Baker’s math: A simple guide to measuring correctly no matter the recipe

No more ‘pinches’, ‘ounces’ and anything that’s put in your baking based on a gamble

Please don’t close the story yet, just because you saw the word ‘math’, for this one comes with a silver lining: This is not the kind of math that puts your brain in a muddle at school. Instead it comes with easy-to-follow formulas and better yet… tasty treats.

So let’s begin, shall we?

Ugh, math – we meet again. Personally, I’ve always hated the subject (sorry, mum), especially since I always told myself I wouldn’t be using the Pythagorean Theorem ever. Or I wouldn’t ever use a compass to draw a circle, rather I would use a bottle cap, a compact disk or even a plate!

But, I think, it’s the right time to say that my pride has been short lived, since I’ve come across people who do use math in their daily life. And ever since I found my new found love for baking – which is as new as it is to you – involves math (I hope I haven’t lost you again, considering I’m using ‘math’ quite a lot).

It is easy to follow recipes, but what happens when you want make something for yourself? Or if you want to make more or less than what’s shown in your cookbook or the internet? Or if you want to add or subtract an ingredient or two?

Enter, baker’s math (and I promise to make it as simple as possible).

It’s all about the right percentage

The key to baking your bread to perfection is getting the right percentage. And the best part of all this is that your flour stays at a stagnant 100 per cent, which means you could have 25 kilograms of flour or 125 kilograms of flour, but it will always remain the same.

So, your flour will be the base for you to scale up or down a recipe.

Now that we’ve got this clear, there is a formula you can apply to find out the percentages of each ingredient.

When it comes to checking the hydration of your flour, the same formula is applied. So, if you were to check the hydration in your flour, take the total weight of the water, divide it by the total weight of the flour and multiply by 100.

Determining the right weight

Similarly, if you do have trouble placing the right weight, but have percentages, there is a simple way to find it out.

Since your flour is already at a 100 per cent, let’s place the weight of it at 50 kilograms.

But, what about ingredients like yeast, water, salt or butter?

You will have to divide each percentage by 100, converting it to a decimal and then further multiply it with the weight of the flour.

(We’ll allot 80 per cent to water, just to give you an idea)

Step 1: Convert to a decimal. So, 80 ÷ 100, will become 0.80

Step 2: Multiply it with the total weight of the flour. So, 0.80 × 50 kilograms, will give you 40 per cent.

In other words, this is how your formula should be:

These are the basics of baker’s math. And it’s not going to get harder, don’t worry.

Scaling a recipe up or down

While practising baker’s math, the biggest advantage is that once you get the hang of it, you can immediately apply it well enough to modify a recipe or better yet… create a new one. But before you go ahead and do so, here’s another math trick to scaling a recipe depending on how much you’ll be baking.

Say you want to make 90 kilograms of bread. But the flour you have only comes up to 55 kilograms. How do you add in the extra 35 kilos?

First, you will have to calculate the total percentage of ingredients and then divide it by the desired weight of the dough. In case the result of it comes in decimal figures, it’s best to round it out to get an approximate value.

Which is,

You have to then multiply this value to the percentages of the ingredient.

Percentage × X.X

In case you want to cut the quantity in half, it’s best done by dividing the weight of the ingredients by two.

For example, if your sugar weighs 100 kilograms, divide it by 2, which is 50 kilograms.

Do note that if you cut the total weight value of the ingredients (including the dough), you could end up with an inaccurately measured recipe.

Adding raisins, nuts and everything else

Maybe adding in a handful wouldn’t make so much a difference, but in case it’s more than that, you could find a bit more volume to your dough. In that case, you will have to first measure the raisins or nuts based on percentage, keeping the final weight of the dough the same.

The next step is to ensure that ratio of flour to salt to water remains the same. But for that you will have to keep the final weight the same and further determine the new total percentage.

For example, if the percentage of raisins are at 15 per cent and the total weight of the ingredients (flour included) is 105 per cent, here’s how you’ll have to apply this:

Step 1: Original percentage total (105) + the percentage of raisins and nuts (15) = new total percentage (120)

Step 2: Time to convert, and for that the formula is:

In case you get multiple digits behind the decimal point, round it off to get an approximate value, especially if it is over 5. Now apply the same value to the other ingredients to get an accurate recipe.

Calculating pre-fermented flour percentage

According to theperfectloaf.com, pre-fermented flour percentage is “the amount of flour that's fermented ahead of time before the main dough is mixed. This percentage can vary widely depending on the recipe (and whether you're using only sourdough, instant yeast, a mixture), all the way down to 1 per cent, and up to 50 per cent — and even outside those extents.”

So how do you calculate this? It’s easy!

The value obtained from this will give you the exact amount of preferment or levain (a starter) present in it.

Now that this very tiny math lesson comes to an end, here’s the one thing you need to keep in mind –you would only need to apply these formulas for a minimum of three to four recipes because you will be able to quickly grasp the process and then further apply it as you bake.

And in case you still find yourself surrounded with confusion, tap back into this story or email us at food@gulfnews.com