Introduction: Metric Bread

Picture of Metric Bread

Once we wrap our minds around the metric system it makes everything easier including baking bread! You can't get too far into the world of bread baking before you run into the concept of a "Baker's Percentage". This important principle and a little hack involving the metric system combine to make the easiest way you have ever seen to make bread. It's not just a recipe, it's a master recipe, it's the only recipe you will ever need and once you learn it you will say to yourself "Damn, why does everyone make bread recipes so complicated?"

Step 1: Baker's Percentage

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Baker's Percentage is an idea which comes to us from the big guys, commercial bakeries which need to be able to scale up a recipe to make a batch of dough big enough that you could hide a body in it. The idea is simple although the name is a little deceptive. A baker's percentage recipe expresses all the other ingredients as their percentage, by weight, of the flour. For instance a lean bread dough could be written as:

Flour 100%

Water 70%

Yeast 1%

Salt 2%

The astute reader will notice that this adds up to 173% but remember these are bakers, not mathematicians. We are really talking about proportions more than percentages but who wants to quibble as long as there is delicious bread. It's simple to use. You choose how much flour you want to use (whether you measure by the gram or the 40lb sack) and scale the rest of the ingredients to match.

Step 2: Percent Hydration

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The most important ratio in a bread recipe is the ratio between flour and water. This determines much about the handling characteristics of the dough and the texture of the final product. In baker's lingo this called the percent hydration. It makes the difference between a 60% hydration bagel and an 80% hydration ciabatta. This is the biggest variable to tweak when experimenting with a recipe.

Step 3: Weighing In

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A few years ago when I started baking a lot I bought a scale and started weighing my ingredients whenever possible. It is faster, easier and much more accurate. A kitchen scale is a common device in much of the world, but in the US it is virtually unknown outside commercial bakeries and the kitchens of dedicated home bakers. The logic is simple: It is difficult to accurately measure a flour by volume. The density of flour is too variable. A cup of light and fluffy flour has much less flour than a firmly packed cup. Now most of us have learned not to pack the flour in the measuring cup but there is still quite a bit of variation from one baker to the next. It is hard to know if your cup of flour is the same as the recipe author's cup of flour. If you are measuring out 6 cups of flour individually and there is a substantial error in each measurement this can add up to a large inaccuracy. Weighing things solves all that. You only make one measurement and it is much more accurate. Your kilogram of flour is the same as the author's kilogram of flour guaranteed. There can be small differences because of different moisture levels and different densities of different flours, but it is still much more accurate than volumetric measurement.

Step 4: Going Metric

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That brings us to our trick: Simply start with a kilogram of flour. When the flour is 1000 grams the rest of the math is so simple that even a baker can do it in their head. If you want 68% hydration than means 680g of water. If you want to make super dense pretzels add 550g of water if you want a super holey ciabatta add 800g. It is simple to experiment. A kilogram of flour makes a batch of dough which makes 2 nice loaves or 4 good size pizzas or a dozen rolls or pretzels or bagels depending on how big each one is. It is a good size batch to work with and can easily be mixed and kneaded in the usual home size kitchen aid.

You might be tempted to measure out your water by volume and that will probably work well enough if you have an accurate metric measuring cup. Water weighs more or less one gram per milliliter, although this varies somewhat with temperature. But you have the scale out already so why not use it.

Step 5: Salty Talk

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Unless you are from Florence Italy you will want some salt in your bread. The Florentines traditionally forgo salt in their bread because their seaside neighbors in Pisa once tried to gouge them on the price. The Florentines replied "Nyahh nyahh nyahh! We like our bread better without salt. So there. How do you like that." Then they sent gangs of drunken teenage boys to Pisa in the middle of the night to push over the tower and the rest is history. Well maybe not just like that, but the point is that bread is better with salt and you would have to be in pretty a pretty dire situation to want to leave it out. 2% is a pretty standard bakers percentage for salt which in our recipe translates to 20 grams. Most kitchen scales will measure this accurately enough but by luck this is also almost exactly a tablespoon if you are using regular iodized salt. If you use kosher salt it is a lot less dense so the weight measure is the same but if you measure by volume you will get significantly less saltiness. If you use Maldon fleur de sel I don't want to talk to you. You are probably so rich that you have someone to bake for you and don't need to worry about any of this anyway. I recommend measuring your salt separately then adding it, but if you want to trickle it slowly into the mixing bowl as you watch the scale slowly tick up 20g have fun.

