Learning basic baking ratios

I recently made a batch of scones from a recipe a friend gave to me, and something was wrong with the scones. They were fluffy — they rose like a cake — and very, very bitter.

I reread the recipe and instantly knew what was wrong with it. There was a mistake, and the recipe asked for far too much baking powder. I hadn’t been paying close attention when I was adding ingredients to the mixing bowl, and I blindly followed the recipe without questioning it. When used correctly, baking powder is a great leavening agent and lifts cakes and other baked goods to beautiful heights. When used in overabundance, it makes baked goods bitter and metallic.

The recipe from my friend called for 2 tablespoons of baking powder for 1-1/2 cups flour.

Usually the ratio is just 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking powder for 1 cup of flour. (If you weigh your ingredients, it’s about 5 to 10 grams of baking powder for 140 grams of flour.)

Mistakes like writing tablespoons instead of teaspoons are very common. Knowing what to expect in a recipe can help you to identify these typos before adding ingredients so you don’t waste your time and money.

I’ve found Irma Rombauer and her family’s Joy of Cooking to be good for teaching these basics, especially the “Know Your Ingredients” section. Knowing these baking principles also are wonderful for creating your own recipes and creations.

What resources have you turned to for helping you learn these baking basics? Share your resources in the comments.

5 comments posted

  1. Posted by Julie - 02/14/2011

    I’m still learning the basic ratios, so I’m very much looking forward to what other people suggest. The only thing I can think of is the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, which I haven’t used very much but seems quite interesting.

  2. Posted by PJ Doland - 02/14/2011

    I forget where I first learned it, but I recall the flour to oil ratio for a roux should be 50/50.

  3. Posted by Jen - 02/14/2011

    I second the recommendation for Ratio, which is awesome. Also, Pam Anderson’s (no, not that Pam Anderson) How to Cook without a Book is fantastic for a whole range of cooking areas, particularly main dishes. I think it’s a great resource no matter what your level of cooking expertise, or lack thereof.

  4. Posted by Debbie M - 02/15/2011

    I’ve learned that I like a cocoa:sugar ratio of 1:1, so I started reducing the sugar in any recipe to match the quantity of cocoa used. Admittedly, I discovered this with hot chocolate, then applied it to chocolate milk and chocolate syrup. I haven’t tried it for baked goods–the sugar difference might change the consistency. Note that it’s more common to have 1:2 cocoa:sugar ratio.

  5. Posted by Hilla - 02/15/2011

    Good catch on that recipe!

    I too was going to recommend Ratio, which I am in the middle of reading right now, but I see that two others have beat me to it.

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