With autolyse method there is a slow-speed mixing of only the flour and water in a recipe, followed by a rest period. After the rest, the other components of the dough – salt and yeast – are added when mixing is resumed. The rest period can be anything from twenty minutes to several hours, with 30-60 minutes being the most common rest employed by working bakers.
Prof Calvel noticed that during the rest period the dough gains remarkable extensibility, and what has happened is extremely simple: given time the water thoroughly penetrates each particle of flour, enabling good links to be formed between starch, gluten, and water. The salt is left out because as a gluten tightener it will inhibit the slow and thorough forming of the gluten during the autolyse, and yeast is omitted for the similar reason that yeast activity (fermentation) immediately starts producing acidic by-products that also toughen gluten strands. In this context strength is not to be confused with extensibility. On this point you can see how autolyse greatly benefits the making of excellent wheaten sourdough bread: the autolyse sets up advanced extensibility, which can cope with the effect of the acids in the leaven that will tend to curtail extensibility.
On my Thursday commercial baking day, a huge autolyse is made first thing with stoneground white. An hour later the bulk of it makes the wheaten sourdough, while the rest is given a further rest before making the day’s white dough.
The physical stretchiness of the dough after a half-hour rest is astonishing to feel. When mixing starts again to add yeast (or leaven for sourdough) and salt, the final dough is formed more quickly than if it had all been put together as scratch dough. Expensive machine mixing time is saved, and there is less oxidation of the dough. It was Prof Calvel who single-handedly railed against over-mixing with its inherent oxidation that bleached the carotene from the flour, causing loss of flavour, loss of subtle creamy colour, and made such characterless bread.
Benefits of autolyse
The benefits of autolyse are better quality dough all round. With the enhanced gluten comes improved dough structure, better volume to the finished loaf with a creamier and more open crumb. All this even with a shorter span of kneading time.
It has been thought that use of wet sponges (like poolish) and wet leavens for sourdough bread do not allow the autolyse method because so much of the recipe’s water is claimed by a poolish or a wet leaven. It is true that the autolyse cannot be performed properly with a shortage of water, which would run the risk of tough pellets of unmixed floury dough remaining in the finished bread. However, since both a poolish sponge and a sourdough leaven have moderate amounts of yeast in them, experienced bakers consider it is valid to include them in an autolyse.
Well, Panarians, try an autolyse next time you make dough, and see and feel for yourself how astonishingly stretchy the dough becomes after a decent rest.
Good baking, Paul