What is Baker’s Percentage?

If you’ve spent any amount of time around artisan bread making, especially the world of sourdough, you likely have heard of hydration percentages. For example, someone might have told you their recipe for sourdough is in the 80 percent hydration range. If you are like us, you likely were left wondering where they got that number from, because if you look at the ingredients list, things just don’t add up. Or at least not in the way you might think. And this might be why you found your way here. But, regardless of why or how you got here, we have you covered!

Baker’s percentage, which is also called baker’s math, is an ingenious yet simple way to both develop and share a recipe in a way that is easy to scale. Baker’s percentage works by expressing all ingredients in a recipe as a percentage of the weight of flour used. The amount of flour in a recipe represents 100 percent, while all other ingredients are measured as a percentage of the weight of flour.

Don’t think of it as a pie chart in which all ingredients add up to 100 percent. Rather, think in terms of a bar chart where the amount of flour represents what 100 percent is, and all other ingredients are measured up against and expressed as a percentage of the amount of flour being used. 

Since measuring ingredients by weight doesn’t require added conversion rates as volume does (how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon again?), baker’s percentage is most often expressed in weight. It is a far simpler method for measuring and altering recipes. As an added bonus, weight is more accurate as well. Many often assume, like we did in the beginning, that measuring is all about being ultra-accurate. It’s nice to be accurate, but it really is so much easier to express a recipe in weight. Now that we are developing our own recipes, we completely get it!

Let our resident know it all, Professor Levain, explain it as only he can, or read on for more detail.

What Does This Look Like?

You’re probably begging for an example at this point, so let’s assume we have a recipe expressed in baker’s percentage to be 100 percent flour, 80 percent water, 10 percent leaven (starter), and 2 percent salt. Which is a fairly common high hydration sourdough recipe. On a side note, simply swap out 10 percent starter for 1 percent yeast, and drop 80 percent water to 70 percent water and you have a fairly typical commercial yeast artisan bread.

Most recipes will give you the measures of ingredients needed, and not the baker’s percentage, but most of those recipes employ the percentages. So let’s work in the same way. The first thing we must do is determine the amount of flour needed, and the way we do that is we determine how much bread we want. A typical artisan loaf of bread calls for 500 grams of flour. But, for this example, let’s assume we want two loaves. So, we grab a bowl and toss in 1000 grams of flour which will yield two loaves.

Now, with that decision, we have just set our bar for 100 percent flour at 1,000 grams and everything else will be compared to 1,000 grams. Next up is 80 percent water which would be 800 grams because 80 percent of 1,000 grams is 800 grams. Continuing on from greatest to least, 10 percent leaven would be 100 grams, and finally, 2 percent salt would be 20 grams.

Still want to see more examples? We don’t blame you, take a look at the sourdough and commercial yeast examples I mentioned above as 1 and 2 loaf recipes:

Sourdough – 2 Loaves
100% = 1,000 grams (Flour)
80% = 800 grams (Water)
10% = 100 grams (Starter)
2% = 20 grams (Salt)

Sourdough – 1 Loaf
100% = 500 grams (Flour)
80% = 400 grams (Water)
10% = 50 grams (Starter)
2% = 10 grams (Salt)

Commercial Yeast – 2 Loaves
100% = 1,000 grams (Flour)
70% = 700 grams (Water)
2% = 20 grams (Salt)
1% = 10 grams (Yeast)

Commercial Yeast – 1 Loaf
100% = 500 grams (Flour)
70% = 350 grams (Water)
2% = 10 grams (Salt)
1% = 5 grams (Yeast)

And to show just how flexible and simple this percentage is, let’s assume we want a slightly larger sourdough single loaf of bread. Perfect if two loaves would be overkill for your family size, but one isn’t quite enough.

Sourdough – Large Loaf
100% = 650 grams (Flour)
80% = 520 grams (Water)
2% = 13 grams (Salt)
10% = 65 grams (Starter)

Simple! Altering amounts takes seconds.

Why Baker’s Percentage?

By expressing recipes in baker’s percentage, there is far more flexibility in altering a recipe, especially for quantity. This is especially helpful for bakeries that need to make 200 loaves on a busy Saturday, but maybe just 75 on a lazy Tuesday.

Also, having a standard in which recipes are expressed, allows for greater comparison, discovery, and mastery, which leads to better exploration and creativity which ultimately leads to better bread. 

Since thinking of recipes in terms of baker’s percentage, we’ve been able to better understand what characteristics in our bread are altered when tweaking each percentage, which has given us the confidence to branch out into developing our own recipes. And that right there is something we never thought, when we started this whole journey, would be something we’d ever say.

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