24 August 2014

Baker's Percentage... with Biscuits

Professional baking has a language all its own. For example, a "formula" is a list of ingredients and quantities, which may or may not include instructions for how to make the bakery product. A formula that does include instructions can be called a recipe, but only if you want to sound like an amateur; in fact even needing instructions for common products (like creme anglaise or pate sucree) marks you as an amateur or, at best, a beginner. I'm only slightly exaggerating; by the time I finish third quarter at Seattle Culinary, I will be expected to have many common baking formulas memorized, and be able to produce them without referring to books or notes.

One aspect of professional baking formulas that has appealed to my engineer's mind is "baker's percentage" (sometimes called baker's math). The idea behind baker's percentage is that since most baked goods contain flour, you can express the quantity of other ingredients in a formula as a ratio (percentage) of the amount of flour. For example, if a recipe calls for a pound (16 ounces) of flour and 8 ounces of water, the percent of water is 8 divided by 16, which is 0.5 or 50%. Flour will always show as 100% in formulas using baker's percentage.

Cheese Biscuits

Photo of lovely cheese biscuits to take your mind off my possibly confusing explanation.

I can see some big advantages in using baker's percentage in a formula. The main advantage is that it allows easy and flexible scaling of the outcome of a formula. For example, a bread formula can be easily sized up or down to create the desired weight of dough for however many loaves the baker needs to make. Another advantage is that it encourages bakers to measure ingredients by weight, which will produce much more accurate and reproducible results (since for most ingredients like, say, flour, one person's cup measurement can contain a different amount of flour than another person's, due to handling of the flour, dry ingredients being packed down, and so on). A third advantage is that it provides a common language for writing formulas, independent of any particular weighing scheme (metric, imperial, whatever).

I'll use the cheese biscuits as an example. The original recipe (click here to view) called for:

8 ounces all-purpose flour
0.4 ounce baking powder
0.2 ounce salt
4 ounces cheese
8 ounces cream
total weight: 20.575
makes about 10 two-ounce biscuits

To convert to baker's percentage:

flour (8 ounces gives us a divisor of 8 for this formula) 100%
baking powder (.4 / 8) = 0.05 = 5%
salt (.2 / 8) = 0.025 = 2.5%
cheese (4 / 8) = 0.5 = 50%
cream (8 / 8) = 1.00 = 100%

Let's say you want to make 40 biscuits. You see it requires 8 ounces flour in the original recipe to make 10 biscuits, so you would need 32 ounces (4 times 8) to make 40. Then you can use the baker's percentages to calculate the other ingredients:

flour 32 ounces
baking powder (32 * 5%) = 1.6 ounces
salt (32 * 2.5%) = 0.8 ounce
cheese (32 * 50%) = 16 ounces
cream (32 * 100%) = 32 ounces

Easy as pie... or biscuits.


  1. I'll trust your math, just let me sample the biscuits. They were yummy!

    1. I put the link to the original recipe in the post above. Yes, they were delicious! How could they not be with all that cream... and cheese!