Baker’s Percentages and Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

A cup of flour is always a cup of flour, except when it isn’t.  Dough is always dough, but does it always act the way we want.  Well, no. But it can. How?

Let’s say a recipe calls for 3 cups of flour.  If I measure out the flour by, let’s say, filling the cup and then shaking it until the excess falls off, and you measure the cup buy filling it and swiping a knife across the top, are we going to have the exact same amount of flour?  If in the same dough I use 2 tablespoons of yeast and you use two tablespoons of yeast, but the tbsp are different shapes, will one of us have more or less than the other?  YES!.

With dough preparation, accuracy in the measurements may take away the experimentation value, but, when we need x number of loaves for a meal, and they have to be right, and time is of the essence, there is no time for experimentation and fooling around.

Baker’s percentages, or Baker’s math adds consistency to our baking.  With bread, that simply leaves things like kneading, folding, rise times etc to chance.  At least with the baker’s percentages, we will always know that, at least, the formula isn’t the problem when our bread fails.

Here’s how it works.  Let’s start with the desired weight of the finished loaf of bread.  Sandwich bread is usually between a pound and a pound and half per loaf. The recipe below is going to be 24 oz, or 704.5 gr per loaf.  If you want to make more or less loaves it is simple, just do the math.

Let’s say we are making a Boule of white bread using simple White All Purpose Flour, and we want our bread weigh 1kg when it is done.  I usually make my boules between 800 and 900 grams, but 1000 makes the math easy.

I cheat.  I have a spreadsheet that does all my calculations for me because it can get tedious figuring out exact weights when using poolish, sourdough levains, bigas, pate fermentee, or soakers.

So our total final dough weight is going to be 1000 grams, or 1kg, or 2.2 pounds.  We are making a white bread, so we want our hydration to be about 55% and we are using simple White All Purpose Flour, active dry yeast, and salt.  No sugar, no oil, and no prefermentations.

Flour is ALWAYS 100% From there we decide on our hydration, based upon factors such as, type of bread or type of flour being used.  For instance, we are making white bread with active dry yeast, so we don’t need an overly hydrated dough.  So we are going with a hydration of 55%.  I am looking for a 2 – 3 hour fermentation time to get a nice flavour without too much of a yeasty flavour, so I want to use about 2% yeast. For simplicity sake I usually use the same percentage of salt as yeast, so another 2%.  Now these are percentages of the weight of flour, not the total weight of the dough.

In order to get the weight of the dough we need to calculate the total percentages of flour, water, and other ingredients.

Flour 100%
Water 55%
Yeast 2%
Salt 2%

Total 159%

To get the weight of the flour we simply use the following calculation 1000 / 1.59 = 629.9 g ROUND it up to 630gr.

The rest of the ingredients are a percentage of the flour.  100% of the flour is 630 gr. So….

Water 630*55% = 347.6gr or 348gr
Yeast  630*2% = 12.64gr or 13 gr
Salt 630*2% – 12.64gr or 13 gr.

Total 1004gr or Close Enough.

It gets a little more complex when you need to calculate the water and flour in your prefermentation formulae, or the flour and water and hydration of your sourdough starter, or the water and salt in your soaker etc. etc.  This is why I use a spreadsheet that calculates it all for me. What if you are using 2,3,4 or more types of flour?  For example, since flour is always 100% of the calculation, if you are using, for example, WAPF, Whole Wheat, and 100% vital wheat gluten flour, you need to calculate the percentages of each flour and how much of each combined makes up your 100% for flour. Let’s use our calculation from above.

Flour, Water, yeast, and salt come to 159%. 1000 / 1.59 = 630. of which 79% (497gr) is WAPF, 19% (120gr) is whole wheat flour, and 2% (13gr) is 100% vital wheat gluten.  Anyone following this recognizes that we are making 20% whole wheat bread but using 2% of the total amount of flour in 100% vital wheat gluten to make the whole wheat and WAPF act more like store bought best for bread flour.

Now we can really mess this up by making a prefermentation and calculating the flour and water and yeast in it and then subtract the amounts from the main dough, but let’s not.  Make yourself a spreadsheet.  It will keep you from pulling out your hair.

Here’s one with a few complications added in.  You’ll see why I like a calculating spreadsheet.

And now for a recipe using baker’s math.  No cups or tbsp here.

20% Whole Wheat Gluten Enhanced Sandwich Bread
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
40 mins
Fermentation, folding and shaping time
4 hrs 40 mins
Total Time
55 mins

This is a full flavoured whole wheat bread. It is enhanced with 100% vital gluten to give it a nice sandwich bread crumb.

Course: Breads
Cuisine: any
Servings: 4 loaves
Author: John Winslow
  • 1317 gr White All Purpose Flour 79%
  • 317 gr Whole Wheat Flour 19%
  • 33 gr 100% Vital wheat gluten flour 2%
  • 1000 gr 90ºF water 60% divided
  • 33 gr active dry yeast 2%
  • 33 gr Kosher salt 2%
  • 33 gr sugar 2%
  • 66 gr shortening or vegetable oil 4%
  1. Weigh out flours in large bowl.

  2. Weigh out water

  3. Remove 30 gr of water, place in cup and dissolve salt

  4. Dissolve yeast in remaining water

  5. Weigh Sugar and shortening and combine by hand in flours

  6. Pour in all water except salt water. Mix with spoon and by hand until all flour is incorporated

  7. Allow 15-20 minute autolyse. See Recipe Notes if you are unfamiliar with autolyse baking.

  8. Pour salt water over dough. Press in with fingers and fold to incorporate all water into dough. Cover and let ferment at room temperature 22-25ºC for 30 minutes

  9. For 2 hours, every 30 minutes, place dough on lightly floured surface, punch down and fold. Return to bowl and cover

  10. After last fold, form into giant ball and let rest for 30 minutes, covered on bread board. Spray or otherwise grease bread tins.

  11. Weigh dough, divide by four and shape loaves. Place in tins.

  12. cover in a warm location and let proof for 1 hour or until approximately doubled in size.

  13. Set oven to 375ºF.

  14. Lightly dust loaves with flour and score (optional)

  15. Bake at 375ºF for 20 minutes

  16. Turn oven down to 350º and bake until golden brown and internal temperature has reached at least 200-205ºF. If the centre temperature reaches 200º before the loaves are the colour you are looking for, turn the oven back up to 375º. When the oven reaches temperature the bread should be the colour you desire.

  17. Remove from oven to cooling rack for a minimum 2 hour cool.

Recipe Notes

Definition of autolyse is here

Folding Dough can be found in notes of recipe here