Baker’s Percentage Tutorial, Part 2

A number of people left comments or sent email saying that they found Part 1 of my Baker’s Percentage Tutorial helpful. Thank you for that! And now that you know what baker’s percentage (BP) is, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do with it.

In addition to flour, most bread contains three other basic ingredients: water, yeast, and salt. One thing BP is useful for is allowing you to look at the amounts of these ingredients and get a rough idea of the kind of bread the formula will make, and whether the ingredients are balanced.

Water

Bakers often talk about the “hydration” of a dough. Simply stated, hydration is the amount of water in a formula, relative to the amount of flour. That’s exactly the definition of the BP of water. Look at this dough formula:

  • Flour 100%
  • Water 66%
  • Instant yeast 1%
  • Salt 2%

The hydration of this dough is 66% because the amount of water is 66% of the amount of flour.

Other liquid ingredients such as milk, alcohol, and juice also count towards hydration. Although these ingredients do not consist solely of water, they’re close enough that most of the time you’ll be pretty accurate in your hydration calculation of you treat them as though they were pure water. So the following dough has a hydration of about 75% (70% water + 5% milk):

  • Flour 90%
  • Rye flour 10%
  • Water 70%
  • Milk 5%
  • Yeast 2%
  • Salt 2%

If you have a recipe that’s expressed in absolute amounts rather than BP, you can still quickly calculate hydration even without converting the entire recipe to BP. Just divide the weight of the liquid ingredients by the total flour weight. Consider this recipe:

  • 700 g flour
  • 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 400 g water
  • 80 g coffee
  • (plus yeast, salt, and other ingredients…)

Here the total flour weight is 800 g and the liquid weight is 480 g, so the hydration is 480/800 = 60%.

Hydration of a dough is a critical factor in determining the nature of the resulting bread. One very important difference between a bagel and a ciabatta is that the ciabatta dough has a much higher hydration than the bagel dough. Of course other factors, such as additional ingredients and dough handling, are important too, but you’ll be hard pressed to make ciabatta from 56%-hydration dough, whereas this is very appropriate for a bagel.

Assuming you’re working with white flour, and keeping in mind that there are exceptions to everything, the following hydration ranges are typical, based on my observations of formulas I’ve seen and used.

  • Bagel: 52% – 58%
  • Sandwich (pan) bread: 60% – 65%
  • French bread: 65% – 70%
  • Ciabatta, focaccia, and other “wet” doughs: 70% and above

If the formula includes a proportion of rye, whole wheat, or other flour, the hydration will generally be higher for a given type of bread, because these flours absorb more water than white flour does.

Yeast

The percentage of yeast in a formula depends on quite a few variables (other ingredients, fermentation time, etc.), so the following ranges are quite wide, and are just guidelines. Note that, as always, percentages are relative to the weight of the flour, and we’re talking about commercially-yeasted doughs here (not sourdoughs):

  • Fresh yeast: 0.7% – 5%
  • Active dry yeast: 0.3% – 2.5%
  • Instant yeast: 0.2% – 2%

Now let’s say someone sends you the following recipe:

  • 500 g flour
  • 330 g water
  • 45 g instant yeast
  • 10 g salt

The percentage of yeast here is 9% (45/500). Yikes! Knowing what you now know about usual yeast percentages, you may want to check with your friend and see if that 45 g is correct. Did they leave out a decimal point, and should that really be 4.5 g of instant yeast (0.9%)?

Salt

The percentage of salt in a formula is usually between 1.5% and 2%.

As with water and yeast, noting the salt percentage might lead to some critical thinking. If you see that a recipe has 3% salt, did you make a mistake in your math? Did the baker who wrote the recipe make a mistake? Is s/he not very good at baking flavorful bread, and trying to compensate by using excessive salt? Or is there a good reason for it, which the baker should be able to explain and teach you something? Despite the cat’s bad outcome, curiosity is usually not a bad thing.

To sum up, looking at the percentages of basic ingredients in a formula doesn’t tell you everything, but it can tell you a lot. An understanding of the usual percentages is also helpful if you want to develop your own recipes.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about how use a BP formula to make a given amount of dough. For now, if you’re looking for a way to put off cleaning the garage or folding the laundry, try these exercises. Because I sincerely want these posts to be useful, I will be most grateful if you send questions via the comments or by email if I haven’t explained anything clearly enough.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Thanks so much for this series! I’ve been finding it very helpful since I’ve entered a bread-making phase. (I just can’t get enough, lately!) But, shame on me, I never read the intro in my copy of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It, too, mentions BP and its benefits. Since you posted the last article I’ve finally read it. Your explanation is much better, though! Perhaps I’ll have to invest in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice after all.

  2. says

    #3 You undoubtedly will show the way to figure out ferments like sourdough etc???? Oh yeah and in part four you should also….shoot this is a lot to ask!

    Thanks as always!

  3. chris in ri says

    Hi Susan

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I have been lurking here quite awhile, and have been enjoying your posts and pictures both here and on Fresh Loaf. BP question. What about rolled oats? I have a bread recipe with rolled oats, and I thought they should be included in the weight of flour, since they absorb lots of water. What is the convention? Thanks for the lessons, Teach!
    Chris

  4. says

    Jeremy, preferments do make things more interesting! That will be #4, I think.

