Autolyse: Everything you need to know about it

Image of the article about autolyse on Biancolievito

What you can find in this page

WHAT IS AUTOLYSE

Autolyse has been used for some years now in the everyday language when talking about bread, pizza, and leavened products.

Let’s see what Autolyse stands for. The suffix AUTO- indicates a process that takes place autonomously, and -LYSE instead indicates a separation, or rather a break of something operated by enzymes (proteases).

Autolyse is a chemical process discovered by French chemist Raymond Calvel where proteins in flour are broken into smaller segments thanks to the action of some enzymes naturally present in flour. Therefore, the result is a shorter and less “tangled” protein structure, which allows the formation of more elastic gluten in a shorter time.

 

HOW TO AUTOLYSE THE DOUGH

Although the name is quite complicated, autolyze is really simple, and we can identify 3 fundamental steps on it.

CREATION OF THE DOUGH

In this first step, you will need to mix the flour with the liquids in the recipe. In Bread and Pizza, these liquids can be water, or Eggs, Milk, Cream, etc., in case you are preparing a leavened dough for Pastry. For best results, I recommend you reach a hydration rate of about 55% – 58% of the flour weight (550gr/580gr of liquid for 1kg of flour), up to 65% in the case of wholemeal flour. If the recipe requires a higher quantity of liquids, you can add them in the following kneading stage.

In this phase, it is crucial:

DO NOT ADD YEAST: Whether you are using Fresh Yeast, Levain, or even Sourdough, it is essential not to add these ingredients during autolyse as their fermentation would strengthen the dough instead of making it more elastic.

DO NOT INSERT SALT: Salt (just like sugar) is an ingredient that can slow down or accelerate the activity of enzymes. If you add salt to the dough during autolyse, you greatly slow down the action of enzymes responsible for breaking down proteins in the flour, therefore defeating all the advantages of this technique. The only case in which it is possible to add a little salt (about 0.1% on the flour weight) is for a particularly long autolyse, over 8 hours, as you will see).

Image of the dough before the autolyse on Biancolievito
This how the dough before the Autolyse looks like

How Long to Autolyse

Telling exactly how long to autolyse the dough does not make sense because it depends on many factors:

  • The Strength of Flour: A weak flour (W around 260 with 10% of proteins) requires an autolyse up to 20 minutes (at 20°C, or 68°F), whereas a strong flour will need more time, around 60 up to 80 minutes in case of particularly strong flour, such as Manitoba.
  • Temperature: If you leave the dough at a room temperature between 20-22°C (68°F – 71°F), the autolyse time can extend up to 8 hours (in case of particularly strong flours). On the contrary, you can opt for storage in the fridge at +4°C (39°F) for up to 24 hours. Working at room temperature and opting for an autolyse between 40 and 80 minutes is a very effective scheme in most cases.

It is imperative to make sure the dough has developed an excellent gluten mesh before proceeding to the next step. For this, you can pick up a portion of dough and stretch it between hands until it forms a thin layer, which will not tear too easily. 

Image of the dough after the autolyse
The dough after 40 minutes of Autolyse

FINAL DOUGH

Once ready, you can add all the other ingredients to the dough in their order and finish the recipe. You will definitely notice that you will finish the dough quickly, starting already with developed gluten.

 

WHEN TO AUTOLYSE THE DOUGH

Now that we know how to do it, it is helpful to understand when to autolyse can be a good technique to apply.

Despite the incredible hype that this technique arouses on the web, it is essential to know that alone is not the key to a perfect dough, nor a universal solution to be adopted indiscriminately.

Let’s take a closer look at when it is helpful to autolyse the dough:

  • We work with a Flour that is too strong: For example, we want to make homemade bread or a pizza, but we have strong flour (for example, Manitoba flour.)
  • Flour is very stiff (has a high P/l value): This aspect is perhaps less immediate for homemade recipes, but in some cases, such as a durum wheat semolina or wholemeal flour, you will notice that the dough will tend to be tough and not very elastic.
  • We need to make sure the gluten is elastic and well-developed: This is the case that mainly concerns the first dough of leavened products such as Panettone, Pandoro, and Colomba. In these cases, autolyse allows to considerably shorten the kneading time to about 20 minutes.

A very important aspect to keep in mind, especially for bread made with a medium strength flour (such as Baguette or Ciabatta), is that an autolysed dough develops more elastic gluten and therefore a lesser thrust during baking. To improve this aspect, it’s essential to give some more folds to the dough for recovering its strength.

 

AUTOLYSE: PRACTICAL CASES

HOMEMADE BREAD AND PIZZA

  • If you use a low strength flour: No need to autolyse; indeed, it is counterproductive.
  • For a Medium Strength Flour (with a protein content lower than 12%): Autolyse is not a required step, but it can positively affect the dough.
    • Autolyse the dough for about 30 minutes at 20-22°C (68-71°F)
    • In case the recipe foresees a high content of Levain (40% – 50% of the flour weight), add it to the dough and autolyse for 20 minutes.
  • In case you use a strong flour (with a protein content between 12% and 14%): In this case, Autolyse can give a great advantage.
    • With Panettone Flour (W340-360, 14-16% protein): Autolyse for 60 minutes.
    • For Manitoba Flour: Allow 80 minutes of autolyse
    • For Wholemeal Flour: Increase the hydration of the initial dough to 65% (650 g water to 1 kg wholemeal flour) and autolyse for 40 minutes.

DOUGH FOR LEAVENED PRODUCTS 

  • Place the flour of the first dough (or the recipe, if working with just 1 dough) in a bowl or mixer.
  • Create an emulsion with the recipe’s liquids: Eggs, Yolks, Water, Milk, Cream, etc.
  • Weigh the emulsion at a rate of 55% of the weight of the flour: for 1kg of flour used, you will weigh 550gr of liquid emulsion
  • Mix the flour with the liquids until the dough is formed and the liquids are absorbed into the flour.
  • Cover with a plastic sheet and autolyze for 60minutes at room temperature (20-22°C, 68-71°F)

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