Let’s talk about… baker’s percentages vs. cups

I hate cup recipes with a passion! And that’s just one of the reasons why you won’t find any in my blog.

Cups aren’t exactly accurate. The same cup can hold between 100 and 150g of all purpose flour, depending on fluffiness and coarseness. The fact that I can cram up to 8 cups of flour into a 6 cup jar gives me hives when I think about using a volume measurement for baking! Even in cooking it’s annoying, though it’s more forgiving there. But measuring out a quarter cup of basil leaves or 24 cups of apple slices… seriously? Why are so many people against scales?

As I said, cups aren’t accurate, and in the beginning, that inaccuracy is what can actually help you, because it forces you to pay attention to the dough and figure out the perfect moment when it reaches flour saturation. It teaches you how the dough is supposed to look and feel, shows you that it’s mostly ready when it’s pulling away from the sides of the bowl. The problem is, that it only really works with mostly white flour wheat doughs.

As soon as you dip your feet into high hydration doughs, other grains, gluten free baking, or homemilled wholegrain, things start to get a bit more complicated. Wholegrain needs more time to soak up the water, so you have to add several resting periods to your mixing and kneading. High hydration doughs don’t pull away from the bowl, all purpose spelt bakes really dry when you use flour saturation, ancient grains have weaker gluten and don’t always pull away, 100% rye is always sticky and more like cookie dough, same with gluten free bread doughs. And you really don’t want to eat a panettone that has reached flour saturation: dry as the desert! All these things create situations, where “the dough has enough flour when it pulls away from the bowl” just doesn’t work anymore.

In cup recipes, you always start with a fixed amount of liquid and add flour until you deem it’s enough. Depending on the flour you’re using and its “thirstyness”, the breads can tremendously differ in size, in saltiness, in sweetness. Sometimes it rises ok, other times it takes ages. And that’s because the relation between the flour and your other ingredients is never exactly the same.

I prefer baker’s percentages, because the amount of flour is fixed and everything else is a fixed percentage of the flour’s weight: salt, spices, add-ins, even the water (though that can be adjusted). That gives me results I can reproduce because all the ingredients that have an important job, always go into my dough with the same percentage. The same bread recipe results in the same size loaf every time, the same basic taste, the same timing. And with e.g. the salt amount being in perfect relation to the flour, there aren’t any surprises with the enzymatic activity. (Click here to read all about the salt and its jobs in another random tidbit.)

Yes, I weigh my salt and my spices for the breads, because grain size can look the same, but it rarely is, so relying on spoons can be difficult. I use a precision scale and a tiny bowl to get exactly the amount I want/need.

there are exactly 20g of salt in each tiny bowl, notice a difference?

Sure, there are times when my flour is extra thirsty, but then I just add a bit more water in the beginning of the mixing phase, and that’s that. I never have to fiddle with anything else.

Once you start developing your own recipes, using baker’s percentages gives you great starting points concerning the hydration, the salt amount, how much sourdough or yeast to use, the timing, etc. Nearly every ingredient in a bread doug has a job to do and they are all interconnected and dependent on each other. Once you get behind the science, it makes so much sense, and it’s really easy to manipulate those players into the right direction. Way easier than the guesswork and praying involved with cups.

I hope you give the percentages (and a kitchen scale) a chance.

One response to “Let’s talk about… baker’s percentages vs. cups”

  1. Learning baker’s percentages (from you – thank you!) was such a freeing experience. While my initial resistance was strong, after the first loaf there was no going back! While I am no where near enough experienced to begin creating my own recipes, each time a successful loaf is created using this method, my confidence increases. Thank you!

    Like

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