Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Using baker's percent to adjust challah bread recipe

I recently set out to bake whole wheat challah bread at home. The decision came late one Friday evening, too late to shop for ingredients. The quantities of flour, both whole wheat and bread flours, plus the sugar, salt, eggs and oil in my kitchen would have to do.

My standard recipe for challah bread calls for 3 pounds 8 ounces of bread flour. My plan was to substitute 50 percent (by weight) whole wheat flour for the bread flour. The adjusted formula called for 1 pound 12 ounces each of bread and whole wheat flours.

Once I weighed the flours, I learned that 1 pound 8 ounces of whole wheat flour and a little more than 9 ounces of bread flour were all I had on hand. Though insufficient to prepare the recipe as written, I adjusted the amount of yeast, salt, sugar, water, eggs and oil in proportion to make the recipe work. My adjusted recipe prepared 3 pounds 12 ounces of dough, enough for two loaves of whole wheat challah bread.

This dilemma is one encountered by professional and home bakers alike. The question is, how do I adjust the recipe while maintaining the relationship of each ingredient to the flour? To develop a successful product, you need to use the ingredients in the correct proportion. The answer is found in the baker's percent method.

Baker's percent

Commercial bakers use the baker's percent method to adjust recipes. It gives the baker with an easy format to convert recipes from small to large batch sizes. It works for bread and pastry recipes and can be applied American system of measures as well as the metric system.

Since most bakery recipes contain flour, flour is the basis for baker's percent. Flour is always considered to be 100 percent. All other ingredients are measured by weight as a percentage to the flour. Baker's percent allows the baker to quickly -- and accurately -- adjust the formula of a product to yield any quantity of dough that he desires.

The same unit of measure must be maintained when using baker's percent. Pounds must must be used with pounds. Kilograms must be used with kilograms. The formula breaks down when you mix pounds and kilograms. I recommend using a calculator when working with baker's percent.

The flour is always listed as 100 percent. To determine the percentage of the other ingredients, take the weight of the ingredient and divide by the weight of the flour. Then multiply by 100. The product is the baker's percent of the ingredient. The formula is displayed like this:

Weight of ingredient / weight of flour x 100 = baker's percent

Here's an example using instant yeast:

1 oz instant yeast / 50 oz flour x 100 = 2% 

In the example, the formula uses 2 percent by weight of instant yeast. That means that for every 100 pounds of flour, the baker adds 2 pounds of instant yeast to the dry ingredients. A baker that uses the metric system adds 2 kilograms of instant yeast for every 100 kilograms of flour.

The home baker also uses baker's percent as effectively as the professional. The same principle applies even though he uses much smaller quantities of flour. For evey 10 ounces of flour the home baker adds .2 ounces (that's two-hundredths) of instant yeast to the dry ingredients.

Remember we are talking about the relationship of each ingredient to the flour. The sum of all wheat flours used in the recipe is considered 100 percent. If your formula calls for bread flour and whole flour, the weight of the two flours are added to give you the total amount of flour used in the recipe.

Challah bread formula conversion

Let's use my formula for challah bread as an example for our calculations in baker's percent. Here is the formula that I used:

Bread flour -- 100%
Instant yeast -- 1.25%
Granulated sugar -- 7.5%
Salt -- 1.9%
Water -- 42%
Eggs -- 14%
Oil -- 10%
TOTAL = 176.65%

Other than an indication of the method used to produce the dough (straight dough in this case), this all the information that the baker needs to produce his bread. Ingredient quantities aren't noted because he most likely prepares a different amount each time.

When I weight the flours, I found that I only had 1 pound 8 ounces of whole wheat flour and a little more than 9 ounces of bread flour, not the 3 pounds 8 ounces called for in my recipe. (I rounded the bread flour to 10 ounces with some all-purpose flour.)  The two flours equaled 34 ounces when added together. This became the starting point (or 100 percent) for my adjusted formula.

I then multiplied the baker's percent of each ingredient times 34. The formula for the conversion is as follows:

Baker's percent for ingredient / 100 x weight of flour = quantity to use

Here's an example using the eggs:

14 / 100 x 34 ounces = 4.76 ounces eggs

I repeated this process for each ingredient. Since we're dealing with small quantities, I rounded the quantity of each ingredient to the nearest tenth. Here's the formula that I used to bake two loaves of whole wheat challah bread:

1 pound 8 ounces whole wheat flour (71%)

10 ounces bread flour (29%)

.4 ounces instant yeast (1.25%)
2.6 ounces granulated sugar (7.5%)
.7 ounces salt (1.9%)
14.3 ounces water (42%)
4.8 ounces eggs (14%)
3.4 ounces oil (10%)
TOTAL weight = 3 pounds 12 ounces

Weighing tenths of an ounce is easily done on a digital scale like the one pictured above. A 2009 article addresses my use of digital scales (and it gives you a recipe for four cheese pizzas). I will post the recipe for challah bread soon.

This recipe produced two loaves, each with 1 pound 9 ounces of dough in a standard 5 by 9 by 3-inch loaf pan. You could also mold the dough into one large loaf and place it on a sheet pan. Since my adjusted formula produced 60 ounces of dough, I used the remaining 10 ounces to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

At a later date, I will show another way to use baker's percent. Starting with the quantity of dough needed for production, the baker can work backwards to determine how much flour to use in his formula. We'll save the article for another day.

Now that you understand how to use baker's percent, a world of baking possibilities opens up. I used it to adjust my recipe to the amount of flour I had in the kitchen. It's used to express the relationship between flour and the other ingredients in bread and pastry recipes. Once you know the basic formula, you can produce bread in any quantity desired.

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