The words & expressions you’ll encounter most often with sourdough baking


in most recipes autolyse refers to the period right after mixing the starter with the flour and water and just before adding in the salt. However, the true autolyse happens before the addition of the preferment (starter or leaven), just by mixing water and flour. This allows the flour to absorb the water at its own pace, before the fermentation process begins.


It’s the proofing basket. It can also be replaced with a bowl/sieve. Use a towel so that it absorbs the moisture coming from the dough during proofing.

bulk fermentation
Sourdough baking glossary

The first fermentation of your dough. This starts once the preferment is added to the dough and finishes with the final shaping. It’s called ‘bulk’ as you might prepare more loaves at the same time, from the same dough. At this stage the fermentation rather happens in bulk, for the dough to be later split for pre-shaping/shaping.

Dough folding

Techniques used during bulk fermentation to strengthen the dough, help the development of the gluten network. It’s also equalising dough temperature and trapping little air into the dough. It also gives the baker the opportunity to check on the progress of the dough regularly.

Stretch & fold: as the name suggests, it’s the action of stretching and folding the dough over itself, by giving the bowl one-quarter turn and repeating the action 4 times (1 set). Using wet hands to pick up a side of the dough, stretch it up, and fold it over itself. This x 4 times.

Coil fold: this is when you’re folding the dough under itself, rather than over itself as in the stretch & fold. Using wet hands, grab it from underneath, in the middle, and fold it underneath. Rotate the bowl by half and perform from the other side. Rotate the bowl again by a quarter and do it once more and finally, rotate the bowl again by another half and do a last one. I find a coil fold much more gentle to the dough, as it only relies on the weight of the dough and you can’t over stretch it and tear it as with a stretch & fold.

Dough rest

Also known as bench rest; the time between pre shaping and the final shaping, to allow the dough to relax. Not allowing this to happen might lead to a stiff dough in final shaping, where tearing is more likely.


The flap of crust that forms on your sourdough bread while baking, right on where you have scored it. It’s where the deep score/cut opens up. This video can help to visualise it and more.

enriched dough

This is the dough where beyond the water, flour, starter and salt, you also add butter or other fats. The brioche dough is, for example, an enriched dough.

Feeding ratio

the ratio between the amount of starter to the amount of water, respectively to the amount of flour you use to feed your starter. 15g starter fed with 60g water & 60g flour → a ratio of  1:4:4. Starter feeding can also be called starter refreshment.

fermentation peak

The point of maximum fermentation of your starter. After this point, starter will start decreasing in volume and that’s normal. The gluten network starts weakening and can’t hold anymore the gas, plus yeast has finished eating its food and realising gas,


The layer of liquid (grey water) that collects on the top of your starter when it hasn’t been fed in a while. It’s basically water and alcohol produced through the fermentation that shows that your starter needs refreshing. At the same time it has a protective function against unwelcome micro organisms. Just remove/drain it before you feed your starter again. You can also stir it in, but your starter will be more acidic & your dough/bread will be more sour. This video will help visualise it.


It is expressed in % and calculated as amount of water used in a recipe vs the amount of flour. This is how you will find it in most recipes. For example a recipe calling for 350g water and 500g flour, mean a 350/500 = 70% hydration

The term hydration can also be used for starter feeding. A 100% hydration starter means it is fed with equal amounts of water and flour. If less water is used vs the amount of flour, that would be called a stiff starter.

Important to mention is the fact that some bakers would calculate hydration in a slightly more complex way. You won’t find this in my recipes, however I think it’s good to know. In this case hydration % will be calculate as the total amount of water (coming from the starter plus the water you add to the dough) divided by the total amount of flour (from starter and flour you use to the dough).

For exemplification:

recipe calls for:

100g starter (100% hydration) = 50g water and 50g flour

350g water and 500g starter

hydration % in this case is: 50g+350g (water) / 50g+500g (flour) = 72.7%

Important to know when making bread is that different flours have different water absorption rates. It is advised to follow the recipe not only when it comes to hydration %, but also type of flour. Otherwise you might end up with either a stiff dough, either a soupy one. I explain this in detail in my Sourdough bread making guide.


Young preferment made with part of the sourdough starter (mother starter) to which water & flour is being added. It’s a one off, all being used for dough preparation.

oven spring

Is the rise in volume during baking. If not much oven spring, it can be for a couple of reasons. Either an overproofed or underproofed dough, high hydration, lack of dough tension, insufficient gluten development.

open bake

Baking your loaf on a stone/tray, uncovered. It happens in the absence of a dutch oven or any other covered loaf pan.

poke test

A way to assess when a dough that has been sat in a banneton is proofed and ready for baking. It’s not always 100% accurate, but a reliable test. The poke should come back slowly, but not completely leaving a gentle indent on the surface of the dough. That’s your sign it’s ready. If the dough springs back quickly, give it more time. If it doesn’t spring back at all, it’s overproofed.


Fermented water & flour that’s being added to the dough, may it be the starter or a leaven made as a one off from the main starter.


the second fermentation of your dough, after it’s been shaped and placed in the banneton

Ambient proofing: dough proofing at ambient temperature, for a short period of time, following shaping. Anything between 2 – 3h depending on the temperature of the room. This method produces a milder bread (less sour).

Cold/ retard proofing: slow proofing at low temperatures, typically around 6°C / 43°F in the fridge, for a longer period of time. Anything between 10-13h, even longer. The slow long proofing enhances the sourness of your loaf and increases digestibility. This method also allows you to bake first thing in the morning and have a fresh loaf ready for breakfast. The longer you proof, the more sour the loaf will be and the more you might compromise on the oven spring.


Cutting into the surface of the dough before baking it. Why is that? For the aesthetics purposes, but also to allow the gas to escape in a controlled way. Otherwise it might burst in the weakest point.

sourdough starter

The simple answer is ‘wild/natural’ yeast & bacteria, replacing the commercial yeast that not only helps your dough rise. Check this page more for on this.

stiff starter

A starter which is fed with a higher amount of flour than the amount of water. For example: 15g starter, fed with 50g flour, but only 30g water, that’s a stiff starter.

NOT a term, but an important aspect some of you would like to know

Does sourdough bread have gluten?

Well, the answer is yes, sourdough bread and sourdough starters have gluten unless you opt for a gluten free flour. While it’s not gluten free, the long proofing of sourdough bread makes it easier to digest. It also comes with a lower glycemic index.