Sourdough Baking Terms

A

Activating Your Starter

The process of creating a lively, vibrant sourdough starter either through refreshing a refrigerated starter or rehydrating and awakening a dehydrated starter. The goal of activation is to have a starter that peaks in activity and volume within 6-8 hours, indicating a high level of rising power for use as leavening.

Ash

Ash content is the content of minerals in flour. High ash content increases baking qualities.

Autolyse (or Autolyze)
A step where the flour and water are mixed just until combined and allowed to rest before adding salt, the Sourdough Starter, or further ingredients to make the dough.

The autolyze step provides several benefits through the hydration of the flour. Enzymes are produced during this phase which breaks the starch in the flour down into simple sugars which will feed the yeast in the Sourdough Starter once that is added. 

It also works to soften the dough whilst stimulating the beginnings of gluten development. It is done before any kneading is introduced, thereby improving both the flavor and the texture of the bread and cutting down on the stretch and fold/kneading time that will follow. This procedure results in a dough that is less sticky and easier to handle. It is a simple step that can have huge benefits if done correctly.

B

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called bakers math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton

A  type of basket used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Bassinage

This is a method to add water to a very wet dough. You hold back some of the water and add it when the dough has developed some strength during bulk fermentation.

Batard

A loaf that has an oval or oblong shape.

Bench-Rest

The time after the bulk ferment, or after pre-shaping, where the dough is tipped out onto the work surface and left to rest to allow the gluten to relax a bit. This makes the dough easier to handle during the final shaping.

Biga

A Biga is a pre-ferment/leaven with origins in Italy. It’s made using water, flour, and a small amount of commercial yeast, not Sourdough Starter, but you will encounter it in sourdough communities now and then. The consistency is the same as a normal dough. The mixture is allowed to ferment for 24 hours then added to a freshly made dough with, if necessary, more yeast.

Brotform

See Banneton.

Bulk Ferment
Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be.

Boule

A classic round loaf. It comes from the French word for ball.

C

Coil Folds

An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. Very useful for high hydration doughs and usually done in the proving bowl. Using two hands dough is carefully lifted from the middle and the two ends sides that drop down are folded under the dough, the bowl is turned 45º then done again.  The process is performed periodically throughout the bulk fermentation. This helps with the gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough is underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Couche

It’s a heavy linen fabric, used as support for loaves during the final proof. Often used when creating baguettes.

Crumb
A term referring to the texture and hole pattern on the soft inner part of the bread. Often based on the size of the holes produced by the carbon dioxide or the moisture (or lack thereof) in the loaf. A term that describes the texture 

D

DDT

An acronym for ‘Desired Dough Temperature’.

Diastatic malt

Diastatic malt powder is finely ground, dried, sprouted barley. Add a small amount to the dough will help to give a better rise and a browner crust.

Dough
Dough is a mixture of water, flour, starter, and salt that is generally stiff enough to be worked by hand. The dough is most often used in reference to bread baking, even in higher-hydration bread. Conversely, a batter is generally a higher-hydration mixture that can be scraped or scooped but never kneaded or shaped by hand. Batters are often quick breads, pastries, or sweets.

Dutch Oven
A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

E

Ear

The raised lip that is sometimes created when you slash and bake your bread in a particular way. Find out more about creating an ear.

Elasticity
A dough’s ability to spring back to its original shape after being stretched. Elasticity is dependent on the level of protein or gluten in the flour as well as the amount of fermentation that has occurred.

Doughs can lose their elasticity if over-fermented. Also, low-protein flours do not produce as much elasticity as higher-protein flours. Elasticity is critical to the final shaping of the dough and, if diminished, will result in a dense loaf unable to trap carbon dioxide.

Enriched dough

It’s a dough that contains a high amount of sugar and fat from butter, egg, or oil. It’s used for brioche and croissants among others.

F

Feeding
The process of adding flour and water to the sourdough starter to keep it active and healthy. This is usually done at least once per day if the starter is kept at room temperature. Some feed twice a day prior to baking to increase Starter activity. For starters kept in the refrigerator, it only needs to happen around once a week.

