The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What are the problems with exceptionally long autolyse?

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

What are the problems with exceptionally long autolyse?

What are the problems that may be encountered with an exceptionally autolyse, perhaps more that 3 or 4 hours?

I know Trevor uses an overnight variation of an autolyse with chilled and salted dough but he is mitigating the vague problems I am asking about by chilling his dough first and by including salt. 

So I am really asking about a true room temperature autolyse without the addition of salt, but going much longer than usual.

 

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

The standard autolyse (~30 minutes) is excellent for completely hydrating the flour. Ease of mixng is also greatly enhanced.

Extended autolyse will increase the extensibility of the dough proportionate to the time. A number of us tried Trevor’s overnight autolyse and found that the dough was too extensible for our unskilled hands.

I have had very good results with autolyse of 2-3 hours. The dough was plenty extensible after that time, so I haven’t pushed it any longer.

Dan

Maverick's picture
Maverick

The problem is that when you soak flour, it starts the enzyme activity. We like this because it releases the sugars and adds to flavor. However, if this is not controlled, then the enzymes can be break down the flour too much and lead to a gummy dough. One way  to control the enzyme activity to a degree is to add salt. So if you want to go the length of time you are talking about without refrigeration, then you should use a soaker of flour, liquid, and salt (no yeast). I don't know how many hours you can do an autolyse with no salt at room temperature before you run into these issues. But, adding about 2% salt to the flour you are soaking should give you up to 24 hours without problem. Any longer and refrigeration is needed. For what it's worth, I highly recommend at least an over night soak when using whole grains.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Maverick, do you have actual experience soaking flour, water, and 2% salt for 24 hours at room temperature?

That sounds brutally long to me, but I’m always looking to learn...

Thanks

Danny

Maverick's picture
Maverick

I have done 12-16 hours (usually 12), but Reinhart says that you can go up to 24 hours. I have not tried it with 100% white flour because I don't really see the point since white flour gives up the starches easier and extensibility happens faster (in my experience). I recently switched over to a whole wheat starter, so I might have to experiment with more white flour in the soaker for certain breads. I have done 25% white flour in a soaker with salt without issue. I also have only done this with the inclusion of sourdough (although sometimes I use instant yeast in addition). Hope that helps some.

I know Chad does overnight autolyse with no salt (which I believe is actually 8 hours). He says the extensibility is counteracted by the acidity of the starter which will add to the strength of the dough. I don't recall the mixture of flour he uses though. I will have look in the  book later to see.

One thing this make me think is that if you are doing an extended soak, but not using sourdough starter, then you might need to soak in something more acidic like buttermilk (as Reinhart suggests in some of his whole grain breads). If you are mixing up a soaker, then you might as well make a pre-ferment of some kind as well (biga, poolish, etc.) for flavor.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I use SD almost exclusively. I’d like to research Reinhardt. Do you remember where he mentions the extended autolyse in which book and the pages?

Danny.

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads

His reasoning for not going too long with the soaker suggests that natural yeasts will start to form as when you make a starter. But the book also has a couple good sections on enzyme activity that make for an interesting read.

Here are some quotes from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads (I have the e-book, so pages are hard to give):

The soaker serves to precondition some of the grain to begin its enzyme activity, thus releasing sugars but without the risk of overfermentation, since there is no yeast in the soaker. The addition of salt to the soaker controls the enzyme activity to an extent, so the soaker can be left at room temperature instead being of placed in the refrigerator, thus reducing fermentation time on Day 2 . . .

Soakers are usually made of coarsely milled grains soaked overnight in liquid to soften them. But in this book, we will make soakers with either coarse or finely milled flour and use them to draw out more flavor from the grain. Since a soaker is nonfermented dough, consisting only of grain, liquid, and (optionally) salt, it is very easy to make. The objective is to hydrate the grains in advance in order to precondition and soften them, and to activate amylase enzyme activity without initiating the leavening transformations that occur during fermentation. This action allows some of the sugar threads to break out of the starch without being converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Of course, if a soaker is left for a long period of time, the natural yeast and bacteria inherent in the grain will slowly turn the soaker into a starter, but this will not happen if soaking is limited to 8 to 24 hours, as suggested in these formulas. If for some reason it becomes necessary to hold a soaker longer than 24 hours, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days without adversely affecting the dough . . .

