You’ve read all kinds of things about doughs lately, and you’ve certainly heard about autolysis in pizza doughs.
Read about professionals who are aligned against a certain technique, those who cannot do without it, and those who even consider certain methods useless.
But if you have read me so far you already know how I think.
Nothing is right or wrong in an absolute sense; there is no such thing as one process better than another!
There is the best process according to your equipment, the result you want to achieve, within the time frame that daily life provides by taking the shortest, easiest and most enjoyable route possible.
“The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line,” but it is up to us to mark the beginning and the end, and if we draw the line with colored pencils we have fun too (I am poetic true😅).
Until now, in both recipes and “explainers” I have always referred to direct kneading methods of water, flour, yeast and salt.
That is, we would put in the ingredients to form the dough all at about the same time and then put it in to rise, form and bake. This technique has a name, direct kneading method.
But surely you know that it is not the only way to prepare your pizzas (or other baked goods), and it may seem strange to you, but sometimes (and I emphasize sometimes) it may not be the most convenient and effective system.
I start by giving you a simple definition of “indirect impasto,” which we will then go on to decline depending on the situation.
The indirect method involves two (or more) distinct kneading steps.
In the first stage, the so-called pre-dough is prepared with a portion of the ingredients taken from the total. It is brought to a certain level of maturity and then completed by inserting and kneading all the missing ingredients (refreshment).
The two main pre-pastes are
There is actually a third, widely known and used one, which is not considered for all intents and purposes a pre-paste, but more of a “gimmick,” I am talking about the
You may have heard of it, and I don’t think any of my readers care much for the academic definition. I guess you are more interested in understanding its usefulness and ways of use.
In this first appointment with indirect doughs we will discuss autolysis itself.
How autolysis is born
The autolysis technique was devised in 1957 by French chemist Raymond Calvel, a baking expert and lecturer at ENSMIC in Paris, who was called upon to solve the limitations introduced by the industrialization of bread production in those years, due among other things to the introduction of mechanical kneading machines.
The process, which at the time involved letting a mixture of the total amount of water and flour called for in the recipe stand for 15 to 20 minutes, has over time been revised almost completely, “refined” and standardized.
Benefits of autolysis
The use of the autolysis technique gives the dough greater extensibility and makes a good amount of sugars available to the yeast in a shorter time, facilitating leavening.
All this results in a final product with good internal development, better crust and crumb coloration and a more pronounced taste as well as a considerable reduction in kneading time.
This is made possible by the actions of two enzymes we have come to know,
activated by the mere contact between water and flour (and time of course).
are responsible for transforming starches in flour into sugars.
degrade the structure of proteins by forming longer protein chains that, by recombining due to the self-evolving properties of gluten, form a mesh that is more stretchable, malleable, elastic, strong, and able to absorb greater amounts of liquid.
Because it is a technique (or expedient, see it as you see fit) that gives the dough a particular extensibility, it can be particularly useful in reducing the toughness of doughs made with high P/L flours, in ensuring good internal development even with the use of whole-grain or semi-integral flours, and is useful in any other case where you need to decrease the resistance in rolling out your doughs.
How to prepare an autolytic dough
Preparing an autolysis is quite simple. Take the total amount of flour called for in your recipe and add water for 50 to 55 percent of its weight. Knead very roughly, without forming gluten so that all the water is absorbed by the flour, and let it rest for 1 hour to 12 hours at a temperature of 18 to 22°C.
Let me give you an example to understand it better. If you have a recipe that calls for:
1Kg of faria
800g of water
you will use all the flour, add 550g water and, after kneading a few minutes at low speed, let it rest in a closed container.
After the necessary time has elapsed you will add to your autolysis:
250g of water (800-550g)
And you will close the dough as you always have.
“ok all clear, but exactly how long should the autolysis rest and at what temperature?”
Here the mystery thickens, but we will shed light, promise!
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about this that stems from the simple fact that it depends on flour, temperatures and hydration.
