A friend recently asked me what drew me into my bread making obsession. I shared that when I first started, I had no idea I’d totally fixate on this. All I was doing was jumping on the bandwagon and my only goal was to be able to make a decent-tasting loaf of bread. But once I made my first few loaves, inevitably, my sense of aesthetics kicked in and I didn’t want to just create decent-tasting bread, I wanted it to look good as well as taste good.
Then I wanted it to be much more nutritious than other bread. In essence, I went on, what drew me in was the nuance; those little niggling details that all come together to create a beautiful loaf of bread. As I discovered, all those little things affect how the bread turns out. And one of those little things I have found to be absolutely critical is, of all things, pre-shaping.
I have to admit that when I first started out, I kind of took the pre-shaping step for granted. After all, it seems like such a minor step: Shape the dough into a ball, let it rest for 15-20 minutes, then shape. And mind you, I was learning alot of technique from YouTube videos, and none of the chefs I watched ever explained the importance of this step. But I found that the more care I put into pre-shaping, the better my loaves turned out. Let me explain why…
First, pre-shaping establishes the “skin” of the bread; essentially creating the canvas that will be presented to the world. But that skin isn’t just for looks. It plays a vital role in the overall structure of the loaf. Arguably, this is the most important item of pre-shaping’s importance. In pre-shaping, you don’t want to just create a smooth outer skin, it has to be taut, stretching the gluten strands to begin to establish the outer structure of the loaf.
Secondly, pre-shaping begins orienting the gluten strands to make it easier for the ultimate shape. It doesn’t seem that apparent when making boules or batards, but that orientation is really apparent when making baguettes. It gives the dough a little bit of a head start before shaping.
Finally, pre-shaping re-arranges the yeast and other microbes in the dough, so that the little beasties that have exhausted their food supply during bulk fermentation can be moved to a new spot to get new food. This may explain why oftentimes during pre-shaping, you’ll see bubbles spontaneously form. Pre-shaping wakes up the microbes and that’s a great thing. You want them to be active during final proof!
When I first started out and didn’t put any emphasis on establishing the skin, I believe it negatively affected my ultimate shaping in that my loaves would often collapse. But once I started making sure I’d create a nice, smooth, taut skin during pre-shaping, I had fewer and fewer collapses to the point where my loaves – why are generally 75-80% hydration – just don’t collapse unless I over-proof them.
But as I always say, this is just one aspect of the whole process, but though on the surface it seems like a minor item, it really isn’t.
Generally, the bread I bake has a fairly open crumb, considering the high-extraction flour I use. With the loaves pictured above, the only pure white flour bread is in the top-left corner. I can get that kind of open crumb every time with any kind of loaf I bake when I use white bread flour. But the other ones? They use my 75-25 combination of high-extraction and white whole wheat flour.
Their crumbs may appear to be pretty open. But if you pick up a slice, there’s a certain heft to it. In fact, your first reaction will be that it’s dense. But when you bite into it, it doesn’t feel dense at all. The reason is that instead a really big holes, what I get with this flour are lots of small gas pockets, which makes the bread a lot more airy than how it might feel. And that’s exactly the end product that I’m after.
I want to strike a balance between open crumb and density to make my bread versatile. A loaf with big, open pockets isn’t really good for making sandwiches. But then a super tight crumb is just too dense and filling. But striking a balance between the two is perfect. I get to make my sandwiches, and my wife and kids love making avocado toast! And the bread is great with pasta and sopping up sauce!
This really isn’t a rant. But there is this preponderance of thought that an open crumb is the ultimate aim of artisan bread. For me, getting an open crumb was certainly a goal when I first started. But now that I’ve gained a lot more experience these past six months, what crumb I get is based on what I want to achieve with the bread.
For my baguettes and boules, I definitely want to get a nice open crumb. But for my batards and hand-shaped long loaves, I want a slightly less-open crumb (not tight, but less than open than a boule or baguette). For my loaf pan breads, I definitely don’t want big bubbles at all, though I do want to make sure the dough is airy.