In dough, we have a situation where, if the enzymes keep going and going, knocking sugars off of starch chains or breaking apart protein chains, it could create a problem. But if the enzyme activity is properly controlled, the starch only partially breaks down, creating food for the microorganisms, offering sweetness for our taste buds, commingled with the flavors of various acid by-products created by the bacteria and yeast, yet leaving enough starch and protein intact to support the structure of the bread. Whew! It is as much a tightrope walk as it is a dance.

This begs the question: How much of this breakdown can a starch molecule bear before it crumbles apart and loses its ability to provide substance and structure to the bread? At what point will it simply just melt or dissolve into sugar, leaving us with a sticky, gummy loaf?

 

 

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Maverick & DanAyo, this is precisely what I was hoping to learn about going long and the limits to it. I was especially interested in the why of it, so thank you for the quotes!

The balance of extensibility from soaking and tightening from acidic ingredients (water, starter, buttermilk, etc.) was fascinating. I may play with this by using acidic water instead of the alkaline water I use for my starter and bread.

I’ve tried Trevors overnight “autolyse” with up to 50% whole grains and found it worked great. My hydration percentages are in the upper 70s and I haven’t had problems so far. Whole wheat dough is so much more friendly to handle than with a one hour autolyse. Before using a long autolyse for whole wheat I found I had to rest the dough every 5 minutes to keep it from tearing it.

DanAyo, can you elaborate on the handling problems people experienced with Trevor’s long soak? My dough has been exceptionally easy to handle. I wonder if I am missing something.

As Maverick mentioned, I’ve felt know need to go longer than 45 minutes with white flour.

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Bobby, this is a very long post, but a number of bakers talked about how the super long autolyse caused their dough to be super slack. If I remember correctly most (maybe all) bakers shortened the autolyse because of this.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/55230/anyone-interested-champlain-sd-bake

I’ll ask Kat to visit this post and reply. She did a lot of work with this very same issue.

Question - what are you expecting to gain with a 12hr or so autolyse, that can’t be accomplished with a 2 or 3hr autolyse?

Danny

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Thanks, I’ll take a look at it. 

What am I trying to accomplish? Nothing, really. It was a technical question that had been teasing me. I wanted to know what the limits were as I was thinking Trevor’s long soak could possibly cause problems. I was also curious about what the enzymatic problem was.

So far, for me, it hasn’t been a problem at all with his 50% Whole Wheat recipe. It is slack but workable. It doesn’t get super tight but it still has more than enough tension to get beautiful ears. I can get a lovely crumb that’s not absurdly impractical. Photos from tonight’s bake attached.

I don’t know if it matters in regards to the slackness issue but I am using true whole wheat, germ and all, rather than white flour that has had bran added back in.

I haven’t tried his Champlain sourdough so it’s possible I might encounter problems with that specific recipe. Edit: I just looked at the Champlain recipe and a long soak doesn’t make sense as it is mostly white flour with a tiny bit of low gluten flours (spelt and rye); this alone would explain the slackness problem.

I am as good with a 3 hour soak as an all night soak. It’s nice to have options, especially if I’d like to sleep in. ;-)

 

Archizoom's picture
Archizoom

wow, what a gorgeous looking loaf of bread!

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Thank you very much. When I posted the photos I was tacitly wondering if DanAyo could see any of the problems with slack dough in this loaf, but now I understand that the problems with slack dough were occurring in a mostly white wheat dough with some low gluten flours, something very different than this half whole wheat sourdough.

Archizoom's picture
Archizoom

That explains why my white flour sourdough flattens out soon as I turn it out on the peel, it just doesn't hold its shape much to my frustration. Unfortunately I can't find a flour with a higher protein content than 10% in my country.  TBH my shaping technique also leaves a lot to be desired and I knead the dough in the stand mixer for a good 15-20 minutes, not sure whether that's making my dough slack. I'm gonna give the autolyse a try tomorrow!

