The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Autolyse, Vital Gluten, Oven Temp ?s

CountryBoy's picture

Autolyse, Vital Gluten, Oven Temp ?s

#1-Re Autolyse: some say 15 mins and others 60 mins. #2-Vital Gluten is suggested for more chewy bread but I see no difference #3-Sourness: I put my dough in the fridge after it is shaped and the final loaf is still not sour. I try thick or thin starter and still not sour.  My homemade starter is fine for having the bread rise but just not for sour.  Is the idea of homemade starter a myth and do I have to buy one for real sour? #4 Baking temp- Rose Beranbaum in the Bread Bible sets the oven at 450 and others at 350 degrees; is there a difference? I am beginning to wonder how much in the world of bread baking is myth and how much is reality based.  Thanks.....

CountryBoy's picture

I understand that it is important not to autolyse too much.  So how does one know if 20 or 60 minutes is sufficient?  I mean if I take it out and start kneading it for 5 minutes to find out then, well, it is too late by that time to put it back. Right? And is Vital Gluten really Vital?

JMonkey's picture


Good questions! I think the reason that cookbooks are so different is that bread baking is remarkably flexible. Some ,French bakers, for example, make their baguettes by fermenting about 1/4 of the flour with a tiny amount of yeast for 12-16 hours and then they mix it all together with the rest for a relatively short final fermentation period of 3-4 hours. Others ferment all the dough for as long as 24 hours with a tiny amount of yeast. Others do ... well ... a lot of different stuff. And all can make great bread.

So learning to bake great bread is more about understanding maxims and broad guidelines than following precise instructions. Cookbooks, of course, don't really lend themselves to broad advice, though the better ones (BBA for instance) discuss these guidelines. When someone buys a cookbook, he or she wants specific instructions to bake a loaf, and since different cooks have different ways of making their bread, they give different specific instructions.

Anyway, there are answers to your questions, though. So I'll give it a shot.

#1-Re Autolyse: some say 15 mins and others 60 mins.

The purpose of the autolyse is to allow the flour to absorb water and start developing the gluten on its own. That's why most people recommend leaving out the salt during the autolyse -- the salt slows down the flour's absorption of water (that's also why you don't add salt to dry beans while they're cooking, as I discovered recently -- no more crunchy beans!). By autolysing, you shouldn't have to knead as much and the flour is oxidized less, which theoretically improves flavor. It probably also gives enzymes within the flour time to start breaking down staches into sugars before the yeast begins its work, but I'm just speculating there.

I like a long autolyse of about 60 minutes, but when I don't have that kind of time, I'll only do 15 minutes. The longer you let it autolyze, the less kneading you'll have to do. You could sort of think of the "no-knead" technique as an extreme autolyze. When I make my own white flour sourdough for instance, I mix the ingredients together just until everything is wet (salt, starter, the whole shebang) and then let it sit at room temperature for about 12 hours. Sitting for that long, the dough essentially kneads itself and needs just a good stretch-and-fold to fully develop the dough. I then let the shaped loaf rise for about 3 hours at 85 degrees F.

#2-Vital Gluten is suggested for more chewy bread but I see no difference.

Vital wheat gluten increases the strength of your flour by adding more of the proteins that form gluten. Pastry flour, for instance, is about 6-8% protein, which is not enough to make bread (but perfect for pancakes, muffins and waffles, where you don't want gluten development). All-purpose flour is about 10-11.5%, which is enough for bread and will produce a more tender crumb. Bread flour is usually 12% or more, producing big loaves with a fairly chewy crumb. I like all-purpose for my breads, but if I've incorporated a lot of goodies (grains, dried fruits, nuts) I like bread flour for the extra heft.

You shouldn't need vital wheat gluten unless you're making 100% whole wheat flour bread. The sharp edges of the bran cut the gluten strands, which results in a more dense loaf than white flour. Even then, though, if you've got strong, good quality whole wheat flour, you don't necessarily need to add vital wheat gluten. I don't, but many others like the effect it has on the loaves.

#3-Sourness: I put my dough in the fridge after it is shaped and the final loaf is still not sour. I try thick or thin starter and still not sour. My homemade starter is fine for having the bread rise but just not for sour. Is the idea of homemade starter a myth and do I have to buy one for real sour?

There are a couple of ways to get a more sour bread. One is time. When the dough has doubled, for instance, gently degass it and let it rise a second time before you shape it. This will give the bacteria more time to make the acids that make the bread sour.

The most important factor, though, it seems, is temperature. If you can keep the dough at about 85 degrees F (which is roughly the temperature where the bacteria and yeast are happiest) while it ferments, even if only when it's shaped and doing its final rise, that should make it more sour. Some folks put their bread in a cold oven with the light on. I take a picnic cooler and invert a cereal bowl at the bottom and place the bread on the bowl. I then toss a cup of boiling water in the bottom and close it up. Every couple of hours, I throw another cup inside, and it stays in the 80s, usually. Good enough, anyway.

Your starter will also improve in flavor as it develops. My starter is about a year old, and it's producing breads that have a much more complex flavor than they did when it was just a few weeks old. That said, there's no harm in ordering a starter. You can get a great one for free from Carl's Friends.

