The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Why is Leaven not calculated in the Hydration Percentage?

SJonesColumbus's picture

Why is Leaven not calculated in the Hydration Percentage?

First post with a quick question: why is the amount of leaven in a bread dough not considered part of the hydration percentage?


I'm working with a dough that is 800g Bread Flour, 200g Spelt, 500g water, that also has 800g Poolish (400g Bread Flour, 400g water, pinch yeast). I make the poolish the night before and then add it to the dough in the morning, but additional yeast is added to the dough so it doesn't really act like a leaven, per se. The Tartine charts show that they do not include the leaven in their calculation for hydration percentage. I'm trying to "think like a baker" and compare the hydration percentage of this dough vs. many others.


Calculating the Hydration Percentage based on Tartine, without factoring the Poolish, would be 50% (500g / 1000g). If I calculate with the poolish, then the Hydration percentage seems to be 64% (900g / 1400g). In reality I know that I'm only adding equal parts flour and water, but the arithmatic charges significantly.


What am I missing? This question seems so basic that I'm sure it is obvious. Thanks for the help.

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

I seem to recall when this has come up before, we concluded that Chad Robertson excludes levain from the hydration calculation for simplicity, and because, for his formulae, the difference is small. This may not be the case for other formulae, as you have found. My suggestion would be to include it.

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

I checked the BBGA guidelines to see if they mention this.

They include preferments in the final dough ingredients calculation. Surprisingly, however, they never seem to actually calculate a final dough hydration number.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is fully hydrated flour and will not give up enough water to hydrate additional flour well.  So hydration has to be increased or risk very lumpy dough. 

The math is 50% but the poolish is 100% and it will not give up half if it's water to hydrate the rest of the flour to 50%.  So more water is needed.  Which isn't bad from the handling point of view.  You get a higher hydration dough with a lower hydration dough feel.  (But only if the poolish is not over-fermented.)

proth5's picture

Because it is all very simple and straightforward. And important to understand.

The pre ferment is included in the calculation of the hydration of the overall formula.

If you look at the BBGA (Bread Baker's Guild of America) standards as referenced above, you will always see both the flour and the water used for a preferment included in the "overall formula" weights and bakers percentages.

The hydration of the preferment is also expressed as a bakers percent.

What is not included, if the preferment is "sourdough" based is the hydration of the "seed" or the starter used in the pre ferment . This is a valid simplifying assumption because the amount of seed is usually small in comparison to the total dough.

Given what is calculated above, we know the final hydration of the dough we will eventually mix/shape/bake and the hydration of there pre ferment we need to mix. Both indicate things to the baker. When you "think like a baker" both of these are important.

In the BBGA standard, percentages are not calculated on the ingredients for the "Final dough." These are the ingredients that will be added together with the preferment to create the dough that we will mix/shape/bake. Some bakers like these percentages, but they are problematic as ingredients are being added to a mix of flour/water (the pre ferment) and percentages are either distorted or are the same as the "overall dough."

It is an elegant solution to expressing formulas. I have tried others and this one provides complete information in a succinct way.

The impact of a pre ferment on the overall hydration of the dough is important. Frankly, authors who do not use the above conventions fail to hold my interest, so I don't know much about them. I try not to write about things I know little about.

But if you are talking the BBGA standard, what I have explained above is correct. The pre ferment always is included in the hydration calculation of the overall formula.

Mini may be thinking about "soaker water" not being included in the calculation of the hydration of overall formula because it is absorbed by the soaker material (making the soaker "hydration neutral"). That is another diverting topic in and of itself...

SJonesColumbus's picture

This has all been very helpful. In short, proth5, you're saying that the hydration percentage of the bread in my example is 64% (900G / 1,400G)? I want to make sure your explanation is totally clear.


thanks again everyone!

proth5's picture

Because it does seem that there is confusion on this topic:

Your total flour is 800g(bread)+200g(spelt)+400g(bread in the pre ferment)  = 1,400 g (as you said)

Your total water is 500 (in the final mix) + 400 (in the pre ferment) = 900g (again, as you said)

Overall formula hydration is 900/1,400 or 64%, you get an "A."

Let's show some important other calculations:

Percent of total flour pre fermented: 400/1400 = 29%

Percent of bread flour pre fermented: 400/1200 = 33%

Hydration of the pre ferment: 400/400 = 100%

Percent of overall formula flour that is spelt: 200/1400 = 14%

Percent of overall formula flour that is bread flour: 1200/1400 = 86% (note how these two add up to 100%)

Give me the percentages of salt and yeast and I have completely expressed your formula. And I know quite a bit about it.  You are making a liquid preferment and prefermenting about an average amount of the total flour. You will be creating a moderately hydrated dough, again about typical for a freestanding loaf. The amount of spelt will have some impact on the dough, but will not significantly impact the handling qualities brought by of the bread flour.