The reason I’m writing this is because once you get to the point of consistently being able to create bread with an open crumb, you may also start asking yourself what you want to do with the bread; in other words, practicality may make you think about the different loaves that you make and what their ultimate purpose might be.
Mind you, I’m not arguing against an open crumb. But what I am saying is that an open crumb doesn’t necessarily define what makes a good loaf of bread. To me, what does define success is if the loaves I create fulfill the purpose I have in mind for them. And, of course, they have to taste good…
I’m always trying to learn different techniques of shaping bread, and just when I thought I had baguette shaping down, I ran across the following videos with Chef Markus Farbinger. He has this quiet, soothing teaching style that I just love and great technique! But best of all, these videos are for making baguettes in a domestic oven! To me, this is the best of both worlds: A professional chef instructing for home baking. It doesn’t get better than this!
Scoring and Baking Baguettes
I love his passion and I really connect with his excitement. Even with all the loaves I’ve baked these past six months, I still get totally jazzed when my bread comes out of the oven! I addicted to the warm and fuzzy feel-good!
And following his techniques, here’s what I produced today!
Okay… I’m following his shaping technique from here on out. These came out perfect!
…eat grocery store bread any longer, unless there isn’t an alternative. And if there isn’t one, I will be extremely picky of what I buy. Luckily for me though, I bake practically every day, so the likelihood of me having to buy a loaf of bread is pretty low.
I realize that this might seem obvious considering this blog is now almost entirely about my bread-making journey and I think it’s clear that I bake – a lot! But if baking bread was merely an occasional affair, I’d certainly be buying bread from the grocery and wouldn’t feel compelled to write an article like this. But yeah… I’m kind of done with store-bought bread.
What prompted me to write this was last night’s dinner which was graciously prepared by a good friend to help my family out while I recover from surgery. She made an absolutely wonderful vegetable frittata, a fresh green salad, watermelon, and brownies for dessert. And she included a small loaf of heat and serve sourdough. My family really enjoyed the meal. But not one of us could eat the bread beyond a single bite!
I took a bite of it and put my piece down. But I didn’t say anything to the rest of the family because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. But then my wife asked my son, “Do you want my bread? I can’t eat it. I like Dad’s bread more.”
Then she turned to me and asked, “What do you think of it?” I replied, “I can’t eat it.” My wife laughed and said, “We’ve gotten really spoiled with Daddy’s bread.” We all had a bit of a laugh at that remark, but it’s true. To all of us, store-bought bread’s taste and texture simply pale in comparison to what I can produce at home. But that’s not the only thing…
It’s well-known that commercial bread and bread products have additives. But did you ever consider what the nature of these are? Honestly, I was blissfully ignorant of these for years. But once I started successfully making my own bread and doing a lot of research on home versus commercial baking, I was shocked at some of the things I discovered.
Did you know that lots of bread labeled “sourdough” isn’t made from an actual sourdough starter? They inject acetic acid in the dough to give it its sour taste! Furthermore, manufacturers enrich bread with all sorts of chemicals to help the dough be fluffier or give it longer shelf life or give it a better color. And especially in the US, commercial bread makers add chemicals that have been linked to cancer and even banned in other countries. Click the link I provided above. It’s eye-opening.
The FDA argues that the parts-per-million amount of these chemicals is so small as to be negligible. But what does that mean? Is that negligible against an average response? What about those people whose systems will react at just the slightest amount?
That said, I’m not going to eschew commercial bread entirely. If it’s the only thing available, I’ll eat a bit of it, though I will limit my intake going forward. But if I have access to artisan bread, either made by me or someone else, I’ll choose the artisan alternative.
As some might know, I technically don’t make traditional sourdough in that I don’t maintain a starter culture to inoculate my dough. There are a number of reasons for this which I won’t go into here, but in lieu of a starter culture, I do use a poolish I create the day before I bake, which means I make practically every evening.
