Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Related post: BreadStorm, a quick update on the free version

You can't escape your childhood. Ain't that the sad truth! The fact came back to bite me when I got introduced to baker's math back in January 2009 during my first Artisan bread class at the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI). Oh, don't get me wrong, I loved the class and completely understood the point of sharing formulas (what we home bakers call recipes) in percentages instead of weights. Baker's math makes it easier, among other things, to adjust dough size according to the amount of bread desired, to compare different breads and to troubleshoot problems. But even though baker's math could be more aptly described as a common language for bakers rather than real math, mastering it is still an uphill battle for someone who is number-challenged. And that's where childhood comes in: I have been number-challenged all my life. In my days, it wasn't called a disability. At least not in France. But that's what it was.
Don't you go thinking I was slouching during math classes, however! No, sirree! Never one to waste time, I took the opportunity offered by these otherwise excruciatingly boring hours to practice writing with my left hand. (To this day I can write with both hands - not as fast or as legibly with the left as with the right but still, well enough - or at least I could before I broke my wrist. Not sure I'll still be able to do it when I get my wrist back...)
As an aside and just in case you are wondering, homework was never a problem: my mom had been a math teacher and being a sweet and trusting soul, she always "explained" my math homework to me until it was entirely done and done right. My teachers never really understood how I could be such an assiduous student (appearing to write down their every word in class and always handing in perfectly completed homework on time) and still do so poorly on tests. How could I have ever guessed that one day I'd be a baker and that I'd bitterly regret not possessing the most basic math skills?
Of course you don't have to use formulas to be a baker. There are bakers out there (and I know quite a few of them) who wouldn't touch a formula with a ten-foot pole. They come up with their own recipes, do their own math and they are perfectly fine, especially if they mostly stick to the same breads and don't have to redo their calculations every day to adjust to a fluctuating market.
But the fact is that more and more, bakers are exchanging formulas, not recipes. If you take artisan bread classes, chance are you'll go home with a handful of formulas. You see formulas on the Web (there are some on The Fresh Loaf, on this tentalizing and instructive blog for instance ), on the Bread Baker's Guild of America's website or in industry publications. Knowing how do the math is really convenient if you are looking to diversify your production, whether you are a home baker or a professional.
Granted, the whole baker's math concept is simple and even I grasp it: flour is always 100% and the proportion of every other ingredient is indicated relative to flour as in the formula below:
If the baker decides to use two different kinds of flour, the same formula looks like this:
See how the total flour percentage remains 100 even when two different flours are used? Truth be told, the word "percentage" is a misnomer. It'd be way less confusing to say "unit". In both these simple formulas, for 100 units of flour, you need to use 65 units of water, 2 units of salt and 1 unit of yeast. But still the convention is to use the word "percentage" and since we are trying to speak a common language, we better adopt a common vocabulary as well.  (Sigh...)
Should you actually want to bake from either of these formulas, you first need to decide how much dough you want. If your goal is to make two 500g-loaves, your calculations need to yield one kilogram (1,000 g) of dough. Using this number as a basis, the same two formulas look like this expressed in weights:

For people who are not number-challenged, the calculation is pretty straightforward. A simple rule of three does the trick. Indeed, at each baking class or event I attend, I see fingers flying on calculators and I hear numbers called out as fast as I can jot them down. I get there too but it takes me a while and when the formula gets more complex (when a pre-ferment such as a levain or a poolish or both and/or a soaker needs to be factored in), the process becomes painfully slow. The possibility of a mistake rises exponentially and I often get discouraged.
Friends and family members have tried to teach me how to use a spreadsheet instead of a calculator but to no avail: as soon as the program opens up on the screen, my eyes glaze over and as much as I will myself to listen carefully, my mind invariably logs out.
Enter BreadStorm, a superb tool for bakers developed by Jacqueline and Dado Colussi (more on them in an upcoming Meet the Bakers post). I have been a BreadStorm tester for months and I bought it as soon as it came out of beta, a few weeks ago. Why? Because BreadStorm does all the calculations for me, and in a split second too.  For the first time in my baking life, I can tackle any formula that comes my way and that, my friends, is pretty sweet. It goes a long way towards assuaging any regrets I might still harbor regarding math classes!
Jacqueline and Dado are passionate bread bakers and they love people. In fact they welcome dialogue. They have been very helpful during the testing months and just as supportive after I bought the program. I felt they were there for me and didn't let go of my hand until I was on firm ground. Because, needless to say, the first time I opened the software (still in beta, with no tutorial available yet), my brain froze instantly and the familiar glazing sensation came over my eyes. BreadStorm looked like it might morph into a spreadsheet any minute. I was paralyzed. All I managed to figure out was how to enter ingredients. But it got better. With the developers' help my mind gradually thawed and things started to make sense.
Now that I have more or less mastered BreadStorm, I use it all the time to enter favorite recipes, including from bread books I have had for years or to create my own, starting with the percentages of flour, water, levain and other ingredients I am planning to use. I can adjust any number at any time and weights and percentages are immediately recalculated for me. For someone who had trouble figuring out hydration before (unless it was 100%), believe me, it is a dream come true. A learning disability made irrelevant... Wow!

