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A simple technique that can dramatically improve your bread.


I’m a bit of a lazy baker, but I always make my bread by hand rather than a machine as I think it is important to have a feel for how the dough is developing…but…I want to fit making bread for the week ahead in at the weekend which means fitting it in amongst my list of jobs that never seems to shorten. So, I was very attracted to my first encounter with autolysing dough when I got my first copy of Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf as he uses a variant of it throughout. Autolyse is a way to work with your dough, not to bash it to submission, but instead do a series of very short kneads over some hours – it allows me to go about my day and to give the dough a couple minutes of attention as I am passing. Perfect. The name sounds like there might be more to it and many make it seem like another baking black art…so I asked Vanessa to take a look at it and debunk any myths so we can all bake bread without the time-consuming and strenuous effort.

Some people are better bakers than others, but successful baking is not a genetic predisposition. It is about technique and one of the simplest, and least known is understanding how autolyse. It will deliver a dough that is easier to work with and shape resulting in a loaf with better texture, rise and flavour. It’s a deceptively simple process, which involves allowing the flour to soak up the water properly before manipulating the dough. This gives strength to the gluten and allows the naturally present enzymes to begin breaking down the starch into sugar which in turn gives the yeast a good boost. I have more fully explained the process and its history in this article here.

The most frequently asked question I get asked is how long do I need to autolyse my dough for? The answer is dependent on the temperature of your water and the kind of flour that you are using. The general rule of thumb is that wholemeal flour needs longer than white flour, stoneground flour needs longer than roller-milled flour and the warmer your water the less time you need. As always, the longer you can leave dough to ferment without it over-proving, the better the flavour of the baked bread. Autolyse times can be based on the style of flour that your are using:

Why not give it a go with your favourite recipes? Take out the hard work and still have excellent bread, by working with the dough, rather than beating it into submission.

Stoneground wholemeal flour:

long autolyse (1.5 - 3 hours)

Medieval blend of wheat and rye (Maslin) from Lammas Fayre, this authentic Medieval blend of flour has been produced from authentic cereals the same as those grown in the Medieval period of British history.

Stoneground white flour:

Medium autolyse (1.5 – 2 hours)

Stoate's Organic Strong White Flour is made from their brown flour which is sieved to remove almost all of the bran particles producing a stoneground white flour with a creamy colour and exceptional flavour.

Roller-milled flour:

short autolyes (30 minutes – 1 hour)

Type "00" flour from strong organic wheat suitable for ciabatta, baguettes, brioches, croissants and as a general bread flour.

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