Uncover the magic of time and hydration in sourdough baking with Sourdough Savvy's in-depth guide on autolysing. Learn how this method can enhance your baking, yielding a more extensible dough, superior oven rise, and a complex, flavorful loaf.


11/12/20202 min read

In the world of sourdough baking, certain techniques can seem shrouded in mystery. One such method that often bewilders novice bakers is the process of autolyse. Despite its somewhat intimidating name, autolyse is a straightforward technique that can profoundly enhance the quality of your sourdough bread. Let's delve into what autolyse is, why it's important, and how to effectively incorporate it into your sourdough routine.

Understanding Autolyse

Autolyse (pronounced auto-lease) is a process in baking where the flour and water in a bread recipe are mixed together and allowed to rest before adding the remaining ingredients such as yeast (or sourdough starter) and salt. This method, developed by the late French baker Raymond Calvel, is often used in sourdough baking, although it can be applied to virtually any bread recipe.

The Science Behind Autolyse

The autolyse phase allows for two main enzymatic actions to occur in the dough:

  1. Hydrolysis: Water hydrates the flour, triggering the enzyme amylase to break down complex starches into simple sugars. These sugars can be consumed by yeast during fermentation, leading to better rise and a more complexly flavored bread.

  2. Proteolysis: The enzyme protease breaks down large protein structures into smaller units that can then recombine to form gluten, the network of proteins that gives bread its structure. The autolyse period thus helps with gluten development, leading to better texture and rise in the final loaf.

The Benefits of Autolyse

Autolysing your dough offers multiple benefits:

  1. Improved Dough Structure: By allowing the gluten network to start forming naturally, the dough becomes more extensible (able to stretch without tearing) and retains gases better during fermentation and baking.

  2. Enhanced Flavor: The extra sugars made available through the process result in a more flavorful loaf with a better-colored crust.

  3. Easier Handling: The dough becomes less sticky and easier to work with.

  4. Reduced Kneading Time: Since gluten development begins during autolyse, the kneading time is significantly reduced.

Applying Autolyse to Your Sourdough Routine

Implementing autolyse in your sourdough baking is simple:

  1. Mix just the flour and water from your recipe in a bowl until no dry flour remains.

  2. Cover and leave the mixture to rest. The length of the autolyse can vary from 20 minutes to several hours, but for most home bakers, 20-60 minutes is a common range.

  3. After autolyse, add your sourdough starter and salt to the dough, and proceed with your recipe as usual.

Remember, the duration of autolyse can be adjusted based on the type of flour and the desired characteristics of the bread. Whole grain flours, for instance, may benefit from a longer autolyse period to fully hydrate the bran and germ.

Incorporating the autolyse method in your sourdough routine is a relatively simple step that can dramatically enhance the quality of your bread. It's a testament to the principle that great bread is as much about time and patience as it is about ingredients. So, the next time you're preparing your sourdough, give autolyse a try and observe the difference it makes!