Sorry for the overkill.  I think you have this well in hand.

Hope this helps.

JacquelineColussi's picture

Beautifully expressed, proth5!

proth5: [The BBGA formula format] is an elegant solution to expressing formulas. I have tried others and this one provides complete information in a succinct way.
I agree. Complete information about a given bread formula is the baseline, which enables a baker to creatively think about another baker's bread (or one's own)—and from there attempt to replicate that bread, or tweak it, or adapt it to one's own goals.  There's a question I would like to ask you. Above, you shared some "important other calculations," one of which is:
Percent of bread flour pre fermented: 400/1200 = 33%
What does this percentage (33% in this case) tell you about this formula, that the formula's other percentages cannot? I find meaning in each of the other %s expressed in the BBGA formula format. But this particular number's meaning eludes me yet. I'm interested in the meaning other bakers find in this number. (As to-date neither Dado nor I have found this particular % meaningful, we haven't implemented support for it in BreadStorm. But this could change....)

All best wishes,

proth5's picture

You are correct, this number by itself tells you little.

But combine it with the number:

Percent of spelt flour in the preferment: 0%

And you know which flour to put in your pre ferment mix. This is important since then I know I have an all white flour pre ferment.

In a sense, the zero percentage is superfluous since, if you calculated weights from these percentages you would end up with the correct components in your preferment mix. So I do think the first number (33%) has some importance. I've had it in my spreadsheets for years. I'm an engineer and doing spreadsheets is "mind candy" for me.

I have meant to look at BreadStorm, but you know how it goes. If you have something that works...

Hope this helps.


BetsyMePoocho's picture


I do not possess to command the expertise or knowledge that you and proth5 add to this discussion.  What I would meagerly add is the "percent of bread flour pre-fermented" number is this... It provides me some indication of how the pre-ferment should bias the flavor in the final dough.

(Of course my pre-ferments are controlled, temp at or below 72℉, and for 12 to 14 hours max.)

Oh, I just spent the last hour or so using your "BreadStrom" program.  Sweet job you have done.  I think that the most difficult thing the "new" baker has to become intimate with is the Bakers Percent / Bakers Math.... and this program is a very good tool...!  (But kinda pricy.)

This entire thread has been a joy to read and I have learned a lot.....




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and can't read straight.  I was thinking there were two recipes one a straight dough with 50% hydration and another with 64% and a poolish.  My mistake.  Sorry.  But it did get you out of the woodwork, Pat!  Nice seeing you!  :)

proth5's picture

I knew you knew better.  Just like a marmot, sticking my head up - saw my shadow - and back I go...

jkandell's picture

"What is not included, if the preferment is "sourdough" based is the hydration of the "seed" or the starter used in the pre ferment . This is a valid simplifying assumption because the amount of seed is usually small in comparison to the total dough."

Another practical reason to not include the chef in the hydration:  in a common starter maintenance routine, one takes out about that much from the levain to create a new chef for the fridge.

proth5's picture

up to a point.

Depending on one's maintenance routine, one mayor may not be taking an equal amount of seed out to maintain the culture. I tend not to rely on taking a portion of the pre ferment out of the formula to perpetuate the culture. Some people will say "wasteful - oh, the shame, oh, the horror"  (and I won't give my standard lecture on "what is waste?" just be assured I have been condemned on these pages often enough on my maintenance practices to be a bit defensive) but I will never bake off my culture by accident and that means something to me.

But I was pondering more on this scenario: I routinely maintain a liquid culture. For a particular formula, I have decided on a firm pre ferment. I can use the liquid culture as seed in this pre ferment without going through the math to adjust the water in the pre ferment. It just isn't needed because there are just a lot more variables in the whole bread making process. (OK, yes, I did have a spreadsheet that made adjustments based on seed hydration, but it was just to satisfy my desire to do the math...) In this particular case, one might not take out an equal amount of the pre ferment to perpetuate the culture...

Either way - it's all good.

JPWatkins's picture

[sorry in advance for length]

Thanks, very clear and helpful and it explains something I have been trying to figure out for some time. But as always, answers always produce even more quandaries.

The one thing that bothers me has little to do with you and much more to do with the BBGA standard. 

