The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Advice on ideal ratios for flour/water/yeast/sugar/fat/ salt etc when combined with different ingredients?

Graid's picture

Advice on ideal ratios for flour/water/yeast/sugar/fat/ salt etc when combined with different ingredients?

Hello there, I am new to this forum, though I  have been making bread for a while, mostly using my breadmaker to mix the dough for me, and shaping and baking the dough outside of it. 

I've just gotten into doing this again lately, and I keep getting frustrated by having ideas for bread which I can't find reliable recipes for online. Many recipes I find online for bread seem to violate all good sense when it comes to the ratio of bread to water and the amount of yeast and sugar. For example I made the mistake of following one that had a near 1:1 ratio of flour to water, the dough for which turned out predictably pourable. Others have had what seem to me like silly amounts of yeast (like should one average sized loaf really require more than a 7g yeast packet??), although the results with those were considerably less disasterous. I am tempted to just make up my own recipes (have done in the past), but I think I'm in need of more knowledge about what kind of ratios I should be aiming for and their effects.

I was wondering if there are any general rules as to what range of ratio of flour to water to yeast to salt to fat to sugar is acceptable. Generally speaking, I think it's right when there's about 60% as much water as flour (though I understand there's some regional variance there), but I wonder what others think, and if there are guidlines for the other ingredients?

And any ideas how it might vary depending on the kind of density of loaf and crust you want? And the sweetness of the loaf, like say, how should you vary the salt/yeast if you add more sugar?

For white bread, wholemeal bread, mixed grain, rye

Bread with wet vegatables in it (eg olives, onions)

Bread with dried powders/dried vegetables (like onion or garlic powder which tend to be quite salty)

Bread with nuts

Bread with seeds?  (eg sunflower)

Any advice would be appreciated!

pmccool's picture

As you note, many bread recipes call for far more yeast than is really required.  Many, it seems, are rooted in recipes written in the 1950's and 1960's when "helping the homemaker save time" was all the rage, rather than making superior bread.  It was also an era of active dry yeast and the general advice was to proof the yeast in a water/sugar mixture.  Much of that same mindset seems to have carried forward some 50 years later.  Besides, if you are a manufacturer, why tell your customers that they really need less of your product?

If you want, you can use as little as 1/8 teaspoon of yeast in a bread.  You will have to make allowances for an extended rise time, probably including refrigeration.  Using preferments (bigas, poolishes, sponges, etc.) also permit a reduction in yeast used.  Essentially, you are farming your own yeast, rather than paying the yeast manufacturer to do so.

Sugar isn't required in many breads but each person's tastes vary, so try making the bread as per the recipe.  If you like it, good.  If not, make it again but adjust the sugar up or down as your tastes dictate.

Measuring ingredients by weight, rather than by volume, will give a baker a much better idea of how a bread is going to turn out, especially if s/he is acquainted with bakers math.  I have the impression that you may already be doing this, so won't go into detail here.  If you aren't, please search the site for that information.  And have a look at the handbook, too.  You will find a wealth of information.

Even when weighing ingredients, one still has to adjust based on the characteristics of the flours available to them.  I moved from the U.S. to South Africa last year and wound up doing a test bake of breads with different hydration levels to get a handle on how local flours behave.  There was enough difference that the first few batches I tried did not turn out well.  After learning how the flours in the stores here behave, things have been going well.

In your case, using the bread machine to do the kneading is depriving you of an important source of information: the dough itself.  Seeing and feeling how it comes together will tell you a lot about whether more liquid or more flour is needed.

Formulae for white breads baked in loaf pans tend to run in the 55-60% hydration range; you may find some that are higher or lower.  The addition of whole-grain flour typically requires a boost in liquid content due to the extra absorption by the bran.  Hearth breads have a wider range of hydration, typically in the 60-70% range, though you may find some sneaking close to 75% hydration.  Again, whole-grain flours will require more hydration to achieve dough characteristics that approximate white-flour doughs.

All of what I've just said is general in nature.  You will find exceptions in specific formulae to just about every one of those numbers.

Salt also varies from one bread to another.  Most have salt contents in the 1%-2% range.  Some have none, others more.  You will probably want to cut back on salt if you are adding salty foods to the dough like cheese, olives, salami, etc.

Many seeds and whole-kernel grains that are added to bread dough benefit from either soaking or cooking prior to use in the dough.  Otherwise they are apt to draw moisture from the surrounding dough and make the bread dry.  Nuts usually go in as is, although some formulae will suggest toasting them first for flavor reasons.  

Lots of generalities, I know, but I hope that some is useful to you.


Thaichef's picture

Hello Paul:

  I read with interest your information concerning the ratio of bread/yeast/sugar etc. I have been reading and making sourdough breads using this website (which have wealth of information) for about a year now. I am still learning and your information is bookmarked into my tutorial info.Thank you for taking time to teach us the "newbie".

  After a year of trying, I am still not quite able to creat "large holes nor precise gringes" . Sight!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Has more to do with Technique than the parameters of the ingredients. 

