Baking and Cooking Glossary

One of the things I like about blogging is sharing some of the things I’ve learned about cooking and baking, including terms that can sometimes be confusing. I decided to start this glossary to collect some of these words and terms. I’ll add things here as I mention them in my blog and include links to this glossary from the blog entries, and vice versa.

There are a lot of food glossaries out there, and I have no intention of trying to make this one a complete compendium of cooking or baking terms. Rather, I want to use it to collect terms that come up in my blog posts. That said, if there are cooking terms that confuse you, drop me a line. I’ll try to add a definition.

baker’s percentages (or baker’s math) — in professional and artisan bread baking, recipes are conceived in ratios whereby the total flour in the recipe, by weight, is always 100%, and the rest of the ingredients are presented in relation to the flour weight. So, for example, if you are using 1000 grams of flour, and the yeast is given as 3%, then the recipe would require 30 grams of yeast.

fiori di sicilia — literally, “flower of Sicily”, is a flavoring extract with essences of citrus and vanilla. It can be used in place of vanilla and adds a wonderfully subtle flavor to sweet doughs.

full rolling boil — often use in jam and jelly making, the term “full rolling boil” means a boil that doesn’t subside when you stir the mixture.

herringbone cut — a method for cutting a boule that results in even-sized slices. (Click on link to see a pictoral demonstration.)

hooch — the greyish, brownish liquid that forms on the top of sourdough starter when the starter needs to be fed. Hooch is a result of alcohol production in the starter fermentation process. It can be poured off or stirred back into the starter. If it is poured off, the starter may require slightly more liquid when fed.

mise en placemise en place (pronounced MEES ahn plahs), literally “put in place” but more commonly translated “everything in place”, is a French cooking term, which simply refers to assembling all of your ingredients and equipment before you begin cooking. You read through your recipe, get out all your ingredients, measure, wash, chop, toast, bring to room temperature, etc., and get all of your pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and other equipment ready.

100% hydration — this term, used with sourdough starters, refers to the amount of water in a starter in relation to the amount of flour, both measured by weight. In baker’s percentages (see entry above), the flour is always 100%, and all other ingredients are measured in reference to the flour. So 100% hydration means that the weight of the water in the starter is equal to the weight of the flour. So, for example, if you feed your starter 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water, the starter would be 100% hydration.

pain de mie — is a fancy-sounding name for an everyday sandwich bread. Literally, it translates to “bread of crumb”; but most online French-to-English translators will return “sandwich bread” or simply “bread”. Pain de mie can be made with whole grain, but it is usually just a simple, white sandwich bread, often enriched with milk, butter, and sugar. It can be baked in a loaf pan or a Pullman pan (see below).

proofing box — a proofing box (sometimes also called a “proof box”) is sealed space where a baker can control the temperature and humidity in order to proof dough under controlled conditions. Generally, the temperature of a proofing box is kept around 100 degrees F, and the humidity at about 85%. (See how I simulate a proofing box in my microwave oven.)

Pullman pan — so named because it resembles the shape of a Pullman train car, this lidded, rectangular pan bakes a perfect pain de mie loaf (see above). Pullman pans come in many sizes, but a “standard” pan is about 13x4x4 inches and holds about 3 1/2 pounds (42 ounces) of dough.

soaker— in making a soaker, course-ground grains (e.g., cracked wheat, course-ground cornmeal, oats, etc.) are soaked in a small amount of water or milk overnight. This serves to soften and activate the enzymes in the grains, which improves the flavor of bread dramatically.

tacky vs. sticky (dough) — in bread baking, the recipe will often say that the dough should be either tacky or sticky. The easiest way to test this is to press your hand onto the dough and then lift it up. If the dough pulls up with your hand and then releases (so your hand comes away clean), the dough is tacky. If you end up with dough stuck to your hand, it’s sticky.


Microwave Proofing Box

Microwave Proofing Box

A proofing box (sometimes also called a “proof box”) is sealed space where a baker can control the temperature and humidity in order to proof dough under controlled conditions. Generally, the temperature of a proofing box is kept around 100 degrees F, and the humidity at about 85%. In a professional bakery, a proofing box might look like a large, walk-in cooler. By using a controlled environment, the baker is able to proof dough faster and more predicably than by relying on room temperature. 

For the home baker, there are a number of ways of improvising a proofing box. Some people use Styrofoam coolers or aquariums equipped with lights or submersible heaters to produce the desired atmosphere for proofing bread. Others try to control the temperature by putting dough in the oven with the light on. I have found that a simple and reliable way is to use the microwave.

Let me first clear up any misconceptions by saying that I do not run the microwave with the dough in it — ever. I have read about proofing dough in the microwave by actually nuking the dough; this to me is anathema to the whole idea of baking homemade bread.

So, how do you proof bread in the microwave? Start by placing about 2 cups of water in the microwave and heating it for several minutes, until it boils rapidly. Allow the water to continue boiling for a minute to really fill the microwave with steam. Then, working quickly to avoid losing too much of the steam, open the microwave, move the cup off to the side, put your dough in the microwave, and close the door. You have now created a warm, humid environment in which to ferment or proof your dough.

Dough proofed in a microwave “proofing box” will rise more quickly than dough proofed at room temperature, so keep an eye on it. But avoid opening the door too often, as each time you do you will lower both the temperature and humidity. Generally, I leave the dough alone in the proofing box until the minimum time given in the recipe for fermenting or proofing, then check it to see if it has developed sufficiently. For long ferments, you might even want to remove the dough, reheat the water, and then put the dough back in.

So, there you have it. At zero expense and with minimal effort and attention, you can recreate an expensive proofing box in your own kitchen.