Step 6: Release the Yeast

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Most lean bread recipes call for around 1/2 to 1% yeast. This translates to 5g to 10g of yeast in our recipe. This is getting down to the range where many kitchen scales aren't that accurate but don't despair you have a couple of choices. First just measure it as well as you can and call it good. It will probably work out fine, this isn't rocket science. Second, visit your neighborhood drug dealer and use his scale. He has a scale which is accurate to hundredths of grams. Or if his pit bull is giving you a dirty look you might want to get your own, they aren't expensive. If neither of these choices is appealing you can do what I do. A teaspoon is about 3g of yeast and a tablespoon is about 9g. I use a teaspoon for bread that I am going to proof for a couple of hours or retard overnight in the fridge and a tablespoon for bread that I want to rush so I can bake it faster. This works best for flat breads like pizza and naan which don't rise much after they have been formed.

If you are still buying yeast in those little packets you are being used. Buy it in 1 pound packages and store it in the freezer. It lasts for years. Keep a small supply handy in a mason jar in the fridge.

Step 7: The Need to Knead

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If you make bread more than once in a blue moon you really should get a Kitchenaid stand mixer. They are amazingly powerful and virtually indestructible. They are also heavy, bulky and expensive as well, but with reasonable care you will probably only need one in your lifetime. With a stand mixer and a dough hook you just dump everything in the bowl and let it rip for a few minutes. You sometimes need to scrape down the bowl and occasionally the dough may climb up the paddle and need to be subdued but it is generally pretty trouble free.

If you are working by hand or even with a mixer you can save yourself a lot of work by just barely mixing the dough and then letting it sit for about ten minutes before you knead. This gives the flour time to hydrate which is half of what you are trying to accomplish. It makes your dough much easier to work. The popular no-knead recipes take this to the extreme. Wait long enough and you don't need to knead at all.

Cover your dough and leave it in a warm place for a few hours or, if you are blessed with patience and foresight, put it in the fridge overnight. The flavor will improve with a long slow overnight fermentation.

Step 8: Bake Off

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For this example I made my dough into a couple of pizzas but you can adapt this technique to any type of bread you like. I use an electric oven at max temperature (550f) and after years of breaking pizza stones I now bake on a sheet of 1/4" steel. It doesn't need to be anything fancy. Mine is a piece of scrap from my shop. The steel transfers heat much faster than masonry which helps crisp nicely even though the oven isn't really as hot as I would like. It's no wood burning brick oven, but it makes some pretty good pizza.

Step 9: Summary

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So there you have the only bread recipe you need you know. You've probably got it memorized already. You can whip out an infinite array of breads This is a great technique for experimenting and developing new recipes. Just weigh out a kilo of whatever blend of flours you want add your yeast and salt and pick your hydration based on what you want your bread to be like. You can amaze your friends! (assuming they are amazed by such things)

Comments

Dwargh (author)2017-07-05

Great i'ble!!

Everything described in good detail!

calaman (author)2017-05-08

Great instructable!
Ive always tried/wanted2bake bread tho they never workd out.
The percentage method simplifys immensly. I even realised straight off u were talking bout percentages of the total! Its a empiric recipe which makes the process so easy. Thanks,
A future baker...

SherylinRM (author)2017-05-05

I was following until you mentioned going to a drug dealer.

Sicko

Stevens Workshop (author)2017-04-01

Great Instructable nicely explained...
I shan't be trying it though, my wife won't allow me in the kitchen. I'm only allowed to walk through it to get to my workshop.
FYI in the UK we call 'metric' bread... Bread ??

MarkW144 (author)2017-03-28

Many thanks for this great instructable!

Trying here to cut down on white flour. Any tips for how to adapt percentages when using wholewheat or other "healthier" types of flour (rye, spelt etc.) -- either 100% or combined with white flour?

