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40 Bread-Baking Terms for Beginners and Professionals Alike

A baker kneading bread by hand, preparing it for the oven.
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

Bread baking is pretty trendy these days, but some of the terms are difficult to interpret. If you’ve decided to jump into this useful, fun hobby, we’ll help you with some of those tricky words.

From the different types of yeast, to definitions of words you’ve never heard before, here are the bread-baking terms you need to know:

  • Active dry yeast: Small dehydrated granules of dried yeast.
  • All-purpose flour: A versatile wheat flour, which contains lower amounts of protein, to help form the gluten. All-purpose flour is used in cake, pie dough, and many other baked goods.
  • Artisan bread: Made without preservatives and usually by hand. Has a short shelf life and is best eaten fresh.
  • Autolyse: The process of mixing water and flour and allowing it to rest for a set period, resulting in better gluten formation.
  • Baguette: Long narrow loaf of bread, often referred to as a “French baguette.”
  • Benching: Another word for resting so the gluten can relax.
  • Bake: Dry-heat method of cooking referring to foods that lack structure, and become solid once baked. Examples include cake, and quick or artisan bread.
  • Baker’s yeast: Used to leaven various baked breads.
  • Boule: The French word for “ball,” meaning a round loaf of bread.
  • Bread flour: Wheat flour that contains high levels of proteins that form gluten. It’s the best type to use, especially in yeast bread.
  • Brewer’s yeast: The inactive yeast by-product of beer, sometimes referred to as “beer yeast.”
  • Cake yeast: A wet yeast you can add directly to dry ingredients or dissolve in liquids. Often referred to as “compressed,” “fresh,” or “wet” yeast.
  • Carbon dioxide: Colorless gas that is a by-product of yeast fermentation.
  • Convection oven: Type of oven with fans inside to circulate the air and create even heat. Sometimes referred to as a “fan-assisted” oven.
  • Crumb: The pattern (and size) of air holes inside a loaf of bread.
  • Emulsion: The diffusion of liquid into another substance.
  • Emulsifier: A chemical that binds two incompatible ingredients (like oil and water).
  • Fermentation: The process in which yeast converts sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  • Flour: Made from wheat and contains gluten-forming proteins.
  • Focaccia bread: This Italian yeast bread is baked in a sheet pan. It’s infused with olive oil, and also often contains garlic, herbs, and other vegetables.
A freshly baked focaccia bread, cut into pieces and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Emilee Unterkoefler
  • Gluten: Comprised of two proteins (gliadin and glutenin), this gives bread dough elasticity before it’s baked and a chewy texture after it’s baked.
  • Hydration: The ratio of water to flour, measured in weight.
  • Instant yeast: Shortens the rising time required for traditional bread baking. Also referred to as “fast-acting” or “fast-rising.”
  • Knead: The process of working bread dough by hand to produce and develop gluten, which, in turn, gives bread and other baked goods structure.
  • Leavener: Used in baked goods to create a light, fluffy texture.
  • Oven spring: When bread dough suddenly increases in volume within the first 10 minutes of baking.
  • Proof: The final rise of dough after shaping a loaf before baking it.
  • Proofing yeast: Adding yeast to warm water to activate it before adding it to dry ingredients.
  • Quick bread: A baked good, including loaves, muffins, cornbread, scones, and cake, leavened with a chemical leavening agent.
  • Rise: The process during which yeast ferments sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, causing dough to expand. During this stage, the dough is in a warm area to ensure this process takes place.
  • Soda bread: A type of quick bread traditionally made with buttermilk and baking soda. The acid from the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda, causing it to rise.
  • Sourdough starter: A mixture of water and flour left at room temperature for several days to harvest yeast from the air. As each day passes, the yeast multiplies, and the starter begins to bubble, giving the bread a natural rise.
A jar of sourdough starter sitting next to some sourdough baguettes.
Zagorulko Inka/Shutterstock
  • Sourdough bread: Type of bread made from naturally occurring yeast in the environment and the bacteria in the flour.
  • Unbleached flour: Flour that doesn’t contain bleaching or aging agents.
  • Underproofed: Dough that hasn’t risen enough.
  • Unleavened: Dough that doesn’t contain yeast or a chemical leavening agent.
  • Whole wheat flour: Wheat flour with lower amounts of gluten-forming proteins.
  • Windowpane test: Method of stretching dough to see if it tears. If it does tear, it hasn’t been kneaded enough; if it doesn’t, it’s ready to rise.
  • Yeast: A living microscopic organism that converts sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide through a process called fermentation.
  • Yeast bread: Any bread made with yeast.

Now that you’ve got the terms down, it’s time to start baking! You’ll be a pro before you know it.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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