This base recipe will get you a long way.

The bread recipe in this magazine is built on the idea that there is only one bread formula and all other breads are variations of it. More complicated recipes add new steps and ingredients — yet, at its core, even a brioche dough can be brought back to these humble roots.

My goal in this first issue of BREAD is to teach you this recipe and the key concepts behind it so that you will be prepared for the new variations we’ll introduce in future issues — and ready to get started with your experiments!

The recipe has four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and leaven.

In editions to come, we will look closely at each of the four and the different things you can do with them. But before we go there, we’ll start with the most basic version.

One that you can bake in just a few hours.

Measuring Ingredients

Most bakers measure their ingredients by weight instead of using volume measures.

For professional bakers, this is handy as they use big bags of flour, often 10 kg or more: they can just pick the bags they need and pour them into the dough mixer without worrying about cups and such.

Another reason for this is accuracy — and this is also why you should start measuring your ingredients this way right from the outset. When you use a scale to weigh 100 grams of flour, you are much more likely to get it right than if you try to get an exact 0.8 cups of water.

If you don’t have a scale, go and buy one before continuing (I promise this is the only piece of equipment you have to buy for now). Choose a digital scale that you can reset to zero between measurements. It will make your life easier.

Baker’s Percentage

When you first saw the recipe at the beginning of this article, you probably wondered why all of the ingredients were presented as percentages rather than weights.

This method is called “baker’s percentage” and it’s how professional bakers remember and talk about their recipes. For some reason, the method is usually only taught to more advanced bakers. But the concept is not complicated at all and will help you remember the recipes by heart (a very handy way to impress your friends), so why keep it from you?

Here’s how it works:

Baker’s percentages present all ingredients in a bread formula as their proportion of the total amount of flour in the dough.

An example will help you grasp the idea:

Start by deciding how much flour you want to use in your dough. To make calculations easier, we’ll begin with 1 kilogram, or 1000 grams (this will lead to two large loaves or a bunch of buns).

Then, look at the recipe.

Every ingredient is presented with a percentage — for example, 70% water. That number tells you how much of the ingredient is included in the dough in relation to the flour, measured in weight.

Here’s how you’ll calculate all of the ingredients, using that 1 kg of flour as the starting point:

IngredientCalculationAmount in Dough
100% Wheat Flour1000 g x 100%1000 g
70% Water1000 g x 70%700 g
2% Fresh Yeast1000 g x 2%20 g
2% Salt1000 g x 2%20 g

While this may look confusing at first (it’s a bit different than percentages as you learned them in school), give it some time and try doing the calculations a few times yourself. You will soon notice that calculating percentages not in relation to the finished dough but the flour makes it much easier.

Hydration Level

There is one more concept I want to present you before you begin mixing your dough. Don’t worry too much if you don’t get this one right away — understanding it is not a requirement for using the recipe. But the concept is rather simple and follows naturally from the recipe we just went through.

Hydration Level means the amount of water (or other liquids) in the dough. Having a higher hydration level means a wetter dough.

When you talk to bakers, they often describe their breads using the hydration level, saying things like, “To make this Ciabatta, I decided to go with a 80% hydration.” What they mean by that is that in a dough with 1,000 grams of flour, they used 800 grams of liquids (or 400 grams for 500 grams of flour, and so on).

A wetter dough is harder to handle, but will lead to a softer and more open crumb. Practice and experiment with different hydration levels and you’ll notice the difference.

For example, for this magazine, at first, I thought of giving you a recipe with 65% hydration. Then, when testing the recipe on a dry winter day in February, it felt a little too dry to work with and I decided to go with a 70% hydration instead.

As your conditions can differ a lot from mine, if the weather at your place is more humid, you may want to make the dough with 65% water instead…

The Method

1. Mix the Dough

Use your scale to measure all ingredients in a bowl. Mix them with your hands until no dry flour remains. Then, flip the dough on your table (don’t flour it first) and work it for about ten minutes.

There are many ways to work the dough, but I prefer the one described by Richard Bertinet in his books Dough and Crust. The best way to understand the method is to first see it in action and then try yourself. So, here is a free video of Richard Bertinet working his dough, from Gourmet magazine.

The method is not that complicated once you practice it for a while — and it’s a lot of fun!

2. Rest

After working the dough for about 10 minutes, shape it to a ball, place it back in your (lightly floured) bowl, and cover with a kitchen towel.

Leave the dough to rest in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has almost doubled in size. Heat the oven to 250°C (482°F).

3. Shape

Once the dough has rested, flip it on a lightly floured table. To begin your bread making, I suggest you start with making buns as those are the easiest to shape (and you probably know how to make decent ones already). We will look at more advanced shaping in a future issue, but If you want to learn more right now, watch this video for some instructions.

Place your shaped buns on a baking tray, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rest for another 60 minutes.

4. Bake

Place the tray in your heated oven, reduce heat to 230°C (or 446°F), and bake until the bread has a nice golden crust. For buns, this will take about 20 minutes.

Take the tray out of the oven and let the bread cool for a while before eating. Then, share with friends and family — and enjoy.

**After your first bake, you will continue to practice more and learn about things such as steaming the oven and how to shape the dough properly. But don’t let the things you don’t know keep you from enjoying your baking. What matters most is that you are having fun right now.

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  1. This is a fantastic writeup and makes understanding bakers percentages very easy!

    A couple of things I’d suggest adding:

    1. How to do the conversions between fresh yeast to instant yeast.

    2. Your salt and fresh yeast shouldn’t interact/touch before the water is added to the mixture as the salt will destroy the yeast.