Baker's Percentages - Description, Examples & Spreadsheet

Introduction

Many visitors who bake breads visit The Artisan. While some are professional bakers, most are not. We assume that almost all strive to be better bakers. One way for all of us to do this is to standardize what we do so that others may follow and improve upon it.

Throughout the years we  have learned a number of  interesting things that have helped us become better bakers. One is that professional bakers do not use "recipes". They use "formulas". These formulae are calculated and expressed as percentages. This method is referred to as The Baker’s Percentage method. While it means doing a bit of simple math, mathematical agility is not a prerequisite. To make things easier for visitors, we have included a Java based spreadsheet (by Intrepid Technology Inc.) on The Artisan.  To go to the page holding information about the spreadsheet, click on the blue arrow. .

Baker's Percentages

Each ingredient in a formula, including the liquids, is measured by weight. By using weight, the amounts of various ingredients can be directly compared to each other. The metric system is more precise and less confusing than the weight and measure system ordinarily used in the United States. In the metric system, units of weight and measure are based in increments of 10. This makes it easier to both calculate and resize formulas.

The reason it is important to weigh flour is that the texture of various flours and the degree to which they are compacted affect how much or how little space they may take up. Weighing flour leaves less room for error. Flour is the main ingredient in the baker’s percentage, and as such is considered 100%. If more than one flour is used in a formula, the combined total is 100%. As an example, in a formula calling for 400g of unbleached all-purpose flour and 100g of whole wheat flour, the unbleached flour would be stated as 80%, the whole wheat flour as 20%, and the combined total of 500g of flour as 100%. The weight of each ingredient, other than the flour, is expressed as a percentage of the total flour weight. In other words, each ingredient in a formula is independently calculated and shown as a percentage of the flour in that same formula.

As an example, the following is the baker’s percentage, is applied the to Direct Method #1 formula for "Pane Casereccio", a bread posted on The Artisan:

 Unbleached All purpose Flour 500 g. 100% Water 360 g. 72% Salt 10 g. 2% Yeast 9   g. 2% TOTAL (Dough) 879 g.

Direct Method #1 for "Pane Casereccio" was presented on this site without the baker’s percentages. The percentages could be calculated as follows: Since we know that the amount of flour is 100%, dividing the amount of water by the amount of flour (360/500) results in a percent water figure of 72%. Dividing the amount of salt by the amount of flour (10/500) results in a 2% salt content. Divide the amount of yeast by the amount of flour (9/500) and the result, rounded off to the highest percentage, is also 2%. None of this is exact from a mathematical perspective, so it is always best to round up, rather than down and have a bit more, instead of less of an ingredient.

Starters are usually treated in the same way as other ingredients. However, some formulas calling for starters base percentages on the weight of all the flour in the final dough (including the flour in the starter), not the amount of flour used to make the final dough. When the starter is made as part of a specific formula, or when the proportions in the starter differ greatly from those in the final dough (biga, for example), this alternate method can be more appropriate.

As an example, the following is the baker’s percentage, as applied to Indirect Method #1 formula for "Pane Casereccio":

Biga

 Unbleached all-purpose flour 100 g. 100% Water 60 g. 60% Yeast 2 g. trace TOTAL (Biga) 160 g.

Final Dough

 Unbleached all-purpose flour 500 g. 100% Water 360 g. 72% Salt 10 g. 2% Yeast 9   g. 2% Biga 160 g. 32% TOTAL (Dough) 879 g.

Not only does the baker’s percentage simplify the expression of a formula; it makes it much easier to resize a formula. Once the percentages are known, the calculations are simple and straightforward. For example, if the baker wants to use 1500 g (or 1.5 kilograms) of unbleached all-purpose flour for Direct Method #1 for "Pane Casereccio", the formula is as follow:

 Unbleached all-purpose flour 1500 g. 100% Water 1080 g. 72% Salt 30     g. 2% Yeast 30     g. 2% TOTAL (Dough) 2640  g.

This result was derived by multiplying the weight of the flour (1.5 k = 1500 g) by the percentage for the other ingredients, i.e., 1500 g * 72%, 1500 g * 2% and 1500 g * 2%.

Understanding and using the baker’s percentage has increased my skill as a serious bread baker. Not only can I calculate (scale) and resize any recipe, I now have an increased understanding of the relationship of each ingredient to the other in a recipe. This has been especially important relative to hydration or water content.

The following chart was taken from Special and Decorative Breads by Roland Bilheux, Alain Escoffier, Daniel Herve and Jean-Marie Pouradier.

Hydration (Water Content)

The consistency of bread dough is a function of its moisture content. Below is a rough chart relating consistency with percentage water content.

 Consistency Water Content Stiff & Dry 58 to 60 % Firm & Tight 60 to 62% Modestly Firm 62 to 63% Malleable 63 to 64% Soft 64 to 65% Soft & Sticky 65 to 67%

In general, recipes or formulae for American style breads usually fall in a 60 to 62% range. Those for French style breads between a 62 to 65% range, and Italian style breads upwards of a 68% range. The higher water content in Italian dough is what accounts for its sometime description as "slack".

Hydration or water content can not be considered alone, but rather in relation to the type of flour in a recipe. Different flours have different rates of water absorption. For instance, whole-wheat and rye flour absorb more water than does white flour. This is largely due to the nature or kind of protein present in the flour. As an example, the amount of protein in wheat and rye flour is similar, but when rye flour is made into a dough by the addition of water, the gluten that is formed is not the same as when wheat flour is treated in the same manner. The same holds true for the difference in dough made with white as opposed to whole-wheat flour.

There are other factors to take into consideration when working with the baker’s percentage, since each ingredient has its own function as part of the final dough.  One, Dough Ratios, is  on The Artisan in its own section.

Last updated on: 01/25/00 08:11:52 PM