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Autolysing is hydrating flour, usually before adding salt and yeast/starter. It allows gluten strands to develop and can in theory produce an easier to handle dough, and a tastier bread with better texture.

But is the autolyse stage beneficial or necessary, particular with the long ferments of Sourdough? I attempted a science experiment to find out.

Recipe

2.5 c Unbleached All Purpose Flour

1 c Einkorn Flour

1.5 c water

1/4 c starter

1.5 tsp salt

Technique

No Knead Sourdough bread baking technique from Breatopia but with a 3-hour Autolyse for one of the two loaves.

Yesterday morning, I pulled my starter from the fridge and prepared two bowls:

  • one with flour and water mixed
  • one empty

About 3 hrs later, I added to the Autolysed Dough: salt, starter and a portion of the water I’d reserved. The dough was very rubbery by this point and I had to pinch and squeeze to get the starter and salt worked into it.
and
I prepped the Not-autolysed dough in the empty bowl all at once with the identical ingredients.

Here is a picture of the two doughs at this point – Autolyse is always on LEFT

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Here is a picture about 10.5 hours later after the bulk ferment

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A picture after the fold and rest.

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Observations

I find Einkorn very soft and oozy to deal with, but the Autolysed dough was a bit more manageable.

I floured the heck out of my tea towels and did the final proof for another 10-ish hours in the fridge.

When I pulled the dough from the fridge, the Autolysed dough was a little dryer and had less surface bubbling. It also appeared to have absorbed less of the flour from the tea towel and it scored more easily.

However, the crumb, ovenspring and taste were virtually same.

Conclusions

There is a difference in dough handling and scoring with Autolysing, but no difference in crumb, ovenspring and taste between using an Autolyse stage and skipping it in this recipe and technique.

Study Limitations (I remember enough from science classes to add this!)

  1. I don’t use a scale to measure ingredients, which limits the precision of making the recipe twice and comparing the loaves.
  2. I had to use two different cooking vessels in order to cook at the same time in the process. A 5 qt Lodge and 9 qt Staub. Both are cast iron, but the size difference and dimpling on the Staub lid could have impacted the loaves.
  3. This experiment only tested certain flours at a particular ratio. Other flours and proportions could perform differently.
  4. I do not do stretching and folding, which could be impacted by Autolysing the dough or not.

Here is a link to someone else’s experiment with Autolysis, who had different results.

Here are pics of the final product. Again, Autolyse is on left.

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