The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Autolyse and poolish

bsandusky's picture

Autolyse and poolish

Hi everyone, 

This is my first post here, but I've been lurking on the forum and gathering inspiration for some time now.

I've recently been working on experimenting and improving my French-style bread baking. Over the last bit of time, I've been baking usually every other day and trying different techniques, ratios, etc. What has seemed to work for me has been to really let time do its thing and to work the dough sparingly but deliberately.

So far, I've come up with the following observations for my own baking:

  • Autolyse works wonders; I usually mix only the flour and water and let it autolyse for ~30 minutes before mixing in salt and yeast then kneading.
  • I have been making relatively high hydration doughs (anywhere from 70%+) and experimenting off of the classic French "base recipe" of 1kg flour, 700g water, 25g salt, 15g yeast. 
  • I have adopted the "Bertinet method" or French-style of kneading so that I work the dough as little as possible while kneading it. Sometimes I either forego kneading completely or combine with some stretch and folds before bulk fermentation to improve the body of a particularly sticky dough (it's been incredibly humid these past weeks).
  • I find using only KA bread flour gives a crumb that is slightly too chewy for my taste and thus I typically mix some KA unbleached bread flour with KA unbleached AP to get a bit closer to French style flour; though the ash content is not there.
  • I've been using Sylvia's famous magic towel method for steaming the oven when baking on stone; otherwise for boules, I use dutch oven.

So, this brings me to my question. One thing I find still lacking is a strong fermented taste, which comes from a longer, slower fermentation. (It has been so warm, a typical bulk ferment has been 1-1.5hrs, then a 20 min bench rest and similar proof.) I used to bake SD, but let my starter kick the bucket. I am in the process of building up a new starter now from scratch, and will soon be into SD again, but I also want to experiment with using a poolish to improve flavor. 

When doing so, I am curious as to what works best when using poolish with an autolyse ... Should the poolish be started early and then mixed in before the autolyse period? Should I mix flour and water (minus amounts in the poolish), autolyse, then mix in the poolish? 

Essentially, with any pre-ferment either a poolish, sponge, biga, etc. or a levain, when is the best moment to incorporate it into a budding dough if I want to maintain an autolyse period? I am really curious to hear if anyone else has experimented with this.

Thanks, all, for any help, sharing of your own experiences and experimentation, and/or geeking out on this.

- brett


imaloafer's picture

I have a few formulas for my classes that use the autolyse technique with a poolish. The poolish is added prior to the start of autolyse. Any salt and additional yeast is held back of course, until after.

henkverhaar's picture

That's what I do too. I make a preferment from SD starter and about 20% of the final amount of flour and let that overferment for flavour generation. When ready to bake I combine the preferment with all required water, add ca 80% of the remaining flour (I have an Assistent so start with liquids) and let autolyse for at least 20 minutes. After that the rest of the ingredients are mixed and the dough is kneaded, proofed, divided, shaped, and baked.

bsandusky's picture

Thanks, guys, for the responses. I am definitely going to give this a try next bread I bake. Can't wait to taste the outcome!

dabrownman's picture

white flours 1 hour and whole grains 4-8 hours (if more than 4 than in the fridge it goes.  No salt, no yeast no levain.  I do include malts and other liquids and the flours holding back 10-15 g of water to dissolve the slat in.  t=Then the levain or poolish goes in and a minute of slap and folds, 15 minute rest then the salt water goes in and squished through the dough with the fingers.  Then the slap and folds begin.  Today we did a fresh milled 75% extraction spelt, farro and WW  bread at 91% hydration this way.Could have been 100% hydration no problem if panned instead of batard like today,.

In the past, I used to put the salt in the autolyse and couldn't tell the difference in the dough or the bread.

bsandusky's picture

Thanks for such detail. I had never thought of doing it this way, but will definitely give it a try.

Now I am curious as to why you add the salt later if there is no noticeable difference? 

dabrownman's picture

bread thinking  of the bread gods when I was putting it in the autolyse.  It isn't just me, there are others who can't tell the difference either.  I started doing it because I kept forgetting to put the salt the salt in the bread altogether.  I felt bad for being odd about it so I would make the autolyse and then sprinkle the salt on top of it rather than mixing it in.   Finally, I went the way that Phil (Pips) does it as he has such great bread and just because I can't tell the difference doesn't mean its right to include it.  I think a lot of expensive art is crap and others will kill their own offspring to get some of it.   I still can't tell the difference but at least I am following the rules of the pros instead of being the odd man out with a doofus apprentice to prove it - not that that has ever stopped me before :)

Happy baking.  

bsandusky's picture

And thoughtful. Thanks for dishing. I cannot agree with you more about art, and still, I too, will always put the salt in after the autolyse. :)

I've never tried your method of dissolving the salt first in a bit of water, but will definitely give it a go soon. Thanks for the tip!

vtsteve's picture

If it's a firm preferment, mix it in after the autolyze. Liquid preferments should go in the initial mix, because they contain so much of the formula water. Have you tried using straight KA A/P? It really is a bread flour;  it's hard winter wheat with 11.7% protein, with better flavor than the spring wheat in the KA BF. Looking at your 'classic French base recipe', the salt seems a little high at 2.5% (1.8-2% is more usual). Reducing the yeast to 1% (fresh) or 0.3% (IDY) will give you a slower fermentation rate, and, paradoxically, more flavor - there's more time for the fermentation products (other than CO2) to build up in the dough. Also, you can adjust the water temperature to keep your final dough temperature at 76-78F, for more working time and better flavor. It's sort of a mild version of retarding the dough; you want it to inflate at final proof, but not so much during bulk so the flavor can develop.