Flour
A main ingredient of bread, derived from ground grain. In many recipes, ‘plain’ or ‘all-purpose’ flour is generally meant when the word “flour” is used. Bread flours and various gluten-free flours are also used in sourdough baking. You can find out more about the types of flours on our flour page.

Folding 

A method in the sourdough process to encourage gluten development instead of traditional kneading. The dough is tipped out from the bowl on a working surface, folded in thirds like a letter, rotated 90º and folded again. It’s common to repeat this procedure several times during bulk fermentation. Another method is ‘Stretch and Fold’, where the dough is stretched from one side of the bowl and folded over to the other side.

Fresh Starter
A Sourdough Starter that has been fed and which has at least doubled in size. When it is at this stage it is the best time to add it to your recipe, when it is strong and eager to eat more.

G

Gluten
A mixture of two elastic proteins – Gliadin and glutenin  – found in grains such as Wheat, Rye, Barley, Spelt, Kamut, and einkorn. Gluten gives traditional bread their elasticity, trapping carbon dioxide that makes the bread fluffy and light. Considered a possible major allergen for those who are sensitive, including a growing population of those with celiac disease. Gluten-free sourdough starters are available for bakers wishing to avoid gluten.

Gluten: Most people have heard about gluten. But what is it? Most of you may know some are sensitive to gluten and those with celiac disease should avoid it. Then there are people who don’t suffer from any gluten intolerance but still claim that it’s something more dangerous than a loaded gun. But because bakers don’t know what fear is, they want lots of it.

H

Hard wheat

Wheat with high protein content. It’s suitable for bread baking for its ability to develop Gluten.

Hooch
Hooch is a layer of liquid that sometimes accumulates on the top of the Sourdough Starter. It often has a component of alcohol to it due to infrequent feedings or stress on the sourdough starter. It’s a sure sign you need to feed your starter. It can be stirred in or poured off just before feeding. Stirring in may increase the sour flavor of your bread.

Hydration
Hydration is the ratio of water to flour in a dough recipe. The hydration is calculated by dividing the total amount of water by the total amount of flour. See ‘Baker’s Percentages’. If you are mixing 1000 gram flour and 750-gram water, the hydration will be 75%.

I

Ice
Ice cubes are sometimes used to create steam when baking in a Dutch Oven.

J

K

Kneading
The process of flour hydration and gluten development through movement. By stretching the dough upon itself, often on a lightly floured work surface, the gluten is activated and a smooth, elastic dough develops over a period of 5-15 minutes.

L

Lactobacilli

The bacteria present in many fermented foods that produce lactic acid which gives sourdough bread its characteristic tang. Lactobacilli also work to raise the bread through the production of carbon dioxide, a by-product of the fermentation process.

Lame

A special sharp knife with a curved or straight blade. You use it to score the loaf before baking.

Lamination

More usually this term is used for the process of alternating layers of dough and butter when making pastry with lots of layers, such as croissants. Some sourdough bread bakers also use this process to help build dough strength, extensibility, and elasticity, particularly on high hydration dough.  This process is done at an early point during the bulk fermentation after a couple of stretch and folds and once the dough is strong enough to be easily stretched without tearing. Turn the dough out onto a wet counter and gently stretch it out to a thin rectangular sheet and then fold two sides over towards the middle and then in thirds again creating nine layers of dough. See images.

Leaven / Levain (french term) / Starter
1. A sourdough leavening agent made from a sourdough mother culture. This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water.

For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.

2. Sometimes the Sourdough Starter itself, is referred to as ‘the leaven’ which it is in effect is.

Long Fermentation
A slow fermentation over a long period and usually made possible by lowering the temperature. Usually around 8-24 hrs or even longer with refrigeration. Preferable for those who prefer a more sour, tangier bread, or those interested in the health benefits that more fermented dough can provide. Adding a smaller quantity of Starter in the recipe, means there is less yeast eating the sugars in the flour, so the chance of overfermentation and weakened dough is lessened.

M

Maintaining a Starter

The act of caring for or feeding a sourdough starter in order to maintain its health and vitality. Because a sourdough starter is a living entity with bacteria, yeasts, and other microorganisms, starters need regular feedings and temperature considerations in order to stay alive and healthy. Find how to build, maintain, or store your own Sourdough Starter.

