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.

Sourdough baking

bulk fermentation

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.


Discard is a part of your sourdough starter that is removed when you feed the starter, before adding water and flour.

Since I believe in the power of example, here is one. Let’s assume you now have 120g starter in your jar, but you only want to feed 40g. The difference, the 80g, is the excess that is being discarded. The so called discard.

Discarding some of your culture is inevitable, otherwise you will be building an enormous amount of starter, as you’ll be adding water and flour at every feeding. And it’s not only that you’ll have a lot of starter, but the more it’s building up, the more acidic it will be. And this can compromise the development of your starter, but also its level of activity and leavening strength once you get to make bread with.

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.


Is the mix of water, starter and flour, before the addition of salt to your dough. Salt inhibits the yeast, slightly slowing down the fermentation. It also tightens the dough and gives it more structure.


The layer of liquid (grey water) that forms at the surface 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 feeding. 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.

The easy way to calculate dough hydration is by dividing the amount of water in the recipe to the amount of flour, as described above. 

There is however a more accurate way of doing it, which you may encounter in some recipes.

When to use it?CalculationHydration %
Simple wayAlways a 100% hydration starter or leaven350g water (in recipe) / 500g flour (in recipe)70%
Accurate wayDifferent starter feedings/ leaven preparation350g water (in recipe) +50g water (in starter) /

Since I always feed my starter with equal parts of water and flour (also called 100% hydration), I prefer keeping it simple. You may want to do the same.

However, if for example, you were to use a stiffer starter instead (fed with more flour than water), then the more advanced calculation is more suitable.

This is more precise if you want to keep the dough at the same hydration as if you were to use a 100% hydration starter. With a stiffer starter, you will have to increase the amount of water in the dough, should you want the results to be the same

leaven (LEVAIN)

Young preferment made with part of the sourdough starter (when it’s ripe = at its peak) to which water & flour is being added. It’s a one off feed, usually in a 1:1:1 ratio, used entirely in your dough.

Why make a leaven?

🌾you want to use different flours or a different hydration rate for the preferment that goes into your dough, without changing your main starter or without maintaining more starters. For example you might want to give more sourness to your bread and in this case what you can do is to prepare a leaven using rye flour, while your main starter is fed with strong white flour

🌾you need a large amount of preferment (which might not be the case for most of us, the home bakers)

🌾it can also save you time if your starter has been in the fridge for a long time and you don’t have time for 2 feeds. You can give it one feed and then prepare a leaven using a 1:1:1 ratio so that’s ready quicker

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. 

With your index finger, gently push in the dough. The dough 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, so go ahead and bake it. This video might be helpful


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

– 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).
– same day bake
– slow proofing at low temperatures, typically around 6°C / 43°F in the fridge, for 10H+
– the slow long proofing enhances the sourness of your loaf and increases digestibility.
– 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.