Whole Grain Sourdough Bread: Long vs. Short Autolysis


(Melissa) #1

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(wendyk320) #2

This was a great experiment, loved it! And beautifully documented as always. I’ve tried autolyse in the past with my home-milled whole grain breads. I always worried that the starter and salt weren’t getting evenly distributed throughout the dough with this method. I’ve also tried screening out the bran and using it in the levain build for a long soak. And I’ve tried screening the bran and cooking it in some of the water prior to mixing the dough. They all produced good breads, but since I’ve never done side by side tests, I have no idea if there were significant differences. At the moment, I’m opting for the laziest method - mixing everything at once and seem to be getting fine loaves. My favorite bread-baking fantasy is having the use of a big commercial kitchen for a week with enough equipment to bake dozens of loaves of bread to do side-by-side tests of different techniques and grains. Alas, I only bake one little loaf at a time every 10 days or so. Dream on.


(Brian) #3

Thanks for sharing your experiments with Whole Grain Sourdough Bread. I have been slowly working my way toward 100% Whole Grain. I typically hand mix everything at the beginning and do minimal folding in the fermentation period.

Along the way, I had many sourdough loaves which, when baked, appeared to have been under-proofed: The scores “exploded” open, revealing deep ragged interiors, even with loaves of 90% bread flour. Perhaps, my high altitude (5600 feet) contributed . The odd thing was that similar bread recipes using only scant amounts of commercial yeast baked up much better. The best sourdough loaves have used much less starter (35 gm @ 100% hydration with 850 gm flour, mixed at about 70% hydration) and long, warm fermentation times (16 hours at 74 degrees). Flavor is tangy but not overpowering and the crumb reasonably airy. Since whole grain seems to make the starter more active and potent, I will try even less starter as I increase the whole grain component.


(brec) #4
  1. Are Second Coil Fold and Lamination intended to be in the Cold Long Autolyse column or centered to apply to both columns?

  2. Flour coming out of the Mockmill is hot. What temperature is the water you mix with it – cold, room, or warm?


(Melissa) #5

@wendyk320 I’ve debated trying some of those bran softening methods too! I forgot about the option of making the bran part of the levain build. Yes, we need a big laboratory for these bread experiments! And a lot of equipment. I used the bare banneton because my two basket liners have slightly different texture haha! But that can make the crust look different…

@bjldmailbox-nyuk Interesting - I’ve never baked at high altitudes. Usually when I get a combination of big open areas and dense areas, it is because of too short/inactive of a bulk fermentation. But I think you’re saying that the same recipe and process with all bread flour turns out fine, so fermentation doesn’t seem to be the issue. @peevee has been doing long whole grain small inoculation loaves that look great. You might search some of his posts or read his guest whole-grain blog post from last spring.

@brec
1)Those actions should be applied to both doughs. Looks like it’s fixed now. Thanks!
2)So true about that warm flour. The water is from my filtered tap, so about 55F in the morning. In the first experiment (where various things went wrong), I milled the warm-short-autolyse dough’s flour the night before and refrigerated it with the long-cold-autolye dough. In later iterations, when I’d come up with other temp syncing strategies, I dropped that refrigerator-space sucking approach. : )

I’m happy to answer any other questions!


(wendyk320) #6

Sorry to go off on a tangent, but, Melissa, I’m intrigued with your comment to bjldmailbox-hyuk about mixed open areas and dense areas. Occasionally I’ll have a round loaf that has plenty of larger holes around the exterior of the loaf but the interior, while not dense, is noticeably less open than the periphery. In the beginning, I think I was doing too long of a bulk fermentation, expecting the dough to double. I read that this was incorrect, and the dough would be over-fermented, so I’ve cut back significantly on the expected rise, but perhaps I’ve cut back too far? What are you looking for as signs that bulk fermentation is adequate for a 100% whole grain bread?


(Dan) #7

Hi Melissa,
I love your posts and your experiments! As a retired engineer and an amateur bread baker, they appeal to my geeky personality. (BTW, I love your sourdough ciabatta!) Anyway, regarding your question about why autolysis improves bread flavor, I think it might stem from the definition of the term: It is the process of breaking down plant (or animal) material by naturally occurring enzymes contained within. In the case of bread flours, those are the diastatic enzymes alpha and beta amylase (among others). They break down the starches in the flour into simpler sugars, making them more readily available to the leavening agents added later (yeast, sourdough). They add a certain sweetness to the crumb and improve carmelization of the crust. It is why you add diastatic malt powder to some longer leavened breads, to make more simple sugars available to the yeast over a long rise time. I ran across a nice article on this topic recently. Here is the link:

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/enzymes-the-little-molecules-that-bake-bread/

Keep up the good work!


