Q: In A Trio of Bread Books, you mention "Baker's Percentage". What is it and how does it work?-- Pat R.
Baker's Percentage is a notation method for bread recipes. Using Baker's Percentage, the amount of each ingredient is given as a weight, stated as a percentage of the total weight of flour used. For example, a simple white bread recipe* might read something like:
In this example, the weight of sugar used would be 2.61% of the weight of flour.
There are a few advantages to using Baker's Percentage. First, it is uniform. All of the ingredients are weighed, which reduces variations from factors such as settling of ingredients (see Sifting Flour). Second, the recipe is easily scalable, especially when you are working at bakery size lots. Using 50 pounds of flour? Then you need 50 X 5.23% = 2.615 pounds of butter. Easy!
Also, the recipe allows you to predict something about the nature of the bread. Standard breads, such as the one above use about 57% to 65% water to flour ratio. A more open bread, like Italian Ciabatta, has a higher water content -- 65% to 80%.
Finally, the formula allows you to go backwards from a target batch. If you want to make 200 - 2 pound loaves of bread, start by totaling all of the percentages above. It comes out to 173.93. The batch would weight 400 pounds, so it would take 400 / 176.72 X 100 = 229.98 pounds of flour, 1.52 pounds of powdered milk, and so on. In practice, the numbers would be rounded up or down to something more convenient, maybe 230 pounds of flour and 1½ pounds of powdered milk.
In home bread making, however, there are a few shortcomings. Most people aren't used to measuring ingredients by weight, and may not have a kitchen scale to do it with. Even if they do, their scale is probably not sensitive enough to weigh some of the ingredients, like the yeast. For a singe loaf, the above recipe would use something like 18 ounces of flour, which is the equivalent of about 4 cups. The amount of yeast, then, would be 18 X 0.72% = 0.13 ounces of yeast. My own kitchen scale, which is pretty much standard, is only accurate to within 0.1 ounces, so I couldn't measure 0.13 ounces with any reliability at all.
Some books on bread making try to avoid these problems by giving measures in volumes, weights and Baker's Percentages, or some combination. I personally prefer to use the percentages, and then convert back the smaller measured ingredients, like the yeast, into teaspoons and tablespoons, or parts of. If you want to do that, here are a few useful conversions:
|All-purpose flour||4.5 oz||1||cup|
|Powdered Milk||1.0 oz||3||tbsp|
|Salt (table)||1.0 oz||4||tsp|
|Yeast (Active)||0.1 oz||1||tsp|
|Yeast (Instant)||0.11 oz||1||tsp|
The amount of yeast in the above recipe, then would be 1 1/4 teaspoons.
This article was originally posted in August of 2005. A number of values have been changed since that version. My thanks to Mark Williams who sent me an email pointing out that the math in the original version was wrong.
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