Apple-Buckwheat Boule - a bread I baked last week from a BBGA formula entered in BreadStorm
If you are still with me at this point, you are probably curious to see how BreadStorm works. Jacqueline kindly agreed to put together a tutorial for Farine readers. It is copiously illustrated and self-explanatory. On the technical side, please note that BreadStorm has been designed for Mac users (OS X.10.6+). An iPhone version is currently being beta-tested. It makes it possible to scale formulas on the fly if you are away from your computer. It looks pretty neat.
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I purchased the software at the full price and with my own money. I am not being paid for this review and I will not make a penny off future sales. BreadStorm belongs to Jacqueline and Dado Colussi and to them alone. I just happen to love it!
If you like it, you can either buy the full version as I did or download the free one which enables you to read and scale any BreadStorm formula but not to edit it nor to create your own.


  1. Oh MC, how your post brought back memories - when I was growing up in England I had the most sadistic (male) math. teacher and my final examination score was abysmal! Any mention of bakers' percentages makes me cringe, and as you say BreadStorm is for Mac users I'm afraid it won't help me. Good for you, conquering your math phobia! I do hope you are healing well, AnnieT.

    1. Thank you, AnnieT. Yes, I think I am (healing well, I mean). I am sorry about your sadistic teacher. What a nasty person to be in charge of kids. I am sorry as well that BreadStorm can't help you with baker's math. I guess I am super lucky to be a Mac user... But hope springs eternal and maybe one day... who knows?

  2. MC,
    I am so glad you are enjoying BreadStorm – it is a marvelous tool and I’m sure many people will find it helpful! I am so looking forward to your Meet the Baker post about Jacqueline and Dado. I wish them both every success with their software.
    Your apple-buckwheat boule is *beautiful*, such a gorgeous example of what you can do (one-handed!) and how useful BreadStorm is. The “C” scoring could represent Colussi - a lovely tribute to Jacqueline and Dado for their contribution to the baking community!
    (Thank you so much for the kind mention of my blog!).
    :^) breadsong

    1. Yes, C for Colussi. Definitely... What a beautiful thought, breadsong! Thank you. I am so grateful to Dado and Jacqueline. They are definitely meeting a need and I too wish them all possible success.

  3. I hear you! As you can imagine, calculations are part of my daily life, but still the bread baker's formulas make my eyes glaze over and my mind slows down up to a complete halt. Sometimes I wonder... :-)

    Numbers and calculations are cool things - in the lab, Phil and I have different 'ways' to calculate stuff, and of course I need to do it in Portuguese, but he insists on calculating at the same time in English, BUT OUT LOUD! Can you stand such cruelty? ;-)

    I am going to check Breadstorm out.... sounds like a dream!

    1. Hello, Sally! Funny you should count in Portuguese. After more than thirty years in this country, I still count (and spell) in French (and I too find it very hard to concentrate when someone else is counting or spelling aloud next to me! LOL). Let me know what you think of BreadStorm if/when you try it.

  4. Dear MC, merci beaucoup.
    Recently I started calculating my dough hydration, after a post of Barbara from Bread and Companatico on a Fb group, and baker's math interest me even though as with you, they scare the wits out of me!
    I will check out the tutorial.
    I wish you a very nice day :)

    1. Hello Lou! I am so glad you have been bitten by the sourdough bug. What fun! The only downsize is that it never lets go of you but the upside is that you can look forward to an endless supply of wonderful bread. Enjoy! And let me know what you think of BreadStorm when you check it out. My best to you, MC

  5. Hey MC, I'm still working with the test copy, Jacqueline and Dado have a great tool! I know the math challenge thing too...Thanks for you post..mine was just a wow and thank you for letting me be a guinea pig user! As usual, your able to express things so clearly!


    1. Hey Jeremy! No wonder you haven't had time for a long post. You keep such long hours, between your job, your baking and your blog that it is a miracle you manage to eat and sleep. I salute you, my friend, and I am glad you like BreadStorm as much as I do. The more widely adopted it is, the easier it will be to talk bread and exchange.

  6. Hi M.C.. Thank you for Bread Storm ! I bake with sourdough and always use your niece (at least I think she is ?) Flo Makanai's easy 1-2-3 formula. Great to have one for yeast as well ! Merci !

  7. I have been using the beta version for the iPad and am very happy with it.

    1. Hi Brad, I love the iPad version too.



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