Firstly, what is the baker's percentage?
The baker's percentage is a way to state the ratio of ingredients to one another by weight.
Bakers refer to the amount of water (and other ingredients) in dough using a percentage system, where each ingredient in a recipe (formula) is specified as a percentage and is given by comparing the weight of that ingredient to the weight of the largest ingredient, usually the flour weight, which is always represented as 100%.
For example, lets use a basic white bread recipe with the following ingredients:
- 500 g flour
- 330 g water
- 5 g dry instant yeast
- 10 g salt
The calculation for percentage is: ingredient weight divided by total flour weight then multiply by 100.
- Flour: 500 ÷ 500 = 1.00 x 100 = 100%
- Water: 330 ÷ 500 = 0.66 x 100 = 66%
- Yeast: 5 ÷ 500 = .01 x 100 = 1%
- Salt: 10 ÷ 500 = .02 x 100 = 2%
Now the recipe or formula expressed in Bakers Percentage:
- 100% flour
- 66% water
- 1% Yeast
- 2% salt
With gluten free baking several flours are used but still the combined total flour weight will always be 100%.
What are the benefits gained by using baker’s percentage:
- The measurements in baker’s percent are calculated by weight, ensuring consistent results and highly recommended for gluten free bread baking.
- Baker’s percentage can be used to quickly change hydration levels to account for changes in flour consistency (greatly important for gluten free baking as many flours are used)
- can also be used to identify problems in a formula (i.e., if it is not balanced or if certain ingredient amounts are too high or too low).
- make an educated guess about the kind of bread you'll get from a formula by working out the hydration amount using the bakers percentage.
- 66% (water percentage) x 500 g (flour weight) = 330 g (water weight)
Once you have an understanding of the bakers percentage it becomes very useful for gluten free baking as there are many flours used and the hydration (water amount) of the dough is normally higher than regular bread so you are able to calculate the exact weights and amounts of each ingredient and balance your recipe accordingly.
The follow on from bakers percentage is Bread Hydration. Bread hydration is the weight of the liquids relative to the weight of the flour, the hydration level helps the us predict the texture of the crumb. Crumb is a term that bakers use to define the inside of the bread. The crumb is the pattern of holes inside of a loaf.
To calculate the hydration level of a conventional recipe, divide the total liquid weight by the total flour weight and then multiply the result by 100.
- 330 g (liquid weight) ÷ 500 g (flour weight) = 0.66 x 100 = 66% (hydration level)
NOTE: Liquid ingredients include water, milk, alcohol, and juice. Oil or other fats don't count towards hydration.
50% - 60% HYDRATION
Dough texture: Stiff, very firm, dry and satiny; not tacky.
Yields: dense crumb in breads such as bagels, pretzels.
Bagels traditional have a dense tight crumb creating a chewy texture. They are one of the least hydrated doughs and are extremely stiff which gives their distinct texture and appearance.
Dough texture: Standard, tacky but not sticky; supple.
Yields: a denser, closed crumb, in breads such as sandwich bread, rolls, French and other European breads.
As hydration increases, the hole structure of the crumb gets larger and more irregular. Artisan breads generally have at least a 60% hydration level. White sandwich bread, French bread, and challah, use around 60 to 65% hydration. The dough starts to be a bit more tacky, but also more extensible. These doughs can hold their shape well, but also allow for a greater volume in proofing (rising).
70% - 85% HYDRATION
Dough texture: Rustic, wet, sticky.
Yields: an airy crumb and large, irregular holes, in breads such as ciabatta, focaccia, pizza.
An Artisan Bakers baguette has 70% hydration. On the higher end of the spectrum you have breads like focaccia and ciabatta, which could be 65 to 80% or more hydrated. These doughs are extremely sticky and need careful shaping. They might need a bit more bake time than usual prevent the inside from being gummy.
Above 85% HYDRATION
The extra large hole structure of ciabatta's is caused by very high hydration levels and long fermentation times. Holes this large are considered difficult to achieve in the craft of baking. A bread with holes this big is not considered a good sandwich bread because the filling might leak out the holes and be messy.
The hydration percentage for gluten free bread doughs will be higher compared to bread with gluten, but the philosophy still applies just the same. Gluten-free flours are heavier and absorb more moisture than wheat flours, so they need a bit more liquid and in addition the binders also absorb water. Usually the dough is "looser" with more hydration and will rise more easily than a stiff loaf. A percentage of 80-100 would be suitable for a gluten free sandwich loaf compared to a gluten sandwich loaf of 60 - 70%. Baking times need to be a lot longer given the high hydration. Baking around 60 minutes, to an internal temperature of 210°F.