The Beginning Steps for Amateur Bakers

In my several years of home baking experience I have started to rely on four fundamentals – 1. baker’s percentages are vital to truly perfecting recipes; 2. measure ingredients by weight, not volume;  3. use grams instead of ounces; 4. dry active yeast is only used when there is no another option, which is never.

Over the next few blogs I am going to discuss each fundamental in-depth starting with Baker’s percentages.

Baker’s percentages are approached from many angles. You can start with percentages and determine ingredient quantities; start with ingredient quantities and determine percentages; change written recipes to percentages; adjust recipes by percentage; etc. etc. All have great benefits. Most recipes that are developed by professional bakers or home baking enthusiasts will come with baker’s percentages. These percentages are usually given with the weight measurements and are used for reference, adjustments, scaling and more. If you don’t have them on your recipes, don’t worry. We can make our own.

The easiest way to understand them is to see examples.
Let’s look at a very typical lean dough. This dough is used to form many different types of loaves by making small adjustments to the ingredients or the technique. For purposes later in the blog I’m going to call this dough French Bread.

French Bread Ingredient           Percent
Bread Flour           100
Water                        70
Salt                              2
Yeast                          0.5
Total                    172.5

Determining Ingredient Quantity From Percentages

These numbers have everything you need to weigh ingredients for your bread. Let’s say you want to make two 600g Boules, or round loaves. With some pretty basic math we can figure out exactly how much of each ingredient we need.

Since we are making two 600g boules, the “total weight” of our dough is 1200g.

(Size of the desired loaf) x (amount of loaves) = Total Dough Weight

or

600g x (2 boules) = 1200g

Using the total weight of 1200g and the percentages from the recipes we can figure out how much of each ingredient we need.

The first step gives you a number I call the flour factor. You may see it referred to as a variable, like X or Z or just unknown. We start with the “total percentage.” For this recipe it is  172.5. We took this number directly from our recipe above.

(total percentage of flour) / (total recipe percentage) = Flour Factor

100 / 172.5 = .5797 (always round up)

Next we take our flour factor (.58) and multiply it by our desired dough weight to find how much flour we need.

(flour factor) x (total dough weight) = Flour Weight

.58 x 1200 = 696 grams of flour

a simplified equation would read:   1200 x (100/172.5) = flour weight

Not too bad right? One of the benefits of this technique is scaling, which means increasing or decreasing the recipe size. Say you are making french bread for a party and your guest list increased by 30 people. All of a sudden you need to make 13 more loaves. Baker’s percentages can bail you out.

(amount of loaves) 13 x 600g (weight per loaf)  = 7800g

7800 x (100/172.5) = 4522g of flour

Now that you are able to find the amount of flour the remaining ingredients are much more straight forward. We will continue with the 13 loaves at 4522g of flour.

Our chart said we want our dough to have 70 percent water, or what bakers refer to as hydration. To find 70 percent hydration we simply multiply

(flour weight) x (percentage of ingredient) = ingredient weight

4522 x .70 = 3166g of water

and we can follow this for the rest of the ingredients

4522 x .02 = 91 of salt

4522 x .005 = 23 of yeast

To double-check our work, add each ingredient weight. It should roughly equal our total dough weight (plus or minus a few grams for rounding)

4522 + 3166 + 91 + 23 = 7802g

to double-check even further

7802/13 (amount of loaves) = 600g per loaf

Remembering my fundamentals — always work in grams and recipe math, recipe adjustments and actually weighing ingredients will be much more accurate and very simplified.

At this point, maybe you are just a hobby baker or you bake your mum’s special portuguese sweetbread on special occassions. Maybe you’ve received so many rave reviews about the bread you want to make 20 loaves to sell at the local flea market or give to friends. The second benefit of these percentages is:

Converting written recipes to percentages (for scaling and adjustments)

Since we have already made it through the basics of percentages I will post the formulas with less explanation.

Let’s look at Peter Reinhardt’s pizza napoletana

Ingredient           Quantity      Percent
Flour                           574             100
Salt                                13
Yeast (instant)             3
Water                          397

Flour is 100 percent. Calculate the percent of all the other ingredients by dividing the ingredient weight by the flour weight.

13/574 = Salt   |   3 / 574 = Yeast |   397 / 574 = Water

Ingredient           Quantity      Percent
Flour                           574             100
Salt                                13                 2.2
Yeast (instant)             3                  0.5
Water                          397               69

Wait a minute! Aren’t those percentages almost exactly the same as our french bread recipe? Get out of here! In this recipe, a little more salt provides more extensibility and a slightly longer fermentation period, but we will get into that later!

Now that this recipe is in percentages, scaling and adjustments work exactly the same as before.

The last benefit I will talk about is pretty uncommon to the home baker. The only time I’ve used it is when I’ve neared the bottom of my flour container. I didn’t want to throw any away so I scaled the recipe to fit my ingredients.

Know Percentage and Amount of Flour – Scale Other Ingredients

If you haven’t caught the train yet  you simply take the amount of flour you have to use and multiply it by the percentages in the recipe. You’ve scooped your last scoop and you have 793g of flour and you are making pizza napoletana.

793 x .69 (water)  = 547g 793 x .022 (salt)   =    17.5g 793 x .005(yeast) =     4g

And there you have it. Your total dough weight (adding all the ingredients) is equal to 1361g. You can make four 340g pizzas and you’re ready for dinner.

The depth of baker’s percentages goes far. Scaling large-scale recipes or designing new recipes rely very heavily on understanding preferments, hydration levels, enzymes, types of flours used and many other variables that can all be understood with percentages. I will post further details in another post, but I will leave you with one last tip.

Adjustments
Different ingredients act differently. That means if I make a pizza napoletana in my kitchen at my elevation and relative humidity using Pillsbury AP flour, it will hydrate — absorb water — differently, stretch differently and shape differently than someone using Antima Caputo “00″ flour.

Percentages help make adjustments by not affecting other ingredients. Antimo Caputo is a more finely milled flour than a typical Sir Lancelot King Arthur bread flour. Caputo absorbs less water. 69 percent hydration for caputo should look “wetter” than KA bread flour. You can adjust percentages easily to make a consistent dough for each type of flour. Caputo may only need 64 percent hydration. Simple and easy, I hope.

If you have any questions feel free to email me, follow me or find me on www.thefreshloaf.com @ username dwfender.

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