Adventures in Ratio Baking: Bread

I’m a bread-oholic. I love bread, as long as it’s not sourdough or rye. My family loves to tell the story of the time we were at a restaurant and, instead of oogling the (apparently) good looking guy, I was eyeing the tray of bread he was carrying. In my defense, we had just finished the bread we’d been given and I was hoping more was coming (it wasn’t). Wait. I don’t need to defend myself. I love bread. That’s all.

It feels like it should have been a no-brainer that, when I started ratio baking, I would start with the bread ratio. After all, fresh bread is the best. I love the smell of fresh baked bread right out of the oven. I love the warm, soft inside and crunchy outside still warm from baking. I love breaking apart a slice and watching the steam, which also smells divine.

But I didn’t. The bread ratio is 5:3 flour to water. Math scares me and odd numbers terrify me. My brain stalled. I couldn’t figure out how to measure anything. So, I went with the 1:1:1:1 ratio for cake. I figured if I could figure that out, I could eventually progress to bread’s 5:3.

I kept telling myself I was just waiting for the weather to warm up as hot days help with making the dough rise. I waited and waited and breathed a sigh of relief when it was still too cool for me to figure out the 5:3 ratio.

Then June hit. It’s usually hot by June in Southern California. This year, the weather was having fun with us. It was cloudy and gray and cool. I was afraid summer was never going to come. I had finally mastered baking cakes and had managed to figure out the high ratio cakes, which have a slightly more complicated ratio, so I felt like I could finally take on bread.

That was it. I was just going to have to make bread while it was still in the mid to lower 70s. Not ideal, but I wanted bread. To be exact, I wanted brioche, which is even more complex, but that’s still a work in progress I’ll talk about another time.

I’m a little upset at myself for how complicated I made the ratio out to be. It was annoyingly easy. All I had to do was take the weight of the flour and divide it into 5 and then just take three to get the weight of the water. The only thing that befuddled me was how much yeast and salt to add. They’re kind of necessary to bread, so I was a little surprised the ratio is so incredibly basic. Then again, they all seem to leave off something. For bread, the rule of thumb is 1 tsp yeast per pound of flour and, to get the amount of salt, you use about 2% of the flour’s weight.

I hope you’ve realized by now math is not my strong suit. I somehow had to wrap my mind around a 5:3 ratio and using 16 oz in order to determine the amount of yeast to use. I don’t know about you, but dealing with 5 not dividing into 16 evenly was not making me happy.

Finally, I settled on close enough being good enough. I could always tweak it later on. For cakes, I like to use grams. I’ve found using pounds and ounces works out better for me when it comes to bread. Three times five is fifteen, so I went with 15 oz of flour to 9 oz of water because 15 divided by 3 is 5, so 3 times 3 would equal nine. I hope there are more math inclined people out there reading this who totally get where I’m coming from, or can correct me if I’m (quite possibly) wrong. For the yeast, I went with the full teaspoon. After all, 15 is close enough to 16, right? Well, sometimes I go just slightly less than a full teaspoon. I can only hope I’m doing my math right when it comes to the 2% of the flour’s weight for the salt. It’s about 0.3 oz, which still seems too salty to me, but my family loves it. Usually, I use about 0.2 oz and no one’s really noticed a difference.

So, my first loaf actually turned out well. It was edible. I baked it at 450 degrees for about a half hour. As you can see, my daughter abandoned her beloved pacifier for a slice, so I think it was a success. It’s also the only kind of untoasted bread my son will agree to eat. As long as he gets the ends. Funny how he hates the ends of the store bought loaves.

Ratio Baking: Bread

For more of my adventures in ratio baking or some of my recipes, stop by the Kitchen.

    • kat

      Thanks! Ratio baking often feels like a leap of faith and a lot of crossed fingers, but is always worth it when something edible comes out of it. That’s a good way of looking at it!

  1. thelonelyauthorblog

    Amazing what one can learning while blogging. I never imagined we would be talking about ratios when making bread. But it makes perfect sense.
    Oh, and I am a b read fanatic. Everything except for surdough.
    Have a great weekend.

    • kat

      So true. I love learning new things from the bloggers I follow. Glad to know there’s someone else who doesn’t like sourdough.
      I hope you had a great weekend.

  2. Peter Wells aka Countingducks

    I got stopped in my tracks on this one because I am also a breadaholic but I also really enjoy sour dough and had a slice of it this morning, toasted with avocado on top and capped by a poached egg. Very acceptable in my opinion, but you probably don’t agree, and I totally get that.

    • kat

      I do something called ratio baking. It’s baking things using a ratio instead of a recipe. For example, bread is based on the ratio of 5:3, meaning 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. I used to follow recipes to the letter, but, over time, felt a little stifled and frustrated with them, and with having to find a new recipe every time I wanted to try something different, so I switched to ratio baking. Now I have more math to do, but it frees up what I can do and allows for experimentation.

    • kat

      I hope you do! It takes a bit of brain power to get it started, but, once you’re comfortable, it really opens up what’s possible and can make baking so much fun. Best of luck!

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