Maillard reaction

When bread starts to get that lovely golden brown colored crust in the oven, it’s a result of a Maillard reaction. It’s a chemical reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids which usually requires the addition of heat. Like caramelization, it is a form of non-enzymatic browning.

Mother Culture
Another term for a Sourdough Starter.

N

O

Oven Spring
The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.

Overproved

The gluten strands have become weakened by too much yeast activity.

P

Pastry Flour
A wheat flour generally lower in protein content than all-purpose or bread flour. This type of flour produces a tender crumb and is more suited for pastries like pie crusts, pancakes, muffins, and cookies than high-elasticity bread loaves.

Poke Test

By poking the dough, we can access the dough’s resistance and elasticity by seeing how it reacts.

– Under fermented/Underproved dough: the indent fills up quickly
– Over fermented/ Overproved dough: the indent stays as it is
– Ready to Bake: the indent comes back halfway through (gluten strands are strong and elastic, meaning the expansion of the dough can be expected)

Be wary of using the poke test on very cold, retarded doughs. It may not always be accurate.

Poolish

Poolish is a soaked pre-ferment with a small amount of commercial yeast. Usually has a consistency that is more like a batter than a dough, so a fairly wet sponge/starter/leaven (typically made with a one-part-flour-to-one-part-water ratio by weight), while ‘Biga’ is usually drier. Bigas can be held longer at their peak than wetter sponges, while a poolish is one known technique to increase a dough’s extensibility.

Pre-Ferment
Sometimes referred to as a ‘sponge’ or ‘leaven’, a pre-ferment is a mixture of flour, water, and starter (as opposed to an ‘autolyze’ which is just flour and water) allowed to ferment before being mixed into the final dough. The subtle acid and yeast notes found in sourdough bread are what give it irresistible flavor but these are only possible after a period of fermentation. Pre-ferments are therefore often used to add flavor and depth to doughs which require a shorter bulk ferment or proofing period.

Preshaping

The method of shaping the dough after bench rest and before the final shaping for the final rise. Video Tutorial.

Proofing /Proving
This is the second fermentation cycle or final rise of the bread before it sees the oven. It generally, but not always, happens after the final shaping of the loaf.  (after bulk fermentation and the forming of the loaves).

Q

Quick Breads
Those breads, often sweet in nature, that are usually leavened with chemical leavening agents such as baking soda or baking powder. Pumpkin or banana bread loaves, muffins of all types, and pancakes are common baked goods known by this name. Using a sourdough starter, these breads can be made with or without a period of fermentation.

R

Resting
A common step in bread baking, often occurring directly after Stretch and Folds/kneading, or shaping of the dough. A rest period allows the gluten in the dough to relax before final shaping. This is especially important for stiffer doughs like those used in making pizza and bagels.

May also refer to a period of fermentation or an autolyze step in which the dough is left alone, covered, at room temperature.

Retarding

A method to slow down or hold back the fermentation process by lowering the ambient temperature. The most common way is to place the dough in the refrigerator. This can be done at almost any stage of the process.

S

Shaping / Final Shaping

Folding, rolling and sealing the edges of dough to produce the final shape of a loaf. The exact method depends on the type of loaf you want to achieve, After shaping, the dough may be placed in a tin or proving basket to help retain the shape during the final proof.

Shokupan
A Japanese super-soft, fluffy, white bread loaf. This bread keeps moist for longer than ordinary bread because of the Yudane method used to make it.

Short Fermentation
Refers to a faster bread fermentation of 3-8 hours. Preferable for those looking for sourdough bread in a hurry, those in warmer climates, and those who prefer their sourdough with a bit less tang. Often coincides with a larger quantity of starter being used in the recipe.

Slashing
Cutting the outside of the dough with a very sharp razor or knife just before baking. This practice accomplishes two things. First, it can be used as a decorative element on bread, to create a signature look, or to create a design to help bakers of many loaves to tell one from the other. More importantly, however, slashing is used to help a bread expand in the oven without exploding, cracking, or creating unsightly bulges. Slashing both reduces the unpredictability and increases the loaf’s ability to expand once it meets a hot oven.

Sourdough
A type of bread made from a natural leavening agent known as a sourdough starter. Sourdough is made tangy and sour through the fermentation process by the lactobacilli present in the sourdough starter, hence its name.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter
A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. See Leaven / Levain.