"In the BBGA standard, percentages are not calculated on the ingredients for the "Final dough." These are the ingredients that will be added together with the preferment to create the dough that we will mix/shape/bake. Some bakers like these percentages, but they are problematic as ingredients are being added to a mix of flour/water (the pre ferment) and percentages are either distorted or are the same as the "overall dough." "

First, I'll admit I'm fairly new to bread formulas and perhaps  time and  experience will change my mind (but I don't think so.) I find that it's only new, un-indoctrinated people who are able to see the strange accommodations that the indoctrinated make out of habit. I think I'm one of those folks and that this is one of those cases, but that's for others to decide (only the ones that aren"t *fully indoctrinated* though. ;-)

To me, not including baker's percentages on the "Final Dough" makes no sense. Possibly it stems from "tradition,"  or from the questionable heading name "Final Dough" (it's really more like "final ingredients addition,") or a desire to avoid rounding errors, or the fact that they are creating a spreadsheet, or some other unknown factor. But it certainly does *not* come from a motive to enhance cognitive, ergonomic, user experience, or consistency factors for the sake of the user. It looks more like a design error.

The percentages need to be there because the percentages *are* the recipe. Why make us refer to figures in other columns, do subtraction, etc.?  Just put the percentage there like it is everywhere else in the recipe (where, very often, as you say about the "Final dough" section, ". . . ingredients are being added to a mix of flour/water . . . and percentages are either distorted or are the same as the "overall dough" anyway"—and where no problems or confusion seem to arise.)

The percentages are not "problematic." What's problematic is that the percentages are missing! Bakers percentages *are* the recipe. Many traditional formulas are simply a series of bakers percentages. Meanwhile weights are determined by the users from the percentages and are not  intrinsic to the formula/recipe at all. Not having the percentage in the final step is essentially **omitting a portion of the formula** and forcing the user to derive that last portion of the recipe. Clearly there is an assumption of the presence of a computer driven spreadsheet that is calculating the ingredient weights—and there is the rub! The designers of the standard allowed the medium of a computer spreadsheet to trump both usability and the original purpose of bread formulas and baker's percentages themselves. This is kind of error in focus often arises in any design process.

In any case, I hope your engineering side (or the human factors part of it) might nudge you, in retrospect, to decide that NOT having bakers percentages on the last stage of the recipe is what is actually "problematic." Perhaps your seeing it as the opposite was a bit of an apology for the BBGA in light of their obviously very good efforts, hard work, and honest motives (a standard format that also works with a spreadsheet seems like a great idea.) But this little part of their standard seems like a mistake that should be fixed. Hopefully, now with 7 years of perspective, they might be open to a change for the sake of clarity, consistency, and usability.

Thanks again. And I hope you and others view my comments as constructive, helpful and friendly, as they were intended.

proth5's picture

Since this post, the BBGA has included baker's percentages for the ingredients in the final dough. But don't throw a victory party yet.

The percentages of the ingredients in the final dough include the preferments calculated as a percentage of the flour in the final dough. Some people (not all) find this informative(as I mentioned), so we now include this.

It should be noted that "overall formula" and "final dough" are only different when a baker uses preferments, so if you are a beginning baker and have not used these, you might come to the conclusion that the final dough "is" the formula. It is not always.

Because I do formula formatting for the BBGA, I follow the standard. On a personal basis, I do not use the percentages calculated on the final dough. They do not add information for me. Your arguments are not persuasive to me. They are not the formula. And they are certainly not the recipe - but we will get to that.

If you know how to correctly use bakers percentages, all you need to know are the percentages in the overall formula, the percent of total flour (or flours) that are prefermented and the hydration percentages for any preferments (because people will pile on if I am the least bit imprecise, I will also say that you might want to know the type(s) of the preferment, but this could be derived from the preferment ingredients). The quantities (and subsequently the percentages) of the ingredients in the final dough can be (and in reality, are) derived from these numbers. It is important that you understand this, else you do not understand how baker's math works.

You will also find that should you be using preferments the total percent calculated for all ingredients will be different for the final dough than for the overall formula, which I find "problematic". But again, I won't insist - even though I don't find the percentages for the final dough to be useful.

As to making the formula less convenient, there you may be mistaken. In the final dough formula a preferment is written as a single line. All well and good, but what is the hydration for the preferment? Unknown. For that you must refer to the columns that provide the pre ferment percentages.

The user does not have to derive a portion of the formula. The formula is scaled up or down by retaining constant percentages in the overall formula, the percent of flour prefermented, and the hydration percents of the preferments. Then the quantities in the perferments are subtracted (in the standard) from the overall formula to tell you the quantities that must be scaled for the final dough. Very straightforward. That is if you understand baker's math. The percentages in the final dough do not come into play at all for this very useful piece of functionality.