I know what you’re thinking. I could just maintain a starter and use the discard every day. But I have to be honest. I don’t want to invest the minimum five days in creating the culture – at least not right now. I’d rather be baking. Plus, as I greatly admire Nancy Silverton who started La Brea Bakery in LA, when I’m ready to do a sourdough starter, really want to try her grape sourdough. It’s pretty amazing. But I digress…
So as I mentioned, I use a poolish as a starter for my breads. A poolish is made from a 50-50 mixture of flour and water, and literally a pinch of yeast (I measure out 0.4 gram). I make mine at about 6-7 PM in the evening, then let it sit in my fermentation bucket on my counter overnight. Then at about 9-10 AM the next day, I prepare the final dough.
Now here’s where I scratch my head. Technically, a poolish is not a levain. A levain has no commercial yeast. And conventionally, a levain equates to a sour taste. This is because the airborne yeasts and lactic acid bacteria work in concert to consume the sugars in the flour and create that sour flavor. But my poolish is sour.
I let my poolish develop around 14 hours. And in that time, the natural yeasts and bacteria have time to activate and make a contribution to the flavor and gluten development in the starter. And it seems that at that point, the predominant microorganisms that act on the dough are the natural ones, not the commercial yeast. But of course, unless I actually do a chemical test, I can’t be absolutely certain.
But if my assertion is true, is my pre-ferment starter a levain at that point? Frankly, it’s not really important at all, but I just like to understand things so it remains a bit of a head-scratcher for me.
And as Nancy Silverton, founder of La Brea Bakery in LA said, “For me when I think of any food product, the most important test is the result, right? And how you got there is sort of incidental…”
When I first heard her say that, it gave me a lot of encouragement because I’ve lately had this feeling that even though I’ve been absolutely methodical and meticulous with my technique, I’ve been a bit unconventional. But the results have been great for the most part and it’s great to hear one of the greats in bread making provide some validation. So I guess I can keep scratching my head about this, but at least I know that the results are what matter.
I have to admit that I was originally compelled to make bread when I saw a recipe entitled, “Easy Dutch Oven No Knead Bread.” And with that recipe, all you did was mix the ingredients together and let the dough sit overnight. Other than forming the dough into a ball the next day, you don’t touch it. I made it and it’s easy and no fuss. But then after making it a couple of times, I started looking at other no-knead bread recipes and each one of them had some sort of manipulation involved; specifically, stretching and folding. So I set out to understand why these recipes involved folding and not just leaving the dough alone.
And in my research, which also involved making bread from the recipes I encountered, I came to realize that even though the mix-together-and-let-sit-for-24-hours method works because it gives the yeast time to convert the proteins into gluten, it can have inconsistent results. The reason why is that if the dough wasn’t sufficiently mixed with all the yeast distributed evenly through the dough, the rise will be uneven. On the other hand, folding the dough ensures that not only is the dough mixed well just in case I missed some, it also ensures that the yeast gets distributed consistently through the dough.
Now technically, stretch and fold, coil fold, slap and fold and other dough folding techniques aren’t kneading. But they are methods to physically work the dough, albeit a gentler approach than kneading or using a machine which is the most intense way of developing gluten. And no matter how you work it, it’s going to help the yeast evenly distribute throughout the dough and help build up the gluten network.
So given all that, while no-knead can mean fire and forget, to develop a good loaf, you need to work it somehow.
I lurk a lot in online bread baking forums in search of tidbits of information and insights that will help me improve my skills. And though I’ve finally reached a point where I can consistently make a pretty good loaf of bread, I’ve refrained from contributing to public forums. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to share, which is one of the reasons I devoted this blog to bread baking. A large part of this blog is a diary of the things I discover, the other part of it is sharing the lessons I learned. And a HUGE lesson I’ve learned is this:
With no-knead bread, if you want good oven spring, you have to have achieve sufficient dough strength so the gluten network retains the gases to promote forming gas pockets and be strong enough to hold the dough’s general shape in the first 10-15 minutes of baking.
