These are terms that one comes across or needs to know to fully immerse oneself in bread making. Sometimes sources diverge significantly in their definitions. My explanations of the terms are based on personal experience and reading. I have not listed any attributions because my reading is from various sources and the information is readily available.
This post also appears as the Glossary page.
Autolyse - defined differently by various sources. This is, broadly, a 10-to-30 minute pre-dough stage in which the flour and water are mixed and left to rest before adding other dough or fermentation-stage ingredients. An autolyse phase helps to develop the gluten strands and, better yet, decreases the time required for kneading. I am a big fan of this technique.
Baker's percentage - the definitive expert method for expressing the proportions of ingredients in a dough recipe. The amount of flour is always 100 percent and everything else is expressed as a percentage of that amount. So, 500g of flour and 350g of water means 100 percent and 70 percent, respectively. (If more than one type of flour is used, the total will always add up to 100 percent.) By using this percentage method, you can easily scale up or down any recipe for large or small amounts of dough.This confused me at the beginning because I am accustomed to the total of a given set as adding up to 100 percent, whereas here one ingredient is already 100 percent.
Baker's percentage translation: If you use this, you have gone over the edge into bread obsession. If you use the baker's percentage on a spreadsheet to record your breads, then you are totally lost in the bread universe and you are a bread crazy person. I say that with all due respect as I slip over the same edge.
Baking peel - a tool that will makes one feel like a baker or a pizza maker, possibly causing spontaneous singing in Italian. Well, I grew up in an Italian neighborhood. This tool has a flat surface of metal or wood connect to a short pole. Theoretically, this allows for placing dough in the oven and taking out the bread or pizza without using one's hands otherwise. I use both the peel and my hands. For placing dough in the oven without tons of flour, cornmeal or expertise, I use parchment paper on top of the peel.
Baking stone - a must have. The stone is placed on an oven rack and radiates heat. It gives the bottom of the bread a real bakery finish. Can also be used for pizza and roasted vegetables. Well worth the purchase.
Biga - pre-ferment type employed in Italy. Usually defined as having a high proportion of flour to water, a hydration percentage of 50 to 60 percent. See pre-ferments for more details and how different pre-ferments compare.
Brick oven - what I wish I had. Yes, there are crazies, I mean enthusiasts and serious amateur bakers, who build brick or earth ovens in their backyards or kitchens. These either cost thousands of dollars or can be built as a major do-it-yourself projects. Reading a description of the building and baking processes with one of these, all I could think of were the opportunities for setting on fire the backyard and possibly the whole house. Still tempted. Like old-fashioned New York pizzerias and ancient Roman ovens, the high temperatures produce fantastic results. If you are ever in New Haven, visit Frank Pepe's pizza place and look at the oven.
Cloche [See La Cloche]
Danish whisk - a whisk that is the epitome of classic, simple and useful design. It works well and I love to look at it. Mixes better than a spoon, a spatula or a regular whisk. See photo. I have no idea if a Dane actually created it. Comes in a large and small size.
Fermentation - essentially the bubbles of life. A term used in wine, beer and bread making. In fact, the origin of the word bread comes from "brewed," the assumption being that the first rising of dough happened next to a brewery or beer-making operation of some sort, likely in Ancient Egypt. (For great information about the history of bread, read Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History.) Whether using natural or commercial yeast, the fermentation - the yeast feeding and producing carbon dioxide - causes the dough to rise. Perhaps the dictionary provides a more precise definition: "anaerobic conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast." See also Pre-ferments.
Hydration - proportions of water to flour in a dough.
Hydration formula or calculation - the story is that with a hydration formula for a recipe, one can make any amount of a given dough. Everything depends on the proportion of ingredients to flour. Flour is always 100 percent. So 100 percent hydration means an equal weight of water to flour. Most breads are from 60 to 80 percent hydration, with no-kead doughs at the higher end. See baker's percentage.
Kneading - something I was afraid of for a long time, as if it were an occult process that I would be unable to learn. Kneading is the manual process used to strengthen and airate the dough. There are as many kneading techniques as there are bakers. Strong hands help; I've never used a machine. Basically, kneading is pressing and throwing down or strongly stretching the dough, either by hand or machine. It's all to get air into the dough so that good fermentation and rising will take place. Ten to 15 minutes is generally recommended. Because my hands are not strong, I use an autolyse phase and knead by hand for the recommended amount of time. Sometimes, I just replace stretch and folds for kneading, with no apparent harm.
La Cloche - a miracle tool that allows one to easily mimic an oven from the Roman republic era to one's modern contraption. Mine is a flat clay bottom that is round, with a bell-shaped dome on top. Cannot bake without it for most breads. For though who have gone down the rabbit hole of obsession, one can build a brick or clay oven for the backyard.