With percentages on the overall formula and the percent of flour prefermented (and their hydrations and perhaps types), you have plenty of information. You know how hydrated the final dough will be, you know how much flour is tied up in preferments, leading to conclusions on the nature of the bread.

That the BBGA standard now incidentally includes percentages for the final dough does not mean that they are in any way required for a complete formula, nor do they always provide clarity or usability. They are there mostly for those who like them for whatever reasons they may have. Again, if you do not understand this, you need to stop and really learn baker's math before you endeavor to be constructive and friendly.

And trust me, the actual design of baker's percentages was not driven by the invention of the spreadsheet. It was done to include all of the required information in the least amount of numbers for use when spreadsheets weren't available. The actual design of baker's math predates the invention of the computer (you knew that, right?). That is why initially the percentages on the final dough were omitted. Only the ease of the spreadsheet has allowed the addition of a set of calculations that is not essential to the expression of the formula.

Just another point, because you seem to want precision. Baker's percentages express the "formula" which is a list of ingredients. In order to have a "recipe" you must add process instructions. "Recipe" and "formula" are not interchangeable.

Hope this helps. I don't even check in on TFL very often these days, so if you wish further discussion, please post a reply to my post so I will be notified as I was with your original post.

proth5's picture

In my previous post on this topic I must admit that I was responding to the general tone of the OP. I don’t post to TFL much anymore because I am getting to the point of having little patience with folks who admit to being beginners, but proceed to find the fatal flaws in techniques they do not understand.

But it occurred to me that there really are beginners on this site who do want to learn and that I should provide a more detailed explanation on this subject of baker’s percents.

So let’s start at the beginning. Suppose I want to create a new bread formula. It will be a very simple formula. I want to make a bread that is 100% bread flour and 70% hydration (about a middling hydration – not too wet, not too dry). Study and experience (both of which I cannot commend enough) tell me that salt should be around 2% of the total flour and fresh yeast about 1%. To keep the arithmetic simple I will start by writing a formula that uses 100 gm of bread flour.

Notice that I start with both the overall formula and with percents. This is very important. So my overall formula is as follows (please note – no spreadsheet)

Bread flour – 100 gm – 100%

Water – 70 gm – 70%

Salt – 2 gm – 2%

Yeast – 1 gm – 1%

The total percentage is 173% (just add up the percents) and I will get a final dough weight of 173 gm.

If I wanted to make 500 gm of final dough, I would simply divide this by the total percentage (500/1.73) to get 289 gm of bread flour as a starting point. The calculation of the remaining ingredients is left as an exercise for the reader.

Moving on with my formula design, I decide I want to preferment 50% of the total flour (a whopping amount in general, but not so much for some of the work I have done lately) in a 100% hydration yeasted preferment. For the preferment, we will make the simplifying assumption that the amount of yeast is “a pinch” and not include it in the calculations. This is often the case in formulas written for smaller batches of dough. And so we have the formula for the preferment as:

Bread flour (50% * 100gm[from above])50 gm – 100%

Water 50 gm – 100%

Notice, again, that I start with the percentages and derive weights from there. Up to this point every percentage I have expressed has not only been useful, but vital. I could not create my formula without them.

So I have created my overall formula and my formula for my preferment. Now I must derive my final dough formula.

And here we switch to weights. The way I calculate my final dough formula is to subtract the preferment weights from the overall formula weights. And so I get:

Bread flour – 50 gm (100-50)

Water – 20 gm (70-50)

Salt – 2 gm (2-0)

Yeast – 1 gm (1-0)

Preferment – 100 gm (this is the total of all the ingredients in the preferment)

At this point my formula is complete. I can make bread from this. I have all the information I need. And note well that I must first calculate weights on the final dough – there is no other way to do it. But, optionally I can calculate percents. I will then get – for the final dough:

Bread flour – 50 gm – 100%

Water – 20 gm – 40%

Salt – 2 gm – 4%

Yeast – 1 gm – 2%

Preferment – 100 gm – 200%

If I look at those percentages and try to glean meaning from them, I am led somewhat astray. 40% hydration? That’s a little low. But, there is water in the preferment. I can then reverse engineer the final dough percents with the preferment percents and understand the total hydration. But, wait! That was sitting there in the overall formula all along. And so it goes with all the other ingredients.

Also, I cannot use these percentages to calculate my starting flour weight if I chose to adjust the total weight of my final dough (as I can with the overall formula), as the preferment percentages must come into play.

So you can see why I don’t much care for the percents on the final dough formula. Again, other bakers do, and a standard must accommodate many people, so the BBGA calculates them in formulas formatted to standard. But although they may be useful (to some folks) they are hardly vital to the formula.

While the OP warned me that convincing him would be a hard slog, I hope that this example shows those of you who want to learn some of the fundamentals of baker’s percents. There are great materials on the Bread Baker’s Guild of America ( website to teach you more on this, should you be of that mind.

BetsyMePoocho's picture


I don't think that you can make it any clearer than that explanation.  And if the formula is formatted in a spreadsheet any adjustments can be tweaked simply by changing the weight or percentage in the overall formula side of the spreadsheet.

I also agree on your position pertaining to 'final dough percentages'

I think a year ago I posted that the 'fog had cleared' for me,,,,, some of the time.  Still a lot to learn…...

Thank you for taking time to post.  

JPWatkins's picture

Well, you seem to have a big chip on your shoulder (in viewing other posts I suspect this may be habitual for you.) And let's just say your comments on people's tone, experience, knowledge, understanding, and desire or ability to learn are simply unnecessary and unhelpful. IOW, it's always a good thing to read and contemplate before actually making a post (to *ignorant beginners* such as myself.) :-)  No matter, I'll clarify what I said and did not say. I can't see my posts as I write, so I'll try to hit the high points.

I never said I was a beginner. In fact I've been baking for about 40 years. I did mention that using percentages in baking is a somewhat new thing for me. But "Baker's Math" is not at all confusing for me, in fact, I think it's a great, easy to use, tool.

Constantly referencing "Baker's Math" is silly, even if widely done in baking circles. There's no **secret baker's math** (Baker's Physics, anyone? Baker's Geology? Baker's Game Theory?! . . . ) It's simply a great way to use good old percentages as a tool in expressing baking recipes. I have a lifetime of experience with percentages and quite honestly, nothing you have said about them is new to me or has added to my knowledge of using "baker's math" (because it's really just "math," -- a tool, not a religion.) Many people (like you?) seem to enjoy promoting this tool as exotic and esoteric, when in fact it's very straightforward grade school math.

I never said or implied that "Bakers Math" (AKA relative percentages) was invented as a result of spreadsheets (but then that was just a bit of your ad hominem silliness.) However, I did say that the standard BBGA format was heavily influenced by spreadsheets. And as I have since found, the official documentation for the format unabashedly acknowledges this fact, and its "spreadsheet" nature is mentioned many times in the text.

"Finding fatal flaws?" That's your rather misleading take on what I said. What I see as a poor design decision is hardly a fatal flaw nor did I say so (But this does provide insight into your seemingly absolutist worldview.)

You seem stuck on the idea that percentages in the "Final Dough" would be/must be/are "confusing." If you think they are confusing and "provide no useful information," that's fine, but don't assume everyone is so easily confused and immune to information. Personally, I think people know not to look at this portion of the formula for general information on the overall bread formula. It's no more likely they would "get confused" by a low percentage of water in the final ingredients than by the inevitably and correspondingly high one that must have occured earlier in the formula. Like it or not, there is "useful information" in having percentages here. The useful information is a quick and easy-to-use percentage for calculating final ingredient amounts (very similar to *everywhere else* in the formula.)

Like pretty much everyone(?) when baking, I very often have slightly different yield targets and levain quantities than the recipe calls for--and I don't care to throw stuff away or make more than I need. (Thank God for bakers percentages as this is where they shine!) It's true, a spreadsheet would be handy for this calculation, but I don't keep a computer in my kitchen. So I don't run off to a computer, open a spreadsheet program, enter some data, have it calculate for me, and then print off a custom recipe any time I'm making 7 baguettes and 3 demis instead of just 3 baguettes. I just use the baker's percentage and my brain (or a pocket calculator) to determine the amounts I need to use. And then I write it on the back of an envelope. I *could* calculate total amounts of each ingredient and subtract, etc., as you seem to think is the only "proper" way. But I don't *need* to if I have a percentage right there already. This is super simple and easy for the kind of quick adjustments people often make. For me, and many others, a recipe that's all percentages (completely measurement independent) is not just useful, but very often preferable (but notice I don't contend that you have to do it this way.)

Yes, anyone can proceed in the *exact way* you proscribe, but there's no reason they *need to,* despite your *strong beliefs* to the contrary.

** If you feel like responding, that's great, but address what people say, not what you imagine them to say. And please don't bother responding unless you can meet the very low standard of maintaining a discourse of ordinary politeness and civility (the only "tone" that matters.)

BetsyMePoocho's picture

And to think that we are suppose to be jus-hav'n-fun, boy was I silly…….. Guess I gotta get more serious………. Naw,, aint gonna do that…!

Tools, equipment, and technology is part of the fun…… 

proth5's picture

one last time.

