Writing about bread making, I have found that there are many people who are intimidated by the math involved in the craft. This is why this week, I finally decided to tackle the topic once and for good — while keeping the explanation light on words so that I won’t confuse you any further.

The Baker’s Percentage Cheat Card

When I say “math for bakers”, what it really means is this: baker’s percentage.

If hearing the word percentage scares you, you are not alone — which is a shame, as actually the word not only misrepresents the concept, but also scares many aspiring bread makers from giving the method a try.

To explain the idea at a glance, I have created this small infographic. I hope you’ll find it useful:

Baker's Percentage Cheat Sheet

When I showed the card above to my brother, he suggested changing the word “percentage” into “fraction.” I don’t know if that would make it sound any less like math, but what it could do is make it clear that when speaking of baker’s percentage, we are not talking of those pie charts where 100% is the full pie — or in our case, the entire bread dough — and each ingredient is a slice of that whole.

Rather than seeing 100% as the entire dough, when dealing with this concept of math for bakers, 100% is the measuring stick to which everything else is compared: flour.

In baker’s percentage calculations, all ingredients are presented in comparison to the weight of the flour in the dough.

For example, if the amount for some ingredient is expressed as 50%, you compare it to the flour and see that you need half the weight of flour of this ingredient.

Experiment Yourself

Modern technology gives us handy tools to work with formulas and learning new ideas. One such tool is BreadStorm, an application for storing and converting bread formulas, developed by a passionate couple of amateur bakers Dado and Jacqueline Colussi.

To give you a chance to experiment with the baker’s percentage calculations from above, here is a simple recipe which I have exported to BreadStorm’s interactive formula format. Try scaling the formula to different flour weights and see how that affects the other ingredients in the recipe:

Ask Questions

If you still have questions about math, let me know. I will do my best to answer all of them and then, if I see that some of the questions should be addressed in the infographic, I will update it accordingly.

Finally and most importantly, don’t let the math keep you from baking. Things like baker’s percentage can be handy tools, but that’s all they really are: tools. You can use tools to make your bread making process more reliable, but if a tool is not working for you, don’t force it. You can still make great bread without it.

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  1. Great infographic Jarkko. difficult call on where to put the apostrophe either works but I think Bakers’ percentage as the method belongs to all bakers.
    As an Englishman trying to resist the growing tide of americanisation I tend to take umbrage at ‘Math’ and prefer ‘Maths’ maybe that’s just me though!
    Got to keep the word as percentage and not fraction though otherwise we’ll end up with a schism between percentagers and fractioners!!

    1. Thanks, Richard!

      I prefer the plural too and have used that form in most of my writing earlier… As you say, there are lots of bakers and this method belongs to all of them.

      But this time, I decided to go with the crowd and make it baker’s percentage as it seems to be by far the more common choice on the internet.

      Maths/Math is a good one… And a symptom of the tricky balance for someone from a non-English speaking country: Should I be writing English, American, Australian…? 🙂

      Maybe people like me are the one guilty for mixing up your languages 😉

    1. This is the best kind of feedback for the infographic! I’m glad to have been able to help 🙂

      Thank you, and happy baking!

  2. This is great. I think people who don’t know or were afraid of baker’s math will finally get a clear picture. You should work on a more advanced formula using a levain, soaker, etc. when you get a chance. You can also discuss the different ways you can include the starter and whether the seed amount gets calculated in the total.

    1. Thank you, Ian!

      And you are definitely right: this one is just an introduction, a scratch on the surface.

      I was actually just emailing with someone about this and there will be an article (and maybe more) about the more advanced stuff either on the blog or in the magazine soon…

  3. Hi Jarkko
    I agree, Great visual explaination!
    But the yeast and salt bars have not the correct proportions compared to the water and flour bars. Way too tall. Should be hardly visible.
    All the best Anders, Sweden

    1. Thanks, Anders!

      Yes, you are absolutely right… I wanted to fit the numbers inside the bars so I did them like that, but it might be confusing.

      I’ll fix this when I update the graphic — hopefully soon 🙂

  4. when we calculate percentage of flour, we include the flour from sourdough too?

    like :
    500g flour
    150g sourdough 100% hid.
    275g water
    10g salt

    from here result 575g flour and 350g water.

    575 flour will be the 100% or the 500?

    Thank you 🙂

    1. That’s a good question, Oana!

      I have seen this done in two ways. The “easier” approach is to treat sourdough starter as an ingredient like any other. In your formula, that would mean:

      100% flour,
      30% sourdough starter,
      55% water,
      2% salt

      However, this is not completely accurate… The more accurate way to calculate the percentages would be to separate the starter just like you have done:

      150g sourdough starter at 100% hydration would be 75g water and 75g flour, making the total flour and water 575g and 350g just like you wrote in your comment.

