When I set out to bake bread for the first time, I was given a tried and true recipe by a friend, along with some excellent verbal instruction and I set off to give it a shot. I remember getting home, looking at the recipe and being completely befuddled by the numbers and percentages that I was looking at. One of the things that I struggled with the most were the baker’s percentages and how I was to interpret them.
Baker’s percentages are basically a common standard that bakers use to communicate about different recipes and they also make it very easy to scale a recipe up or down, depending on your needs. Baker’s also use these percentages to communicate with each other about how to adjust a recipe to account for a new grain or environmental change.
As we share more and more of the information on some of our new grains with you, many of our bread recipes will reference baker’s percentages and how to hydrate your dough in light of these unique flours and their specific characteristics. With this in mind, we spent some time digging through Jeffrey Hamelman’s book, Bread. A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes and uncovered what he had to say about understanding baker’s percentages and how to compute these numbers for a specific recipe.
When using baker’s percentages, it is understood that the flour weight is always expressed as 100 percent and each ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the flour weight.
Using the same formula as Hamelman does, suppose your recipe is as follows:
Flour 75 lb
Water 49.5 lb
Salt 1.5 lb
Yeast .9 lb
To determine the percentage of other ingredients, divide the weight of each ingredient by the weight of the flour, and then multiply the result by 100 to convert to a percent.
water: 49.5 ÷ 75 = .66 x 100 = 66%
salt: 1.5 ÷ 75 = .02 x 100 = 2%
yeast: .9 ÷ 75 = .012 x 100 = 1.2%
And there you have your baker’s percentages!
Hydration is another important term that comes up in bread baking. Hydration is the percentage of liquid in the dough, using the same 100% flour weight. With the recipe above, the dough has a 66% hydration. Bakers may increase or decrease this hydration percentage to get the desired dough consistency.
With this new information in mind, a novice or an expert baker would have a better idea of how to work with a cutting edge flour like Spelt or Einkorn. It can also help bakers understand how different flours perform and how to adjust a favorite recipe to adapt to the addition of a new grain or flour. For instance, adding a whole grain flour to a recipe usually means increasing the hydration depending on what type of grain is in the mix.
Check out our 2# bags of flour so that you can take a shot at making your own homemade loaf!