The Best Guide On autolyse for bread bakers (and autoylase too!)

Baking using the autolyse technique is a fantastic way to alter the quality of your dough. With it, we are getting into some more advanced bread baking techniques. That said,  it’s really bloody easy! Autolysing makes bread dough easier to handle and mold into it’s destined shape. It also improves the rise of the bread in the oven.

Autolayse or Autoloyse?

First off, let’s end the debate on how to spell it! OK, it’s pretty much solely with myself. It turns out that it is not spelt autolayse, but is actually autolyse, despite the way it’s pronounced. So slightly embarrassing as told many people the wrong way for years.

Flour autolyse in a tub

What is autolyse in bread making?

Autolyse is a stage in bread making that happens right at the start of production. It’s a technique used to aid dough fermentation, shorten the mixing time and changes the handling properties of the dough. 

Typically, autolysing is not going to make or bread a bread recipe, it’s just going to make things a little easier, and arguably slightly better. It’s commonly used when hand kneading to reduce the physical work or, when the dough needs to stretch when shaping into breads such as baguettes or focaccia.

It’s really, really easy to do as well!

What you need to autolyse

All you need to do is combine the breads dry ingredients, namely the flour, water and yeast with the water (or milk if making breads such as brioche). You can add all the ingredients to autolyse or you can omit some or even part of them. Choosing which ingredients to be included in the autolyse will give different characteristics. The autolyse is usually left in the mixing bowl until the dough is ready to be mixed but it can be done in a separate bowl making the main mixing bowl available to make other loaves of bread.

By only lightly mixing the ingredients and allowing the dough to absorb the water gently the dough starts fermentation gradually before being kneaded.

Making a pizza dough

How long should I autolyse for?

The usually time to autolyse is twenty to thirty minutes. Some bakers, however, use a period that is anywhere between 5 minutes to 6 hours! 

Between 5-20 minutes some effects of autolyse will occur. It is best left for longer however if time is pushed it’s still going to benefit the dough quality.

Between 20-40 minutes is the optimum period for autolyse.

40 minutes plus and the effects of autolyse become more negligible. Some bakers out their do swear by it but many find it impractical due to time constraints. It also becomes a risk to over oxidizing. This depends on the future mixing and fermentation strategy for the dough. 

Can I autolyse overnight?

Yes it is possible to autolyse overnight, all you have to do is reduce the dough mixing time.

How autolyse works

Autolyse is a stage of dough fermentation. As soon as the water comes into contact with the flour it starts to activate fermentation. By not kneading the dough the protein strands in the flour start to unwind. 

This creates a strong dough structure which is very much the same as what slow mixing achieves but requires much less effort from the baker. By completing an autolyse the baker can reduce the slow mixing time by roughly half, depending on the length of autolyse completed. 

Why autolyse without salt?

Autolysing without salt is the most common way to autolyse by bakers. Salt supports the structure of the gluten and helps give the dough its elastic properties. By removing salt to autolyse, the dough structure forms and becomes less elastic. The dough does continue to develop its extensible properties meaning the dough is able to stretch more.

French baguettes

This type of dough is perfect for molding baguettes, shaping ciabatta and stretching focaccia. 

Autolyse without the salt also means that a slightly better oven spring occurs when baking. I personally have not compared this but it’s been mentioned by too many people, I cannot ignore it in this post.

Why autolyse without yeast (or levain)?

Yeast fermentation does release flavour when the bread is rising. It does this by breaking down the proteins and starches in the flour and also by creating ethanol. If autolysing for long periods or using high quantities of yeast the fermentation can become too active. The results are a bread that is gassy, hard to shape and lacks a good structure. The final bread becomes poor. 

Delaying the addition of yeast will stop this happening which is why the levain is often added after the autolyse. Alternatively, dried yeast can be chosen for an autolyse as it’s slower to become active. 

Do you need to autolyse sourdough bread?

While it is not necessary to autolyse bread made from a sourdough starter, it can give an extra lift to the dough when baking. Some bakers will autolyse their sourdough bread every time while others see little reward for doing so. Like yeast levained bread the sourdough can also be delayed from the autolyse to allow the fermentation to occur slowly and focus solely on the fermentation of the flour. Check out this guide on dough fermentation if you’d like to learn more.

Learning how to autolyse

Autolyse with part of the flour

This is usually done with just flour and water, sometimes with the salt added. The result of this stage is commonly called a soaker. When using complex flours found in wholemeal grains, the proteins like a bit of assistance to break down. By increasing the fermentation time of the flour we unlock more flavour notes and the dough is softer and more hydrated. Adding a soaker stage to a wholemeal bread recipe is a great way to autolyse. It doesn’t have to be solely wholemeal bread that uses a soaker, it’s just worth mentioning as it’s a common technique used in artisan bread baking.

Some bakers add all of the water and 75% of the flour. This is said to allow the autolyse to be runnier and facilitate faster fermentation. This makes the autolyse more effective. I’ve not tried this technique, but it sounds pretty convincing.

Including other ingredients with the autolyse

Most bread recipes contain solely flour, salt, yeast, and water. In fact, you could say sourdough recipes only contain flour, water, and salt. Sometimes we use other ingredients such as fats or sweeteners, and perhaps some bread improvers like ascorbic acid or malt or soya flour. There are no hard rules on whether to include these ingredients in the autolyse or not. Not enough people have spoken about it. I have tried including them in some recipes and excluding them in others and have had good results either way. This is an idea to experiment in the future!

Currently though unless otherwise stated, autolyse removes the “extra” ingredients and focuses on just the flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Raymond Calvel

Ok, so this guy wrote the most amazing book about bread making in France and is regarded as a key influencer in using autolyse across the world. “Le Goût du Pain” was written in 1990 however translated into English several years later. The translation, “The Taste of Bread” is quite hard to decipher but I would recommend all bread geeks go out and read this book. 

Despite labeling the method of delaying the addition of salt till the end of mixing as criminal he did approve of autolyse with and without the salt. It’s due to Calvel’s communication backed with scientific proof into why it makes bread better that made bakers across the world adopt it.

For more information into what Raymond Calvel said about autolyse there’s an article here or click here if you want to get a copy of The Taste of Bread, it’s amazing! 

Steps in bread making

Common uses for autolyse in modern artisan bread baking

It’s usual for bakers to autolyse only without the salt and yeast. It is not 100% necessary for autolyse to be carried out with the salt and yeast. Although it does benefit the dough, most bakers are satisfied with the quality of bread created from cool and long fermentation. Especially when good quality ingredients are used to make the bread.

The breads I use autolyse without the salt are croissants, foccacia and baguettes. I am also experimenting with doing it with sourdough bread at the moment with positive results.