Autolysis is a technique that helps us to develop and prepare our dough before it is stirred completely. Gluten will begin to form all by itself without kneading, as long as enough time passes. It's quite simple; flour and water just need to be stirred together to then rest.
Why is it important to do autolysis?
When you mix dough on a mixer, you can very easily oxidize the flour because too much air is incorporated into the dough. It simply causes the dough to fade, turn white and pale. The oxidation of the flour pigments robs both color and flavor. At the same time, by doing autolysis, we can at least the time a dough needs to be stirred before it is fully developed. If you just touch the dough by hand, which is technically more difficult, you should not be so afraid of bleaching the dough.
Are there other benefits of autolysis? Yes!
- Better fermentation, better taste, more expandable dough and a nicer browning process on the crust.
Here come the biggest benefits of doing autolysis;
The dough becomes less elastic (it contracts less) and becomes more expandable. This is because the flour gets hydrated and possibly from the enzymatic process of 'protease'. Protease gently breaks down some of the gluten that is formed when the dough rests and therefore it becomes more pliable and easier to stretch.
Protease is more active when the sourdough is added, as higher acid conditions also enhance the protease.
The other big advantage is that sugar is released from the starch in the flour. This is because another thing also happens, namely amylase. Amylase forms starch into maltose, which can then be further boiled down to two glucose molecules. Releasing sugar from the starch increases the fermentation rate, more sugars in the finished breads and last but not least a much better maillard effect (better browning during baking).
You can also add sourdough to your autolysis, ie fermentolysis. It is different what sourdough bakers prefer by technique. In general, we use fermentolysis if we are in a hurry, as the fermentation starts immediately and the acid starts working with the flour as mentioned earlier - ie an even more expandable and stretchable dough.
When doing autolysis, we usually say from 20 minutes and up. Most optimally 1-2 hours for a wheat dough. If you do a long autolysis e.g. overnight, it may be a good idea to refrigerate the dough. If you have a lot of whole grains and shell parts in your dough, it can be a good idea to make a longer autolysis. The larger pieces should have more time to absorb and absorb the water. Even if you only run a very short autolysis, it will still have a beneficial effect - especially if the flour is freshly ground or fresh.
One last good trick for sourdough baking
You can advantageously start with hot water when you do your autolysis. Here we are talking 25-30 degrees hot. Remember to take into account that the bowl cools the water, so the water may need to be even hotter when you pour it in. A hot dough is easier to get to rise and ferment later in the process. Remember that the dough will stand and cool down in what it stands and wait for the sourdough to be added. A higher autolysis temperature increases the enzyme activity as mentioned earlier and makes our dough even more stretchable.
If you have a bad mixer that has a tendency to run the dough too hot due to friction, you can start with colder water for the autolysis. The kneading causes the dough's temperature to rise and exceeds 32 degrees, the dough will splatter like oatmeal and the gluten strands will be broken. It's impossible to get a nice break out of this, but turn it into a foccacia if the accident is out :-)