Yes, I do admit it. When someone who has worked directly with Calvel stands in front of me and tells me what the man said, and someone on these pages insists that Calvel said the opposite, or when folks send private messages to an authority in a certain field to get that authority to contradict me when I post something that she herself taught me, well, I can get bit testy. It’s unflattering for everyone concerned which is why I don’t look at TFL much anymore. But being notified of your original post caught me at an off moment. Blame the sign of the Chinese Horoscope under which I was born.


The system of calculating ingredient percentages based on the amount of flour in the formula component is, indeed, commonly called Baker’s Math. Is it silly? Perhaps. But it is useful shorthand rather than writing out the whole phrase. While we often speak of people giving 110%, in most systems, 100% represents the whole. Baker’s Math is one of the rare systems in which the whole legitimately exceeds 100%. Although the mechanisms that power it are no more than simple arithmetic, this violation of “the whole is never more than 100%” rule lets us get grandiose and elevate the term to “Math.” Again, silly, but not grotesquely so. (Am I correct in inferring that you throwing out terms such as “Baker’s Physics” was meant to mock the use of this common term? You seemed to make such a point of it, I do hope I understood.)

In all sincerity, I cannot understand how the percentages calculated on the final dough are useful in calculating weights for increasing or decreasing the amount of final dough. In my example above, if I were to decide to make 346 gm of dough (double the original) I would calculate as follows:

Flour – 100% * 346 = 346 gm

Water – 40% * 346 = 138 gm

Salt – 4% *346 = 14 gm

Yeast  - 2% *346 = 7 gm

Preferment – 200% *346 = 692 gm

Uhhhhh, begging your pardon, but that is simply incorrect.

While you have declined to explain your method, I can guess from your usage that you are calculating ingredients for the final dough as percentages of the weight of the final dough. So to use my example again, your final dough percentages would be:

Flour 50/173 = 30%

Water 20/173 = 12%

Salt 2/173 = 1.2%

Yeast 1/173 = .6%

Preferment = 100/173 = 58%

While I understand that this might be convenient for you with formulas you know well and use often, it is not how the BBGA standard is written.

Additionally, it is incomplete. It does not include the hydration of the preferment. So to actually mix the preferment, I need to write an additional formula component. But wait! That’s what the BBGA standard does.

Similarly, this method works well with a relatively simple formula, but begins to fray a bit if there are multiple preferments of different hydrations and a soaker or two.

I will also point out, that this needs to be supported by all the other elements in the BBGA standard. It does not stand alone.

To be frank, people do all sorts of things all sorts of ways and I hardly have the power to insist they do things otherwise. But we were discussing a standard - something that a group of respected bakers are trying to agree to so that we have a common language. It is designed to facilitate better communication. But the amazing thing for me is that the more I work with the standard the better it seems to me and the more I can do with it. I've got my favorite tools in other endeavors - ones that I treasure and use often. If someone asks me about those tools, I will advocate for them. This is not the character flaw you seem to think it is.

But clearly you think you are on to something way better than the BBGA standard. Since you believe that, I do invite you to join the BBGA and sign up for the formula formatting team. After you take the training and apply the standard to a wide variety of formulas for many types of goods – from yeasted breads to cakes to pastry creams for many formulas at various levels of complexity from a variety of bakers (as I have done) – you can work with the editors to get your improvements into the standard. The standard is an evolving thing and improvements are always welcome.

But gracious, this is me getting testy, again. Best to end this.

JPWatkins's picture

". . . When someone who has worked directly with Calvel stands in front of me and tells me what the man said, and someone on these pages insists that Calvel said the opposite, or when folks send private messages to an authority in a certain field to get that authority to contradict me when I post something that she herself taught me, well, I can get bit testy. It’s unflattering for everyone concerned which is why I don’t look at TFL much anymore. But being notified of your original post caught me at an off moment. . . ."

I have no idea what you are referring to. Whatever you are referring to, it has nothing to do with me (I didn't study under Calvel, nor am I aware of any PMs about you.) It's hard for me to get past the incoherence of your opening paragraph.

Possibly it's just me, but your posts strike me as . . . (well . . . what does it matter?) Just keep working on being courteous and "thinking before you post.") Clearly there are some folks who find your posts helpful, so bully for you and nice for them.

I wish you well.

PugBread's picture

Bread flour – 100 gm – 100%
Water – 70 gm – 70%
Salt – 2 gm – 2%
Yeast – 1 gm – 1%

The total percentage is 173% (just add up the percents) and I will get a final dough weight of 173 gm.

