The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Words, and a Recipe

JustJoel's picture

Words, and a Recipe

I’m so excited that this forum affords me my own blog! What a unique and valuable perk!

As I continue My self-guided tour of the baking and bread world, I sometimes become frustrated with the lingo of baking. Not because I don’t understand the words. I’m a linguist at heart, and sometimes (especially when I’m writing a recipe), I can look at my musings for hours, trying to decide which word is best.

Dough rises. But do you raise it? Before you put the dough in the oven, do you proof it, or prove it (and on whom lays the burden of proof?). Can “proof” be used in any part of the fermentation cycle; is the dough proofing after every knead, during every rise?

And then there are the various kneading cycles. Is one “mixing” the dough the first time round? And kneading” the second? And “punching down” the dough sounds artsy, but it’s no more descriptive than “punching down” the dough, which, according to the latest research, is a misnomer; punching does nothing for dough, or relationships, or walls, and might be harmful to either of the three.

Last linguistic beef with baking terms. Or maybe I’m just being a whining liberal. I think we need a new term for prolonged fermentation in the fridge. These days, retarded fermentation just sounds, well, insulting. Wouldn’t “delayed fermentation,l “interrupted fermentation,” or “super-duper long fermentation” work equally well without casting aspersions on people with disabilities? Okay, maybe I’m just too sensitive to social issues.

I promised a recipe in title. This is not a bread recipe, but with a little tweaking, you could turn it into a pizza topping, so I feel vindicated in posting it.

When I was about sixteen, my family went on a road trip across America, our last great vacation together as a family. We stopped in the Big Easy for a few nights, and Dad treated us to dinner at a very posh restaurant with a long NOLA tradition. The seating was dark red velvet, the wait staff were dressed in formal clothes, and the restaurant was so dark that the waiter had to bring a flashlight so he could read the check. Then the waiter had to bring an AED. I ordered the BBQ shrimp, and I was gonna xpecting a couple of skewers of shrimp cooked on a grill. What I got was a steaming platter of heads-on shrimp doused in a sauce that was nearly black with pepper. A finger bowl was served alongside. I thought it was a dipping sauce to cut the peppery heat of the shrimp, and hilarity ensued. The bowl did have a lemon in it! I didn’t know how to cook at the time, so I didn’t really pay attention to the tastes, and I’ve never been able to duplicate that dish. But the following recipe is quite close.

I love New Orleans. The music, the architecture, the lore, and the art are unequaled almost any where in America. Did I forget something? Oh yeah, the food! Whenever I get the chance to visit New Orleans, I’m planning my menu before I get to the airport! I love seafood, literally. And there’s no better place for it than NOLA!

So here’s my version of a classic Cajun/ Creole dish. BBQ shrimp never sees a grill. The BBQ is in reference to the  sauce that the shrimp are cooked in. There are enough recipes for NOLA BBQ shrimp to fill volumes! If you ask ten people in the Big Easy for their recipe, you’ll get eleven answers. Or maybe fifteen!

My rationale for sharing this recipe in a baking forum is that it can be deconstructed and made into a pizza.


Sorry I have no pics of this dish. I usually photograph all my food, but slipped up this time.

  • 1/2 to 1 lb unpeeled heads-on shrimp. 1/2 lb is perfect for two. There’s no need to divide the sauce ingredients in half; you’ll just have a bit more sauce to share. The heads are important for the texture and taste of the dish. They’re also the best part of the meal; sucking the juices and seasonings out of the heads. You can use peeled, deveined frozen shrimp, but it won’t be Nawlins BBQ Shrimp!
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter. Yes, that’s 1 cup of butter. You may even need more. I prefer to use clarified butter or ghee, for its higher smoke point and deeper flavor.
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp commercial Creole seasoning,
  • 8 cloves of garlic, smashed and finely minced
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce. You can add more or less to taste, but the Worcestershire sauce is the main flavor. Again, if you leave it out, it’s not BBQ shrimp
  • 1 large bottle of lager beer. No microbrews or dark ales. You won’t use the whole bottle. I’m sure you know what to do with the rest! You can substitute a dry white wine or dry vermouth
  • 1 tbsp finely ground black pepper. Fresh ground black pepper is too coarse, and finely ground pepper will distribute the pepper flavor through the dish much better
  • 1 large lemon sliced into 1/2” rounds

Preheat the oven to 300°F

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large cast iron skillet. After the butter has stopped foaming, add the opinion and cook till soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the spices and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1minute. Add the garlic and do the same, about 30 seconds. Do not let the garlic brown.

Add the Worcestershire sauce and about half the bottle beer, stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer until reduced by 1/4, and remove the heat. Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

Position the shrimp in a single layer in the sauce, then turn them to coat. Sprinkle the shrimp with black pepper and top with the lemon slices. 

Place the skillet in the oven. After 5 minutes, turn the shrimp using tongs or a spatula. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until till the shrimp are pink and the flesh is just turning opaque. Serve over rice or with warm, crusty French or Italian bread. Don’t forget to suck on the shrimp heads, that’s the best part!