Okay, for the experienced baker, this is a given. But for many folks like myself up until recently, it wasn’t an intuitive thing. I now know how to feel that my dough has strength and the telltales, but when I first started making bread, I was just following the recommendations in the recipes I’d follow.
Specifically, I’m talking about the recipes in Flour Water Salt Yeast (“FWSY”) by Ken Forkish, which seems to be the “reference” book for many home bakers. It surely was mine when I first started out. I still follow many of the principles Ken lays out in the book, but after having created dozens upon dozens of loaves over the last few months (I bake atleast two loaves a day), I realized that there was one discussion that was missing in the book, or more implied rather than specifically called out and that is developing dough strength and why it’s important.
On page 35 of FWSY, he has a page devoted to folding. The salient point of the section is in the first paragraph:
Doing this [folding] several times during the bulk fermentation of the dough helps organize the dough’s gluten network, which allows it to holod on to gases produced as the dough ferments… The more complexly knit this network of gluten becomes, the more strength the dough has.
That nails it. And for a more experienced baker, the implication is clear: Developing dough strength gives you a better rise and oven spring.
But for the beginning baker following recipes, they don’t have the experience and, more importantly, haven’t developed the feel for dough strength. So like me, they’ll just follow the recommendations as in the Saturday White Bread which specifies just two folds. But that’s assuming you’re using AP flour or white bread flour. But even with those flours, if you haven’t sufficiently folded the dough and developed the gluten network, even those will collapse or spread out in the oven like the loaf shown below:
As you can see, the crumb on that loaf actually wasn’t all that bad. At first, I thought it was a proofing issue, but if it was, I would’ve gotten a really weird, uneven rise. So after doing a bit of research, I learned that I hadn’t developed enough strength in my dough.
I have to admit that I kind of scratched my head at that discovery because I followed the Saturday White Bread recipe in FWSY absolutely closely. But two folds was just not enough. As a dough expands in the oven, you should get both horizontal AND vertical rise. If you don’t get much vertical rise, it means the gluten network isn’t strong enough to support the vertical height. Also, if you look at the loaf, it’s also not scored on the top. That also could be a contributing factor as there may have not been enough give in the top skin, which forced the bread to expand outward instead of up, but that’s another discussion altogether. For now, we’ll just focus on developing dough strength.
How Do You Know Your Dough Has Strength?
I’m just going to start off by saying that there is no magic number to the amount of folding you need to do. Even Ken Forkish says in the last paragraph of “What Is Folding?” on page 35:
The recipes in this book each give guidance on the time and number of folds recommended, usually specifying a range, such as three to four folds. However, I don’t want to be overly hard and fast with rules about this. When working with your douh, you’ll be able to see the physical change after you’ve folded it. If, based on what you observe, you want to give it one more fold, go ahead and do it.
I remember reading that last line and saying out loud, “What the f$#k am I supposed to observe?” But despite that, I went on reading because I thought he might delve a littler deeper into the observation. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as he went with it.
So I had to do a bit of research and did a lot of baking and have a couple of telltales that I use to make sure I’ve developed enough strength in my dough.
The first test is a common one that you’ll probably see online – a lot. It’s known as the windowpane test. Basically, you take a hunk of your fermenting dough and stretch it. If you can stretch it into a thin membrane (window) without it tearing, then you have good dough strength.
But there’s also a way to feel the strength developing when you’re doing your stretch and folds that I use to gauge how far along my dough is. When it’s time to do a stretch and fold, if, when you do the first stretch, the dough stretches really easy and you can stretch it to two times the width of the dough ball, it’s likely not strong enough. And when you finish the last fold, if the whole dough ball doesn’t want to come along when you pull, you don’t have enough strength in your dough.
Furthermore, when you stretch and fold, you’re supposed to turn the dough over onto the folds after you’ve formed a ball. You should be able to do this easily if your dough is strong. But if you finish and the rest of the dough settles back, then you don’t have enough strength and you’ll need to do more rounds of folds.
