Note: While my wife (!) and I are walking, driving, and eating our way through France on our honeymoon, I wanted to look back at some recipes and techniques I’ve discussed before. Be back in July!
In bread making an autolyse is the process of mixing water and flour and letting it sit before making your final dough. This allows the dough to fully hydrate and begins gluten formation before you even knead or add other ingredients. Many recipes with large percentages of whole wheat flour utilize this method since the dough needs longer to fully hydrate and form strong gluten networks. If you make a bread with 100% whole wheat flour and only let it rise for a few hours total before baking you’re likely to get a final product that is dry, small, and tough to slice. But mix the flour and water the night before, or just give them a few hours prior to adding yeast or a starter, and you’ll be rewarded with a moist, airy, and soft loaf that will leave people wondering how you avoided using white flour or dough softeners. The first recipe I blogged about that made use of such an extended autolyse was Peter Reinhart’s 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf. In his new book, Tartine No. 3, Chad Robertson makes use of more whole wheat and whole grains and as a result advises a longer autolyse period, an hour or two instead of 30 minutes. Over the past few weeks I have gradually extended this as an experiment with my loaves, and recently I have been doing an overnight autolyse for every Tartine style loaf I make like whole wheat or wheat-rye sourdough. The difference between how the finished dough feels is night and day, it takes on an almost buttery quality despite there being little to no white flour. I find my loaves to be getting greater oven spring, have a wetter and more open crumb, and just plain taste better! I recommend pushing your autolyse times to see what the difference is with your loaves. Sometimes you can just mix a portion of the flour and water, other times you can do everything at once; hopefully you’ll be as pleased with the results!