Autolyse is a simple step that can be added into the bread baking process that helps jump start gluten formation. This minimizes the handling time needed for the dough and also makes higher hydration doughs easier to work with.
I have baked many loaves of bread in my day. Many with utilizing the simplest techniques like the straight dough method, and others using more complicated techniques like utilizing a sourdough starter.
With everything I have learned about bread baking, the autolyse method has been by far my favorite technique I’ve learned. It sounds complicated right? But the good news is that this process is possibly one of the most simple things you can do in bread making!
An autolyse literally involves mixing only the flour and water together and letting it rest before any of the other ingredients are added. The length of time that the flour/water mixture rests can vary, but typically it is at least 30 minutes and up to several hours. This method is most commonly used as part of the sourdough bread process, however it can be used for any kind of bread.
What are the Benefits?
The origin of the word “autolyse” means splitting. The purpose of autolysis is to jump start the formation of the gluten strands. Once the flour and water mixes, the enzymes in the flour start breaking down the starch and the protein in the flour. This converts the starch to sugar and the proteins begin reforming into gluten strands.
Yes, sure, all of this happens in the traditional method of mixing and kneading all of the ingredients together, but the more the dough is handled the more oxidized it gets. And over oxidized dough can have a reduction in flavor, color, and texture. Autolyse allows the gluten strands to begin forming on their own which in turn also results in gluten formation that is more orderly.
The main benefits of utilizing autolyse are:
- Easier dough handling
- Ability to work with more whole grains
- Ability to use higher hydration (more water) in the dough
- Final bread will look nicer
- Final bread will taste better and have a better texture
- Bread will keep longer
How Long Does it Take to Autolyse?
In order to get the benefits of the autolyse step, you want the dough to sit for at least 30 minutes before mixing in the other ingredients. You can let the dough sit for longer, up to about 2 hours. Dough that contains a lot of whole grain can benefit from a longer autolyse to help the grains fully hydrate.
You do need to be careful to not let the dough sit too long before the salt is added. The enzymes can start breaking down the starches too much and your dough can become very difficult to handle.
How to Utilize the Autolyse Method:
- In any bread recipe, mix together the flour and the water from the recipe. You want the water to be at room temperature or just slightly warm.
- Allow the mixture to sit for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours before adding in the other ingredients. You are not kneading the dough, you just want to make sure the flour is completely hydrated.
- Mix in the sourdough starter or dried yeast and the salt until well combined.
- Continue building the gluten structure through kneading or the stretch and fold method until it is strong.
Things to Notice
When you first mix your flour and water together take note of how easily if breaks if you pull up on it. There will be little to no elasticity in the dough because the gluten has not had time to form yet.
Once you are done with the resting period, pull up on the dough again. Notice how different it feels and how much more elastic it is just from resting.