That said, if you’re working with a super high-hydration dough (like above 80%), your dough will have a tendency to collapse, no matter what you do. But when you stretch high-hydration dough, the dough mass should come along with your stretch. If it shows signs of tearing, you’ll need more folds.
For this very reason, as opposed to following the guidelines in FWSY, I’ve taken the Tartine Bakery approach where they do 6 folds over the course of 3 hours, doing one every half-hour. I know, that’s very involved. By the time you do the last stretch and fold, you can really feel the resistance!
Folding Forms the Foundation
A lot of emphasis is put on shaping and creating a taut skin to get a good oven spring. No doubt, it is critical. But if you don’t have the good foundation of a well-developed gluten network with which to start, you won’t get as good an oven spring. It’s really the combination of a well-developed gluten network AND a nice, tight skin that will give you great oven spring, at least as far as structure is concerned. There are other factors as well, but those are beyond this particular discussion.
For me, I started getting great oven spring when I started to trust what I was feeling in the dough as I folded it. Was it too easy to stretch? Did it feel like tearing? Or did it put up some resistance and want me to take the whole dough ball in one pull? These questions led me to fold the dough more than the prescribed or suggested amount of folds in FWSY, and since then, I haven’t had to worry that my loaves will collapse, even with really wet dough. And especially now that I’m using a whole wheat and high-extraction flour combination, those extra folds have worked wonders with my oven spring.
I thought that maybe it was my folding technique that was flawed. But as I mentioned in a previous article, this is exactly what they do at Tartine Bakery!
Now all that said, I’m only sharing what works for me. You may do fewer folds and still get great results. The great thing about making bread is that though there is a certain exactitude to the process, there’s also a lot of variability. So what may work for some, may not work for others and vice-versa.
I’m not a professional baker, but like many other avid amateurs, I’ve totally immersed myself in the process of making bread with the goal to create bread that I can call my own; that has kind of my own personal stamp. It’s not an ego thing. It’s akin to a musician doing a cover of someone else’s work. And from that perspective, I can actually speak as a professional because I’m a part-time professional musician.
For my solo acoustic gigs, in addition to doing some of my own original compositions, the bulk of my repertoire is comprised of covers. And though there will never be a mistake that I’m covering a song, my arrangement of a song often tends to be significantly different than the original song. After all, I’m playing just an acoustic guitar. So the song sounds like “Take It Easy” by the Eagles, but I’m the one performing it, so I don’t sing it like Glenn Fry and I do some other riffs than Joe Walsh.
And I take a similar approach to bread making. Especially with my latest loaves, it looks like sourdough bread, it tastes like sourdough bread, so you inherently know it’s sourdough bread. But it has a slightly different texture than a traditional San Francisco hard loaf. There’s a distinct nutty aftertaste due to the kinds of flour I use. But the kicker is that instead of using a sourdough starter, I actually use a poolish that I make the night before.
And while I’d love to say that it was all planned out and I took a real scientific approach in arriving at my “sweet spot,” I have to be honest and say that I stumbled upon it more than anything else. Sure, I took notes of all the tweaks I did and how they affected the final product, and believe me, I literally spent hours poring over books and the Web to gain as much insight into the process. But in the end, how I arrived at my sweet spot was the result of lots of trial and error.
And I still don’t have it 100% down! I’m close, but I’m still perfecting the technique. While I’ve figured out the flour and am pretty sure what the optimal hydration rate is, I’m still figuring out the optimal fermentation and proofing times. Admittedly, I’ve pretty much got it down, but I’m running tests to see what the boundaries are so I can zero in on the most optimal process.
And talking about stumbling onto technique, one of the things that I started to do was to do a BUNCH of stretch and folds for three or so hours – every 30 minutes for a total of six times. I had read that when working with any amount of whole wheat flour, you have to work it a bit more than with standard white bread flour. And as I made the switch to a combination of high-extraction bread flour and whole wheat flour, I just started doing this to ensure that the gluten network gets sufficiently formed.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when I ran across a Tartine bread recipe (it was a link in a blog entry) and that’s exactly what they do! They do six stretch and folds over three hours during the bulk fermentation! I I literally had no clue of they did this. As I mentioned above, I started doing this because of the flour I was using. I have to admit that it gave me a real smile to know that I was doing something a famous sourdough bread bakery did with their dough.
