Traditionally, baking has relied on a formula approach to permit variable quantities of the same dough to be produced. In other words, rather than saying you’ll need 1 lb of flour and 1/2 pint of water, the recipe would be expressed by using ratios, such as 60% water to 100% flour.
In fact, the principle of the bakers percentage is to equate all other ingredients to the amount of flour in the recipe. So our recipe is based on the notion that the amount of relative flour we have is 100%, and the other ingredients are always some proportion of this.
An example should help. Let’s say we’re making a simple loaf, using flour, water, bakers yeast and salt. For one loaf, our overall loaf weight wants to be something like 900g (or 2 lb in old money) perhaps, which is the total weight of all the ingredients, basically. To make this loaf, we’d need the following:
- 540g strong white flour
- 345g water
- 10g salt
- 5g yeast
- Grand total = 900g
But if we were making 4 loaves of the above recipe, the ratios of the ingredients is the same, its just the amounts would increase. So bakers use a ratio, or percentage, approach, to describe a recipe, and the end user can then work out exactly how much they need of each ingredient based on how many loaves they want to bake.
For the above example, the percentages look as follows:
- 100% strong white flour
- 64% water
- 2% salt
- 1% yeast
So whenever you want to use this recipe, you start on the premise that your ratios of ingredients will always be relative to the weight of flour going into the dough. Because of the expressed percentages, I can always work out how much of each ingredient based on how much flour I’m using. If I’m using 800g flour, it’s still 64% of that weight in water that I’ll need, just as if it were just 540g of flour, I could still use the 64% to tell me how much water to use.