Mark

shapespeare (author)MarkW1442017-03-29

I definitely understand trying to get away from white flour. You can use this baker's percentage technique with any flour or combo of flours you like but it may require some adjustment. Whole wheat flour generally absorbs more water than white flour so you will want to up the hydration by a couple of percent. Many 100% whole wheat recipes also add some oil as well which helps keep your bread from coming out like a brick.

simonlorlab (author)MarkW1442017-03-29

It is pretty much the same for any kind of flour I think. In Step 9, he wrote : "Just weigh out a kilo of whatever blend of flours you want [...]"

Joerg Engels (author)2017-03-29

Congratulations!

tkjtkj (author)2017-03-21

The proof of the 'math error' is the simple fact that " flour" being 100% of the mixture leaves NO room for any thing else!!

This leaves flour as being ONLY 100 MINUS the sum of 70% + 1% + 2 %

or flour being : only 73% of the mixture... so, flour is merely only 73% of the final mixture..

Therefore 73% + 27% flour = the 100% of the mixture.... by weight.

this yields 100%.

Oncer (author)tkjtkj2017-03-22

Add an egg and that's crepe batter!

MayerhoferB (author) Oncer2017-03-24

french crêpe batter is 250g flour, 4 eggs, 0,5l milk, no salt, no yeast, no sugar - everything else is pancakes;

Oncer (author)MayerhoferB2017-03-28

Well that's me told!

Tachyon (author)tkjtkj2017-03-24

Your error is thinking it refers to a percentage of the whole. In fact it refers to the percentage of each ingredient relative to the amount of flour. The percentages are not intended to add up to 100.

erwin (author)tkjtkj2017-03-22

Don't go backwards. Go forwards and you can make any amount the "100 percent" its well explained.

Laral (author)2017-03-21

Hah hah hah! It's about time someone extolled the virtues of both baking bread by baker's percentages and using the metric system. This country is the only industrialized nation that still uses the king's measurement system that is so arcane and unwieldy to use. I avoid recipes that use volume measurements. Weighing ingredients, like most of the world does, is not only more precise and accurate, it easily allows making adjustments, getting consistent repeat results, simple scaling of a recipe, and sharing recipes that work for everyone. Volume measure in breadmaking is inherently inaccurate because flour densities vary widely. You never know what percentage the dough has. I'm amazed at how many bread books by alleged experts use only volume measure.

I bought a digital scale a few years ago at Costco for $15 and use it all the time, especially for bread. As you say, you don't need a recipe for bread dough. Just decide how much flour you want to use and what percentage of water and weigh away.

I bake bread and pizza in a toaster oven and I also have a 1/4" piece of steel that just fits the rack. A 12" pizza, loaded, bakes in 4 minutes to charred perfection.

ghostgeek (author)Laral2017-03-21

I concur whole heartedly with you on the USA not widely using the metric system. But did you know it actually IS the official measurement system in the USA, and has been since 1893?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendenhall_Order

Also, we actually do use metric system in the United States a lot more than most people realize. For example medications are all dispensed CCs, miligrams and milliliters. Film stock is measured in millimetres, as are some ammunition rounds. Soda and wine comes in bottles measured in liters or milliliters. Food labels utilize metric units. Look around and you'll be surprised at how common it actually is.

There was a push to move the United States into the metric system back in the 1970s, but it was killed in 1982 by President Reagan. I never understood why, but my father-in-law always felt that it was blowback from the machinist unions who had a great deal of money invested precision Tools all calibrated to imperial units.

Tableleg (author)ghostgeek2017-03-27

The pushback from machinists is ironic considering they measure everything in thousandths of an inch (or milli-inches as I called them during my brief internship in a machine shop). My teacher/head machinist wasn't as amused as I was. :)

Laral (author)ghostgeek2017-03-23

That's very interesting. I did not know that. Yes, I am aware that a very few products are sold in metric quantities but I'm talking about universal adoption. And I have heard the machinists argument. But that's no excuse IMO. Using base 10 instead of base 2 measurements highly simplifies mental arithmetic. A perfect example—the other day I was in Costco and I was considering two different options for the same product. One was like 3 x 1lb 12oz packages for $x.xx, the other was, say, 2 x 2lb 10oz for $y.yy. How the hell do you determine the price per oz in your head so you can decide which is the better buy? And they do that on purpose. If it were metric it would be easy. The so-called imperial system is antiquated and based on some English or Scottish king's thumb (or other organ LOL!) size. Even the UK switched over to metric decades ago. I order things all the time on eBay that are metric so this further complicates things. I cannot find a metric drill bit set at Home Depot, Lowes, or Harbor Freight. I'll have to order one from China on eBay. Yet these companies do sell metric fasteners.

