Breadmaking 104 – Bakers’ Percentages

Cinnamon Raisen Bread!


So many people ask, “What’s up with these bakers’ percentages?? How does one loaf of bread make 175%?!”

So, I’ve come to tell you all about these bakers’ percentages. Let’s do this backwards. I’m going to tell you the summary first, and the reasons why after. It’s like a scientific paper! What is that called again? Oh yeah. The ABSTRACT! I feel like I should start all of my posts with an abstract….

Anyway! Here is my abstract: Bakers’ Percentages are the best things ever!

I guess that doesn’t help much, does it? Maybe I should reconsider my biology major…

Let’s start with Hydration.

The hydration of a bread recipe is the ratio of water to flour. For example, if you are using 10 oz flour and you add 6 oz water, you have a 6:10 liquid to flour ratio, or 60%. Typical hydration ranges from as low as 45% to as high as 80%! This is a huge, drastic difference. The first is very stiff and will be fairly dense when baked. The second is very wet, will be more difficult to work with, and will yield a light, airy loaf. Standard levels are as follows:

45-55% – These are your bagels, pretzels, and crackers. The dough is stiff and almost hard feeling. It isn’t sticky at all and doesn’t like to be stretched too much because it will rip.

55-68% – These are your sandwich breads, sweet breads, dinner rolls, and buns (of the cinnamon sort!). The dough is moderately sticky and a bit more flexible. The enriched doughs (ones that use fat in them, such as butter or oil) generally fall into this category and result in a softer crust.

68% and up – These are your “holey” breads – most are free-form (don’t use a loaf pan) and are not enriched. The dough is very sticky and loose and can be difficult to work with. But don’t be scared! Working with these doughs can actually be a pleasure and open you up to types of bread you never thought you would be able to make!

Now that we understand hydration, we can move onto the Bakers’ Percentages. The total percentage of a bread can help you see how much stuff is going into the bread. The higher the percentage, the more stuff. I know that seems vague, but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it.

The total amount of flour used in the recipe is 100%. Always. If you use a 100% sourdough starter (I’ll post about sourdoughs later), then half of the weight of the starter used is also calculated into the weight of the flour.

Any other ingredients are weighed and calculated as a stuff-to-flour ratio. So if you use 10 oz flour and 2 oz seeds, the you have 20% seeds. So your bakers’ percent is now at 120%. Add in the water (let’s say you have a 60% hydration dough), and you’re at 180%. If you got crazy and added some applesauce, you might be up above 200%.

Back to the stuff. So the less amount of stuff you have in your recipe (such as a recipe that calls for just flour, water, yeast, and salt – like french bread!), you will have around a 160% recipe, depending on what hydration you used. The more stuff you use will hike up the percentage.

Percentages are also useful because they give you the ability to see the fat content of your dough. Doughs without any added fat will be very crusty and light. Enriched breads generally have up to 12% fat, lending a heavier bread with softer crust. Anything above that falls into the dessert bread category, in my opinion (think brioche and cinnamon buns! mmmmm).

The final and most useful application of bakers percentages is the ability to make whatever size loaf you want. As long as you know the percentages of flour-to-stuff, you can re-size that recipe to be perfect for you. For example, say you have a recipe that makes a 2-lb loaf, but you only have an 8×4 loaf pan (perfect for a 1.5 lb loaf). Well, simply use 3/4 of the flour you would have needed and recalculate the rest of the ingredients using your handy percentages! It may seem confusing at first, but definitely gets easier and helps a TON in the long run.

The only thing about using Bakers’ Percentages is that weighing ingredients is absolutely necessary. This requires you to buy (or pull out from storage) a good, accurate scale. I use the Salter Maxview Scale and I love it. It works every time and I don’t have to worry about how hard I packed my flour that day. And it really eliminates a lot of dishes that would have gotten dirty if I had needed to measure them all out! In other words, get yo’self a scale! You’ll thank me some day, I promise!

Question of the day: What’s your favorite kind of bread? Do you make it, or should I work on posting a recipe for it?


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