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The Bread Bakers Forum



Note: Due to difficulty in translation, some European terms have been generalized by American bakers to broader definitions than used by classic European bakers. I have attempted here to define foreign terms according to classical usage in their country of origin as I understand them, as well as to indicate general usage. Some are confusing and have become ambiguous due to imprecise translation and use. For instance, there is little differentiation between a chef, levain, old dough and starter. While chef and levain refer to natural leavens, all are used to provide leavening to a fresh mix of dough. Iin common American use the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, albeit incorrectly.


Anfrishsauer A German term for the first stage of the traditional German sourdough baking process made from Anstellgut, water, and flour. 
Anstellgut A German term for the inoculant to the first stage in the three-stage sequence of elaboration of a leaven for the traditional process of German sourdough. It is a portion of the ripe sourdough leaven saved from the previous day's bake and corresponds to the French term "chef".
Barm A British term for a yeast leaven. In brewing, the term "barm" refers to the foamy yeast residue from the fermentation of ale, then used to leaven bread (different strains of S. cerevisiae are used to ferment both bread and alcohol). 

Today some Americans (including some San Francisco bread bakers and instructors) use the term "barm" to describe a natural leaven started with whole wheat flour or grains. A barm started from whole wheat grains or flour is a mix of natural or "wild" yeast and lactobacilli originating from the grains.

As a by-product from brewing yeast, barm makes a fairly bitter tasting bread unless the bittering agents are distilled out. As a natural leaven from whole wheat flour and/or grains, barm produces a mild fruity buttery flavored bread lactic acid contributions from the lactobacilli and is not necessarily sour.

Biga An Italian word for a yeasted starter. To make a biga, a tiny amount of commercial bakers yeast is mixed with water and flour to a dough-like consistency and fermented for a long period of time, 12 to 24 hours or more. It is then mixed into bread dough for leavening, often with the addition of more commercial bakers' yeast.
Chef A French word for a natural leaven starter which is retained and used from bake to bake. Sometimes it refers to a piece of old dough saved off for the next bake, sometimes to a starter in its first stage, either a batter- or dough-like consistency. 

In classic French baking a "chef" is "built" (or "elaborated") into a "levain" (a firm dough-like consistency) which is again built (or elaborated) into leavening for final bread dough.

Desem A Flemish word for a natural leaven. To make a desem, a small amount of freshly milled whole wheat flour is mixed with some unchlorinated water, then buried in a 10 pound bag of whole wheat flour, kept at cool temperatures (65 degrees F or lower) and allowed to ferment. It is refreshed every day or two for about 7 days until it is ready to make into bread. 

Burying the dough ball in the bag of flour allows the leaven to develop from only those yeast and lactobacilli which inherently thrive on the grain and avoids the introduction of other microbes. 

A slowly fermented desem starter enhances the wheat flavor and creates a fruity, wheaty bread full of complex flavors.

Friendship Starter (Amish or otherwise) A sweet starter generally made with milk, sugar and flour used in a variety of baking goods such as quick breads, pancakes, muffins, coffee cakes, etc. Some versions of the starter are natural leavens, others are made with commercial bakers yeast.
Grundsauer A German term for the second stage of leaven elaboration of German sourdough.
Levain A French word for a natural leaven mixed to a dough-like consistency. A levain is made by adding flour and water or just flour to a "chef". This process is referred to as "building" or "elaborating" the next stage of the leaven. 

A levain or levain bread dough is generally fermented at cool temperatures. The firmer consistency and cool temperature fermentation of a levain promotes the development of lactic rather than acidic acids, and a bread leavened with a levain (Pain au Levain) has a rich, complex flavor and is generally not sour. 

Lievito Naturale Classically, an Italian word for a natural leaven. Today some Italian bakers use the terms biga and Lievito Naturale interchangeably.
Natural Leaven A leaven of so-called "wild" or natural yeast and lactobacilli (sourdough, desem, levain, lievito naturale, some barms). As opposed to commercial bakers' yeast. Would also include leavens of natural yeast without lactobacilli.
Old Dough (Pate Fermente or Vielle Pate) A piece of final dough saved from one bake to the next. It differs from a starter only in that it is saved after the final dough has been mixed and therefore contains salt. 

Old dough can be used to leaven fresh dough. Depending on its age it may need to be either refreshed in order to strengthen its leavening ability or additional leavening may be used along with the old dough.

Poolish A French term for a sponge, a mixture of commercial bakers yeast, water and flour. Usually a wet mixture rather than firm. Classically the water and flour are in a 1:1 ratio by weight although in common use the term now equates to "sponge".
Pre-ferment This term refers to any mix or starter that is allowed to ferment and build its leavening ability prior to being incorporated into final bread dough. This includes either a yeasted or naturally leavened sponge, a biga, a levain, a barm, a batter-like starter, old dough, etc.

A pre-ferment contributes leavening and flavor to bread by allowing the dough longer periods of fermentation which enhances the texture and flavor of the bread.

