Bread-Baking Cheat Sheet: 13 Bread Terms to Know

A boule of homemade bread on a wood slat board with three slices next to it.
Donna Currie

If you get hooked and decide to do a lot of bread baking, it seems prudent to have a cheat sheet of the more common technical terms you're likely to run across.

This isn't a complete list and the definitions have been simplified, but it should help make reading—and baking—just a little easier.

Autolyze: Resting the dough after the first mixing of flour and water. Things happen in the dough (the flour hydrates and gluten develops) but from the baker's perspective, you just let it rest.

Baker's Percentages: A method of determining the amount of each ingredient based on its relationship to the weight of the flour. If you like math and percentages, you'll love this. Otherwise your brain will melt. Read more here.

Baguette: A long rope, sometimes with tapered ends. Used for baguettes as for strands of dough for braided breads, pretzels, and similar shapes.

Batard: Bread dough shaped into a fat log with tapered ends.

Bench: Your work surface. Bench Rest means letting the dough rest on the work surface before proceeding with shaping. Bench Flour is flour that you've sprinkled on the work surface.

Boule: A round squished ball-shaped bread.

Couche: A sheet of fabric used to hold and separate loaves as they are rising. Usually linen. You can use a thick, clean, fuzz-free kitchen towel. Terrycloth is a bad idea.

Ferment/Proof: Letting the dough rest and rise. Yeast can also be proofed by adding dry yeast to warm water with sugar or flour to prove that it is still viable.

Fold: Just like it sounds; you fold the dough over itself. This is gentler than kneading but serves much the same purpose.

Lame: A tool used to score or slash the top of a loaf of bread. A razor blade or sharp knife can also be used.

Preferment: Any of a number of mixtures of flour, water, and yeast (and sometimes salt) that is combined and left to develop before being added to the rest of the dough components. The biga, levain, pate fermente, poolish, and sponge are all types of preferments. If you need to use one of these, the recipe should give you the instructions for making it.


Pull a window: A test used to determine the development of the gluten. A small bit of dough is gently pulled and stretched. If it can create a thin membrane without tearing, the gluten is fully developed. Read more on the windowpane test.

Retarding: Slowing down the fermentation of the dough, usually by refrigerating it.