And apparently, making Tartine-style bread (from the famous San Francisco bakery) is a rite of passage for makers of sourdough. I had no clue that it had this much importance when I first started making bread. My foundation was Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast book and Bonnie Ohara’s wonderful book, Bread Making for Beginners. I knew of Tartine Bakery though I never had their bread, but I didn’t know just how influential the bakery was in the sourdough world. So it’s cool to stumble onto what they’re doing!
The great thing about this bread journey is that I really don’t know where it’s going to take me. Who knows what I’ll stumble upon next?
The one positive thing that has come from this pandemic lock-down is that a lot of people – myself included – have started making bread. And many like me have learned how to make bread using the traditional methods which involve manually working the dough, either through the entire process, or at least a good portion of it.
I freely admit that I’m in the latter camp. I do all my initial mixing of ingredients in my trusty stand mixer; not because I’m lazy, but because it does a better job of creating a consistent mix. I started out doing all my mixing by hand so I knew what it was like and once I felt what a good mixed dough should feel like, I switched to using my stand mixer. But I did make a promise to myself that I’ve never broken: After doing the initial mix, I would work the dough – either kneading or folding – entirely by hand.
The reason is that there’s really nothing like working a dough and seeing it transform from a shaggy mess into a smooth, pliable ball if I’m kneading it or; if I’m working with a high-hydration dough, feeling the dough transform from a wet, gooey, and sticky blob into a cohesive network of gluten strands that gradually resist my ministrations. Plus, it just FEELS good as the dough becomes smooth and luxurious. And the ONLY way to see and feel the transformation of the dough is by touching it and working with it with your hands.
What I’ve come to realize is that artisan bread is really not about creating beautiful loaves of bread. The loaves are a by-product of the artisanship and craftmanship in the process leading up to actually baking the dough. For instance, look at this antique hutch that’s sitting in my dining room:
That was handmade in the 1930’s and restored by a local artist. The door panels were hand-carved. And even after all these years, according to the artist who restored it, it was crafted so well that even after all these years, it was so structurally sound that all she had to do was clean and refinish it.
The craftsmanship of bread is similar. In order to create a beautiful loaf, you have to build the structure of the dough. Just like you don’t throw random pieces of wood together to create hutch like the one to the left, you don’t just throw ingredients together and expect to create a loaf of bread that’s aesthetically pleasing, both in taste and visually. So in essence, the craft in bread is in manipulating the dough: Working it with your hands, adjusting hydration, the type(s) of flour; even the salt and yeast. We do this to create a structurally-sound base on which our dough will bake.
And the thing about baking bread is that it’s not forgiving. Even if you’re simply following a recipe you find online, to achieve the result that you see in the pictures the author provides, you have no choice but to apply at least some craftsmanship to the process. I think that’s the reason why so many bread recipes you read are incredibly verbose.
The bakers who write them know that there is an inherent and unavoidable craftsmanship in baking bread. They provide the gotchas and pitfalls because they know that there are lots of variables that affect the structure of the dough. And invariably, almost all the recipes involve some sort of manual handling of the dough because the bakers also know that it’s difficult to understand how a dough is being affected unless you physically touch it!
But to me, as I’ve alluded throughout this post, feeling the dough is incredibly sublime and pleasing. As I write this article, I’ve been taking breaks to fold a dough I created this morning. I just popped it into my fridge to bulk ferment for 24 hours. That dough gave me the inspiration to write this article. From the first fold to the final fold, the dough went from a slightly shaggy pile to this gorgeous, velvety-smooth ball that I could stretch and stretch without it tearing. It’s so satisfying! And I wouldn’t have known this if I did use my hands.
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!