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

I would suggest a short autolyse of 30 min (or not at all). You may also try using acidulated water to help strengthen what gluten you do have.

I don’t think I have ever mixed longer than 10 minutes but I use flours with 11.7% protein or more. I don’t know the protein content of the flours I currently use since they are locally milled. They only provide falling numbers.

You can definitely knead too much and cause the gluten to break down. This will set you back even further since you are already using a low protein flour. Maybe 20 minutes is too much. This was a good read: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/9544/kneading-how-much-too-much#comment-397979

Over kneaded dough starts to tear and weep, as I recall but GoatGuy says there’s no outward change in appearance. 

Of course, I am sure you know that you’ve read that you can add vital wheat gluten to your low protein flour. If all I could get was 10% protein or less, I would look to correct this with vital wheat gluten.

What country are you in? Perhaps someone here can assist or perhaps therr are people in your country who have found ways around your low protein flour problem.

Archizoom's picture
Archizoom

I'm from Portugal, we don't have "strong flour", "all-purpose", "cake flour" and so on here, at least not with those designations. We've got flour type 45, t55 and t65 which supposedly are the equivalent to cake flour, all-purpose and strong flour respectively. They've all got the same protein content though i.e 9-10%. I use the t65 and I have noticed that this type of flour absorbs more water

I've always had very good results with my non-sourdough breads using this grade of flour so I've never really felt the need to add gluten powder. I'll give it a try though to see whether it makes a meaningful difference in my naturally leavened breads

I need to work on my shaping technique as well because I don't think I create enough surface tension, I'm afraid I'll knock the gas out of the dough if I pinch it too tight. It tastes good though, it's just not as good looking as yours :)

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Perhaps this is helpful if you haven’t already read it before. Note that other flours are mentioned on the 2nd page: https://www.expatfocus.com/Forums/viewtopic/t=38200/postdays=0/postorder=asc/start=0/

Colin2's picture
Colin2

I've been having the gummy problem lately.  Basically I have been doing a ciabatta, with 250g flour started in a white-flour poolish, and then 250g various amounts of other flours (whole wheat, durum, potato, a little rye).  When I mix it up normally, giving the other flours a 30 minute autolyse before mixing, it goes really well and I get a lovely cloud-like risen loaf before baking.  Then I took to extending the 30 minute autolyse to overnight, thinking it would get me more flavor, and the dough deteriorated: it is not as light or resilient, does not rise as well, and the result is at worst gummy and at best dense.  FWIW I have been doing the long autolyse with salt.

I'm still real interested in soakers to try and include things like oats or maize for flavor.

jey13's picture
jey13

I’ve never tried autolyse-ing for over an hour, so, I can’t answer from experience, nor from knowledge as I’m not that knowledgeable...BUT there’s a video by Chef Rachida detailing how she makes her soughdough:

https://youtu.be/OAH28Hm81FQ

In it, she leaves the the dough to autolyse, no salt, for three hours, and then into the refrigerator overnight. If your watch the video, you’ll see something interesting about the dough she gets the next day, when she adds levain and then salt to it. It’s already got bubbles. Which is probably no surprise as flour + water = starter no matter the size, right?

Don’t know if this helps, but there you go. 

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

It’s hard to trust a bread baker who uses a spatula instead of their hands ;-)

But in all seriousness, that must have been 100% hydration after she got to the end. Her hands were very wet (not moist) and her dishes were also pretty wet. You could see the dough getting more and more hydrated at each step. It’s impressive she was able to manage it at all. It would be a clever way to make a ciabatta.

jey13's picture
jey13

You’re very right about the constant watering she does; there is certainly more surface area with that casserole dish than in the more traditional bowl or plastic tub, but I do find it hard to believe the covered dough would dry out without constantly re-wetting the dish. I also find myself a little dismayed by how much she flours the dough. It does create pretty patterns when she scores it, but yikes! I was told you avoid flour until the second shaping and then you keep it on the “outside” of the loaf-to-be, meaning you never flour it all over.

