If you bake bread, sooner or later you’re going to encounter (cue ominous music) Baker’s Percentage. Did I just strike fear in your heart? No doubt about it, this can be confusing, even scary, stuff. But it really doesn’t have to be.
My first brush with Baker’s Percentage (BP) came a few days after baking my first loaves, as I was perusing my newly-acquired copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I saw these weird sidebar versions of all the recipes in which the total of the ingredients always added up to more than 100%.
My first thought: Huh? Wow, this fellow really needs a math lesson.
This was followed pretty quickly by a second thought: Mr. Reinhart is a rock star baker and he’s managed to get quite a few books published; just maybe he knows a little more than you do about this, my dear. Maybe he’s on to something.
Lucky for me I had that second thought. It turns out that this convention, which to my knowledge is unique to bread bakers, is both straightforward and useful.
With a grasp of BP and a bit of knowledge about basic dough formula parameters, you can:
- easily scale recipes to make the exact amount of dough you need
- compare different formulas
- quickly discern whether the ingredients in a given formula seem to be balanced
- make an educated guess about the kind of bread you’ll get from a formula
- understand how professional (and many amateur) bakers talk about their formulas
So, what is this Baker’s Percentage? It’s a way of listing the ingredients in a recipe (formula) where the amount of each ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the total amount of flour in the recipe, by weight. Now don’t panic, we’re going to break this down into simple steps.
First, though, I need to emphasize how critical the “by weight” part is. If you don’t weigh your ingredients, and my rant-cum-post on the subject a couple of weeks ago didn’t convince you, stop reading now; BP will not be useful to you.
OK, it seems you’re still with me, so let’s consider a straightforward example. (You may want to grab a calculator; that’s not cheating.)
Let’s say we are making a simple white bread with the following ingredients.
- 500 g flour
- 330 g water
- 5 g dry instant yeast (DIY)
- 10 g salt
(Note that the amount of each ingredient is specified in grams. You can use ounces, pounds, whatever, as long as the units are consistent for all ingredients. This is very important. I like grams.)
Now we’ll convert this recipe to a BP formula.
First we note the total amount of flour in the recipe: 500 g.
Now we look at each ingredient in turn. We want to know how much of that ingredient there is, relative to the 500 g of flour. The calculation for percentage is always
ingredient weight divided by total flour weight
then move the decimal point two places to the right
So we have:
- Flour: 500/500 = 1.00 = 100%
- Water: 330/500 = 0.66 = 66%
- DIY: 5/500 = .01 = 1%
- Salt: 10/500 = .02 = 2%
So now our formula, expressed in BP, is
- 100% flour
- 66% water
- 1% DIY
- 2% salt
Note that the BP by itself doesn’t tell us the absolute amount of each ingredient (that will depend on how much dough we want to make), but does tell us the ratio of each ingredient to the main ingredient, flour.
If the formula has more than one type of flour, it’s only slightly more complicated. Consider these ingredients:
- 500 g white flour
- 400 g whole wheat flour
- 650 g water
- 5.4 g DIY
- 18 g salt
- 200 g sesame seeds
The total amount of flour is 900 g (500 g white flour + 400 g whole wheat flour). Again, look at each ingredient to find its percentage relative to the total 900 g:
- White flour: 56% (500/900)
- Whole wheat flour: 44% (400/900)
- Water: 72% (650/900)
- DIY: 0.6% (5.4/900)
- Salt: 2% (18/900)
- Sesame seeds: 22% (200/900)
Notice that the percentages of the flours always add up to 100% (56% + 44%).
I’m going to let this sink in a while. I’ll be back in a few days with another installment, for those who would like to know more about what to do with all these percentages now that you can calculate them.
In the meantime, in case you want to be as geeky as me, click here for a few practice exercises.
[Update: Here’s Part 2.]