It’s time for another math lesson. Today: Baker’s Percentages.
If you’ve ever watched a reality TV show like ‘Top Chef’ or a similar cooking show where people compete against each other, you might wonder, “How do they just whip up a batch of muffins without a recipe?” or, “How did they just make those crepes from scratch just perfectly?”
It probably has to do either with the fact that they’ve memorized a specific recipe, or, more likely, that they’ve memorized the ratios of a certain dough or batter. For example, a typical basic pie dough is 3-2-1, meaning there are 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, and 1 part water. So whatever amount you want to make, you’ll always have the correct ratio of flour to butter to water. You can use ratios like these to modify a recipe quickly, make up your own recipe, or change the amount of dough you are making.
Baker’s Percentage is basically working with ratios of the common ingredients we find in the bakeshop, like flour, sugar, yeast, water, salt, milk, and eggs. A basic bread recipe has four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. So, if we take a recipe for French bread and break it down, here’s what it looks like:
flour: 4 cups
water: 2 1/2 cups
salt: 1 tsp
yeast: 1/2 tsp
First, we need to convert all quantities into the same unit. We know that there are 48 teaspoons in a cup, so that makes:
flour: 4 cups
water: 2.5 cups
salt: 1/48 cups = 0.02 cups
yeast: 1/2 times 1/48 = 0.01 cups
Flour is always 100%, so we set 4 cups as 100%. Then, we calculate what percentage of 4 cups all the other quantities are, which makes:
flour = 100%
water = 2.5/4 x 100 = 62.5%
salt = 0.02/4 x 100 = 0.5%
yeast = 0.01/4 x 100 = 0.25%
Now that we know the percentages of the ingredients in the recipe, we can set the amount of dough we want to make at any amount, and still keep the same percentages. Whether we want 1 lb of dough or 20 lbs of dough, the ratios will always stay the same, and as long as we weigh (scale) the ingredients correctly, the dough should come out properly. And don’t underestimate my inability to scale out ingredients, because I’ve already screwed up multiple times in class, even though I did the math right.
Anyway, let’s say we want 5 lbs of dough total. Since flour is set at 100%, we’ll start by figuring out that amount first, and then go from there. So we have:
5 lbs is to 163.25% as x lbs is to 100%
x in this case is the amount of flour we will use in the recipe. So we cross-multiply and divide, which looks like this:
(100% x 5 lbs) / 163.25% = 3.06 lbs, which gives us 3.06 lbs of flour
Now, all we have to is find the rest of the ingredients:
water: 3.06 lbs x .625 = 1.91 lbs
salt: 3.06 lbs x .005 = 0.02 lbs
yeast: 3.06 lbs x .0025 = 0.008 lbs
total: 4.998 lbs, basically 5 lbs
I hope this explains Baker’s Percentages adequately. Once you get that there is more than 100%, these things come in handy!