February 24, 2011

Baker's Percentage Illustrated: Two Breads

Pain de Provence, a boule seasoned with Herbs de Provence.
Pain de Provence

That lovely boule is a Pain de Provence. There are lots of recipes out there for making Pain de Provence, but I didn't use any of them. Instead, I played around with the Baker's Percentage of a standard lean dough to illustrate what the Baker's Percentage is and how it can be used.

If you aren't sure what a Baker's Percentage is, read my previous post. Here's the basic dough recipe I worked from.

Lean Bread Dough
flour 100%
water 60%
salt 3%
yeast 2%

Naturally, I didn't just use that dough. No, I want wild yeast in my bread, and since it's a Provençal-style bread, I need olive oil. First thing I need to know is how much flour and water are in the mother starter. You'll have to take my word for it, but if you made the mother the way I did and posted, it's 100% flour, 75% water, and 33.3% seed culture. To make life easy, I decided to calculate as though the water and flour were equal. One of the tricks of baking is to hold back some liquid until you see how the dough or batter turns out. If it's too dry, add more liquid, but never start out using all the liquid because if it happens to be too wet, you can't add more flour without messing up the proportions of every other ingredient.

For these two breads, I'm going to use 20 ounces of flour. So flour, 100%, equals 20 ounces.

Step one, make a starter. I used 2 ounces of mother, 3 ounces of water, and 5 ounces of flour. That set overnight at room temperature. Here's where I am:

flour 30% (5 ounces plus 1 ounce in the mother )
water 20% (3 ounces plus 1 ounce in the mother)

If I'd been thinking ahead when I first made this bread, I would have added about ⅓ cup of Herbs de Provence to the starter so that the herbs would have plenty of time to hydrate. I didn't do that, and also used ½ cup, both mistakes that you can now avoid.

Step two, make a dough. I need to get flour to 100% so need to add 14 ounces. Water (liquid) needs to be at 60%, so I chose to use 1 ounce of extra virgin olive oil (5%) and 7 ounces of water (35%). For the record, it's best to use lukewarm water. Add it to the starter and mix to soften, then add the remaining dry ingredients. That's what I did, and included 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. I also used ¼ teaspoon of active dry yeast to boost the rise in the bread.

Pain de Provence
sourdough mother 10%
unbleached flour 95%
water 50%
extra virgin olive oil 5%
kosher salt 3%
active dry yeast (optional)  0.5%
Herbs de Provence 3%

If you're paying attention, you probably wonder how salt (2 teaspoons) and Herbs de Provence (⅓ cup) are both 3%. Because they weigh the same. At least they did for me. You might also question how I only have 95% flour and 50% water when I should have 100% flour and 60% water. Remember that half the mother is flour and half is water, more or less, and that I used some oil in place of some water. You might also wonder why the lean dough recipe has 2% yeast, but I only listed 0.5%, and that optional. The mother is taking care of most of the yeast, so I don't need to add nearly as much commercial yeast to the dough.

Now, in a more convenient form, the "final" recipe for Pain de Provence.

2 oz sourdough mother
3 oz water
5 oz unbleached flour
⅓ cup Herbs de Provence

10 oz starter (all of it)
14 oz unbleached flour
7 oz water
1 oz extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon active dry or instant yeast

Mix the starter and let it set at room temperature overnight. The next day, add the rest of the ingredients, mix until a dough forms, adding more water or olive oil as necessary (I used the oil). Knead for several minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test (stretch a small window until you can see through it without breaking it). Let rise 2-4 hours, until doubled in size. Refrigerate overnight at this point if you wish. Gently degas the dough and form into a boule (or whatever shape you prefer). Place on a baking sheet and let rise, covered, 2-4 hours. Preheat your oven to its highest temperature with a sheet pan in the oven for water. When the oven is hot, carefully score the dough using a lame, serrated knife, or razor blade. Place the baking sheet in the oven, carefully add water to the steam pan, then close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450°F. Bake 12 minutes, then rotate the baking sheet and continue to bake until done, about 24 more minutes. The bread is done when it's nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Turn off the oven and leave the door open for about 10 minutes, then remove the bread to a cooling rack for at least an hour before you slice it.

Onion roll made with sourdough and a lean dough base.
Onion Roll flavored with caramelized onions

Now for some onion rolls. I started by having some caramelized onions on hand. Once again I used the lean dough Baker's Percentage as the foundation, and I used the same starter as for Pain de Provence. This time, however, I not only wanted to add some olive oil for flavor and color (that's the yellow tinge), I also wanted to use both unbleached and white whole wheat flours. Whenever you use whole wheat flours, you'll probably want to add some oil. Whole wheat flour still has bran in it, and bran has sharp edges that will shred the gluten strands. Oil protects the gluten and reduces shredding.

Just as in the the previous recipe, I need to get flour to 100%. I find that if I have more than about 10-15% whole wheat flour the bread seems a bit dry and begins to get bitter unless I make an enriched bread. So I decided to hold it down to 10% so the sandwich rolls would have a bit more toothiness to them as well as a richer flavor to stand up to whatever I chose to put in my sandwich.

Additionally, I find that 60% liquid doesn't produce a bread with quite enough heft to it. It's excellent on its own, but as a sandwich bread, it's a bit too weak. So I increased the liquid from 60% to 65%. Not a huge change, but it produced a denser bread.

Onion Rolls

2 oz sourdough mother (10%)
3 oz water (15%)
5 oz unbleached flour (25%)

12 oz unbleached flour (60%)
2 oz white whole wheat flour (10%)
8 oz water (40%)
1 oz extra virgin olive oil (5%)
2 teaspoons rosemary salt (3%)
¼ teaspoon active dry or instant yeast (0.5%) optional
½ cup chopped caramelized onions

The procedure for making this bread is exactly the same as for Pain de Provence, above, except that instead of forming a boule, you'll cut the dough into squares or rectangles or whatever sandwich shape you want. Or form it into a boule, baton, or loaf if you want. It's your bread.

If I were writing these recipes for commercial production, the starter and dough would each be seperate, and the percentages would be totalled. I would also weigh the onions in whatever units I'm using (ounces or grams) and express them as a percentage. I've written the separate parts of the recipe as though everything was in one process for clarity about how I arrived to the recipe. I didn't weigh the onions because I suggest you use as much or little as you wish, or even leave them out altogether. The bread will be fine.

I hope this helps you understand the recipe creation process I use. Now I need to get back out to the garden while this false Spring is still going on because there's a lot of work to be done.


  1. Wow! I felt like I was in your lecture, listening to a great science teacher explaining things. Good luck with your garden. We had little bit of snow in Oregon(most of school closed, of course ) and very cold today( for me) Low in 18F.

  2. Wow these breads are beautiful! Those onion rolls look especially delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Gareth,

    Have you read "Bread Baking An Artisan's Perspective" by Daniel T. DiMuzio? Much like "Ratio" it's focused on the baker's perspective. It seems to have been intended as a culinary textbook as each chapter has key terms, questions for review, and questions for discussion - but it's actually very interesting and an easy read!

  4. I haven't read that book. It sounds like a good one, though.