Baker’s Percentage

At one time or another we have all been faced with the need to scale a recipe to make more or less of something. If that recipe is written using customary US units of volume, doing so involves juggling fractions. Even without math errors the results can be unpredictable because measuring dry ingredients by volume is notoriously inaccurate. The weight of a cup of flour, for example, can vary by 10% or more depending on how firmly it is packed. Fortunately digital kitchen scales are inexpensive and every serious cook should have one. Converting recipes to mass or weight makes the math much easier and the outcomes more consistent. I prefer to use metric units to avoid the complication of converting between pounds and ounces, but so long as you are consistent either system of units will work. To convert a favorite recipe, simply weigh each ingredient that you have measured out volumetrically and note the weight in your cookbook. You will get a more accurate conversion if you do this several times and average the weights.

Professional bakers, who need to scale quantities all the time, developed a parametric system of measures for their recipes. Called Baker’s Percentage it expresses the mass or weight of each ingredient as percentage of the amount of flour. So a dough calling for 1 pound of flour and 1 cup of water would specify 100% flour and 50% water. Note that the flour percentage is always 100% and that of every other ingredient is calculated by:

 

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As an example, here is the ingredient list for my Everyday Bread with baker’s percentages. Note that the total of the percentages, called the formula percentage, is 167%.

Unbleached white bread flour

680 grams

2 pounds

100%

Warm water

340 grams

12 ounces

50%

Dry milk powder

35 grams

1¼ ounces

5%

Honey (or sugar)

30 grams

1 ounce

4%

Salt

15 grams

2 teaspoons

2%

Active dry yeast

15 grams

2 envelopes

2%

Canola oil

30 grams

1 ounce

4%

 

This recipe makes 1145 grams, about 2½ pounds, of dough. If I wanted to make 2 kilograms of dough, the formula mass, I first determine the amount of flour I will need using:

 

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In this case:

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Using the first formula I calculate the new ingredient list:

Unbleached white bread flour

1197 grams

100%

Warm water

598 grams

50%

Dry milk powder

60 grams

5%

Honey (or sugar)

48 grams

4%

Salt

24 grams

2%

Active dry yeast

24 grams

2%

Canola oil

48 grams

4%

 

I could do the same calculation in customary US units for 5 pounds of dough, but the result is messier:

Unbleached white bread flour

3 pounds

100%

Warm water

1½ pints

50%

Dry milk powder

2½ ounces

5%

Honey (or sugar)

2 ounces

4%

Salt

5 teaspoons

2%

Active dry yeast

3 Tablespoons

2%

Canola oil

¼ cup

4%

 

Rather than doing all the math yourself, you can use one of the many  baker’s percentage calculator online.  

And now I need to go make a few loaves of bread!

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