That said, she did inspire me to start using a casserole dish and coil folds for my dough, both of which I really like. And, yes, I do wet the dish, but no, I don’t keep it that watery :-D

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Hahahaha! Yeah, I didn’t even mention the flour bit. I didn’t want to seem like a troll. I mentally said “stop”, then “ok stop”, then “STAHP!”, and she kept going. I think it is a wonderful testament to how forgiving bread can be. 

It seems like her laminating, coiling, and casserole dish ideas came from Full Proof Baking, but I may be wrong. I’m sure Kristen didn’t invent any single one of those things, but putting them together seems to be all her, as best as I can tell. It’s an elegant approach for home bakers with not much space. Kristen also uses her spatula instead of her hands. ;-)

I also switched over to using casseroles as it makes it easier to proof two loaves in my tabletop proofer. Instead of using water in the casseroles, I use nonstick spray. It works great (even better than wiping a film of vegetable oil, for reasons I do not understand) and doesn’t muck up the hydration. 

I do mist my hands or wet them lightly when handling the dough, reducing the water in the loaf by about 20-30 grams per loaf to accommodate for the water my hands and bench that will give back to the dough.

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Regarding the discussion, it really depends on the strength of the flour and it's enzymatic capacity in how well it can handle a long autolyse.

Very weak flours are not cut out for being hydrated for long periods of time.

Edit:

https://www.dolcesalato.com/blog/2013/05/31/giorilli-ci-spiega-la-tecnica-dellautolisi/

https://www.dolcesalato.com/blog/2011/02/03/i-segreti-dellautolisi/

Benito's picture
Benito

I wonder if some of the recent problems I have been having with my dough shaping is actually due to long autolyze at room temperatures or warmer.  I’ve recently been taking to feeding my levain for its 5-6 hours build and doing the mixing of flours and water at the same time to save time in the morning.  My last couple of bakes (didn’t post both) the dough when shaped seemed slacker than I was expecting.  Now one of the bakes I had accidentally over hydrated by about 5-6% at least but the second one was the normal 78% hydration, that one I posted in my blog.

I think I should go back to the original 1 hour autolyze, and maybe this will help the dough not be quite so hard to shape.  It never occurred to me that perhaps the long autolyze was the issue, I assumed it was just my skills that needed improving, although that is likely still the case as well.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Benny, like Michael wrote, the strength of the flour also has a great affect on the autolyse. AP will break down faster than BF. And large amount of spelt, don’t even consider autolyse. Flours that are naturally extensible don’t (and probably shouldn’t) be autolysed.

Benito's picture
Benito

The loaves I've been making are primarily strong white with some whole fife and whole rye.  I would have thought that that would have been fine for a long autolyze, but perhaps there is no advantage to a 5-6 hour autolyze and maybe more danger of the dough being not structured enough.  I will do a 1 hour autolyze next time.

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Benny, I assume you are autolysing for extensibility and open crumb. Next time you mix your dough, why not add enough extra flour(s) to your mix to do 2 small extra experimental autolyses? 1 @ an hour, 1 @ 2 hours and the last @ 3 hours. Your hands will know the difference. It would be interesting to carry that out with an extra autolysing for 12 hours or so. The test should be easy and the results accurate. With a test of this nature - It is, what it is...

If you do conduct the test. Please post your results.

At this time, until I learn different I don’t see any gain in going past 4 hours. But, I have not tested the autolyse of large percentages or 100% whole grain (100% extraction).

Danny

tarheel_loafer's picture
tarheel_loafer

If you're interested in the science of flour + water, you might check out chapter 2 of Bread Science by Emily Buehler. She's a chemist and uses actual molecular diagrams to show what's going on. It doesn't really translate it to the actual process of breadmaking as thoroughly as I'd like, and I can't say it made me a better baker, but it's pretty interesting if you're into that sort of thing. https://www.twobluebooks.com/bread-science/

BobbyFourFingers's picture
BobbyFourFingers

Wonderful! Thank you for suggesting that. I like to know what is happening rather than follow formulas and traditions, even if (as you said) it doesn't make a better baker.

What got me looking at bread resources online was the incredible amount of knowledge we now have compared to even 20 years ago. It makes the 80s seem like the dark ages!