The math of baking: Baker’s Percentage

Baker’s percentage is internationally used to express formulas for baked products such as bread, cookies, cakes, scones, and most any product where flour is the primary ingredient.  Baker’s percentage is used among bakers across the whole world. Its usability has several reasons, especially it eases the work and clarity while baking. Does it sound like something completely new to you ? Don’t worry, in this article baker’s percentage will be explained. In addition you will learn:

  • What is the typical range of water, salt and yeast in relation to the flour content
  • How you can use baker´s percentage to compare your doughs
  • How baker’s percentage is different from building your dough recipe per litre fluid

Baker’s percentage, also known as baker’s math, or baker’s formula is a way of expressing the proportions of flour, water, yeast, salt and other ingredients in a recipe. If we want to achieve consistent results within baking and better understanding how the dough behaves, then a small repetition of mathematics will be of great use. But forget about the percentage you learnt in school, this works differently but still accurately and it makes things easier.

How it works

Learn how to calculate baker's percentage.

Let’s start with the main key to understand this tool. Baker’s percentage always scales the percentage from the total amount of flour. This means that any and all flour in the recipe is always 100 %. 

Then you can use these percentages to work out your recipe precisely for the set number of loaves of bread or to create your own particular recipe. After all, you may find, that the flour you use, needs different amount of liquid than the standard recipe.

There are a few key reasons why to use baker’s percentages. With this tool you are able to:

  • Easily scale recipes to make the exact amount of dough you need
  • Compare different formulas
  • Quickly recognize whether the ingredients in a given formula seem to be balanced
  • Make an educated guess about the kind of bread you will get from a formula
  • Understand how professional (and many amateur) bakers talk about their formulas

Typical range of the main ingredients

Flour

Whatever type of flour you use, it will always be expressed as 100 %. But there is an important thing to remember. Different types and brands of flour absorb water differently based on how much protein they contain. The absorption of flour varies from grain to grain and from season to season. The same brand of wheat flour may absorb more or less water depending on the moisture in your kitchen or where the flour was stored.

A high percentage of protein means a harder flour best suited to chewy, crusty breads and other yeast-risen products. Less protein means a softer flour, best for tender and chemically leavened baked goods, like cakes, cookies, and biscuits.

Higher protein flour absorbs more water than lower protein flour. This means, that a recipe which calls for bread flour may require more water, than the one that uses all-purpose flour.

Water

Hydration is the amount of liquid used in a recipe including all fluid ingredients (water, eggs, oil). Hydration plays a very important role when baking bread. It affects the process of growing and also it influences the final shape of bread. It is important to take into consideration the type of flour you use, because then the water baker’s percentage will likely change as mentioned above. In general, the more water is in the dough, the more open the bread’s crumb will be. Based on hydration we can split doughs into different categories based on their consistency: Stiff, Standard and Rustic.

Yeast

Fresh yeast is easy to use and available at most supermarkets. Use from 1 % for standard bread up to 4% for sweet doughs.

Salt

Salt is essential for flavour, possible to use sea or rock salt. Usually from 1,8 % to 2,3 %.

Why building the dough based on flour and not fluid is better

Some bakeries have a practice of building their recipe based on how much fluid they are using. For example, for every liter of water, they will use 1,6 kg flour, 30 gram salt, 50 gram yeast and 200 gram oil. Following this approach, these bakeries will never be able to increase hydration without also increasing the salt content. It makes it also more difficult to experiment with different levels of hydration, as the water to flour content is more or less constant.

By flipping the coin and letting flour content be your starting point instead of water, it becomes easier to understand and compare your recipes.

Let’s take a look at two examples in which both are based on 1 liter of water.

Example of two doughs and its calculation.

They are both expressed in relation to 1 liter water. With this overview, it is harder for us to have meaningful comparisons of the two doughs. How salty are they and what is their hydration when comparing the two of them?

Let’s transform them to baker’s percentage:

Transformation of the calculation into a baker's percengate based on how much salt and hydratation both doughs consist of.

First of all, we can notice that they are both low in hydration. We can also see that one of the breads is a little bit saltier than the other. Now, we can modify hydration without impacting salt, or vice versa, and it has become easier to compare the two recipes.

Learning the basics:

Let’s go now through a simple calculation based on flour. A typical recipe knowing the percentage might be:

Flour 100 %

Water 70 %

Fresh Yeast 1%

Salt 2%

If we use 1000 grams of flour, then to get the weight of the other ingredients, we use this formula: 

Baker's percentage formula.

So, for one kilo of flour the weights would be:

Flour: 1000 g

Water: 70 / 100 = 0.7 x 1000 = 700 ml of water

Fresh yeast: 1 / 100 = 0.01 x 1000 = 10 g of yeast

Salt: 2 / 100 = 0.2 x 1000 = 20 g of salt

Let’s go now through another calculation.  Knowing the grams this time and transform it to baker’s percentage:

Bread flour 832 g

Whole wheat flour 174 g

Water 760 g

Salt 20 g

Fresh yeast 8 g

Note 1: Total weight of flour: 1 006 g.

Note 2: The amount of each ingredient is specified in grams. You can use ounces, pounds, whatever, as long as the units are consistent for all ingredients.

We want to know how much of each ingredient there is, relative to the 1 006 g of flour. Baker’s percentage is then calculated this way:

Baker's percentage formula.

For example:

Bread flour 832/1006 = 0,827 x 100 = 82,7 %

Bread flour 832 g = 82,7 %

Whole wheat flour 17,3 %

Water 75,55 %

Salt 2%

Fresh yeast 0,8 %

A few important things to note:

  • if you sum up all the flour percentages you’ll get 100% (82,7 % + 17,3 %) — and this is always true with baker’s percentages: the total flour always adds up to 100%
  • if you sum up all the percentages you’ll get more than 100%

Why weighing pays off

Illustration of weighing flour

It is always better to weigh ingredients for accuracy. For example, if a recipe calls for a teaspoon of an ingredient are all teaspoons the same? Is it heaped or flat? Even graded eggs weigh different amounts. Adding an egg that weighs 50 gr will give different results to one that weighs 60 gr. This is where you need to use metric measurements when weighing your dough not imperial pounds and ounces. You can use millilitres and grams interchangeably. So always weigh rather than guess.