If I wanted to make 500 gm of final dough, I would simply divide this by the total percentage (500/1.73) to get 289 gm of bread flour as a starting point. The calculation of the remaining ingredients is left as an exercise for the reader.

I generally consider myself fairly savvy with mathematics, however this seemingly simple illustration of baker's calculations has me stumped.  Even the initial calculation you give me (500/1.73) is not intuitive to me because 500 is the final dough weight we're after (not flour weight), and 1.73 is the total dough percentage (in decimal form).  How does this produce the correct flour weight we'll need and, additionally, I cannot see the next calculations you would use to determine the remaining ingredient weights.

If I was asked to do this on my own without a given example, I would have determined the percentage the bread flour is to the dough (100/173=0.578) and then used the percentage to determine how much of the new dough weight (500*0.578=289.0) should be bread flour, which DOES result in 289g (just as you suggested).  I could then do that with the remaining ingredients (water: (70/173)*500=202.3, salt: (2/173)*500=5.8, yeast: (1/173)*500=2.9) to determine their appropriate weights for the final dough weight (500=289+202.3+5.8+2.9), BUT I want to understand how you would have done this using your method.

baybakin's picture

Easy.  Once you have the weight of bread flour, the rest follows with much simpler math than you have provided.

289g bread flour (100%)
289×(0.7) = 202.3g Water (70%)
289×(0.02) = 5.8g salt (2%)
289×(0.01) = 2.9g yeast (1%)


proth5's picture

but the conventions in this thing we call "Baker's Percents". And they are, indeed, naught but conventions, but they are very useful ones.

Unlike most of the systems we are used to, baker's percents calculate things a bit differently. In them the flour in the formula component (that is, the overall formula, preferments,soakers, etc.) is always expressed as 100% and all the other ingredients are calculated as percents against the flour. So it is always important to know the total amount of flour. (This takes a minute for people who are mathematically savvy to get their heads around, but once you do it is quite elegant.)

So in my example, I have decided to make 500 gm of final dough. I must first figure out the amount of flour I need (because frankly, you do need to know that - Baker's Percents or no) so I have 289 gm of flour.

So to calculate the amount of salt, I take 289 and multiply it by 2% to get 5.78 gm. I'm sure you can do the rest.

Yes, of course, one can always do the basic algebra and come up with other ways to calculate ingredient weights. But this system was designed to require only very basic arithmetic. (A teacher of mine - a brilliant baker - cannot do the algebra that you reference. That is hard for me to grasp, but it is true. He uses the simple "tricks" of Baker's Math to do his calculations if his spreadsheets are not handy. And there are other little rules to (for example) easily convert a starter of one hydration into a starter of another hydration.)

The real question is: Why do we so venerate this counter intuitive system of calculating all ingredients against the amount of flour. Well, I do a lot of work with formula design so I can see a few really good ones and I'll lay them out.

First, when we do bread one of the big questions we ask ourselves when we contemplate the nature of the formula is "What is the hydration?" This will tell us how the dough will handle and a bit of the nature of the final bread. This is always the overall amount of the water in the whole formula calculated against the percentage of flour. Why only flour? well, because elements like raisins or salt or vanilla bean don't really factor into this - so we focus on the flour. The debate rages on just what to include in the "total flour" and sometimes it is a judgement call, but usually in bread we think of it as gluten bearing or major structural elements. But it has some flex.

Then we look at preferments and create than as a percentage of "how much of the total flour will be used in preferments". We do this because, again, this tells us a lot about the nature of the bread. If I have 50% of the flour prefermented in a levain, I know (from that pesky study and experience again) that I will have a very different bread than one that has 15% of the flour in a yeasted preferment.

Again, we write the preferment formula element by using the preferment flour as 100% and then calculate the preferment hydration against that . Useful, because we need to know these things anyway, but I can understand the nature of my preferment and how it will impact my bread (again, with study and experience I know that a firm preferment will behave just a bit differently than a liquid preferment and each may require different process steps to get a good result.)

Also, over time, a baker will develop heuristics that tell her that if she is going to add inclusions, like nuts, they should be about 10% (or whatever) - not of the total dough - but of the total flour. These percentages tend to hold regardless of the hydration or the amount of flour prefermented. I find this to be spectacularly useful.

And, at the last (and you might read this in my response to another poster) these conventions hold up well with complex formulas. The more intuitive method works with a fairly simple formula, but begins to get cumbersome when there are two or three preferments of varying types and hydrations, a soaker, and various inclusions. That is the real purpose for a standard like this - to be viable under a very wide range of conditions.