Sauerteig A German term for sourdough.
Sourdough A culture of natural leavens (natural yeast and lactobacilli) used as leavening.
Sourdough Starter A stabile culture of natural yeast and lactobacilli maintained over time, propagated and continued for the purpose of leavening.
Sourdough Bread Bread which has been leavened by a sourdough starter. Sourdough bread may or may not have a sour flavor depending on the acids produced by the specific strains of lactobacilli that are involved in the fermentation process. Sourdough bread is not necessarily sour bread although it can be.
Sponge A pre-ferment of a wet rather than firm (dough-like) consistency. It is a mixture of leavening (either commercial bakers' yeast or natural leavens), liquid and flour mixed prior to the final bread dough and allowed to ferment anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours (or more). Used to improve the flavor and texture of bread dough and to build leavening strength. 
Starter A mixture used as leavening in final dough. The term generally refers to either batter-like or dough-like consistency mixes which are retained from one activation or bake to the next.
Vollsauer: A German term for the third and last stage of leaven elaboration of German sourdough. When fully ripe (or activated) some of this is saved to become Anstellgut, and the rest is used to prepare the final dough.
Yeast Yeast is a fungus, a member of the plant family. Yeast exists on plants, in the air, in soil, and in and on humans and animals. 

Yeast metabolize simple sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide through the process of fermentation. Different strains of yeast are used for different processes, such as brewing and dough-rising.

Yeast, Commercial Bakers' Yeast In the 1860's Louis Pasteur discovered how bread is leavened and how yeast "works". A particular strain of yeast named Saccharomyces cerevisiae was found to be an excellent leavener for bread and one that could be easily manufactured. Whether you use fresh (compressed) or dry yeast (either regular active dry yeast or instant dry yeast), you are using strains of S. cerevisiae that have been engineered, manufactured and packaged for commercial and home use to be predictable, reliable and fast-acting.
Yeast,Wild or Natural Yeast Yeast that is freely floating about in the air or on the surface of grains, fruit or vegetables or in soil. As opposed to commercial bakers yeast wild yeast are strains of Saccharomyces exigus including some varieties of Candida such as C. krusei and C. milleri. 



Culture A stabile symbiotic mix of microorganisms in a medium such as liquid and grain (i.e., water and flour), also referred to as a "natural leaven starter."
Docking (Slashing) Slitting a loaf with 1/4" - 1/2" cuts, for the purpose of guiding the bloom of the loaf so that it swells where the baker wants it to and for decorative purposes.
Fermentation (of bread) The process by which bread is leavened, also known as "rising". As the simple sugars are broken down from starch in flour, the microorganisms in a bread dough feed and then release various metabolic by-products (carbon dioxide, alcohol, organic acids and organic volatiles) which flavor the bread and cause it to rise.
"Fully Activated" That stage in the cycle of a starter of peak yeast and lactobacilli activity. A fully activated starter is full of large and small bubbles which are well-integrated throughout the starter (not just on top), there may be a layer of foam or froth on the very top and if the starter is a thick enough batter, it will have increased in volume by double or more.
Hooch The liquid that rises to the top as a starter separates. Some bakers stir it back into the starter, others pour it off.
Incubate In context here, to allow a starter to sit in conditions which favor the growth of its microorganisms.
Inoculate In context here, to introduce microorganisms (or a substance upon which or in which microorganisms exist) into a mix of flour and water in order to cultivate the microorganisms.
Inoculum In context here, what is used to inoculate a fresh mix of flour and water, such as an amount of existing starter or bits of fruit, vegetables, spices or water containing desirable microorganisms.
Lactobacilli Lactic acid-producing bacteria, often referred to as "friendly bacteria". These are rod-shaped bacteria that assist the process of fermentation and produce lactic and acetic acids along with CO2 as by-products of metabolism (fermentation).
Lame A French word for a tool  used to slash (dock) hearth loaves.  Some of these look like a long-handled knife, others like a double-edged razor on a stick.
Leaven As a verb, to cause to rise.

As a noun, an ingredient incorporated into bread dough which causes the dough to rise through the release of CO2 through either a chemical process (as baking powder and/baking soda) or through a metabolic process of fermentation.

Microbe, Microorganism(s) In context here, microscopic organisms such as the yeast and bacteria that inhabit a culture.
Mother Starter Same as Refrigerator or Storage Starter.
Refresh "Feeding" a starter, adding nutrients in the form of flour and water to re-activate the starter and bring its leavening and flavoring microbes to peak levels of activity.
Refrigerator (or Storage) Starter A starter that is stored in the refrigerator most of the time and is taken out, refreshed and fully activated prior to mixing final bread dough.
Slashing (Docking) Slitting a loaf with 1/4" - 1/2" cuts, for the purpose of guiding the bloom of the loaf so that it swells where the baker wants it to and for decorative purposes.
"Sour" As a noun, a starter used to build a sour-flavored bread dough, commonly used in commercial baking, for instance a "rye sour".
Sour Bread A bread dough which has an acid pH and a sour flavor caused by either natural leaven fermentation (sourdough) or through the addition of souring agents such as yogurt, vinegar or various souring salts. Sour bread is only sourdough bread when it has been leavened by a sourdough (natural leaven) culture of wild yeast and lacatobacilli.
Sourdough Bread Bread which has been leavened by a sourdough starter. Sourdough bread may or may not have a sour flavor depending on the acids produced by the specific strains of lactobacilli that are involved in the fermentation process. Sourdough bread is not necessarily sour bread although it can be.


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