In reading your post, you've got a feel for where those parameters are.  Salt lies anywhere between 1.2 to 2.2%  (% being the ratio of 100) Any salty ingredients have to be considered individually.  Salt and sugar combinations...  get a good scale and mix them together and taste them.  Note the ratios you prefer and the ones that just taste horrible.  There.  You've got your guidelines.   You will not want too much salt in a sweet dough or too much sweetner in a savory dough.

Some flours absorb more water so I've seen recipes with even 120% with a lower end of say 50% depending on the flour.  Oil and shortning parameters hang with your definition of "bread"  lower end 0% lean breads to high end Shortbread or 50%?  (cookie territory) 

Whenever you add other ingredients like vegies, nuts and fruits, the water content and the size of the chunks make a big difference.  Ask yourself: What do they do when they're heated?  What is their texture and consistancy?  How will it look?  How do I want to bite into that added ingredient?   Roots are safer if boiled first before adding, there are just too many stray bacteria hiding in the dirt.  One end of the scale is nut flour, dried fruit or powdered, the middle is cracked or grated, and then the other end is whole pieces.  Whole pieces present less problems in calculating anywhere from 1 to 300% of the bread weight depending on what the goal is. Cracked and grated begin to play a roll with the dough.  If the added ingredient is fine enough or liquid enough to chemically bonds with the flour, then more consideration and tighter parameters are needed.  Read about them (we have a fun search machine) or experiment and take notes.  We don't mind if you share your wisdom.   If ingredients interfere with gluten formation, there are ways to add separately or they are limited to 30% of the glutinous flour in the initial mixing.  Some seeds absorb a lot of water and need to be soaked first so they don't compete with the flour absorbing water.  Nut flours are fatty but absorb liquids too. 

Some doughs start out wet and after 30 minutes are dryer.  Sourdoughs generally start out dryer and get wetter. If you are using non-gluten flours, then some kind of "gel" or glue needs to be added to hold the ingredients together to go above 30% additions (to glutinous flours or) to eliminate glutinous flours.

If there is more detail you need to know, you might want to pick up a good book on the subject or take a course in baking.  These are general perameters, and as you know or will learn, there are techniques and ingredients that make exceptions to every rule.   So stay flexible in your experimentations and keep detailed notes.  


Graid's picture

Thanks (belatedly!) very much for the useful advice all- very detailled and well expressed. I had not actually read that section on baker's math but I am finding it useful!

Through making bread more often I am getting more confident at improvising with ingredients using the ratios, though I make the occasional horrible mistake. I bear your comments in mind whilst doing so!

ananda's picture

Hi Mario Kontaxis,

I do not share your view that water is necessarily tricky.   But I advocate weighing water as opposed to measuring it.

However, that is a matter of choice; each to their own.

The problem is that your recipe appears flawed.   Your water content is only 32% of your flour.   It should be a minimum of 56% for anything considered conventional, and preferably over 60% , going right up to 85% for breads with very random cell structure.   The percentages used above apply to the weight of water relative to flour.   32g of water to 100g of flour would not even allow you to produce a dough.

Another couple of thoughts: 20g of yeast?   There are different types of yeast available, and each is added at different levels; Instant, Active-Dry and Fresh.   There is no mention of salt in your basic bread recipe.

Bread Recipes can be simple to formulate and calculate, but a certain degree of care and knowledge is required to be successful.

Best wishes


Mark_in_NEO's picture

I too had the same questions and this thread answered most of them, except for sugar and oil/fat.

On another site I found sugar should be 5% with a max of 10%.

I was using 1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz) to 30 ounces of bread flour, thats 13% +, and I think thats too much. Plus when using butter it adds water ....Last time I used 4 oz olive oil and that was also too much.

For white bread sandwich I've found 60% hydration with K*** A***** bread flour is about right but with P******** 60% is WAY too low, makes shoe leather dough.

I do a pre ferment, for one flour 100% works, for the next flour (both bread flours) 120%, for my multigrain using bulgur and white whole wheat in the preferment (8 www, 4 bulgur, 16 water) I'm up to 133 water%.

I have a trade scale and do all measuring by mass (weight), yes, measuring cups are pooched. Set tare, add 8 oz water by mass, don't be shocked when the levels don't match.

AmIaBaker's picture

I found this website while researching the yeast-to-flour ratio and whether amount of yeast and time are variables. Thank you, pmccool, for the info posted on Jul 24, 2010. I am a "fresh" baker (pardon the pun) and can claim only to have baked more than a dozen loaves of Mark Bittman's no-knead bread in the last year. Other attempts at baking (cakes, cookies, cinnamon buns) are merely attempts. The yeast, flour and time info is probably nothing new to more experienced bakers, but for a newbie, it is very helpful.

The info to use less yeast and allow more time confirmed my inkling when I came across a recipe calling for 2.5 tsp of yeast to 3.5 cups of flour. I suspect that store-bought bread has much more yeast than Mark Bittman's recipe, which may be a reason for my mild "reaction" when I eat store-bought bread. (Other reasons could be the numerous other unnecessary ingredients in store-bought bread.)

I plan to experiment with the recipe I found using less yeast and more time. Will report results. Again, thank you.