Bread Baking: Terms & Techniques

Getting into bread baking more and more involved learning a lot of gargon and (unsurprisingly) a lot of French. I found the more that I write about baking, bread, sourdough, etc I end up repeating myself or that I need to pause a train of thought to ‘decode’ paragraphs for readers.

Below is a list of the most common term and techniques I find myself explaining on IG and through articles here on the blog. If you find something is missing or you’d like more information on a term please let me know in the comments. Happy baking! -M


  • AP — the abbreviation for all-purpose flour
  • Autolyse — the process of mixing all the flour and water (before adding levain) that allows for more complete hydration of the starches, gluten structures to begin forming, and dough becomes more extensible
  • Banneton — bread basket used for shaping
  • Bulk Fermentation (BF) — the dough’s first proof where it ferments as one mass before you divide and shape it into loaves
  • Boule — the French word for “ball”, round loaf of bread
  • Cold Fermentation (CF) — the process of refrigeration dough to slow fermentation which creates more flavor through alpha-amylase action which converts starches to sugars (another term for “Retard”)
  • Coil Fold — a method of strengthening and developing gluten in the dough during BF
    • Lift the dough from the middle with both hands. The four fingers have to be below the dough and only the thumbs above the dough. Lift the dough until the top of the dough releases from the BF container and curls underneath. Turn the BF container 180° and repeat with the bottom (now top) of the dough, lifting from the middle with both hands until the dough releases from the BF container and curls underneath. Turn 90° and repeat with the left side. Turn 180° and repeat with the right side.
  • Elasticity — measure of how well the dough recovers its original form after being stretched (see “Poke Test”)
  • Extensibility — measure of how well the dough will stretch and achieved through a process when a naturally-occurring enzyme, called protease breaks some of the long gluten bonds (see “Windowpane Test”)
  • Float Test — test to determine if levain is ready to be baked with
    • Take a dollop of starter and lightly place it into a cup of water. The levain should easily float on top and be buoyant.
  • Gluten — the molecular structure that is responsible for trapping and holding air in your bread
    • Made up of gliadin (which gives bread the ability to rise during baking) and glutenin (which is responsible for dough’s elasticity)
  • Lamination — a gentle method used to rapidly build gluten structure after mixing and before BF
    • Gently stretch the dough over the counter (being careful to stretch from the center of the dough and not the edge to avoid tearing). The result should be a large rectangle. Fold the left side in two-third across the dough. Fold the right side over it to make one skinny rectangle, with the dough tripled over itself. Beginning at the top fold down approximately halfway and repeat until the dough had become bundled.
  • Levain — the French word for “starter”, they can be used interchangeably
  • Oven Spring — the final burst of yeast activity and gas expansion (rising) just before the crust hardens
  • Poke Test — test to determine elasticity of the dough and if it proofed and ready to be baked
    • Using an oiled finger gentle press into the dough. The dough should spring back, but leave an indentation. If the dough springs back completely the dough is not proof enough. If the dough does not spring back the dough is over-proofed.
  • Retard — the French term for “delay” and used to describe the process of refrigerating dough to slow fermentation (see “Cold Fermentation”)
  • Score / Scoring — a method of cutting 1/4-inch deep slashing into the dough to control where the steam will release and dough will expand during oven spring
  • Slap and Fold — a method of rapidly build gluten structure by lifting and throwing down the dough after mixing
    • Turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface. It will have an ununiform ‘blob’ shapelessness. Lift the dough up and throw it down repeatedly, allowing it to fold over onto itself. Repeat this for 5-7 minutes, until the dough has a more cohesive shape and holds itself together more firmly.
  • Windowpane Test — test to determine extensibility of the dough and check that gluten structure is well developed
    • Take a small piece of dough and stretch it between your thumb and first finger. The dough should hold its form and create a sheer ‘windowpane’. If the dough tears the gluten structure is not strong enough and it will need more stretching.
  • WW — the abbreviation for whole wheat flour


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