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What is bakery autolysis and how can it improve your homemade bread recipes?

23 mayo, 2021

It has been many years since I joined World Bread Day because it was thanks to this initiative that I began to experiment with dough. I take the opportunity to try new recipes and, above all, to encourage others to dip their hands in flour. This time I would like to delve a little into a technique still unknown to many amateur bakers, autolysis in making the dough.

Making bread can be very easy or tremendously complicated, but it is always satisfying. It is not necessary to go crazy to achieve good results, and it is always easier if we know a few concepts and we understand how the masses behave. Autolysis is actually a very simple technique that will be very useful when mixing, especially with more rebellious doughs. What does it consist of?

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Kneading or mixing: a fundamental phase

Autolysis

Everyone knows that a bread is kneaded -or mixed-, by machine or by hand. It is the second phase in the elaboration of a bakery recipe, and one of the key stages to achieve good results. I’d say it’s the most scary or backsliding part for inexperienced amateur bakers, and where the most mistakes are made.

It is common to imagine an elastic and soft dough that handles wonderfully, but panic breaks out when we have a sticky paste that seems impossible to work with. It is very typical to try to compensate for it by adding more flour, but it is easy to go overboard and end up with a mazacote that will be bad and give a little grateful crumb.

That is why kneading is essential. In this phase we pursue three objectives:

  • Ingredients distribution.
  • Gluten development.
  • Start of fermentation.

Understanding gluten

Autolysis

Gluten is the main protein in wheat and other cereals, the basis of most bakery doughs. Essentially, a good gluten development it makes the doughs have good internal structure and flavor, which is why it is somewhat difficult to get a really good gluten-free bread.

This protein is made up of two amino acids: glutenin and gliadin. When hydrating the flour these amino acids associate with each other, forming gluten. Different types of cereals and different types of flours have a different amount of gluten, and this affects kneading, hydration and rising time. Flours with more protein take longer to develop gluten.

What is autolysis and how can it help you make bread?

Autolysis

In the middle of the 20th century French bread had lost flavor and durability due to the introduction of very aggressive machinery with the masses. Then, in 1974 the scientist and bakery expert Raymond Calvel found the key and explained that the technique of rest would help to recover the magic of French breads.

Autolysis is a biological concept that describes a process by which a cell self-digested or self-destructs by the action of its enzymes. We are interested in two fundamental enzymes in flour: protease, which provides structure, and amylase, which provides elasticity. The balance of both characteristics will give us a good mass to achieve a delicious bread.

Autolysis

Therefore, applying the concept to bakery, the idea of ​​autolysis is to delay the final kneading or mixing to give the flour proteins time to fully develop gluten. This way we achieve a dough with a suitable structure before starting to give it elasticity, and that will help us to handle it more easily. As Iban Yarza says in ‘Homemade Bread’, “An essential lesson is that rest kneads”.

When we hydrate the flour, the proteins already begin to work to form the gluten and the yeasts start their fermentation work. If we give it time, the dough will be much more prepared to develop properly and will make it much easier for us, it will stick less and it will take less time to knead.

It is also a good idea to do autolysis when we have mixed only the flour with the water, leaving the other ingredients for after resting. In any case, it is almost always best to leave the salt for last, because it makes the gluten stiff and delays the action of the yeasts.

How to apply autolysis to our breads?

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As Peter Reinhart describes in ‘The Baker’s Apprentice’, the common autolysis technique employed by professional bakers consists of mix the flours with water for no more than four minutes and let it rest before adding the other ingredients and starting the kneading. The rest time should be a minimum of fifteen or twenty minutes, up to a maximum of one hour.

We can apply autolysis once all the ingredients have been mixed except for the salt, and it is advisable to leave the fats in enriched breads also for after resting -for example, butter-. The dough is left in the bowl, covered, in a cool and dry place without drafts or sources of heat nearby.

You also don’t need to be very technical or methodical to check the results of autolysis. If you are following a recipe and when you mix all the ingredients you see that the dough is very wet or sticky, let it rest before adding more flour. You will see how he will handle himself much better after that rest time.

Conclusions: the effects of autolysis

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This theory is the basis on which each master baker works to adapt it to their working method. There are those who rest more or less long, others prefer to also add the preferments at the beginning and others only do autolysis with a part of the flour and water. It is a matter of perfecting the technique according to the ingredients and the recipes, but the positive results are clear.

  • The flour is fully hydrated and a softer crumb, something very useful with whole wheat breads. The bran softens and the gluten develops better.
  • The proteins in the flour hydrate much better, allowing time to fully develop gluten.
  • Bread achieves a good structure, with greater strength, more capacity to retain gases and with better internal alveolation.
  • They are achieved breads of better color, flavor and aroma, with a more elastic crumb and a more uniform rise.
  • Gluten develops during rest and fermentation begins without us having to do anything. The dough “kneads itself”, reducing the actual kneading that we will have to do later.
  • In addition to reducing kneading time, it will be a lot easier and more manageable.
  • Will also be easier to form the bread before the last fermentation.
  • During baking, the bread will have better volume, with a more uniform crumb and a well-structured crust, with hairs that open completely.
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If you are starting out with homemade bread or want to delve a little more into more specific processes and techniques, encourage us to try the autolysis method. Simply letting the dough rest for 20-30 minutes after mixing everything, before starting to knead, you will notice the positive effects. Have you ever applied the technique of rest?

Photos | Pixabay
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