Autolyse (Pre soak)
I learnt to bake professionally in France and I use the techniques and practices every time I bake. I am particularly fond of the autolyse or pre-soak technique. It requires no skill whatsoever, and really makes a difference! French flour particularly benefits from the autolyse technique.
Why you should autolyse
Pre-soaking your ingredients makes your bread easier to mix and you’ll knead the dough less too. All you do is to add water to your ingredients and let it rest for a minimum of 15 minutes. Some bakers soak with the yeast included, some without.
As the mixture rests, the water is absorbed by the flour. The enzymes in the flour are activated and gluten is developed. Starch is broken down into simple sugars that the yeast feeds on. This happens when you make bread in the normal way, but using the autolyse method ensures this is done before kneading.
What is autolyse?
In the 1970s French professor, Raymond Calvel carried out many experiments on making bread in bulk. Calvel had become dissatisfied with the quality of French bread at the time and started experimenting. Mixing the bread ingredients roughly, then leaving the mix to relax for at least 15 minutes made a remarkable difference. He discovered that less mixing time was required to make a good dough and that the texture improved greatly, especially for rich doughs such as croissants. He named this technique “autolyse”
How long should I autolyse?
Count on autolysing (I am hoping that’s a word) for at least 15 minutes – I try to leave it 30 minutes hour some people leave it even longer up to 3 hours.
Try it on a recipe you already use and are are happy with. Roughly mix the ingredients by hand or in a mixer, cover and wait or go and have a coffee!
Should you add yeast or not?
Prof. Calvel’s method includes yeast in the pre-soak and he also includes sourdough starter if using. I was taught this method. However, good results are also obtained without adding yeast or salt to the pre-soak
Why you should not add salt when autolysing
Prof. Calvel’s method excludes salt in the pre-soak. Salt is an important element in stabilising the dough, but it can slow down the all important enzyme activity. Doughs without salt are much more sticky and more difficult to work with.
And why you might need to add salt
If you are making bread by hand, it is far more difficult to add salt into the mixture after autolysing. You still will reap some benefits if it is added to the pre-soak. Keep back some of the water and dissolve your salt in the water before adding to the dough, it’s much easier
It is all too easy to forget to add the salt and yeast (if not already added). Place both on top of the dough in a small container so you never forget.
So over to you! I’d love to hear how you get on.
Make better bread: Autolyse
- 100 % Flour
- 70 % Water Or amount in your recipe
- 1 % Yeast Or amount needed for your recipe
- 2 % Salt Keep to one side and add later
- Place all the ingredients except the salt in the bowl and mix together roughly
- Cover and allow to rest for a minimum of 15 minutes.
- Add the salt and mix together well. Knead by hand or use a stand mixer and dough hook following your standard recipe. You should find that the dough comes together more quickly and smoothly than usual.
Use this method and you’ll join some of the best bakers around who swear by the autolyse method, including Chad Robertson of the Tartine bakery.
Find out more
The English e-book version of Prof Carver’s The Taste of Bread is available but costs a hefty £49.50. More suited to those baking large quantities, it is an in depth instruction on how to baker bread.