I am a big fan of this system we call "Baker's Math." I baked for many years without it and when someone finally explained it to me, it was like the scales fell from my eyes and I finally understood the craft of baking. Not only am I able to intelligently design formulas, but if I am away from my formula sheets, I can jot down a simple formula by remembering just a few key percentages. It is the very definition of a useful and elegant tool,

Hope this helps.


pmccool's picture

But you are coming from a different perspective in viewing the value of 1.73 as a number (or 173 as a percentage), rather than as a quantity of dough.  If you (temporarily) set aside the percents and replace them with grams, the sample formula yields a batch of dough with a mass of 173g.  Then it's a simple exercise in ratios, as in: 500g is to 173g as ???g is to 100g.  In equation form: 500/173 = ???/100.  To solve for ???, (500/173)*100 = 289.  This can also be stated as 500/1.73 = 289.  Now that you know the flour in the 500g batch of dough is 289g, everything else is a matter of multiplying 289 by the appropriate percentages; e.g., water is 0.7*289 = 202 (rounded).

I hope this helps.


proth5's picture

Goodness knows I have little desire to continue on this thread, but this has been bothering me because it is you and because I know you teach people.

This is so much easier than you are making it.

Because the total flour is always expressed as 100%, and because the percentages of the other ingredients are calculated against the flour, the fact of the matter is that:

Total dough weight = total flour weight * total baker's percentage


Total flour weight = total dough weight/total baker's percentage (yes, a little algebra was used)

This is how the system was designed. No ratios involved.

For those of us (most of the folks on these pages) who convert percents to decimals instinctively, in my example it would be:

Total flour weight = total dough weight/1.73

For those who see 173% as the number 173 we need to do the following:

Total flour weight = total dough weight/(173/100)

So much easier for a lot of people than worrying about ratios.

Hope you can pas this on to people who want to understand this system.

pmccool's picture

I was trying to help PugBread understand how and why those numbers (500/1.73) were arranged the way they were, since it appeared that was the root of the question.  I'm not advocating a different approach to handling bakers math, just attempting to illustrate one facet of it.  

The formulae in your post are certainly simpler, in terms of the calculation operation, than the ratios I described but they are still a expression of those ratios. 

Sorry that I couldn't arrange to see you on our last trip west to visit our kids in the Springs.  The blizzard knocked a whole day out of our travel plans, as well as closing some of the things we had intended to visit in Denver.


proth5's picture

As I read PugBread's post, I kind of felt that the root of the confusion was that s/he was trying to reconcile baker's percents with computing percentages of ingredients against the total dough weight. This seems to be at the root of a number of issues here. I have been doing a lot of formula formatting and I forget that the first time you see the system it seems a bit odd - that there was a time in the history of the world when I didn't just - without thinking - calculate ingredients against the total flour.

Lots of ways to get to the same result. I'm getting lazy in my old age and like to use the easiest.

Oi! And another two days of wet snow looming on the horizon. The last blizzard was bad enough, but now there are leaves on the trees. This will be a branch breaker for sure. I now spend a good part of my time tending the vegetable garden at the Denver Botanical Gardens. My poor little plants...

But any time you are in the area - feel free - since I am actually at home (or at least in Denver) most of the time.


yolofitz's picture

lm very late to the party. However this discussion was very valuable since I’m new to bread making. Putting forth the first calculation 500/1.73 perplexed me also. But it’s shorthand for  100/173 of 500. Or quickly reformatted as 500/1.73 which is 289 g. I like this ‘bakers’ approach because now everything else is a percent of my flour-very tidy. 

BetsyMePoocho's picture


Wow,,,, Now I finally feel confident in most of my recipes....  I have tried to "plow" through the BBGA several times, but being a little slow on the uptake I've only gleaned the high points.  Which sometimes got me in trouble.

Your "Just lay it all out" is like the sun burning off the "fog"..... Laying it out is what I've been doing, but never really knew if my methodology was correct.

Wow,,, what fun!  Large Thanks....


proth5's picture

I could help.

Baker's math is such an illuminating tool.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

If it is useful, Diagram 3 from BBGA for RUSTIC SOURDOUGH WITH THREE FLOURS, A CRACKED WHEAT SOAKER AND A YEASTED PREFERMENT, is converted to a Google Docs Spreadsheet here.

Only difference is I used grams instead of kg for my measurements.


BetsyMePoocho's picture

David Esq.,

Nice job on the spreadsheet you did.  That took some time and effort!!  Like proth5 said... "spreadsheets are mind candy".  

I've also put one together and now I wonder why I waited so long to do it......



adri's picture

Simple answer: You do. Just Chad Robertson mad a mistake, like every author does. I believe in a 2nd edition he'll have it corrected.