Designing Bread

As you could probably tell from my last post, after years of making bread I decided to delve a bit more deeply into the science behind the art. So, armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous (those who know me well are aware that I never read the instructions through to the end before I start assembling something), I set out to design a batch of bread.

Bread is basically just flour, water, salt, and yeast in various proportions with stuff often added for flavor. The ratio of water to flour, called hydration, plays a major role in determining the texture of the final product. In general, the higher the hydration level, the stickier the dough and larger the holes in the finished bread. Dense, chewy bagels have a hydration level between 55% and 58%. French baguettes usually are around 60% hydration while no-knead ciabatta can be as high as 75%. Since I wanted a fairly soft bread for toast I chose 62%, which is typical of American loaf bread. The baker’s percentage of salt is typically 2% and that of yeast between 1% and 2%. Too much yeast can make the bread unpleasantly sour and, some say, prone to going stale quickly, so it is best to err on the low side. The worst that will happen then is that it will take longer to proof the dough. Thus far our bread recipe, in baker’s percentages, looks like this:

Flour

100%

Water

62%

Salt

2%

Yeast

2%

 

The most common additions to basic bread are sweeteners and fats. A bit of sugar helps the bread toast nicely and some oil or butter makes its texture smoother. From experience I have found that a baker’s percentage of 4% is about right for each. Milk is also a popular ingredient in bread. Whole milk is 87% water, 4% fat, and 9% milk solids so the amount of water and fat in the recipe should be adjusted accordingly. Many professional recipes call for non-fat dry milk which is assigned its own baker’s percentage, usually around 4% or 5%. I sometimes use skim milk interchangeably with water and just ignore the solids. For this recipe I used 5% dry buttermilk powder bringing it to:

Flour

100%

Water

62%

Salt

2%

Yeast

2%

Sugar

4%

Oil

4%

Dry milk

5%

 

Eggs add richness and color to bread but they complicate the calculations. The easiest way to deal with eggs, at the expense of getting the weight of dough exactly right, is to calculate the weight of the ingredients without them then adjust the amount of water to compensate for however many eggs you add. I generally use one egg per kilogram (2.2 pound) of dough. A typical large egg weighs 50 grams of which 76%, or 38 grams, is water.

Since I have decided to make four 500-gram loaves I can calculate how much of each ingredient I need from the formulae in my last post. Using a total baker’s percentage of 179% if find that for 2000 grams of dough, I need 1117 grams of flour, which I round up to 1120. That makes my recipe:

Flour

1120 grams

Water

695 grams

Salt

22 grams

Yeast

22 grams

Sugar

45 grams

Oil

45 grams

Dry milk

55 grams

Total

2004 grams

 

Now I add three eggs weighing a total of 152 grams of which 115 grams is water. To compensate I reduce the amount of water to 580 grams which makes my final recipe:

Flour

1120 grams

Water

580 grams

Salt

22 grams

Yeast

22 grams

Sugar

45 grams

Oil

45 grams

Dry milk

55 grams

Eggs

152 grams

Total

2041 grams

 

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