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Baking by the Numbers

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Last time, we talked about how you want to ignore some numbers with recipes. This time, we have the other half of this, which is a question from Melomel via twitter:

melomel

@ I’ve been winging it with my cupcake recipes (so bad!). Could you explain how baker’s percentages work?

24 Apr via web

Absolutely! Baker’s percentages are what professional bakers use to make it relatively easy to remember a master recipe and, more importantly for them, make it easy to scale the recipe for larger or smaller batches. When chef’s think baking is more scientific than cooking, they’re probably mostly thinking back to a pastry course they took when they had to learn baker’s percentages.

Fortunately, these are easy to learn, and useful for people who want to open up a wide field of recipe creation to them. With a master recipe, you get, for example, a basic cake batter that is assembled with the creaming method. If you know the creaming method, which is vital for using the master recipe, and you know the baker’s percentages, then you know just about everything you need in order to modify that recipe for whatever flavor or form you need it to be.

The most important thing you need to know about baker’s percentages is that flour is the key ingredient. Everything is based on how much flour you are using. So if you are making a cake, and you are using, say, 450g of flour, then you would have some percentages such as:

  • Butter: 80%
  • Sugar: 87%
  • Salt: 0.75%

and so on. Some of the percentages may even be over 100, which is fine. Since we know flour is the most important ingredient, and we know we have 450g of it, then to find out how much sugar we need, we multiple 450g by 87%:

450 X 0.87 = 391.5, so you need 392 of sugar.

That’s it. Multiply the ingredient’s percentage by the amount of flour you’re using, and that’s how much of that ingredient to use. It is math, but it’s simple math.

Because everything is by weight, you can scale the recipe without worrying about the error you get with volume measurements. You don’t have to worry about error from measuring the wrong thing creeping into larger batches as you would with volume measurements.

Some books that use baker’s percentages are Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

There are alterntives, as well. The most popular of which is Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. Rather than using baker’s percentages, Ruhlman converts the more popular master dishes into ratios of ingredients. For example, to make muffins, you use The Muffin Method (of course) and use 2 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part eggs, and 1 part butter. Easy to learn and remember, for sure. Ratio even includes non-baking formulas such as brine, roux, and mayonnaise. You do still have to weigh your ingredients, though.

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  • Cindycooks | 08/20/2011

    I am wondering, if I want to add oats to my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe what changes then? Does the percent of flour decrease, and if so would that be to an equal amount of oats, and would my any other ingredient amounts need to be changed? If the oats produce a denser cookie would it affect the chewy texture the recipe presently has without them? Lastly would the baking time need to be altered?
    Thanks!

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