Levain - means leaven in French and is a French term for a sourdough starter. Generally white flours are used and the hydration level or baker's percentage (terms defined in this glossary) is 100 percent, meaning equal weight of flour and water. See sourdough starter below and pre-ferments for more details and how different pre-ferments compare.
Parchment paper - something to which I am addicted. This is a miracle product and an unbleached version is available (comes in brown instead of waxy white). This paper allows cookie dough, bread dough or whatever to not stick to the surface. For bread, I remove the parchment paper about two-thirds of the way through baking so that the bottom will have a nice bakery-like crust on the bottom.
Pate fermente - some old dough from the last batch used to add some complexity of flavor to a new dough. Most likely started with not letting anything go to waste. See also pre-ferments.
Poolish - I have read in several places that Polish bakers brought this type of pre-ferment practice to France. Some sources say a poolish is 100 percent hydration (term is defined in this glossary), while others state it is quite wet. See pre-ferments for more details and how different pre-ferments compare.
Pre-ferments - various types of a preliminary stage of multi-stage doughs. These are generally made of some type of flour, water and either a sourdough culture starter (natural yeast) or commercially-produced yeast from a jar or packet. Basically, the hours of a pre-ferment stage, during which some nice natural or commercial yeast do their magic, allows for more complexity of flavor and, in the case of natural yeast, make for a healthy bread and one that without preservatives will last for a few days to a week. Pre-ferments do not include salt. That is added when the final dough is mixed.
Pre-ferment types include bigas, poolishes, sponges, and levains. Historically, different countries employed different types of pre-ferments varying in terms of hydration and percentages of the entire dough weight. Note that these terms are often used interchangeably for pre-ferments and without reference to any style or hydration percentage.
Types of pre-ferments are:
Biga - pre-ferment type employed in Italy. Usually defined as having a high proportion of flour to water, a hydration percentage of 50 to 60 percent. Generally referred to as a stiff form of pre-ferment.
Levain - means leaven in French and is a French term for a sourdough starter. In France, white flours are generally used and the hydration level or baker's percentage (terms defined in this glossary) is 100 percent, meaning equal weight of flour and water. However, this term can be used to mean either a pre-ferment stage or a sourdough starter. Since this is also used as a generic term, hydration levels of 50 to 125 percent have been observed, according to the King Arthur pre-ferment page.
Pate fermente - some old dough from the last batch used to add some complexity of flavor. This is not actually a pre-ferment. Most likely started with not letting anything go to waste. Some kind of yeast must still be added if a pate fermente is used.
Poolish - originally a Polish pre-ferment. I have read in several places that Polish bakers brought this style of pre-ferment practice to France. Some sources say a poolish is 100 percent hydration (term is defined in this glossary), while others state it is quite wet, especially in comparison to a biga.
Sponge - as far as I can tell, a generic term for a pre-ferment stage of dough making.Sourdough - Can be used to describe a bread made with a natural yeast starter. See Starter.
Sponge - as far as I can tell, a generic term for a pre-ferment stage of dough making. See pre-ferments for more details and how different pre-ferments compare.
Starter - when you know you are becoming a serious and obsessed bread maker, you use a starter. Starter and sourdough are used interchangeably to mean natural yeast cultures. For thousands of years, getting a dough to rise was accomplished without going to the supermarket for packets or jars of yeast, something I never thought about as I dumped the tiny yeast bits into the bowl. One need only time, flour and water in the correct amounts to produce, and then maintain, natural yeast that will enable dough to rise and brilliant breads to be made. Supposedly, whole grain starters invite more strains of bacteria and are better, but I have no actual knowledge supporting that. My starter advice explains the easy process for whatever type of flour is used. Any which way one creates a starter, this is way healthier than commercial yeast, though I do not comprehend the details. Historically, a starter afforded the baker with a ready supply of yeast that, if maintained, became a part of the signature flavor of the bread.
Stretch and Fold - basically a gentle kneading technique of four steps that takes 30 seconds total. (1) Stretch the dough into approximately a rectangle; (2) fold one side to the middle; and (3) as if making an envelope, fold the other side over the already folded part; (4) take the horizontal of what is now roughly a rectangle and fold it in half. This gently (more gently than kneading) degases the dough. I have used this technique in preliminary stage of some breads and later, pre-shaping, stage with other breads. The best tutorial is from a breadtopia video.
Yeast - natural yeast (see starter) or commercial yeast, this is the question for the serious baker or the one becoming obsessed. Yeast, whether natural or the stuff bought in jars or packets at a supermarket, causes the creation of carbon dioxide within a dough, prompting the dough to rise, and assisting in the production of what we in the United States and Europe eat as our main type of bread. Before commercial yeast was manufactured, bakers started and maintained, sometimes for generations, their home blends. Many bakers, including me, maintain sourdough starters, which is yeast that is grown and maintained at home. Many artisan bakeries also use their own sourdough yeast.
This post also appears as the Glossary page.