#4 Baking temp- Rose Beranbaum in the Bread Bible sets the oven at 450 and others at 350 degrees; is there a difference?

It just depends on what kind of bread you want. 350 degrees will give you sandwich bread -- a softer crust with a relatively tender crumb. 450 degrees gives you a quick, hot bake for hearth bread -- crunchy crust, chewy crumb.

I am beginning to wonder how much in the world of bread baking is myth and how much is reality based. Thanks.....

Heh. Well, that's the thing about baking bread. There's often not one right way, but rather many paths to take in order to make great bread.
CountryBoy's picture

Thank you for your thorough response to my questions.  Your comments certainly are comprehensive and greatly appreciated.  Re the Autolyse you say it is to cut down on the kneading right?  So isn't it faster to just let it sit for 15 mins and knead it and get on with rather than just waiting.....  Jim, above, has said..."there is little point in using an autolyse with sourdough" so I guess I am a bit confused.  Please note I continue to bake Sourdough Loaves every week so I have an experience base to ask my questions from.  Since I started only 6 weeks ago, I sense that it will take another several years before I can sort out what works....But you, Jim, Floyd, and SourdoLady and everyone else are the best and are hands down superior to Peter Reinhart, Rose Levy, and Molly Katzen, least in my opinion....

Floydm's picture

As sewwhatsports mentions above, Hamelman recommends an autolyse with sourdough. I've been following his technique the past few months and been very pleased with the results. I don't know for certain that the autolyse is necessary, but it doesn't appear to have hurt anything.

JMonkey's picture

Oh, I owe most of what I know to folks like Peter Reinhart and Jeffrey Hammelman -- and I still have a lot to learn. The problem is that they're communicating to you through a one-way medium. It's always easier and clearer to learn from someone else personally than through a book, I think. The BBA, in particular, is a masterpiece that I'm quite sure I could never reproduce. When he comes out with his whole-grains baking book later this year, I'll be first in line to snap it up, I guarrantee you!

Autolyse probably does a lot of things: it partially develops the gluten, probably lets ensymes get to work developing flavor, and reduces oxidation. It may do other things as well -- who knows? I just know that my bread performs and tastes better when I use one.

I don't want to speak for Jim, but since a lot of people make sourdough with a very long rise anyway, the autolyse seems a bit redundant, especially if you're doing it like I do, which is to just mix everything until it's wet and let it sit all day, bubbling and fermenting and chemically kneading itself. If, however, you're doing a traditional 3-4 hour bulk fermentation and then a 1.5 - 2 hour rise with the shaped loaves, an autolyze could be beneficial. Just keep in mind that by leaving out the autolyze or by doing a really long autolyze, you're not doing anything wrong either way. I guarantee that the bread you bake will be just as good, and likely much better, than what you can buy at the grocery store either way.

Eventually, you'll find your own way to make bread the way you like it. And I doubt it will take several years! One of the lovely things about this hobby is that you continue to learn new techniques and little improvements even after years of baking bread -- but the bread you're baking along the way still tastes fantastic!

Good luck!

JMonkey's picture


You may be right, though Raymond Calvel, the famous French baker and biochemist (I think) who developed the use of the autolyse in bread baking, says in his book that the autolyse improves the bonds between starch, gluten and water, producing more extensibility, a better cell formation and a more supple crumb. He also says that it's particularly useful in levain or sourdough breads. Here's a link to Amazon's searchable version of the English translation of his book, The Taste of Bread. Just search for "autolysis". The first entry will bring you to the page that discusses his thinking about the autolyse. I'm not saying it's gospel, but Calvel is someone I'd not want to dismiss lightly.

In any case, some great bakers use it, some don't. My advice to anyone who's curious about the autolyse would be to try it, and, if they believe it improves their bread, continue to do so.

As for adding salt, there's apparently a bit of controversy about whether it harms the autolyse to add it (this is discussed in the KAF Baker's Companion), but most bakers I know and cookbooks I've read that discuss the autolyse seem to go with not adding salt until after the autolyse is finished.

weavershouse's picture

Hope this isn't too silly of a question and it's not about bread but.....when I make pasta dough I mix and then knead for 10 min. Do you suppose I could just mix and let sit for a half hour, give it a couple of kneads and go on with rolling etc.? Or is flour water and egg a whole different ballgame? Kneading is hard on my arthritic hands. weavershouse

Sylviambt's picture

Thanks JMonkey, et al for this information.  I've made a few batches of pain au levain but have just started to do so with made-from-scratch chef and levain.  I'd like to get more flavor from this bread, but didn't think to use an autolyse period with levain. 

Have any of you tried using two-stage approach where you first hydrate the flour fully and refigerate it for 8-12 hours, then add the preferment and continue with the recipe?  I've done this with ciabatta and was surprised by the great flavor.


oceanicthai's picture

I'm doing the method you are describing and just loving the bread flavor & open crumb.

Thanks to all contributors on this thread, it has been very helpful.

LOL...I just looked at the dates of these posts, years ago!