If you’d like to turn this into a pizza topping, after the shrimp has cooked, strain the sauce and peel the shrimp. Add two tablespoons of sauce back in the skillet, and add two tablespoons flour, stirring constantly until the the roux is thick and your spoon leaves a trail. Add the rest of the sauce and cook, stirring, until thick. Use the sauce for the pizza and top it with the shrimp. Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

The term "retarded fermentation" isn't used with any ill intent among the bakers that I've met. The people who don't bake bread usually ask what I'm talking about or walk away with a the glazed look in their eyes of a person who wants to avoid learning about the buzz words and slang that we use.

Trevor J Wilson's picture
Trevor J Wilson

I find choice of language to be an interesting and unique feature of individual personality. Very revealing. However, when it comes to baker's terminology there are some commonalities to be aware of . . . 

Dough rises, yes. But it is not you who raises it, it is your leaven (sourdough starter, yeast, baking soda/powder, yeast water, etc.).

Whether you "proof" your dough or "prove" your dough depends upon your location (or upon who trained you). "Proof" is more common for those west of the Atlantic, whereas "prove" is more common east of the Atlantic (particularly in the Isles). This is not a rule, just a pattern I've noticed over the years. However, as communication and networking have grown ever more ubiquitous in the Internet Era, and with the rise of social media (the "proof" of social media?), the term "proof" seems to be gaining dominance. But whichever term sounds best to you is best.

The dough begins "proofing" (or "proving") as soon as the leaven has been mixed in. Rise/leaven/proof/prove/ferment -- it's all the same (except when it isn't). The dough proofs as it rises, and rises as it proofs. The leaven ferments the dough, and the ferment leavens it. So long as it includes a leaven, the dough proofs during the bulk, it proofs during the bench rest, it proofs during the final rise. Proof = rise.

The burden of proof is upon the dough. It either rises sufficiently or it doesn't (always relative, of course). But the "burden of recognition" is upon you. Do not blame the dough if you are unable to recognize whether it has met its burden of proof or not. 

Likewise, when you mix the dough you are kneading. And when you knead the dough you are mixing. I suppose you could get more granular and say that mixing refers to the incorporation of ingredients, whereas kneading refers specifically to the development of gluten. But in common use, the two are interchangeable. At least, that's how it is in most commercial bakeries (that I've worked at). I suppose for the home baker -- in the traditional manner -- the two are separate stages. First you mix your ingredients in the bowl to form a dough, then you knead the dough on the countertop to develop the gluten. That's old school (and damn cool). But if both processes are taking place in the same bowl (whether mixing by hand or machine), then the two are effectively the same.

"Punching down" the dough simply refers to degassing it during the bulk fermentation. At home, it can be performed by pushing your fist into the dough ("punching" it) or simply by folding it or "turning" it with sufficient pressure to deflate the dough. Also called "knocking back." In larger scale commercial bakeries, however, big batches of dough might literally be punched until sufficiently deflated. I've worked in one of these bakeries -- the act of punching down the dough was quite literal in meaning. We punched it. Again and again. Like a boxer hitting a heavy bag. With such large batches, there was no other way. And on an interesting side note, be careful when punching down 200 lbs. of dough -- it can get you high real quick. After accidentally breathing the fumes the very first time I punched down so much dough, I quickly learned to hold my breath or turn my head. But I worked with one guy who truly enjoyed the high and would breathe deeply when punching down the dough. To each his own.

And finally, do not be afraid of the word "retarded". It is standard parlance for the baker. Be aware that the associations we infer from words say more about ourselves than they do the language. To retard simply means to inhibit. Yes, the word was once used to refer to folks with cognitive disabilities (quite acceptably, in fact, before it became associated as a pejorative), but that was not its original meaning. Bakers employ it in its fundamental usage -- meaning "to slow." 

But if you are uncomfortable with the phrase, then there are plenty of alternatives. I often use the term "cold proof" in place of retard, or even "refrigerate" when that is the case. So rather than retarding your dough you can say that you cold proof it. And rather than saying that your dough was retarded overnight, you can simply say it was refrigerated. Whatever terminology feels right to you.

The language of baking is a fascinating thing. It is always evolving. Old terms pass as new terms gain hold. Definitions may be informally agreed upon, but nothing is ever set in stone. If you speak in a way that you feel best conveys your meaning, then you will be understood.




JustJoel's picture

What a comprehensive and well-written article. Thank you so much! You clearly share a love of languages and linguistics with me; that’s exciting. It’s rare to find people with a genuine interest in language.

The “burden of proof” was just a bon mot, by the way; perhaps not very “bon.” I was was watching a legal series on tv when I wrote the blog entry! It’s surprising that “objection!” didn’t turn up in my musing!

I hope we can keep in touch. Language is a passion of mine. Etymology, grammar, syntax, vocabulary all fascinate me, but I have no real formal education in linguistics. I have studied five languages, and became fluent in three of them (until I lost ‘em because of disuse. Hebrew and Spanish have disappeared into the mist. I can still hold a conversation in Japanese though. I think.)

Your post was delightful, entertaining, and very informative. Thank you again!