First things first: Go to the page Toolkit and read about digital scales because I’m going to be talking about ingredients in terms of weight here.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I want to talk about baker’s percentage. If you hate math and numbers, maybe you can learn to accept these because they will definitely improve your baking probably.
Baking is a science. Baking is chemistry. Baking is precise which, I think, is why people shy away from it. I have made many a cookie and received many a compliment on the results. While I do appreciate the kudos and obviously deserve the praise because I’m a rockstar (duh), so much of baking success comes from following the recipe. Like, seriously, probably 80%.
It’s like singing. When people tell me “Oh no, I can’t sing,” I tell them “Everybody can sing! That’s the beauty of it, we’ve all got the equipment.” This has yet to actually inspire any friend of mine to sing, but hopefully I can inspire you to give baking a try. Because any person can do it, even without all the fancy tools that I like to insist you buy.
Boy, am I getting off topic.
So, baker’s percentage. If you ever get your hands on a fancy pants bread book (like The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart), you’ll notice that, next to the ingredients and their weights, all the recipes have percentages.
What follows is my attempt to explain why.
Total Flour Weight (TFW) is 100%
35 ounces all-purpose flour? 35 oz = 100%
15 ounces all-purpose flour and 5 ounces whole wheat? 20 oz = 100%
The percentages of other ingredients are determined by dividing their weight by TFW
(Ingredient weight ÷ Total Flour Weight) × 100 = Ingredient %
Ingredient % × Total Flour Weight = Ingredient weight
Water usually comes in between 55% and 70%
Hydration is one of those things that you need to see as a heavy suggestion. If you live somewhere humid, you’ll likely need less water than the recipe calls for. On days with 90% humidity, I’ve used 14 ounces of water in a recipe that calls for 17 ounces, and any more water would have rendered the dough unworkable.
Yeast usually makes up around 1% of Total Weight
This is for instant yeast, and that’s what most home bakers use. I swear I’ll fill in the page Tiny Burps soon.
Salt shouldn’t really come in over 2%
You need salt, salt lends flavor and helps with gluten development, but too much salt with kill your yeast. Nobody wants that. It’s sad.
*By the way, yeast and salt are sometimes easier to just measure by volume, with a measuring spoon, because the quantities are so small.
A loaf of ciabatta will have a different formula than a loaf of sandwich bread, and I didn’t get into enriched doughs/fat percentage, but we’ll save that for later. This is just an overview that I’ll refer back to occasionally.
You may decide this whole concept is a waste of your time, that you’ll just follow the recipes, please and thank you, and that’s totally fine. You’ll still be able to make good bread.
If you find that your interest is piqued, I’m super glad because understanding the formula allows you a lot of freedom. You can adjust recipes with a higher likelihood of success and that’s great for everybody! You’re gonna go far, kid.
This blog post was made possible by the wonderful, explanatory words of:
“Baker’s Percentage.” King Arthur Flour, www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/bakers-percentage.html
Reinhart, Peter. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. Ten Speed Press, 2016.