When it comes to baking, percentages and amounts are important. There is a reason that recipe you found says to use 1.5 teaspoons of yeast. Not 1, not 3, not “that looks like it would be enough”, but 1.5 teaspoons. That being said, based on your kitchen’s conditions sometimes things might need to be adjusted. When that happens you need to know what and how to adjust in order to be successful.
I love baking bread, but it has been at or over 100 degrees for the past several days. Given that I still have plenty of bagels in the freezer I am in no way compelled to bake anything this week, although I did want to make some pita bread (perhaps next week). Always trying to find the silver lining I thought I would turn this stifling heat into an opportunity to talk about a few more of the specifics of bread baking, mainly baker’s percentage.
Baker’s percentage is a way of expressing the amount of each ingredient in a recipe relative to the amount of flour. So, if a recipe has 1000 grams of flour, 600 grams water, 40 grams of yeast and 20 grams of salt, the percentages would look as follows…
With a baker’s percentage, flour will always be 100% as it is a way to measure relative proportions. You may also see the term hydration, which refers to the specific percentage of water. So, a dough that is 60% hydrated has a 6:10 ratio of water to flour.
If you venture into sourdough, remember that your starter has both water and flour and to include that in your percentages. For example, the 70% hydration sourdough I made has a baker’s percentage that looks like this…
|Flour (Bread and Wheat)||500 g||67%|
|Flour (Starter)||250 g||33%|
|Water (Starter)||250 g||33%|
You’ll notice that the flour (750 g total) still adds up to 100%. But since I added 500 grams of a starter that is 50% flour, I had to take that into account. The total amount of water (525 grams) is 70% of the total amount of flour, hence 70% hydration.
So why does this matter? A few reasons. First, knowing and understanding percentages makes multiplying recipes much easier (as does using the metric system). Second, it allows you to adjust a recipe and understand when and why something should be adjusted. Say you’re making bread in the humid paradise that is Tallahassee, Florida (I’ve never been there but that’s all I’ve heard about it). You are probably going to need 2-3% less water to finish the recipe, whereas you might need more if you pick up and move your kitchen to Arizona.
Lastly, the relative percentage of ingredients helps classify what type of bread you’re making. A few weeks ago I got home from work and wanted to make a quick pizza dough for dinner. I didn’t have a recipe handy but knew I needed only close to a cup of flour and wanted it to be a high hydration (around 65 or 70%). So into a bowl I measure out 100 grams of flour (around 8/10th of a cup), 65 grams of water, 2 grams of salt and 2 grams of yeast (yeast/salt percentages vary based on recipes, but this was what I remembered from previous doughs I had made) And voila! A delicious and quick pizza dough that required only a scale to measure on.
Different breads of course have different hydrations. The bagels I made this weekend started as a very stiff and dense dough, around 50-55% hydration. The sandwich bread I make on a regular basis runs around 57-60%. As I mentioned earlier, the sourdough was 70%. So knowing the baker’s percentage for a recipe and associated hydration can help a lot when troubleshooting a recipe or just creating one on the fly.
I have found this guide from Stella Culinary to be exceptionally helpful. It also details other ways to classify breads, which is very helpful when trying to improvise a recipe.