I can hear your groans from here already. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Really.

If you’re a beginner as I am, you have probably noticed the above terms in many bread recipes. And if you dislike math as most people, you’ve studiously avoided them. Right?

Well, this post will attempt to show you that bakers percentages and hydration are your friends and will help you in many ways in your journey into sourdough.

Hydration is really just a part of baker’s percentages so we’ll discuss the two concepts as one. Every ingredient, from flour and water to salt is expressed as a percentage of the flour. Try to remember that simple statement. Flour rules! We’re not interested in any percentage of the whole…just the flour. (That’s why the sum of the percentages doesn’t add up to 100.) And, also very important, we are dealing in weights, not volume. Remember the post on Weights and Measures? Now you will understand why you need a kitchen scale and you need to get used to dealing in grams. Not cups. Not tablespoons. Grams rule!

“Why?” you ask. You’ve been getting along just fine in the kitchen with cups and spoons for many years. You’ve been baking bread many years and cups and spoons have served you well, not to mention your mother, her mother, and countless mothers before them. Because it’s more accurate, more consistent, and easier. Easier to measure and less cleanup of measuring cups and spoons.

Here is a recipe recently posted on a sourdough FB group. This type recipe is really a formula. You have to choose the quantity of flour and then do the math to create a recipe from the formula.

Whole wheat flour (Always 100%)

65% Hydration

10% Starter

2% Oil

2% Gluten

2% Salt

Now, how do you know the quantities of each ingredient? You have baked a few loaves and like the recipes with 500 grams of flour. It’s a nice size loaf, so choose 500 for flour. You could choose any size. If you were a commercial bakery, you might choose 5,000 grams or more. The rest is per the formula. So the recipe would be as follows for a 500 gram flour loaf:

500g WW flour

325g water (.65×500)

50g starter (.10×500)

10g oil (.02×500)

10g vital wheat gluten (.02×500)

10g salt (.02×500)

If you wanted to change the size of the loaf, just change the quantity of flour and do the math. If you wanted to make more than one loaf, change the quantity of the flour and do the math.

Another way to use bakers percentages is to change the hydration. If you try a new recipe and you don’t like the dough as you work it. It’s too stiff or it’s too gloopy. Too dry or too wet. Just change the hydration percentage up or down and do the math. Don’t be afraid to tweak recipes, and these percentages make it easier to accomplish. It’s also easier to take notes on your tweaks so you can replicate a desired result.