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.]
Gretchen Noelle says
Gracious…thank you! I was just perusing your blog for things to do with my sourdough starter and am so confused by all the different numbers. I also recently bought a Peruvian Breads cookbook that give weight and percentages. This really helps to understand, now I will just need to put this all into practice!!
I’m lucky enough to understand and have worked with BP for many years but I think it’s really great how you’ve set this up and taken the time to help people who can find this daunting. I look forward to part two.
Every time I check in I’m always impressed by your site and what a great teaching tool and source of information it is. Thanks!
Wow, well maybe I’m getting a glimmer of understanding here. I’ve read over this idea and fiddle with the formulas so many times, it’s about time something started to make sense. Thanks once again Susan.
Yay! Finally a post to help me scale down recipes. Thank you!
Wow. That is so cool, and the way you present it, is so easily understandable. I never could understand it before, but I sure do now. This opens a whole new world as far as converintg recipes to smaller or larger amounts. Thanks!!! 🙂
Very clear and concise as always. I definitely need to start practicing with the BP & get comfortable with it. Thanks for the motivation. Happy Easter!
So funny when I first started reading this post I thought…. bakers percentage… the number of times you have failed and the number of times you have succeeded… Then I read more and realized. Yes, I have this book as well and it was SO educational for me. Its funny, I didnt much pay attention to that now I feel I must go back and read that again. (Love the bagels in the book).
maybelles mom says
Oh, very edifying post. I will likely have to read it a couple times to get it–my guess is that I will have to reread it another time to really understand it.
Caramella Mou says
I’ve never heard of this BP before, though I’ve only recently delved into serious baking and I must say, this is a brilliant concept. Thank you so very much for this post. I’ll now go through all my recipes and calculate them into BPs.
This is brilliant. You’ve broken things down into simple steps. I love your site, it’s such a great resource for bread info and recipes.
It has taken years for me to even think about wrapping my brain around baker’s percentage. (Yes, it’s true, I loathe change.) And I’ve finally paid attention long enough to see that it really is simple. Thank you for spelling it out so succinctly.
Could Baker’s percentage be done with volume measures as well? For instance, I make a biga using:
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 c + 2 tsp water
1 + 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
(1 c = 16 Tbsp = 48 tsp)
Am I correct with the following calculation?
2% active dry yeast
Elizabeth, if a system of using percentages with volume measurements is useful to you, then I see no reason why you shouldn’t use it. However, I’d recommend not calling it “Baker’s Percentage,” at least outside your own kitchen. It would be like using the word “tuba” to refer to a stringed instrument held under the chin and played with a bow — it will confuse people and hinder communication. The term “Baker’s Percentage” refers to a system that uses weight measurements.
No, I believe you’re right, Susan, I shouldn’t even think about confusing the issue by calling a violin a tuba and expect people to even begin to understand what I mean.
On further reflection, I’m not at all convinced that this would work even remotely with volume measurements. I think the following calculations are right, based on 2+1/2tsp active dry yeast being 8gm, 130ml water being 130gm and 1/2 c all-purpose flour being 66gm:
The same biga in gram measurements:
.04 gm active dry yeast
130 gm water
165 gm unbleached all-purpose flour
which would be (if I’m understanding the percentage thing correctly):
.02% active dry yeast
100% unbleached all-purpose flour
Percentages based on the weights are quite different from those based on volume measures!
P.S. If, instead of the rather inadequate spring loaded scale we own now, I had tons of counter space and a really great accurate scale that would hold our mixing bowl so I could weigh things easily without spilling them everywhere, I’d be a complete and total convert to using weights only. (How’s THAT for a run-on sentence?!)
Thats for the info
Thanksfor the info
Lisa Evko says
Thank you so much for your wonderful website! I am enjoying it very much!
I have a question – please excuse my ignorance, but, how do I do the opposite – how do I take a recipe that is written in BP and turn it in to ounces or pounds (or grams – I still have to brush up – alot! on those : ) ) Again, sorry for being slow, but, I will get it! I am confident that with a few exercises, I’ll will have it down just fine!
Thanks for your help,
Thanks for your wonderful explanations! I am thrilled to find this information. I’ve been baking using “Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day” for awhile now. I’d like to learn to scale recipes like their challah recipe. That’s an enriched dough.
All the explanations online show baker’s percentage for artisan breads or white breads. I’m guessing that sugar would be a separate calculation. But how do you count ingredients like eggs, honey, or oil? Are they separate from the water calculation?
Greetings . I just want to thank you so much now, I get it….I’m in culinary school and I was worried… I didn’t get it at first, but the way you explain it, wow.. I finally feel good about this….continued blessings from me to you…….
Thank you so much!!!!
you are the best….
May I know how do I calculate the baker’s percentage for Pizza, including toppings. Thank you.
Thank you! The way you explained it made it really easy for me to understand 🙂
Hi Do you have the calculation for converting bakers percentages to ingredient weights on here also? That would be really helpfull. I am a first year Apprentice Baker and when I started I was.. well I still am, pretty bad with maths and I couldn’t figure out how to get the ingredient weights, I already knew the percentages. I was so frusturated, My boss didnt explain it to me so I had to figure it out for myself. When I was in high school I would regularly say things like “I hate maths, I’m never going to use this crap”. If only I could go back and tell myself to be quiet and pay attention!
Cam, I cover that in Part 3 of this tutorial: http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2008/04/13/bakers-percentage-3/
I had taken cooking in college and after a long time forgot how to use bakers percentage and this is a great, concise description. I would like to add since most ingredients are easly measured by weight but water is kind of a pain here is a simple rule that will help. 1 gram of water is 1 ml of water (or 1 kg to 1 liter) now you dont have to weigh the water!
pretty easy to follow. thanks! for anyone who needs a little more info on how to use bakers percentage in more depth (figuring out the weight in pounds – from the percent, resizing a recipe using the formula conversion factor) using an easy to follow description look here: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/documents/bakerspercentage.pdf
i found it particularly helpful.
Please can you help me out, to get a formula for mixing 50kg of white flour,to manufacture white loaves.
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