Frequently Used Bread Baking Terms

The ability to understand bread baking books or recipes depends a lot upon your ability to understand frequently used bread baking terms. Here is a glossary of a small subset of terms. I will add to it as I run into more. If you have any you would like me to add please let me know.

Hydration refers to the liquid in the dough. Hydration is expressed as a percentage of the flour in the dough. If hydration is 75% and you used 1000 gm of flour then you can deduce that 750 gm of water/liquid was used.

Levain or starter or sourdough starter or wild yeast
Flour and water and mixed together to encourage the yeast in the flour to grow. The yeast is fed with more flour and water as needed. Bacteria, the same as is found in yogurt, also grows in the culture. This mature culture can be used to levean bread. Apart from helping the bread rise the culture is very good for you. It ferments the flour helping to break down the protein and complex carbohydrates into animo acids, starches and organic acids helping more of the grain to be absorbed by the human body. It also neutralizes anti-nutrients like phytic acids. These acids attach themselves to iron, zinc and manganese preventing their absorption. When mature the culture is used to leaven the dough to make delicious bread the old fashioned way. The trick is to learn to control the ratio of yeast:bacteria thereby controlling the acidity of the dough. Higher bacteria gives you sour loaves, higher yeast gives you sweeter loaves.

Commercial yeast
A little over a 100 years ago fresh bakers yeast was discovered that made life easy for bakers. For a couple of decades bakers used both, their starters and the bakers yeast, to leaven the dough. With the popularity of bakers yeast the use of starters declined. Eventually most new bakers stopped using the starters altogether. Today you can get fresh bakers yeast or dry granules to leaven the bread.

Real Bread
Real bread is a campaign started in many countries to go back to the roots of bread baking and away from industrialized baking techniques. Typically real bread uses small quantity of yeast with long bulk fermentation and proofing times. Most bread recipes use only flour, water, salt and yeast.

Bakers percentage
A simple rule followed by bakers using weight measurements. This formula does not work for volume measurements. All ingredients like water, salt, yeast or levain (starter) are expressed in terms of the flour used. Flour is 100%. A recipe that calls for 500 gm flour, 400 gm water, 10 gm salt and 100 gm starter can be written as 100% flour, 80% water, 2% salt and 20% starter. Now you could use any quantity of flour and figure out the remaining quantities. Expressing any recipe in these terms allows you to predict how wet the dough will be or whether there is enough salt in a given recipe. Bakers percentage can also be used when using commercial yeast.

Bulk fermentation
Also called the first rise, bulk fermentation is the process of breaking down the wheat in simpler sugars that are them fermented by the yeast and bacteria. Long bulk fermentation results in greater break down and unlocking of nutrients in whole grain flours. Bakers baking a lot of bread called this 'bulk' fermentation because the dough was in one big undivided mass.

Also called the second rise. After the first rise the dough is divided and then shaped into individual loaves or rolls. Proofing is the process of priming the dough for the oven. Pressing a finger in the dough will give you one of three results. If it springs back to the original shape immediately the dough is under proofed. If it does not spring back to the original shape the dough is over proofed. The dough is ready for the oven if it springs back to shape slowly. For best results the dough should be proofed just right.

Oven spring
When bread is placed in a hot oven it rises as it bakes. This rise is called oven spring and is different from when the bread rises during fermentation or proofing.

Deliberately slashing the dough to control the vents through which the steam escapes is called scoring. Scoring prevents the bread from tearing. It is done with a sharp blade called a lame. Results similar to the lame can be achieved with the use of a sharp razor blade. Scoring is an art and adds to the beauty of a well baked loaf.

A scoring technique that results in one side rising above the other giving the appearance of a ear.

The crumb is how the inside of the bread looks. An even crumb is desirable whether is is open or closed. An open crumb is one with large holes of varying sizes and a closed crumb is small evenly shaped holes. 

DO or Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are usually made of cast iron, sometimes with an enamel coating. They have become very popular among home bakers. Steam is essential to develop the thin crust that you find on most well made old world breads. However, most home ovens are not equipped with a steaming option. The dutch oven when covered is a perfect isolated environment that creates its own steam. Dutch ovens have made it possible for enthusiastic home bakers to bake bread of professional quality.

The cloth used to separate the individual shaped loaves while they are proofing.

Cane baskets used to proof bread. They give the bread the classic ring design.

This is my entry for week one, day one of BM #46 for the theme Taming the yeast. Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing BM#46.


  1. This is a post for novice bread bakers like me. I will be referring to this post more often until master bread braking. Thanks for explaining the bread baking terms.

  2. Very use full tips Thank you so much Varada bookmarked.

  3. One more page to bookmark, seriously loved going through this post.

  4. Sorry hit enter before completing. All these terms are pretty new to me. Thanks for compiling them

  5. That is one very useful post Varada. I realized I didn't know a lot of baking lingo. Will go through the post in leisure to get more familiar with the terms. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Wow! So many new terms. Have bookmarked for the future.

  7. omg...i have to book mark this...would visit this post and probably print it out as well...thanks

  8. Great way exploring many baking terms in one place..

  9. wow thats lot of info about bread baking and terms dear :) fantastic post ,bookmarking it !!

  10. A very useful post where I have practically no knowledge of these terms...will read them at leisure.

  11. Such a useful post Varada, thanks for sharing..

  12. Awesome post!!! should definitely bookmark this as I love to bake bread but a novice too. Great work!!!

  13. You made awesome post on bread baking. Lovely info.

  14. Thank you so much for this informative post Varada. I always wanted to know what hydration atleast I can understand some of that


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