What is autolyse?
Autolyse is the method where the flour and water in a bread or baked-good recipe are first mixed together, and then rested for a period of time. This helps make exceptionally extensible dough and produces a product with improved volume, color, flavor and a more open-crumb texture.
Autolyse was discovered in 1974 by French Professor Raymond Calvel during bread experiments in which he was determined to improve overoxidized and overmixed products in the industrial baking industry. He noticed the initial rest period following mixing water and flour together improved the bonds between starch, gluten and water. Ultimately, this created a more extensible dough and reduced mixing time.1
The autolyse rest period of unleavened dough can vary after which the leavened sponge and salt are added to complete the mixing/kneading process. During the rest period, the flour is hydrated and gluten softened, with no competition from the other dry ingredients (e.g. salt, seeds etc.). Flour proteins and damaged starch have ample time to hydrate, oxidation happens, enzymes are activated (protease enzymes act on the gluten to improve the extensibility of dough), and gluten is allowed to relax before kneading. This process is better used in machine mixing than with hand kneading, as hand kneading is a slow process that does not build up energy in the dough.
Autolyse reduces the total mixing time and oxidation by about 15%. This increases the extensibility of the dough, resulting in a smooth and developed dough in a much shorter time than without.
A strong, extensible, less-sticky dough makes it easier to shape loaves and for the unbaked loaves to hold its shape. Loaves produced with an autolyse period are higher in loaf volume, lighter, have a strong, open crumb and better keeping qualities. The decrease in oxidation produces loaves with improved color, flavor and texture. 1
There are varying autolyse times, depending on the environment, climate, type of ingredient and/or final product. Times can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as an overnight.
This method is favorable for many baked products.
In commercial dough application, autolyse is favorable and advantageous in traditional French bread, baguettes, white sandwich bread, sweet yeast bread and naturally leavened bread (sourdough).
It is also recommended for croissant and brioche doughs. It reduces the amount of mechanical work for mixing, oxidatizing and bleaching of the dough. It improves the extensibility and lamination of the croissant dough, producing croissants higher in volume and brioches with preserved aroma and flavor.1
Chad Robertson, of the famous Tartine Bakery, recommends autolyse periods to produce an extensible, elastic dough and ultimately an open crumb in naturally leavened breads. In shorter autolyse periods, he suggests adding the leavin in with the flour and water while for extended autolyse, he recommends adding the leavin in after the extended autolyse period is complete.2
When using dried yeast, some recipes suggest adding it during the autolyse period, resulting in a quicker fermentation process. However, it is recommended to not do it for more than 20 minutes to prevent flavor loss.
Autolysis is not practical when using poolish or biga as the pre-ferment (over 50% of the total flour is the pre-ferment). The pre-ferment is developed overnight producing similar qualities obtained from the autolyse rest period. 3
- Calvel, Raymond, et al. The Taste of Bread: a Translation of Le Goût du Pain, comment le préserver, comment le retrouver. Springer Science Business Media, LLC, 2013.
- Robertson, Chad. Tartine Book No. 3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole. Chronicle Books, 2013.
- Forkish, Ken. Flour Water Salt Yeast: the Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza. Ten Speed Press, 2012.