Have you ever tried making a recipe at home, only to find that it didn’t quite turn out as expected? Or maybe you wanted to make a double or triple batch, but it tasted much different than the first time you made it? This can often happen in baking when measuring out ingredients using teaspoons and cups rather than by weight. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of baker’s percentage and how it can help you achieve consistent results every time you bake.
What is Baker’s Percentage?
You might be surprised to learn that measuring ingredients using volumetric units like cups or tablespoons is inherently inaccurate. Your eyes have the final say in how much stuff is actually in that cup or spoon, and even two separate measuring cups of flour that look identical to the eye can contain different amounts due to differences in density. But don’t worry, there’s a better way to measure and this is where baker’s percentage comes in.
Professional bakers and pastry chefs use a system of measurement called baker’s percentage or baker’s math, which is based on weights and percentages to provide exact measurements at any scale. In the baker’s percentage, each ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the total weight of flour, with the total weight of flour always being 100%. This system allows for accurate scaling and provides familiar terminology that bakers find useful.
For example, a sourdough loaf may only contain four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and starter (yeast). Using baker’s percentage, a formula for one sourdough loaf may be expressed as follows:
Ingredient Percentage (%) Weight (g)
- Flour: 100%, 500 g
- Water: 70%, 350 g
- Salt: 2%, 10 g
- Starter: 20%, 100 g
If you want to bake a larger loaf or multiple loaves, you only need to adjust the amount of flour and the other ingredients accordingly. This system allows experienced bakers to work with formulas rather than recipes, giving them more flexibility and control. For example, if a baker wanted to develop a slightly larger loaf using this system, they might use 600 g of flour, 420 g of water (600 x 0.7), 12 g of salt (600 x 0.02), and 120 g of starter (600 x 0.2).
Baker’s Percentage Terminology
As briefly mentioned above, baker’s percentage also provides familiar terminology that can help bakers understand a recipe better. For example, hydration refers to the percentage of water used in a batch of dough, and inoculation refers to the percentage of starter used in a batch of dough. A loaf baked using the formula above may be described as one of 70% hydration, with an inoculation of 20%. Knowing the background behind this terminology could theoretically help you alter your recipe to get the results you’re looking for.
A Little Background
We first learned about baker’s percentage through a friend who had been using the concept to bake sourdough bread for a while. After taking an interest in not only sourdough bread making but also the science of baker’s percentage, we wondered if it was possible to somehow connect this to our waffle recipes. We finally stumbled upon a helpful video which was posted by Chef Jacob Burton that described a baker’s percentage formula for sourdough waffles. Since then, we’ve started using baker’s percentages when developing our waffle batters and it has made a noticeable difference in the consistency, texture, and overall flavor of our waffles.
Here’s a formula we commonly use for our waffle batters:
- Flour: 100%, 500 g
- Hydration: 110%, 550 g
- Fat: 30%, 150 g
- Binder: 20%, 100 g
- Sweetener: 15%, 75 g
- Salt: 2%, 10 g
- Chemical Leavener: 6%, 30 g
- Vanilla Extract: 2%, 10 g
Let’s go over some of the terminology used in this formula before we move on.
Flour: Flour refers to all flours used in the ingredients, whether it’s wheat or gluten-free, and does not include other powdered ingredients like chemical leaveners or sweeteners.
Hydration: In waffle recipes, hydration usually comes from milk or milk substitutes, but you can also use water if your batter has enough fat from other ingredients.
Fat: Fat is an essential ingredient that provides flavor, texture and prevents sticking. Butter or oil are the most commonly used sources of fat.
Binder: Binders like eggs or vegan eggs made from ground flaxseed can be tricky to measure precisely. A medium-sized egg weighs around 50g, so for this recipe, you’d need two.
Chemical Leavener: Baking powder is the most commonly used leavening agent, but if you're using other leaveners like commercial yeast or sourdough starter, you'll need to adjust the percentage to your liking
Getting Started with a Digital Scale
Digital scales are super handy because they can weigh ingredients with 1-gram accuracy, convert between units, and even weigh ingredients separately from their containers. Once you have your scale, you can start using baker's percentage to measure out your ingredients.
Here's how it works. Take a recipe you want to use, and figure out the weight of the flour called for in the recipe. Let's say it's 240 g for 2 cups of flour. You would note this weight as 100%. Then, for each additional ingredient, measure the weight and calculate the percentage of that weight relative to the weight of the flour. For example, if you measure out 170 g of milk for the recipe, your hydration percentage would be 71% (170 g ÷ 240 g).
If you're used to measuring ingredients by volume (like using measuring cups), this might take a little getting used to. But once you start using baker's percentage, you'll wonder how you ever baked without it! And don't worry if you don't have a recipe that uses baker's percentage–you can easily convert any recipe using this technique.
So go ahead and give it a try next time you're baking. All you need is your digital scale and ingredients (and trusty waffle iron in this case), and you'll be on your way to more accurate measurements and delicious baked goods. If you feel stuck, there are plenty of helpful videos online that you can check out.