When I first started baking bread, I followed recipes that listed ingredients by volume, and I stuck to them because that’s all I knew. But looking up recipes online and in books, the bakers always provided weights and percentages, stating that it was easier to remember the specific ratios of ingredients and more importantly, be able to scale up or scale down the recipes as needed.
But I resisted because I fashioned myself an expert in the kitchen. Cooking was and has been my lifelong passion and I just knew my way around a kitchen. Bread? Pah! I could do it, no problem! And I did do it! To make my first loaves, I followed the same basic recipe and made my bread in a Dutch oven. But like I said in a previous post, I quickly got bored of making boules.
Then on top of that, for Fathers Day, my son got me Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast and he wrote out all his recipes in grams. And though he provided volume equivalents, rightfully so, he did say they were approximations at best. But in my arrogance, I just followed his volume listings. And after a few loaves of not being able to make bread nearly as pretty as the loaves in the book, nor getting anything consistent from bake to bake, I knew I had to get over my ego and start measuring by weight if I was going to achieve good results.
So I made the switch and got myself a couple of digital scales. I use one for weighing my bulk ingredients and scaling dough portions, and I have a precision scale for measuring anything less than 20 grams. Life got A LOT easier after that! On top of that, all the bakers percentage listings started making sense. Because everything is measured in grams, we work with a standard decimal standard! So scaling a recipe up or down is SO much easier than Imperial volume measurements!
It literally changed my life. I now use spreadsheets to do measurement calculations. In fact, I have three Google Sheets spreadsheets for my different calculations. So convenient.
A Note on Bakers Percentages
If you’re not familiar with bakers percentages, don’t sweat it. It’s not rocket science, though if you’re new to it, it can be a bit intimidating. But it makes putting together recipes very easy. Here’s how it works:
Every ingredient’s percentage in a recipe is always relative to the amount of flour, which is 100%
That’s it. So if you hear someone talking about an 82% hydration dough, no matter what amount of flour is used, you’ll know that the water’s weight is 82% of the flour’s weight. So if the flour’s listed out at 1000 grams for an 82% hydration, you automatically know that there are 820 grams of water in the dough.
What is so powerful about this is that no matter what the amount of flour is used, all you need to do is multiply the flour’s weight by the ingredient ratio and divide by 100 to get the weight of the ingredient. So technically, a recipe can be listed only as percentages!
But given that, this is where having a large scale and a precision scale (or a scale that can do fractional grams) come in handy as some yeast measurements might come in at 0.4 gram. But no matter, scale up or scale down, and as long as you have the percentages, you can easily work out the weights!