Our starter is getting close to being ready for baking, it’s bubbling away nicely and it’s about time to start thinking about what to bake with it. Hopefully tomorrow we can start scaling up the starter ready to bake our first loaf!
Today I added 2 scoops of flour and one of water which brings our total to 6 scoops of flour and 3 of water (which using my scoop is 300g of flour and 240g of water). This is still a fairly wet mix and we will eventually aim for something a bit stiffer but it will do for now.
It’s perhaps worth spending a moment here getting our heads round something that you will often find in books about breadmaking which is the system of measurement known as “Baker’s percentages”. This is a Marmite kind of system, some bakers (myself included) find it very helpful, others think it a load of nonsense that’s not worth bothering with. Nevertheless it is something that you will probably come across so I’ll attempt to explain it here.
Simply put it is a way of working out the ratios of the different ingredients in bread – Flour, Salt, Yeast and Water.
You start off by taking the amount of Flour that you are using, for simplicity’s sake we will say this is 1kg (1000g). You then work out the quantity of the other ingredients as a percentage of this.
The quantity of Salt is normally 2% of the flour quantity, in this case 20g (2% of 1000g)
The quantity of Yeast is normally 2% (20g) if using fresh yeast and 1% (10g) if using “Fast-Action” yeast. With sourdough it is a bit different because the yeast is not added as a separate ingredient, rather it is present in the flour/water added in the starter.
Adding the Water is where the variation comes in. I have seen anything from 50% (500g) to 100% (1000g) water in different recipes and this obviously makes a huge difference to the final bread. A good starting point is to use about 60% (600g) water and then you can experiment with varying this, increasing the water percentage as you get more confident handling the dough.
As a general rule if you use less water the dough is stiffer and therefore easier (or at least less messy) to handle but the finished loaf is drier.
Conversely if you use more water the dough is stickier and harder to knead but the final dough is softer and will stay fresh longer (basically because bread goes off when it dries out so if there is more moisture in it then it will take longer to dry out!).
So coming back to the issue of baker’s percentages the reason they are used is that they make it much easier to scale recipes up and down. For example if I am making a single loaf or pizza base at home I will probably use 300g flour and it is easy therefore to work out that I need 2% salt (6g), 2% yeast (6g), and 66% water (200g). On the other hand a few weeks ago I did a baking workshop with 20 children so started with 5kg of flour but could still easily work out that I needed 2% salt (100g), 2% yeast (100g) and 60% water (3kg).
This is not a foolproof system but they are helpful numbers to have in your head if you are making different amounts of dough for different things. Equally it can be an easy way of scaling up/down a recipe quickly, you just convert everything into percentages of the amount of flour, scale up/down the flour, and then recalculate the other quantities. It worked for me when I made hundreds of hot cross buns for our Good Friday service at Church last Easter!
So tomorrow we turn our focus towards producing a loaf – see you then!