Sponge

A mixture of flour, water, and natural or commercial yeast that is allowed to ferment prior to making the final dough.

Stretch-and-Folds

An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

T

Tangzhong
Tangzhong (Water Roux) is a Chinese method of baking. For this method, 7% of the recipe’s flour is combined with water at a ratio of 1 part flour to 5 parts water and then heated to 65 degrees Celsius. Once cooled it is used in the final bread recipe.

U

Underproved

The gluten strands are getting stronger, but are not yet elastic enough to allow the expansion of the dough. The yeast hasn’t produced enough carbon dioxide and the gluten hasn’t been developed enough to carry the bubbles of carbon dioxide and to enable expansion. Your dough has not developed enough to rise properly in the oven. 

V

W

Window Pane

The windowpane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Wet dough
Dough that has a high hydration level, so are more difficult to handle and work with.

X

Y

Yeast
A single-celled organism that converts simple sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation. During the fermentation process, yeasts and bacteria feed off the starch and oxygen present and create carbon dioxide. This gas is trapped in the matrix of the bread dough, creating a risen bread dough.

Yudane Method
A way of baking used in Japan to create super-soft fluffy bread that stays fresh longer. Using 20% of the recipe’s flour, bBoiling water is to scald the flour at a ratio of 1 part flour to 1 part water. Use in the recipe after at least 4 hours in the fridge.

Disclaimer: Whilst we hope the information provided is helpful and informative, we cannot guarantee that all details will be 100% accurate.  There are many schools of thought and conflicting ideas on many of the sourdough processes and methods.  This site is simply meant as a broad guide to baking sourdough, and is not a scientific reference.

Also, please forgive the mixed US and UK spellings throughout. We have a team from various countries working on this site.This site may contain affiliate links. 

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Lame

noun

A special sharp knife, or tool which holds a razor blade, in a curved or straight manner. You use it to score the dough before baking.

Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called baker’s math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton / Brotform / Proofing Basket

A type of basket or container used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Oven Spring

The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.

Stretch-and-Folds

An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Bulk Ferment

Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be

Window Pane

The window pane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter

A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. Sometimes also called Leaven / Levain.

Autolyse

verb

Autolyse (pronounced auto-lees) is a process in which a portion of (or total) water and flour in a bread recipe are gently pre-blended and set to rest for a period of time.

This resting period gives the dough special processing characteristics and improves the overall quality of the baked goods.

During autolyse process, several events can occur in the pre-mixed water/flour mixture:

  1. Continued flour hydration. Water molecules work their way into damaged starch, intact starch granules and proteins.
  2. Protein bonds continue to develop as a consequence of adding water, creating more gluten strands without mechanical work. This leads to better gluten structure and gas retention.
  3. Flour enzymes (mainly proteases) acquire time to adapt and work on the gluten by breaking down protein bonds.Protease activity is higher at low pH (acidic conditions). This is why autolysed doughs that contain yeast or pre-ferments (e.g. poolish) often experience greater protease activity. Such doughs are more extensible, weaker, softer and show less resistance to deformation than autolyzed non-fermented doughs.2
  4. Finally, as a result, the dough feels less sticky and very smooth after the autolyse.

As a general rule, the longer the autolyse time:

  • The shorter the dough mixing time (less mechanical development of gluten-forming proteins in needed). This means less energy consumption during mixing.
  • The shorter the dough stability duration
  • The less tolerance to overmixing. Breakdown is more pronounced once peak (maximum strength) is attained.
  • The smaller the P value in the alveograph test
  • The more extensible and less elastic the dough becomes at the end of autolysis
  • The better the sheetability and machining of dough during lamination of croissants
  • The easier and faster the dough expands during oven spring (better volume)
  • The lower the need for dough conditioners
  • The better the flavor and aroma of the finished product
Leaven/Levain/Sourdough Starter
noun
  1. A substance, in this case a wild yeast starter, that is used in sourdough baking to make dough rise.
  2. Some methods of baking, such as ‘Tartine Method’ require a sourdough leavening agent be made from a sourdough ‘mother culture’ (aka your Starter). This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.
verb
  1. cause (dough or bread) to rise by adding leaven.