The Bread Baking Language: Words, Jargon, Terminology, and Key Concepts

When I first starting looking into to how to make homemade bread, I was pretty offset by all the fancy words.  I mean really for something that was being made for thousands of years, it should have been simpler.  I just wanted to learn how to make bread for me and my wife.  I had no interest in learning another whole language.  But like every new field, there was a bit of a learning curve, and part of it was learning what the big bread guys were talking about!

So here is a simple list of breadmaking for the average guy or gal:

  1. The Crust –  I know you probably know this one already but it is still worthy of mention!  This refers to the outside of the bread.  A crust may be soft or crispy and can vary by color.  Since the crust plays a large role in the taste and appearance, it is one of those things breadmakers will spend their life trying to master.  The crust can be manipulated using a variety of techniques including adding steam to the oven and adjusting cooking temperature.
  2. The Crumb – No I am not referring to crumbs left over after eating!  This term refers to the inside of the bread and may have many different characteristics.  A crumb can be judged by its moistness and texture.  Just as many breadmakers try to master a perfect crust, a perfect crumb is a coveted aspect of a bread.  The perfect amount of air will produce beautiful bubbles, or pockets of air, in the bread that will enhance appearance and chewiness.  There are a variety of techniques to manipulate the taste and texture of the crumb including playing with the overall hydration levels of the dough, varying rise times, and of course, choice of ingredients.
  3. Kneading – This is the act of mixing all the ingredients together until you have something that looks like dough!  Sounds easy but there but there is a lot to consider.  Overkneading can destroy your bread and is a cause of the dreaded “brick” loaf.  Under kneading can cause dry spots in your bread, yuck!  Kneading can be done by hand )my preferred style -its good to give the old forearms a work out) or by machine.  There are even recipes for “no knead” bread, a technique that may not sound authentic but if done properly can produce artisan bread in your home oven.
  4. The Rise – This one is pretty easy to understand but it is a key concept to consider if you are gonna make a successful loaf or pie. A rise refers to the incredible phenomenon that occurs when the yeast interacts with the other ingredients and causes the dough to grow.  This is the science experiment-like part of the process and it can be a lot of fun.  Many bread recipes require the dough to rise once or twice.  Believe it or not manipulating the rise time, especially slowing it down (sometimes referred to as a “retarded rise” ) can greatly enhance the flavor of your bread.  This is a tricky one to get right however, because different climates can affect rise times making most directions for rises in recipes irrelevant  In a later post, I will try to cover how to do this by eye.
  5. Scoring –  The act of cutting lines or patterns in your bread to enhance to texture and appearance of the crust.  This is something I am not fond of and is the source of many of my bread frustrations.  After waiting for bread to make it second rise, many breadmakers will slash the bread with a  sharp razor or serrated knife to get those fancy crust patterns you always see in the best bakeries.  The problem is if this is not done right, your bread will deflate and all the beautiful air pockets with pop.  This takes finesse and is something yours truly is still working on!  I have even read that scoring prevents the bread from exploding in the oven.  This has never happened to me and I have neglected to score many loaves, but thought I’d give you a head’s up just in case.
  6. Proof –  This can be a confusing and technical bread word but I will try to simplify it.  The word has two meanings.  The first meaning refers to the act of proving your yeast is okay to use.  Basically, put some yeast in a bowl with some lukewarm water.  If it it starts to bubble like the swamp thing is about to emerge, your yeast is ok to use!  I always use newer packets of active dry yeast so I never actually do this kind of proofing.  I just add the dry yeast to the other dry ingredients.  The second meaning concerns the second rise of the dough.  After the first rise, breadmakers customarily punch the air out of the dough, shape it and then let it rise some more.  This second rise is the proof.
  7. Oven Spring – If this happens you should be stoked!  This refers to the final rise of the bread that happens in the oven.  This is an exciting part of breadmaking because when you open the oven door you sometimes discover your bread has grown into a beautiful fluffy loaf.  Oven Spring is another thing that can be challenging to master but worth the effort.  This can often be accomplished by regulating the temperature of your oven but also may be influenced by previous rising and proofing times, and the amount of water in the dough.

Well, there you have it.  Some bread words and jargon to get you started.  Please keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list.  In the future I will make a list of the different names of bread shapes and another about all the terms used to talk about the “starter” dough.  But for now, stop worrying about what you call it and just do it.  It’s time to get my loaf out of the oven!

Please chime and let me know what words you have added to your bread baking lexicon.



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