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Baker’s Percentages and Hydration

Understanding baker’s percentages helps you to understand how to adapt a bread recipe and how to change a recipe from one loaf to multiple loaves. But, for me the most important thing baker’s percentage helps me with is to understand the hydration of the dough. Or, in other words, how much water I should add and how the dough will feel.

In baker’s percentages the weight of the flour is always 100% and every other ingredient is measured against that. The example below shows my simple white bread recipe:

Weight of ingredientsBaker’s percentage of ingredients
500g strong white flour100%
5g easy bake yeast1%
10g salt2%
340g water68%
Table 1 Simple White Bread

My brown bread recipe, using two different flours, would be like this:

Weight of ingredientsBaker’s %
250g strong wholemeal flour50%
250g strong white flour50%
5g easy bake yeast1%
10g salt2%
375g water75%
Table 2 Brown Bread Recipe

You can see that the two flours in the brown bread recipe together make 100%. If you were using three different flours, their total weight would also be the 100% that every other ingredient is measured against.

If your flour always adds up to 100% then you can take any recipe and alter it suit your own needs. The recipe might make one loaf and you may want to make three. In that case you will take the flour and times it by three and that will become your 100%. So in the case of the simple white bread this would be 1.5kg flour, then work out 1% yeast*, 2% salt and 68% water based on that weight of flour.

If you have been given a recipe by a professional baker they might give you one that looks like the 2nd column – 100% flour, 1% yeast, 1.5% salt and 74% water. You can then take this recipe and work out how to make 1 loaf, 3 loaves or 100 loaves.

*don’t forget that yeast can be reduced to allow your dough to rise more slowly.

Understanding baker’s percentages and how much water should I add?

Understanding Baker’s percentages helps me understand how much water I should add. If I see a recipe for a loaf with 70% hydration I know what that will look like as a dough and as a finished loaf – it will be similar to my simple white bread. A dough made with 80% hydration is going to be wet and sticky if it’s white flour, or not so wet and sticky if it’s wholemeal flour. Bagels require 50-55% water to achieve that characteristic chewy texture. I know that bagel dough is going to be harder to mix because it will be so much drier. A ciabatta might require 85-100% water. I know that dough will require a different way of developing the dough to when I am making a simple white dough. With a dough this wet, I will need to do stretching right out of the bowl or use my stand mixer. Once you start thinking about dough in baker’s percentages you begin to understand hydration percentages. Then it becomes easier to work out how you will handle that dough.

Hydration and oil and fats?

Oil and fats coat the flour rather than hydrate the flour. For this reason they are not included in the calculation for hydration ratios. So, an olive oil dough for a pizza recipe would look something like this:

Weight of ingredientsBaker’s %
500g strong white flour100%
5g easy bake yeast1%
7g salt1.4%
340g water68%
20g olive oil4%
Table 3 Pizza Recipe

The hydration percentage for the pizza recipe would still be 68%, as it would for the simple white bread. However, the dough will have a different feel to it because of the added olive oil.

Butter and lard contain small amounts of water but these tend not to calculated in the hydration percentage as they are negligible. The dough will feel different to handle when you have butter and fats included. It is also a good idea to hold back some of the liquid and add it in small splashes as you are mixing so that you don’t end up with a wet dough that is difficult to handle.

Milk, Juice, Eggs and Honey

However, milk and juice do hydrate the flour so these will be counted as part of the hydration %. Eggs should also be included in the hydration % as they contain about 75% water. So, if you are being strict about it you would add 75% of the weight of the egg to the hydration percentage. I tend to just add the whole weight of the egg to make it easier and then hold back some of the other liquid in my dough and adjust whilst mixing to get the texture I am looking for. Honey also contains some water, about 20%, so remember to factor that in. Again, I tend to hold a bit of the liquid back for splashing in as I need to.

You can learn more about bread making with my online masterclass Bread Made Easy. I take you step by step though the process transforming you from a novice to a confident bread baker.

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