ghostgeek (author)Laral2017-03-25

I concur wholeheartedly. Imperial units suck. So much easier and more practical to use base 10. Our country needs to get its cranium out of its posterior and get on the same page as the rest of the world. Alas... We Americans FEAR CHANGE. :/

bpark1000 (author)2017-03-24

Weighing isn't necessarily "exact" either. Packing density affects flour quantity measured by volume, flour initial water content affects quantity when weighed. Damp flour has less flour per unit weight then dry flour!

As for salt, are you trying to kill everyone consuming the bread? I make bread without salt all the time. 20g of salt is way too much sodium! Why is salt needed in a pizza where salt-laden sauce, cheese, pepperoni, etc. are added on top? Entrees made from multiple ingredients should have salt in ONE ingredient. I am not interested in gorging water for the next 2 hours after eating the bread of pizza!

shapespeare (author)bpark10002017-03-24

That's the beauty of baking you own bread, you can make it however you like it.

MagnusR2 (author)2017-03-21

550f is not metric. 288°C is that in the metric system. My Ofen just goes to 230°C.
And about the errors you are wrong. If you measure 10 Cups which are wrong by 5% or 1 Cup which is wrong by 5% you will be in any case wrong by 5%. If the Cup is not wrong, but your method of using it is 5% inaccurate, then 1 cup is 5% wrong, but for 10 cups your errors will partly cancel each other out and you will be much more accurate and just in the worst possible case you will still be 5% wrong. The expected error for 10 cups is according to Gauss square root of (10*5*5)/1000 and that is about 1.5%.

tkjtkj (author)MagnusR22017-03-21

There are reports on yutube of an interesting solution to the problem of obtaining the very high temp;s of Roman pizza ovens: ie, a fellow disengaged the safety device of his 'self-cleeaning oven , to obtain 600+ degrees of cooking temperature.

He reported that only on a small number of occasions did the local fire department respond to the production of large quantities of smoke coming from his kitchen.

I am NOT endorsing this illogical approach to the issue, tho he did manage to cook a frozen pizza in as little as 45 seconds using this approach.

mlaiuppa. (author)tkjtkj2017-03-24

I see no reason to bypass any safety elements built into an appliance.

If your stove is limited then there are always work arounds.

If you can't build a pizza oven in your backyard, you can practice baking bread in a backyard grill, but I would use wood charcoal, not briquets or propane.

shapespeare (author)tkjtkj2017-03-22

Sounds adventurous! I used to warm my lunch sandwich in a forge furnace at the blacksmith shop where I worked. We shut off the gas at lunch so the furnace cooled down a bit. It was only about 1800F. If I wrapped a sandwich completely in aluminum foil and stuck it in for about 10 seconds it came out nice and melty, but if there were any gaps in the foil it would incinerate. There is such a thing as too much heat.

mlaiuppa. (author)MagnusR22017-03-21

U.S. ovens don't do metric so we are stuck with Fahrenheit.

One trick you can try is if your oven won't go hot enough, you can turn on the broiler. This does depend on your oven. I have a gas oven with the broiler in a drawer under the oven. While my oven theoretically goes up to 550 I haven't taken the temperature of how high it would go if I put it on broil and left it for 30 min.

So you might want to see if you can get your oven over 230c. by using the broiler.

While you're correct, it is important to note that this advice could potentially be, and likely is, a very dangerous fire hazard.

shapespeare (author)mlaiuppa.2017-03-21

I have used the broiler for extra heat but mine shuts itself off after a few minutes so it makes the whole thing rather in predictable.

mlaiuppa. (author)shapespeare2017-03-21

The downside of modern appliances.

I have a vintage O'Keefe and Merritt gas stove. No automatic anything. The pilot light is always on so the oven box is a toasty 100 degrees even when the oven is off. Perfect for everything bread from activating the yeast to rising to baking.

