Autolyse and Stretch & Fold Experiments
This is my first post (hopefully of many). I've been reading posts on this site for a while, and I finally have some questions that I haven't seen answered - or haven't found the answer to.
I've been baking bread occasionally for about 3 years now, and about 2 months ago I decided to get more serious and try to improve my techniques, explore more, and learn about what is going on in the bread making process. I've been trying different formulae, but also would like to learn more about the effect of specific techniques and formula changes on the end result of the bread. It seems to me that the best way to do this is to bake several loaves at once and changing one variable to see what happens.
Last night I set up an experiment to see what was the effect of an autolyse on bread, as well as what was the effect of the stretch & fold technique. (Sometimes I get impatient and want to learn about more than I have time for :) ). This is how I set things up:
White flour from hard wheat (this is the best info I can get on my flour here in Guatemala)
1 tsp salt per 500g flour
1.5 tsp cake yeast per 500g flour
80 ml oil per 500g flour
I usually use a preferment but skipped it for this experiment.
I set up two main batches with 500g flour each, one with autolyse and one without. The autolyse batch I mixed the flour and water, let sit for 30 min, then kneaded while at the same time incorporating the yeast and salt. The other batch I mixed the flour and water then kneaded while incorporating the yeast and salt. This isn't how I normally do it - I normally incorporate the yeast and salt into the water and then add the flour, but I wanted to reduce the variables between the autolyse and the non-autolyse batch as much as possible.
Once the two batches were kneaded, I split each of them into 2. So now I had 4 batches:
1 autolyse, punch down
1 autolyse, stretch & fold
1 non-autolyse, punch down
1 non-autolyse, stretch & fold
The punch-down batches I let ferment for 2 hours, punched down, then fermented again for 1.5 hours until they were doubled.
The stretch & fold batches I did 3 stretch & folds at 25 minute intervals after the initial knead was finished.
I then proceeded to preshape batards, rest for 30 min, shape, then proof for about 20 minutes until they passed the finger indent test.
I baked for 55 minutes at more or less 250C (no oven thermometer), until the crusts were golden brown. I steamed 3 times with a sprayer during the first 2 minutes of the bake, as well as put a cast iron pan with about 1/2 cup of hot water in at the beginning.
Before moving on to my observations and questions, a few more things about my location. Don't confuse me being with Guatemala with palm trees and tropical breeze. I'm in the highlands, at about 2300m elevation. Ambient temperature during this whole process was about 20C. Not sure what the humidity was, but we're in the rainy season now, so fairly humid.
So, my observations:
I couldn't get a completely uniform dough with the autolyse. Even though I incorporated everything in the same way, during kneading it was hard for me to get all the dough to the same consistency.
- Is it better for an autolyse to save enough water to dissolve the yeast and salt into the dough after the rest period?
- Is it better to do a slight "knead" with just the water and flour to completely incorporate them before the rest period?
Differences in handling and results with the different doughs:
Non-autolyse, stretch & fold
- This dough was almost completely resistent to stretching during the pre-shaping and shaping. Because of this I left it as short, fat batards.
- The bread was the highest of them all after baking.
- I'm not very good yet at describing texture, but I'd say I liked the texture of this one the least. Maybe it was too "fluffy"? I don't really like super chewy, but I do like some resistance so I can feel the bread in my mouth.
Non-autolyse, punch down
- This dough was a little easier to stretch, and so I was able to make it into sort of small baguettes.
- The rise was fairly mediocre, with a pretty tight crumb structure.
Autolyse, general observations
- Both the autolyse doughs felt much "wetter" than the non-autolyse doughs.
- They also held their shape less than the non-autolyse doughs, resulting in flatter, wider loaves.
Autolyse, stretch & fold
- Because this dough felt so wet, it was fairly easy to stretch. However, it also ripped easily, resulting in one of the loaves being almost completely flat in the middle.
Autolyse, punch down
- This was probably the easiest dought to shape. However, as I mentioned, it didn't hold it's shape very well, and so ended up wide and flat.
- This may have been the most "open" crumb of them all, if any of them could be said to have "open" crumbs :).
So, here are my questions:
- Is my experience of the autolyse dough feeling wetter than the non-autolyse normal?
- It seems to make sense that the doughs that had gone through the stretch and fold would be harder to stretch during shaping, but can anyone confirm that?
- Does a pre-ferment have any effect on texture and/or handling-shaping characteristics? I had thought of it mainly as an influence on taste, but this experience makes me wonder if I might be wrong.
- Any general observations or recommendations on how to improve this process?
Sorry I don't have any pictures, I'm gonna need to get my digital camera back from the person I lent it to if I'm gonna be posting here :)
Thanks all for reading this and for any feedback.