry pound cake
Not long after I read about Michael Ruhlman's new book Ratio, I bought a copy. As the subtitle explains, the book is about "The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking." Its purpose is to reveal those codes and show those who cook and bake how they can use them. I enjoyed reading and learned a lot from Ruhlman's previous book, The Elements of Cooking, so I was very interested to see what I could learn from Ratio.

You may have guessed from reading my blog that I usually follow recipes -- from time to time, I will alter them, but it's very rare that I just make things up on a whim. It's something I'm working on, and I do best with throwing together pasta dishes with random ingredients.

Ratio takes recipes and pares them down to their simplest pieces. By knowing that cookie dough, for instance, is 3 parts flour, 1 part sugar, and 2 parts fat, a baker should be able to create any kind of cookie. I definitely liked the idea of this, and I really hoped that Ratio could take me to that next level of cooking and baking, breaking the chains holding me to my recipes.

For my first Ratio-inspired project, I decided to make pound cakes. My original plan was to work through the book from beginning to end. However, after reading a couple chapters, I found some adorable Maine blueberries at Whole Foods that compelled me to skip ahead. I wrestled with choosing between quick bread and pound cake, and eventually I went with pound cake because I wanted something sweet, somewhat dense, and moist.

just-baked blueberry pound cake
Pound cake is 1 part butter, 1 part sugar, 1 part egg, and 1 part flour. I wish I could say that I was able to see this ratio in action, but a kitchen scale is still high on my wish list. I followed Ruhlman's recipe (agh... here I go back to following recipes), which calls for 8 ounces of each of the main ingredients (and some salt and vanilla). But I couldn't measure in ounces (due to the lack of a scale), so the idea of the ratio was there, but the actual ratio was not readily visible. And I'm a visual person when it comes to "math," so two sticks of butter and 1 1/4 cups of flour don't look the same to me -- even if they are both 8 ounces.

It reminds me of that trick question: Which is heavier? A pound of feathers or a pound of gold? You want to say gold because you'd think it would be heavier based on appearance, but a pound is a pound.

Regardless of my problems with understanding ratios, the cakes were delicious. I'm looking forward to making them again once I get a scale and really trying to apply the theories from Ratio to my baking... and eventually to cooking (stocks, sauces, etc., also follow ratios).

I used the basic pound cake recipe Ruhlman supplied (minus lemon and lime zest) and then divided the batter to make four mini loaves. I added blueberries to two of them, a layer of cinnamon and brown sugar to another, and chocolate chips to the last one.

pound cake with chocolate chips
After the cakes cooled, I drizzled slices of the blueberry one with a glaze of lemon juice and confectioner's sugar.

slices of blueberry pound cake
My first experience with Ratio was completely worthwhile. That cinnamon loaf disappeared before I could even get a picture of it! And this is not the last you'll hear about this book and concept because I plan to master it, or at least master it at a basic level.

What about you? Have you checked out Ratio yet? Do you follow recipes, or do you rely more on your own creativity -- or some of both?