Forsyth CC’s Pastry Chef, Cody Middleton, believes more chefs should use baker’s percentage to simplify the way they approach recipes and formulas.
Any chef who has studied baking and pastry probably has had a nightmare or two about “baker’s math” or “baker’s percentage.” (It’s a way to express the ratio of ingredients to one another by weight.) Having to perform calculations on the same formula forward and backward, manipulating them each time, is enough to drive anyone crazy.
Here’s how it works. A basic bread recipe might be represented as followed: 100% bread flour, 65% water, 2% salt, and 2% yeast. Although these calculations were repetitive and somewhat cumbersome, expanding and building upon this methodology is an objective I strive to teach and share with others.
The concept of baker’s percentage is used to represent each ingredient as a ratio to the central ingredient, and, in a plethora of cases, the largest or most functional ingredient. When baker’s percentage is used in bread baking, flour is the central ingredient. But the theory can easily be converted and used for other formulas and recipes, too. For instance, cream and milk would be the principal ingredients in crѐme Anglaise, chocolate would be the pivotal ingredient in ganache, and egg whites would be the central ingredient in meringue.
Ultimately, baker’s percentage is simply a method of thinking. And, in my opinion, is probably the most underutilized technique for expressing a formula.
Standardizing this could create a universal way of comparing formulas and recipes. It would be so much simpler to say, “I use 2.50% gelatin in my Bavarian cream” instead of saying “I use a quarter ounce of gelatin in my Bavarian cream.” (When you opt for the ladder, the next logical question is going to be “for how much” which then leads to a conversion nightmare where the chef or cook must convert from ounces to grams, pounds to kilograms or any combination of these standards of measurement depending on how much yeild he or she is looking for.
Converting formulas using baker’s percentage streamlines the steps needed to convert based on a given quantity of an ingredient. Establishing and knowing the percentages of all the ingredients simplifies these calculations in comparison to the old-school conversion factor. Furthermore, the calculations reached using the baker’s percentage is much more accurate because any rounding that may take place is done at the final calculation instead of in the middle. While this may not be important for small conversions, rounding often proves to be more significant for larger batches.
Understanding these percentages allows pastry chefs to easily adjust existing formulas or create a new formula altogether. For instance, a general guideline for mousse/Bavarian cream is 100% whipped cream, 50% purée, 25% sugar and 2% gelatin. I have used this to make mousse in a pinch.
Last month here at Forsyth CC, I had to make a sweet potato mousse for a garden club that was meeting for lunch. Instead of googling a recipe and hoping that the reviews were legitimate or that the recipe would actually work, I used these percentages to make my own formula. The group ended up loving the mousse so much they invited me out into the dining room to explain how I made it.
The theory of baker’s percentage doesn’t have to apply solely to pastry either. It can be used on the savory side as well.
When I studied culinary arts after I already had my pastry degree, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this way of thinking had been utilized for the university’s newest textbook. In the book, a recipe for stock was listed as 100% water, 50% nourishing element, and 10% mirepoix. Even though accuracy for culinary recipes isn’t as paramount as it is for baking formulas, using percentages like this can help gauge amounts when making any dish or component.
While the traditional method of comparing, converting, and representing formulas might not change overnight, transitioning to the baker’s percentage can drastically simplify the way the industry thinks about and discusses formulas. I believe it can even shape the future.