Sourdough bakers’ terminology

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Wholemeal sourdogh bread on purple cloth and flowers.

You must’ve noticed all the “strange words” when looking through recipes, videos etc.

Like in every industry there is terminology that the professionals use.

In this article I will try to break it up and cover the most popular ones.

Especially if you are just starting, this might be useful and the recipes make more sense.

First - Levain 

Levain is the big amount of starter that we will be using in our bakes.

It can be mixed in all different ways- proportions, flours and ratios.

It just depends what flavour you would like to introduce to your bake and when do you need it for.

Let's move on to  - Autolyse

This is the first step of the process - autolyse refers to mixing water and flour together.

It could be anything between 10 minutes up to hours.

Could be cold autolyse or room temperature autolyse.

Normally the cold autolyse is longer and it could be done overnight.

While the dough is having a rest, the gluten starts to develop  and the simple sugars start to form as the starch is broken down.  

 “In biology, autolysis, more commonly known as self-digestion, refers to the destruction of a cell through the action of its own enzymes. It may also refer to the digestion of an enzyme by another molecule of the same enzyme. The term derives from the Greek αὐτο- and λύσις.” - WIkipedia

Basically , the flour and water become friends. 

By leaving them to get to know each other even for 20 minutes you will notice how different the dough becomes, much stretchier and easy to manipulate. It becomes smoother and the aromas are more prominent. 

We always recommend not to skip this step.

Shaped sourdough.

Starter - Sourdough Culture 

Sourdough starter is the fermented water and flour. 

To achieve a good enough starter that is ready to be used in bakes it takes time, patience and knowledge. It could take anything between 7 to 14 days, but to be on the safe side, I would say - stick with 14 days. That way it would have enough time to create enough activity and achieve good strength that will be transferred in your loaf.

Bulk proof

Bulk proof starts the minute you mix the starter into the dough. The starter begins its work and the fermentation process is activated.

For a normal sourdough loaf, the bulk proof is between 4 to 6 hours.


This is the slowing down of the process of fermentation . 

The dough is put in the fridge and by using this method we make our loaf more digestible and develop more depth of flavour.


Banneton is just another name for a proofing basket. 


This is a percentage calculation of how wet the dough is.

It is calculated as a starting point is the amount of flour.

Let's say-  the flour used is 1000g and we add 700g water - this is 70% hydration.

Bakers’ percentage

Again this is calculated based on the amount of flour.

Normally in sourdough loaf you would have 

20% starter,

2% salt and 70% Water. 

Of course there are different variations of hydration but 70% hydrated dough is easy to work with and more manageable to handle.


This is just a simple test to check the gluten development of the dough. 

It is done by stretching it near the light.

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