      And now, to get the exact proportions of the ingredient, 100% needs to be 575g and not 500g. This leads to a formula that is slightly different from the one above:

      100% flour (out of which 13% is pre fermented)
      61% water
      1.7% salt

      It’s a small, but often significant difference. So, yes, this latter one is the better, more accurate way of doing the math. But even then, the principle is the same 🙂

    1. With dry yeast, you use less of it compared to fresh yeast, but the amount is quite flexible actually and depends on how much time you can devote to making bread…

      The 1% from the example formula above will work for dry yeast as well — the fermentation will just go a bit faster. Compared to many yeasted recipes I have seen, it’s on the low end when it comes to fresh yeast.

      Taken from The Wild Yeast Blog, here are some guidelines for active and instant dry yeast:

      Active dry yeast: 0.3% – 2.5%
      Instant yeast: 0.2% – 2%

    1. Thanks, Jukka! 

      The links look very interesting and I will definitely dive into them soon. Infographics are a topic I’m just diving into and would love to learn more about 🙂

  5. Great, but I still think most people. Put too much salt in food. I personally use 1/2 to 1%. It makes no difference to the rising, and the taste is fine, plus it’s healthier.

    1. Yes, the right amount of salt is an ongoing topic for debate. Salt is also a bit of an acquired taste, so even though I quite like the ~2% myself (and many bakers add even more salt than that), I can see myself getting used to using less of it too…

      Raluca Micu wrote a great article about this for the Spring 2014 issue of BREAD by the way… 🙂

  6. Thank you for this information.
    I am quite surprised at the salt level, – I calculate that i have been using about 0.35% salt, and 75% water, according to this formula.
    I rather like the open texture that I get from batter that contains a little more water.
    I will double the salt in my next batch, it will be interesting.

    1. Hi Colin!

      75% water sounds rather good — although that depends on flour of course.

      But 0.35% (especially in bakers’ percentage) is very small for salt… I wonder if there’s a mistake in the calculation? Can you share the weights so we can double check?

      How did it go with doubling your salt amount?

  7. Dear jarkko,

    the basic bread formula above, shows a 1% fresh yeast.
    a learned that an average fresh yeast use is 3% and 1% for instant one.is that right, or you intentionally used 1/3 of the fresh yeast average for a long fermentation? thanks.

    1. Hi Edgar!

      When using yeast, I tend to use as little of it as possible. This is so that I can give the dough more time to rest and build flavor.

      So, yes, this is intentional. However, of course a bigger amount of yeast will also work. It will just raise faster 🙂

      Happy baking!

  8. Could you just explain why the flour is 100%? That is my biggest struggle, you really broke it down well with the ruler example but I’m still confused to WHY the flour is always 100%? Is it because it is the heaviest ingredient, but when looking at a brioche, the fat is the heaviest. So please explain the reasoning behind the flour percentage in grave detail if you don’t mind. Thanks!

    1. Hi there! Sorry for the late response. I had started an answer earlier, but apparently closed the browser window before sending it…

      I don’t think there is any specific reason why the flour has to be 100%. It’s just a convenient way to scale and think about the formulas. More or less it’s just something that was picked once and then used for everything.

      From what I’ve understood, the practice comes from bakeries where they use sacks of flour that have already been measured at the mill. So, when the recipes are written according to the flour used, it’s easy to just take a given number of 20 kg flour sacks and then add the correct amount of water and other ingredients accordingly…

      I hope this answers your question at least to some degree 🙂

      1. Hi, how about if you use a mixture of flours like rye and bread or multigrain and bread flour? Do you add up the weight of both types as the 100% ref point? Or do you still use the bread flour as 100%?

    1. Hey Jackie! I’m curious, what is it that you most hate about math? Maybe there’s a way to explain these things without being all that “mathy”… 🙂

  9. Hi Jarkko,

    Thanks for very informative post. I have a question regarding a bread using a mixture of whole wheat flour, since whole wheat needs more water to create a same result of using 100% white flour. Can you give me the formula for making 50-50 percentage of whole wheat and all purpose flour?

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Harumi!
      The right hydration ratio will vary with the kind of flour you’re using, whole or sifted, the wheat variety, the ambient humidity, etc. A slightly higher hydration ratio is preferable in whole-wheat doughs, and you might try by first pouring 70% of water into the mix. Keep another extra 5% to mix in as you go, and feel how the dough develops. Whole-wheat doughs (or 50-50) will not become as elastic as a white-flour dough, but it can turn stiffer because of the bran hydrating itself during bulk fermentation.
      Give it a few trials, record observation notes, and keep at it!