226 Grams of Butter

I don’t really have much to report yet. I made the brioche starter and biga, and I subbed some pumpkin for some of the butter (though it’s still 20% butter), but I’m not going to mix the dough until tomorrow night. I rolled out the cookie dough–this time I rolled it between two silpats, so I didn’t have to use any extra flour. I also used about half whole wheat flour, and the cookies came out just fine. Not quite sweet enough, if you can imagine such a thing, but I’m going to put icing on them, so it will be fine. I was going to make more Amazing Crackers, but I’m ordering some sunflower oil from my farm share people (along with a chicken! they’ve started doing chickens, delivering them frozen), and I think that might make a better cracker even than the olive oil, so I’ll make them next weekend instead. All of that said, today’s topic is that 20% up there.

What that means is 20% of the weight of the flour. I have learned two different versions of this method of calculation, and they’re functionally very similar. It’s in reference to something called baker’s percentages. I’m going to leave it as an exercise for you to operate the Google, if you’re interested, to follow the links that appear, but both the King Arthur website and the Wikipedia entry have extensive overviews. (It is my understanding that Europeans use weights rather than volume, and American recipes increasingly include weights, but it’s still not that common.) In essence, bakers think of the flour as the main ingredient, and everything else is expressed as a percentage of the flour. Thus, if you’re using 500 grams of flour, the “20% butter” identified above would be 100 grams, or 20% of the weight of the flour. You will also see this in terms of hydration of bread dough (or sourdough starter): 100% hydration means you use an equal weight of liquid and flour.

Let’s go with an example. My sourdough starter was originally 100% hydration. Whenver I fed/refreshed it, I would throw out (or use) all except 100 grams of the starter. To that, I would add 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of water. Thus, the flour and water were always in equal proportions (because the starter was also originally 100 grams of each). Peter Reinhart uses 75% hydration for his starters, so I changed mine, too: when I feed it, for every 100 grams of starter, I add 100 grams of flour and 75 grams of water.

When I was in pastry school, though, we calculated so that the ingredients were proportional to each other and always added up to 100%. In the above example, if you had 500 grams of flour, 500 grams of water, and 200 grams of butter (and I doubt you would), the flour is 500/1200, or 41.67% of the total recipe, the water is also 41.67% of the total, and the butter is the remaining 17%.  This method is particularly useful when there isn’t any flour in your formula, and, frankly, I prefer it. Most of the recipes I see use the flour-based calculation, though–Reinhart does, in his book, and that’s what we used at the bakery as well. (The real challenge at the bakery is that they still used pounds and ounces rather than grams, and it was a complete pain in the ass to do those calculations.)

There are two major advantages to these methods. For one thing, scaling recipes is much, much (much) easier. Instead of fiddling with odd measurements of cups, you just do the math. It’s particularly useful if you’re not doing an even scaling–i.e., you want 2.5 times the recipe, not simply double. The second advantage is that weights are more precise than measures. Depending on humidity, how you scoop something, how you level something, etc., the weight of the ingredient can vary pretty widely. That doesn’t always matter, of course, but it often does matter in baking. Little by little, I’ve been making notes in my cookbooks and recipes; many ingredients have the weight/volume exchange on the package, and you can use that to alter what you do. For example, 1/4 cup of flour is 30 grams, according to my KAF flours; thus, a cup is 120 grams. Whenever something calls for x cups of flour, I do the math to convert it to weight.

These methods are useful in cooking, too, especially if you’re trying to either maintain proportions of some kind in a recipe or if you’re trying to calculate the nutritional profile of something. Think of the last time you cubed squash or carrots: were your cubes the same size as mine? Or the same size as the author of the cookbook? How would you know? So, get yourself a kitchen scale–you can get one that goes up to 11 pounds for less than $50–and start making notes of your own.

Anyway. Tomorrow after work I’ll mix the brioche dough, then shape it, then it needs to rise for several hours before I bake it. I think I’m going to add cranberries and candied orange peel, as well, to give it a more festive air, and I have colored sugar (gold, green, and purple) for the decoration. All of which is probably a bit amusing, given that Fat Tuesday is a Catholic event, and I was raised by atheists.

Then again, my father’s dictum holds with regard to food, too. I once asked him why we celebrated Christmas if we didn’t believe in Christ, to which he replied, “We celebrate Hallowe’en and we don’t believe in ghosts; why give up a perfectly good holiday?” The same holds true for holiday-specific foods, at least in my kitchen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: