sourdough glossary
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Sourdough Glossary: 54 Sourdough Bread Terms Explained

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Sourdough glossary with 54 sourdough bread terms explained. Your ultimate guide to sourdough bread terminology.

Have you come across sourdough bread terms and not understood them?

Never fear! Here is the ultimate list of 54 sourdough bread terms explained!

This sourdough glossary pairs with my Beginner’s Guide To Baking Simple Sourdough Bread.

ACETIC ACID

Acetic acid refers to a type of acid produced by the bacteria in your sourdough starter. Acetic acid is responsible for making your starter more sour and giving it it’s characteristic tangy flavor.

You can read more about acetic acid and how to make your sourdough more sour here.

ACTIVATION

Activation can refer to activating a dried starter that has been either gifted, purchased or just stored for later use.

It can also refer to feeding your sourdough starter in order to “activate” it ready for baking.

ALVEOLI

Alveoli is a bread term that refers to the gas bubbles or pockets in the crumb of your bread. Many sourdough bakers strive for large alveoli in their bread, however this is not always the case. Large alveoli can be achieved by getting the right combination of fermentation, time and temperature.

Sourdough Glossary - Alveoli

AMYLASES

Amylases is an enzyme that converts starches to sugar. You will hear it talked about in relation to flour.

AUTOLYSE

This can also be referred to as the premix or fermentalyse.

Traditionally, autolyse refers to the mixing (and then resting) of the flour and water – without the sourdough starter.

However, many recipes (including mine) use the term for mixing and allowing the flour to absorb the water. It’s the first step in mixing the dough for a sourdough loaf.

BAKER’S PERCENTAGES

Baker’s percentages are a little different to the percentages you might be used to. When talking about baker’s percentages, flour is always 100% and all other ingredients are a percentage of that.

Baker’s percentages make scaling a recipe up or down very easy.

You can read more about baker’s percentages and using baker’s math in sourdough baking here.

BAKING TIMELINE

Baking timeline refers to the schedule you follow as you prepare and bake sourdough bread.

Because sourdough relies on wild yeasts and natural fermentation, the baking timeline or schedule is a lot longer than yeasted breads.

You can learn more about creating baking timelines here.

BANNETON

A banneton is basically a shaping container used to ensure the dough retains it’s shape during the cold retard.

Bannetons are made from rattan or cane and need to be floured to ensure the dough does not stick. Rice flour is best for this.

Sourdough Glossary - Banneton
Bannetons come in various shapes and sizes so you can choose the one that suits the type of loaf you’d like to bake.

BATARD

Batard is a French word for an elongated or oval shaped loaf of bread. Different to a baguette, a batard is usually wider and shorter. You can see how to shape a batard here.

BELLY

The belly of a loaf of bread is the rounded surface that opens up during baking. You generally want a large belly as this signifies superior oven spring. A good belly is usually present alongside a sourdough ear.

sourdough glossary - sourdough belly

BENCH REST

Bench rest refers to allowing the dough to rest and the gluten to relax. Dough is usually laid directly onto the kitchen counter or “bench” for this. Dough can have bench rest after pre shaping for example. The dough relaxes and is then ready for shaping.

Bench rest can also refer to dough that has been shaped, but is not going to be cold proofed. Bench rest can be used instead of “proofing”.

BIGA

Biga isn’t really a sourdough term, however you will hear it mentioned from time to time. Biga refers to a portion of pre fermented dough made with commercial yeast.

It has origins in Italy and is often used for Cibatta in order to add a depth of flavor (similar to that of a sourdough starter).

BOULE

Boule is a French word for a round loaf shape. It is one of the most common loaf shapes for baking sourdough. You can see how to shape a boule here.

BULK FERMENT

This is the part in the sourdough process where all the magic happens. It’s where your dough does majority of it’s fermentation.

It’s called bulk fermentation because the dough ferments as one “bulk” mass before being divided and shaped.

It is sometimes referred to as the “first rise”.

This is the part of the process that can make or break your loaf. Too short and your bread will be under fermented. Too long and your dough will be over fermented.

Bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has just doubled, is domed on the top and is light and pillowy. You’ll see bubbles formed underneath the dough.

You can read more about the bulk ferment and how it’s done in my beginner’s guide to baking simple sourdough or here in my round up on bulk fermentation vs cold fermentation.

Dough is perfectly fermented with a domed top, slightly tacky.

COIL FOLDS

This is another method of strengthening the dough and developing the gluten network.

Coil folds require you to put your hands under the middle of the dough and stretch it upwards and then flap it over itself.

It’s regarded as quite a gentle way to handle the dough, while still developing gluten.

COLD RETARD

This is often referred to as the second rise, cold ferment, cold proof or cold retard.

It happens after the bread has been shaped and placed into the banneton or shaping container.

Even though it is sometimes referred to as the second rise, it’s not actually meant to rise your dough. It is a “retard” meaning it slows the fermentation process. The yeasts are not very active at low temperatures, however the bacteria that develop the flavor of the bread are still active.

The cold retard can be used to develop the sourness of your bread. It can also be used to manipulate the timing of your bake. You can read more about the cold retard here.

COUCHE

Couche refers to a piece of heavy linen fabric used to support shaped loaves in their final proofing. It is most often used for baguettes.

CRUMB

Crumb this refers to the inside of the bread and the texture that it has when you cut it open. You’ll hear people refer to it as open crumb or tight or closed crumb.

Open crumb is much sought after, however a more closed crumb can be just as tasty (and the butter doesn’t run through haha). See also alveoli.

CRUMB SHOT

The crumb shot refers to a photo of a cross section of sourdough bread. Many people share crumb shots to show off their crumb (particularly if they’ve achieved a lacy or open crumb.

Crumb shots are also shared for troubleshooting and analysis to solve any issues that the baker has with their bread so they can improve for next time.

DANISH WHISK

A Danish whisk or dough whisk is specifically designed for mixing dough and can be very handy for the initial mix of sourdough – prior to autolyse.

Dough whisks have either a wooden handle or stainless steel handle. You’ll find a great quality Danish Whisk here.

DEGAS

To degas means to push all the air and gas bubbles out, flattening the dough. Degassing is a process associated with sandwich breads – but you don’t want to degas traditional sourdough bread as you will lose the beautiful open crumb.

This sourdough sandwich bread uses a degassing process.

DIATASTIC MALT POWDER

Diatastic malt powder is produced by sprouting barley, letting it dry and grinding it up. This powder can then be used in baking bread.

Adding a small amount to the dough will assist in give you better oven spring and a deeper, darker crust. Enzymes in diastatic malt convert starch in flour into sugars to feed the yeast, giving you better rise and a browner crust.

DUTCH OVEN

A vessel in which to cook sourdough. Dutch ovens are generally heavy based, cast iron pots with lids.

Dutch ovens can be used to cook a variety of foods but they have become popular for sourdough baking because of their ability to trap steam and giving the bread superior oven spring.

If you’d like to know more about how a Dutch Oven works and whether it’s a worthwhile investment for your kitchen, you’ll find more detailed information here.

EAR

A sourdough ear is the flap of crust that lifts up during baking. It has become very sought after in recent times, however it has no real bearing on taste or success of the loaf.

You will also hear people refer to “bread bunnies” in relation to the sourdough ear because when the bread is cut it, the slices look like little rabbits with ears.

A sourdough ear does generally signify good oven spring, however it is possible to have oven spring without an ear.

You can read more about how to get a sourdough ear on your loaves here.

sourdough glossary - sourdough ear

ELASTICITY / EXTENSIBILITY

Elasticity and extensibility refer to the stretchiness of the dough. Sourdough is generally a very elastic dough and should be quite extensible while stretching and folding.

It’s elastic qualities come from the gluten networks which are developed throughout the folding process.

ENRICHED DOUGH

Enriched dough refers to sourdough that has been enriched with fats and oils. Milk, butter, olive oil, sugar and egg are usually used to enrich dough. Doughs that have been enriched with eggs and butter are usually more yellow in appearance.

These Sourdough Hawaiian Bread Rolls are examples of enriched dough.

FERMENTALYSE

Fermentalyse refers to a type of autolyse that includes both the starter and the salt (as in my basic recipe). Rather than prolonging the autolyse, it is common practice to add flour, water, salt and starter together.

FLOAT TEST

The float test is performed by putting a teaspoon of sourdough starter into a glass of water.

If it floats it’s said that it’s ready to bake bread with. If it sinks, you need to work on building your starter a little longer.

There is much controversy over whether this test is accurate because you need to perform the test at the right time in your starter’s rise cycle for it to be accurate.

You can read more about the float test here.

An active starter that is ready to bake with should float when placed in a glass of water.

GLUTEN

Gluten occurs as a result of two proteins found in grains like wheat.

Gluten is what gives bread its elasticity and the network of gluten allows your dough to trap the carbon dioxide that the yeast produces.

It’s this gas, held inside the gluten network, that causes your bread to rise.

You can find out more about developing gluten here.

HOOCH

Hooch refers to the liquid which can form on the top of a hungry sourdough starter. It can form on top of, underneath or even in the middle of your starter.

It’s relatively harmless and is the result of the bacteria and yeast eating all of their food and excreting waste. It will smell like alcohol or even nail polish remover.

You can read more about hooch here.

Sourdough glossary - guide to sourdough bread baking terms

HYDRATION

Hydration refers to the amount of water in your dough or how hydrated it is.

You can work out the hydration of a loaf by dividing the amount of water by the amount of flour then multiplying by 100. This will give you the percentage of hydration.

Lower hydration doughs tend to be easier to work with (around 50 – 70%). Anything above 80% is considered high hydration and can be more difficult – but not always.

You’ll find more information on sourdough hydration here and baker’s math here.

KAHM YEAST

Kahm yeast is a harmless yeast which can develop on the surface of your sourdough starter. It’s not ideal but can be scraped off the top.

You can read more about kahm yeast here.

LACTIC ACID

Lactic acid is an organic acid produced by the bacteria in your sourdough starter. Lactic acid is responsible for lowering the PH of your sourdough starter and keeping the bad bacteria at bay.

LAME

Lame is a french word referring to the piece of equipment you use to score sourdough with. Specifically, the lame refers to the “handle” that the razor blade is placed into. You can purchase a basic lame, like this one for around $10. You can also find decorative lames like this one which are also popular.

LAMINATION

This process refers to stretching the dough out into a thin sheet on a wet counter before folding it up again.

It is performed to create layers in the dough. Lamination is often used to add flavors to sourdough and in baking croissants. Lamination is performed during the bulk fermentation.

It’s generally considered a more advanced technique because you have to stretch the dough out without tearing it, so it must have optimal gluten development.

Lamination is generally easier with a higher hydration dough.

LEVAIN

Often levain is used interchangably with sourdough starter, however a levain is generally an offshoot of your starter.

You take out some of your starter and “build” your levain for a specific recipe.

Not all recipes use levains, however you will come across this term quite often when researching sourdough bread. Can also be referred to as leaven.

You can read about scaling your starter here.

MAILLARD REACTION

Maillard reaction is a bread term which refers to a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. It gives browned food it’s distinctive flavor.

The Maillard reaction gives bread it’s distinctive brown color when it’s baked. It’s the same reaction that makes bread golden brown when it’s toasted.

OVEN SPRING

Oven Spring is the goal when you bake – for your loaf of sourdough to burst up, to bloom in the oven and give you that gorgeous puffiness.

Oven spring can only occur if the yeast in your dough still have a bit of energy left. It’s quite a skill to ensure your loaf of sourdough has the perfect bloom when it hits the oven.. 

PEEL

A baking peel refers to a wooden board used by bakers to transfer loaves to and from the oven. It can also be referred to as a baker’s peel or transfer peel.

PHYTIC ACID

Phytic acid is an acid contained in the endosperm of grains which reduces the availability of some minerals when we eat the wheat.

The lactic bacteria in sourdough breaks down this phytic acid, making these minerals more bioavailable. This increases the nutritive value of the wheat, making sourdough bread more nutritious for us.

POKE TEST

This test refers to testing whether your bread has fermented sufficiently and is ready to bake. Basically you follow the rules below:

Under proofed – you push your finger on the dough and it springs back very quickly, filling the indent.

Over proofed – you push your finger on the dough and it leaves an indent that does not fill back up.

Perfectly Proofed – you push your finger on the dough and it leaves an indent that slowly starts to fill back in, but not fully.

As you develop your “sourdough instincts” you’ll start to get a feel for the dough and when it’s ready to go!

PRE FERMENT

A pre ferment is a portion of dough that is made hours before so that it can ferment. The pre ferment is then added to the dough. It adds a deeper flavor.

It can get confusing as this is also referred to as a levain or leaven. It could also be argued that a sourdough starter is a preferment.

PROOFING

Proofing is often used interchangeably with fermenting however they do not mean the same thing. Proofing refers to the “second” period of fermentation after shaping the dough.

You can cold proof (see cold retard below) or you can proof at room temp (this is a much shorter process than the cold proof).

Because bulk fermentation and proofing are different – sourdough can be well fermented but under proofed. Clear as mud, right?

RESTING

Generally refers to letting the dough rest between folding or shaping.

Resting the dough allows the gluten to relax and makes it much easier to work with.

For example, you let the dough rest between sets of stretches and folds. If you are doing a pre shape, you’ll let the dough rest before moving into final shaping.

SCOBY

Scoby is actually an acronym which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” which is exactly what your sourdough starter is. You may also hear scoby being using when talking about kombucha.

SCORING

Also referred to as slashing, scoring refers to making cuts in the dough to control where the dough will open up.

Scoring can be simple, with just one very deliberate slash across the surface of the dough or it can be decorative like the dough pictured below.

Scoring can be a way of putting your own personal mark on your dough. Scoring is best done with a sharp razor or bread lame.

Scoring sourdough.

SECOND RISE

When baking sourdough, a second rise refers to a period after the bulk ferment when you allow the dough to rise again for a second time. This is common in recipes that do not retard the dough.

Breads like sourdough sandwich bread, dinner rolls and hot cross buns all utilise a second rise before the dough is baked.

SHAPING

Shaping refers to the part of the sourdough process after the bulk fermentation where you shape your fermented dough into the type of loaf you desire.

Shaping can take practice and requires some skills to get right. A silicone and stainless steel dough scraper can be handy tools when you are shaping sourdough.

Common sourdough loaf shapes include boule, batard and baguette.

SOURDOUGH DISCARD

Sourdough discard refers to unfed starter which is removed from the jar before you feed your sourdough starter.

It can be used to bake a myriad of things including pizza dough, crumpets, English muffins or even discard sourdough bread! Find out why sourdough discard isn’t actually as wasteful as you might think here.

If you’re looking for inspiration to use up your sourdough discard, check out the list of discard recipe ideas here.

SOURDOUGH STARTER

A sourdough starter is a collection of wild yeast and bacteria that are used to raise bread.

In fact, it’s actually a SCOBY – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

The yeast and bacteria eat the flour and water and create gas (carbon monoxide) which rises your bread. It’s a living culture and needs to be fed regularly, much like a pet.

It can also be referred to as a starter culture or mother culture.

There are many different types of sourdough starters including stiff starters and chocolate sourdough starters.

STRETCH AND FOLD

This is a method of moving the dough around in such a way that it strengthens the dough and develops the gluten in the dough.

Stretching and folding is done in place of kneading the dough.

You basically stretch the dough out and then fold it over itself.

You do 4 stretch and folds per set by working your way around the dough in a clockwise direction.

You’ll find more information on stretching and folding (including a how to video) in my guide to baking simple sourdough.

stretching and folding in the oats

TENSIONING

Tensioning refers to the process of creating tension across the surface of the dough during the shaping process. This makes scoring easier and facilitates the best oven spring.

VITAL WHEAT GLUTEN

Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) is basically made from gluten, the main protein in wheat. It is a powder that is added to flours to increase their protein (and therefore gluten formation) content.

VWG can be added to All Purpose Flour to create bread flour.

You can read in depth information about Vital Wheat Gluten and how to use it in sourdough here.

WINDOW PANE TEST

This is the test that is used to check for optimal gluten formation.

It’s performed during stretch and fold or kneading to find out whether more is needed or if the dough can be left to bulk ferment.

To perform the test you need to take a small piece of dough and stretch it gradually between your fingers to create a “window pane”. If the dough stretches without breaking the gluten has developed sufficiently. If the dough tears, then more development is needed.

You can see the window pane test performed in the video below:

I hope this sourdough glossary has been helpful to you in understanding sourdough that little bit better. I’d love to see you in our Sourdough Facebook Community! Come and join in the fun!

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3 Comments

  1. So happy to have found your site. I’m a newbie at bread baking, and just got a bit of starter from a neighbor. Looking forward to some delicious sourdough! BTW I named my starter BV Bubbles.

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