High Gluten Flour And The Autolyse Step

by A.J. Coltrane

Bread experts will often recommend an autolyse step when making breads and pizza. Typically this involves combining the flour and water, and perhaps some of the yeast, then letting the flour hydrate for about 20 minutes. Quoting thefreshloaf(dot)com:

How do you use the autolyse technique? Simply combine the flour and water from your recipe in your mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic or a damp towel. Walk away for 20 minutes to half an hour. That’s it.

While you were away the flour was absorbing the water and the gluten strands have begun to develop. Now you can mix in your preferment, your salt, and the remainder of your yeast and, with very little mixing, achieve a high level of development with considerably less work. The crumb of your dough is also likely to come out much whiter since it has not been highly oxidized by all the beating and whipping.

Better bread, less work. What’s to complain about?

Check out the link, it’s an excellent reference.

Historically I’ve mostly used All Purpose (lowish gluten) flour. Recently though, I bought a bag of King Arthur Bread Flour. The KA flour is very high in gluten. I figured I’d try making a pizza using the KA flour and include an autolyse step for even more gluten development.

After the autolyse the dough wasn’t kneading very well in the Kitchenaid, so I removed it partway through for some hand-kneading.

It was like kneading a pot roast, or a big knotted muscle. I now understand why people call it “strong flour”. The dough ball could have done pushups.

I liked the end result. Sopressata and shallots with mozz:

 

I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe, mostly.

3 comments to High Gluten Flour And The Autolyse Step

  • Iron Chef Leftovers

    So how was the dough after you baked it compared to your regular recipe?

  • A.J. Coltrane

    The crust was a little more bready, with no real “cracker” element to it. A few factors probably contributed:

    1. I think I may have gone a little lighter on the olive oil (also note that I didn’t add the olive oil until *after* the autolyse, since some people, the Dough Doctor Tom Lehmann in this case, are pretty adamant about that being the correct way, at least from what I’ve seen..)

    2. I used a sheet tray instead of the perforated pan. I think less moisture gets driven off(?) when using the sheet tray.

    3. It *is* bread flour, and I kneaded more than usual, so the extra gluten probably trapped more steam which translated to more rise. (Though the finished product still had fairly fine holes.)

    It wasn’t particularly chewy. The crust itself had a light “bite” to it and the interior was soft. For me personally the last thing I like to do with pizza crust is [rip away at it/wrestle with it] with my teeth — whether it’s crackerlike or breadlike I like to be able to cleave it easily when I bite into it.

    It really was a rock when I started hand kneading it.

  • A.J. Coltrane

    Two excerpts from a forum post by Moderator Pete-zza over at pizzamaking(dot)com:

    http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,576.40.html

    In the strictest technical sense, autolyse is a period of rest for a dough made from mixing flour and water, and usually yeast–but not salt. Sometimes the term has been used for doughs incorporating other ingredients also–such as sugar, oil and/or salt. The term is even used on occasion–I suspect somewhat incorrectly–to describe the period of rest to which a dough is sometimes subjected to allow the gluten to relax more fully because the dough is overly elastic (with springback) and difficult to shape. Over time, the term autolyse has come to be used to describe almost any period of rest to which a dough is subjected.

    The notion of using autolyse for bread making developed a following, especially among artisanal bread makers, because the autolyse allowed the starch and gluten in a dough to better absorb water (hydrate), it allowed gluten developed in the dough to relax more fully and provide greater softness in the dough, it reduced oxidation of the flour and thereby preserved color and flavor contributing vitamins (such as carotenoids), it reduced the overall kneading time, and resulted in a soft, more open crumb in the crust. Leaving the salt out of the dough during the autolyse minimized the potentially harmful effects of salt on the yeast (if incorporated into the dough) and thereby allowed somewhat greater volume expansion of the dough…

    …All of this begs the question of whether there is a legitimate role for autolyse or other forms of rest periods in pizza dough making. To be sure, the concept of autolyse does not appear to be generally endorsed by the commercial pizza industry. In fact, when I did a search of the term “autolyse” at the PMQ forum, I came up with exactly 0 hits. Combining that term with “pizza” or “pizza dough” at Google, got me 33 hits and 9 hits, respectively, and many of those were not directly on point and none was in the context of practices employed by the commercial pizza industry. Tom L. himself has on many occasions stated that bread making is not the same as pizza making. All of this leads me to believe that the general pizza industry does not see sufficient value to using autolyse in their practices, or the use of autolyse has gone generally unreported, or the current practices followed by pizza professionals do not lend themselves well to incorporating autolyse into their processes, even if the perceived benefits of autolyse are understood and appreciated. In a home environment, introducing rest periods is easy to do. For a stand mixer or a food processor, all that is necessary is to stop the machine for several minutes (5-20 minutes is typical) during the process of kneading and let the dough rest. It may be a little bit more difficult to program rest periods (autolyse or otherwise) into a bread making machine, but it can be done. Autolyse and other forms of rest periods can also be introduced into a hand-kneaded dough.

    None of this is to suggest that everyone immediately incorporate autolyse into their pizza dough recipes. My experience with autolyse is that it does produce a somewhat surprisingly soft and malleable dough and contributes to a more open and porous crumb, and for those who like that characteristic in a crust, whether for a NY style pizza or any other style pizza, incorporating an autolyse or other rest period(s) into the dough making process may be a useful tool for the home pizza maker. As with any tool, the user will have to do some experimenting to determine its potential value.

    Peter

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