I love this stove so much I may have them bury me with it.

Oncer (author)mlaiuppa.2017-03-22

I bet you make wicked meringues with an oven like that

mlaiuppa. (author) Oncer2017-03-23

Also delicious doggy cookies.

er4g0n (author)MagnusR22017-03-22

There really is no need to be a troll, The author stated (if you were able to read) that they're Bakers, not mathematicians. as a fan of baking this instructable is superb , kudos to the author

shapespeare (author)er4g0n2017-03-22

Thank you very much

erwin (author)MagnusR22017-03-22

We bake at ,450 and it works fine

shantinath1000 (author)2017-03-24

Love the info on the baker's ratios- I think I will make some bread this weekend.

mpulliam1 (author)2017-03-24

I did not understand one bit of this, and that is ok. There is a reason I "lift things up, and put things down" and I am an equipment operator, not a baker. That being said, I bet in the right hands, this is an amazing instructable. Can I call it "amazing" and not understand it? I just did, so there.

J2SARET (author)2017-03-22

Too much salt

shapespeare (author)J2SARET2017-03-22

Of course feel free to adjust it to your liking.

alanjamesblair (author)2017-03-22

"The Batter Zone" will be the title of my next short story. :)

tgetzster (author)2017-03-21

Great article! This makes bread-making so much more simple. One question though... most of the recipies I've tried use sugar, but there's no mention of it in this article. Where does sugar sit in the ratio?

Beekeeper (author)tgetzster2017-03-21

You don't need sugar in bread because there is a natural enzyme in wheat and thus in flour, called diastase that, in the presence of water, converts the starch in flour to sugar for the yeast to work on. You also don't need to proof the yeast unless you are using fresh yeast that has been sitting around in your fridge for a few weeks. Fresh yeast is a damp putty-like crumbly solid (a bit like crumbly cheese) that has a shelf life of about two weeks. If it is older than two weeks, checking it by proofing it in a little water with some sugar will satisfy you that the yeast hasn't died of old age. I always use fast acting dehydrated yeast and just add it in with the flour, and between batches I store it in the freezer as the author recommends.

shapespeare (author)Beekeeper2017-03-21

Right you are. Proofing yeast is a thing of the past for me. I'd put it down with sifting flour on my list of quaint things you see in old cookbooks.

Oncer (author)shapespeare2017-03-22

Well I still sift flour for sponges and that type of baking, if only to get the lumps out before folding in.

Oncer (author)Beekeeper2017-03-21

I remember as a child (in the 60's) my mother would get yeast from the local supermarket (UK - in the North West) for free. This was in the days before supermarkets had in store bakeries so what the yeast was for and why it was free I don't know. But she always proved it with lukewarm water and sugar and Mum made bread was the best. The majority of the bread we ate was bought from the bakers at the end of the street, who also gave yeast away, probably safe in the knowledge that the local Mums in the area had to work and had no time for baking bread as a rule.

shapespeare (author) Oncer2017-03-21

There is an amazing hippie bakery not far from my house in California which will gladly give you some of their starter. They know anyone who is interested enough to want their starter is likely going to buy a lot of their bread as well.

tgetzster (author)Beekeeper2017-03-21

Interesting, thanks Beekeeper! I really need to take that bread class on here.

AntonioF114 (author)tgetzster2017-03-21

1 teaspoon for each pound of flour.... talking metric, i traspoon each 500gram (or half kilo) of flour.

Wild-Bill (author)2017-03-21

I totally concur on using a digital scale for making bread as it makes everything repeatable. Everything but pizza - I having been making pizza for such a long time and it is such a small amount of dough, I just do it by feel.

ghostgeek (author)Wild-Bill2017-03-21

Or... just make 2 or 3 times the dough, and freeze it! ;)

Wild-Bill (author)ghostgeek2017-03-21

It would take me longer to defrost it then it would to make it. I take bread flour, instant yeast, garlic powder, salt, olive oil, hot water, mix, knead, rise, form, rest, dress, bake.

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Bio: I make custom copper signs, metalwork and prototypes. I am one of the hosts of the "3d Printing Today Podcast", available on iTunes.
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