You have often read not to exceed 5 to 6 hours or to “modify” the autolysis by decreasing the water and adding some of the salt to inhibit the fermentation action.
Let’s face it, the statement is not wrong in absolute terms but again “it depends.”
For example, an unadditivated all-body whole-wheat flour can easily get 12 hours of autolysis at 18°C without triggering any fermentation, and I personally get up to 6 hours at 20°C without adding salt and with hydration above the classic 55%.
Otherwise, a poor-quality, reconstructed whole-wheat flour, perhaps with unroasted wheat germ and added enzymes, could literally “unravel” even in 2 hours.
But let’s see how to work safely with “serious” flours.
Autolysis with Type “0” and “00” flours
You can get up to 5 hours of autolysis at 20°C, but empirical tests have shown that exceeding the hour of rest produces no tangible benefit. Since you don’t need to go over an hour you might consider increasing hydration slightly so that you have to put in less water later.
A godsend if you knead by hand or with underperforming mixers.
Autolysis with flours Type “1” and “2”
If you find yourself working with less abburated or semi-wholemeal flours it is necessary to increase the resting time. Thus, we start from a minimum of 2 hours to a maximum of 6 hours at 20°C.
In this case the purpose is to have the cruscal parts perfectly hydrated in addition to all the benefits seen above. By doing so, the bran will interfere less with gluten formation during kneading and you will treat the dough almost as if it were made with a white flour.
Calculating that the fibers will “steal” some of the water intended for hydration of the flour, it is almost mandatory to slightly increase the hydration to 60%.
For example, with our
Green flour type 1
we get up to 3 hours of autosilos at 20°C with excellent results.
Autolysis with Whole-Body Flours
For whole grain flours, a short autolysis would not give the desired effects and would barely serve to allow the bran to hydrate.
To get all the benefits we have discussed so far you will need to allow for at least 6 hours of rest at 20°C with the possibility of up to 12 at 18°C.
Hydration of autolysis
You mightalso get the unhealthy idea to considerably increase the hydration of the pre-kneading so that you can add less water into the final dough and make the kneading steps easier.
In principle, this is not wrong, but it should be done with caution.
As hydration increases, enzymatic processes accelerate, so it will be necessary to decrease resting times. In addition, excess water would make it difficult for gluten to form during kneading. Finally, remember that these processes do not have linear trends; a small increase in hydration or handling temperature could have a major impact on fermentation.
So if you want to experiment do it, but know that failure is around the corner.
All good and all interesting, but I know you’re probably wondering how to field what we’ve talked about so far. Take all that follows as purely personal opinion and remember that there is more than one way to achieve the same result.
1- Tenacious doughs in spreading because of the flour you are using.
In the direct doughs of tonda napoletana, this “ploy” is often used so as not to risk having doughs that are too tenacious in rolling out. The advantage is to knead for less time, get better workable dough balls, a more “textured” crust, and better crust coloring.
2- Tenacious doughs in drafting due to long tacking with flours that return little extensible gluten.
This is the case with high-hydration doughs for Roman baking pans with strong semi-wholemeal flours such as our ViVa Rossa.
The advantage is twofold: you allow the cruscal parts to hydrate properly without them interfering in the formation of gluten during kneading, and you arrive at drafting with buns that offer less resistance.
3- Doughs with stiff gluten mesh because of the kneading system.
Older mixers, with narrow, tall bowls and small radius spirals, tend to develop a strong, “short” mesh bringing stiffness to the dough. Using autolysis can partly overcome this drawback.
In practice, there are 3 situations in which autolysis can get you out of a jam, but if you don’t encounter any of these problems in your doughs, don’t use it; you’ll complicate the process for nothing.
I think today’s reading has been quite intense and challenging, so I’ll give you a date for next week to talk about the first real pre-dough, the biga.
In the meantime, I invite you to try a recipe you know very well, that of Roman-style pizza in a pan, but executed with an autolytic dough.
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…And now knead, enjoy and taste!