    Chris, good question. My observation is that most of the time whole or cracked grains (bulgur, polenta, etc.) are not included in the flour, nor are seeds that can also absorb a significant amount of water. So the hydration (and sometimes salt) on these breads is higher than “normal” to account for these other thirsty ingredients.

  5. says

    Susan,
    Your lessons on BP are the clearest, most concise I’ve ever read! I’m taping the formulas to the inside of my cabinet for instant reference, and looking forward to the next installment. I’ve dabbled some in bread baking — took a class in wild yeast sourdough and I have a brick oven outside that came with the house. Your amazing website inspires me to quit lurking and start baking!
    Cora

  6. says

    Wow, thank you SO MUCH. I’m using a new bread cookbook that I like a lot (Richard Bertinet’s “Dough”), and he hydrates his dough a lot. With this post, I can figure out and compare his recipes to other staple cookbooks and see if it’s really his recipes that I like so much or just this hydration trick… a baby step towards weening myself away from bread cookbooks. Thank you so much for helping the rest of us to understand the mystery behind bread baking.

  7. says

    Susan,
    Thank you so much! This helped me a lot! Now I will have an idea of what to expect from the recipe…sticky dough…I will also see whether my foccacia conforms to the wet dough standards (It wasn’t sticky)!

  8. Jami says

    I have read about BR several times and thought I had the gist of it, but your tutorial is much better and I feel that I will finally be able to utilize this tool. Thanks!

  9. says

    Thanks a lot, everyone! You’ve given me encouragement to keep going with this tutorial, and the next installment is on its way soon.

  10. loretta says

    Hi Susan.
    I want let you know how much I appreciate your “lessons”.
    It was such a long time I wanted to understand BP, but I coudn’t make it. Your simple but complete explanations really helped me. Thank you!
    I’m waiting for the next lessons!
    Ciao from Italy.

  11. Jesse says

    would you consider sugar as a “wet” or partially hydrating ingredient, so what percentage?? or is it negligible? when figuring the hydration of the dough. Thanks!

  12. Jesse says

    also I guess if using butter which I think is about 20% water, that should also be figured into the hydration i.e. croissants dough?

  13. Doug says

    OK…late comment…but here’s my question. I’m just starting to bake with the baker’s percentage, *but* from what I read, most formulas assume active dry yeast if they just say something like “3% yeast.” I use fresh for almost everything…based on what I’ve read, the conversion from dry to fresh appears to be about 1g active dry = 2.5g fresh. (A) is this roughly correct? (B) if I use that conversion for my baking, is there anything I need to do to adjust hydration, or is this negligible in my baking?

    Thanks.

  14. ann says

    Hello Susan,

    Thank you for your lovely articles, i will like to make a snack called puffs,it is supposed to be an african snack,but i need yeast to mix it,i have a 35kgs of wheat flour and 10kgs of sugar, but i am at loss what quantity of yeast i should incorporate. I have the instant yeast type, pls help me out,thank you.

    P.S: the dough after fermentation,is supposed to be made into balls and deep fried.

  15. Stella says

    Thank you for your articles on BP as I have learned much from reading them.
    I have two questions. I am in a baking and pastry program, and one of our tests was to come up with our own artisan bread formula. As a guide we followed a baguette with poolish formula that had a 50% hydration using bread flour for both the poolish and the final dough. In our recipe we used rye flour (33%) in the preferment and bread flour for the final dough. The dough was very stiff and the baked product very dense. After reading part 2 of your article on hydration ratios, I know now why our bread turned out that way. We did not take into consideration the different hydration of different flours. You stated that when using rye flour we should up the hydration. What is the average ratio of hydration for rye, whole wheat and other whole grains?

    Also, would other ingredients like garlic, cheeses fresh herbs that are added to the dough be included in the BP when coming up with a formula?
    Thank you.

  16. Tyrone Goins says

    Hello, I just wanted to say thank you because I really find this information helpful. I wanted to ask how would you find the percentages if for instance the flour weight wasnt available? How would you also double, triple or even reduce a recipe? I have a big test in a 2 days.

  17. Lucylu says

    Great explanation of BP! I finally feel I understand it and it explains why my attempts to scale recipes to suit my requirements have not resulted in complete success.

  18. kat. says

    Thank you so very much for explaining this. I have been reading about baker’s percentage in various books, but this is the most clear explanation yet.

    One question, however. Would honey be included in the liquid calculation or as sugar. It’s fluid, especially when warmed, but I know it doesn’t contain very much water naturally.

    Thanks again.

  19. says

    Kat, honey is a sugar,and although it is about 17% water, I have not seen it routinely factored into hydration calculation. However, be aware that all sugar has a slackening effect on dough so when you add sugar the dough will feel as if water has been added, and sweet doughs consequently often have a lower hydration than other doughs. And the concept of hydration is useful as a relative term, but needs to be considered in the context of the entire dough and all of its ingredients. A 60% hydration dough with no sugar will feel and behave very differently from a 60% hydration dough with 20% sugar.

  20. lou says

    Hi, if you need to calculate the hydration using absolute amounts (grams or ounces) and the flour is in grams or ounces but the liquids are in ml, do you still calculate the hydration the same way? By dividing the weight of the liquids by the weight of the flour? Also are eggs considered to be a liquid?

    Thanks

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