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Perhaps it was a mix of societal messaging and my own impatience, but I always shrugged math and science off as subjects that didn’t concern me. Numbers made me sweat. Not for a lack of effort, I had to take behavioral stats TWICE in college and only got a C- on my second laborious go around. I approached math classes with a mix of resentment and utter confusion in high school. My sophomore year of high school, I escaped the last quarter of chem to study abroad in Australia. Had I stayed, I surely would have failed the class.
But my quest to understand how food works have changed my tune. As it turns out, the foundation of cooking and baking is entirely numbers and cause and effect. The flavor of that crispy, pan-fried chicken skin we love so much? It’s a product of science: the beloved maillard effect. The fluffy beauty and lightness of a good meringue? Also an artful blend of timing, temperature, ratios, and method.
And while I’ve come to respect and honor the process of cooking/baking, I really hate being chained to a cookbook. Instead, I like to think about food in terms of foundational elements: what purpose do eggs serve in a recipe (a binder, a fat source, etc)? What about butter (fat, texture)? Does the temperature matter (yes, yes it does)?
Enter Ruhlman’s Ratio. In my quest to become a cook that thinks on her toes, I’ve come to love his anti-cookbook approach. Instead, he posits, that all we need to be successful in the kitchen is a few key foundational ratios. Once you understand what they are, and how the ingredients work together, you suddenly have the keys to unfettered creativity in the kitchen.
My favorite (and simplest in my opinion) of the ratios is the pate brisee. Add a teaspoon or two of sugar, you have a pate sucree. This recipe is stupid easy to remember. While the ratio does require some understanding of methodology (don’t worry I’ll explain), it’s so easy at its surface that even my dog could remember it if incentivized with enough treats.
Ready for it?
Ok, here it is: 3:2:1. Three parts flour. Two parts butter. One part water. Whether you wish to make two quiches or twenty apple pies, this ratio will apply. For the sake of simplicity, the recipe I’ll be showing you yields two crusts. I like to use one for somethin sweet, like my blueberry pie bars, and the other for something more practical/utilitarian, like a quiche (which, by the way, is an amazing meal prep food). The dough keeps well in the fridge for up to a week but can be used after 60 minutes of chilling. Some sticklers will tell you otherwise, but I’m usually more concerned with shoving pie in my mouth than waiting ridiculous amounts of time for a perfectly flaky crust. Besides, a 60-minute chill will bring you pretty damn close all the same.
Pate Brisee (Basic Pie Dough)
Using Ruhlman’s tried and true 3:2:1 ratio, this is the only pie dough recipe you’ll ever need. Perfect for sweet pies, savory tarts, quiches, and the rest of em. Makes two servings.
- 12 oz flour (I use half all purpose, half whole wheat)
- 8 oz cold unsalted butter (cut into 1-inch cubes )
- 4 oz water (the colder the better )
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-2 tsp sugar (optional. i like a more savory crust but this will add a little sweetness, which works well for pies and sweeter recipes)
Add dry ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until pea-sized clumps form. You can use your hands, just be sure to work quickly. We want the butter to be as cold as possible to create those flaky layers.
Slowly add your water until the dough just comes together into a ball. Divide into two disks and wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for 30-60 minutes.
If using the dough right away, set your oven to 350. Remove a disk from the oven and roll out to desired shape on a floured surface.
From here, the future is yours.