Wednesday, September 07, 2016

2 Bread Baking Terms You Might See + What They Actually Mean

When I was new to the world of sourdough, at times I found myself overwhelmed with some of the terminology I'd come across.
Today, I understand many of the terms (although I don't tend to use them myself), whilst other terms still baffle me. Actually, I think what baffles me is some of the complicated recipes I stumble across. I don't tend to enjoy following recipes that feel more like they belong in a lab than a home kitchen!

This modern complication of something as simple as baking a loaf of bread is partly what led me to write Spelt Sourdough Made Simple. Breaking terminology down into everyday language just makes things easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

So what are some terms you might stumble upon when searching for bread recipes, and what do they actually mean?

1. Hydration
This would have to be one of the most common ones I see, and is often paired with percentages - i.e 70% hydration. 
Are you likely to need this term?
If you're following recipes written for everyday cooks, you probably won't come across it. I see it used a lot on Instagram - bakers talking about what hydration the particular loaf is they are showing, and whether they want to increase or decrease it.
It is handy to understand what it actually means so that you aren't put off by it like I used to be.

What hydration refers to is the moisture content of the dough - if the recipe calls for 1kg of flour and 700g of water that means it is 70% hydration. It's that simple!

Another place you may see hydration referred to is with sourdough starters. Only recently I was asked what hydration my sourdough starter is - the answer is 100%, meaning that I feed my starter equal parts of flour to water.
Knowing what hydration meant in regards to my starter was helpful recently when I was reading about how to convert regular cake recipes into sourdough ones. (More on that another day!)

2. Autolyse
This is the other term you are likely to come across in artisan bread baking.
I've actually seen this one used in a few different contexts, so I'm not sure that even those using the term understand the meaning!

Autolyse (or autolysis) is generally used in reference to the first stage of dough mixing and resting. The flour and water, and sometimes the starter, are mixed together and left to rest for a period of time, usually anywhere from 20 minutes up.
After resting, the salt and any other additional ingredients are added, including the yeast if you're making conventional bread.
The purpose of this process is to allow the moisture to be absorbed by the flour before you handle the dough or make any changes. This can be really handy when you're making a very wet dough, such as a Ciabatta.

I've personally tried the method of adding salt later, but I gave up as it turned out to be a wonderful way to forget salt even existed and leave it out altogether. (Have you ever tasted bread without any salt in it? It's awful!)
As I've explained in my eBook, there's actually no reason to initially leave out the salt. Contrary to some opinions, it does not hurt the yeast or sourdough starter when added altogether.
Try it and see!

I hope today's post has helped you in your bread baking journey!
What kind of recipes do you prefer - those with basic English and minimal steps or do you enjoy working with a more scientific process?

Share below your favourite kind of recipe below, or maybe you could explain another bread baking term?
Also, if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask in the comments!

Happy baking,

Sarah x

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my eBook, Spelt Sourdough Made Simple.

Designed for baking with whole spelt flour (and other variations of spelt) with no mixing in of other flours - this is truly 100% spelt sourdough. Also suitable for whole wheat flour baking.
Learn more or purchase your instant download copy here.

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  1. Your explanation was very novice-friendly to read, thank you Sarah :)

  2. I think it's the new way to make the simple complicated Sarah...your explanations are very clear and interesting and your bread looks fab ;-)
    Susan x

  3. Useful information Sarah...there are just so many baking terms aren't there? x

  4. I really enjoyed this article Sarah because I had no idea what these things were lol!

  5. I'd really like to read your post, thank you!

  6. Cool to add to my vocab.


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