(Mark) #8

Hi Melissa, Great writeup. I’m increasingly convinced it doesn’t really matter whether you do a long retarded autolyse or short RT autolyse. The results will differ but the differences will be marginal and not necessarily attributable to the autolyse. I would offer one caveat though: You start by saying that there is an emerging consensus that the autolyse is important for hundo bread. My experience suggests that the autolyse helps for strong wheat, but can hinder when dealing with weak wheat. I have not made a strict side by side comparison for this so I am not totally confident in my conclusion. But I have some weak wheat where my first two bakes, with overnight retarded autolyses, were disasters. The first one was at 90% hydration and was only salvageable by throwing the resulting soup into loaf pans. The second one was at 85% hydration; it was shapeable but immediately spread upon heating the oven, producing delicious frisbees. It was not until I reduced the hydration to 80% and substituted a 45 minute fermentolyse that I was able to achieve acceptable results. Of course this is inconclusive because I changed two variables on the last bake (fermentolyse and hydration) but I’m inclined to think that both helped. I note that Teresa Greenway has an article on her blog that suggests that one should not use an autolyse with weak wheat. Of course she isn’t talking about hundo bread but my experience would tend to support this for hundo bread too. Best, Mark (AKA @Woodward7053 (in case it isn’t obvious!))


(billmcww) #9

Great experiment. I have experimented with various Autolysis times as well. Peter Reinhart talks about these processes in several of his books. In his Whole Grain Breads book, he talks about the importance of soakers and mashes, which I have also experimented with. What I found was that a 1 hr autolysis was sufficient, but the soaker and mash combinations definitely added flavor and improved texture. I also found that if you are using cold fermentation to retard the dough for 12-24 hrs, the autolysis cycle seemed to add no value. Love to see more experiments like this.


(Melissa) #10

@wendyk320 By mixed dense and open, I meant more along the lines of “mouse holes” and then really dense areas – being a sign of underfermentation.

I frequently get what you’re talking about, where the edges are very open and the middle of the loaf not so much. I chalk it up to gravity/density of the dough in the middle vs the edges, plus faster heat penetration at the beginning of the bake. If you make a smaller loaf of bread, you will likely see this issue reduced…but you’ll also have less bread haha

@djd418 I’m so glad you like the ciabatta recipe and that you’re enjoying my experiments. Bread baking seems to attract engineers…maybe the fun interplay of science, math, processes, equipment!

Thanks for sharing the article about enzymatic activity during fermentation and autolysis. It was so interesting. I think I’d read a part of it quoted elsewhere before – when I was trying to figure out why I’d gotten an einkorn soup doing a very long bulk fermentation with a tiny inoculation (“protease” is the key word I remembered lol). Einkorn is rumored to have more enzymatic activity and I think it burnt itself out over the extended bulk.

I should have added diastatic malt powder…or much more starter :slight_smile: Oh also I did a yeast water vs. sourdough starter einkorn experiment on my blog last spring, and the yeast water bread turned out better…maybe more of the maltase and invertase from the yeast. Or more sugar in the dough from the yeast water that is made from soaking sweet fruit lol

@mcw.mark Thanks adding your insight here and pointing that out. I agree that different wheats support different autolyse length – and fermentation time too. As I mentioned above, a microlevain einkorn dough that I made in the past turned out like your overnight retarded autolyse dough - frisbee. And I believe the soupy-ness was enzymatic activity, not overproofing. Of course, I didn’t make the same einkorn dough but with a lot of starter afterward to test the theory…so I’m in the same boat of hunches : )

@billmcww Thanks! I’m glad you enjoy this and similar experiments. I’d love to do a poll on what people are most interested in seeing next. I have considered a bran sift out and soak vs. not …and both doughs with a cold 12-24 retarded fermentation. I’m sure I’d see a difference if the fermentation were short, but with a long-cold fermentation, maybe not. I won’t lie - I want that result because I’m lazy about sifting haha. I should put Reinhart’s Whole Grain book on my wishlist!


(KimVT1111) #11

This is interesting. I have been making freshly milled whole wheat bread for a while now. My recipe involves autolysing overnight at room temperature (65-70 degrees F here). It has worked well for me. (80% hydration, hard wheat grains of various types)


(Melissa) #12

@KimVT1111 Interesting! Different wheats and different temps seem to yield better and worse results. Good to know your results with a long autolyse. Thanks for sharing!


(improbablepantry) #13

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing the experiments. When I first started sourdough bread baking, the “teacher” (some book, I don’t recall which) had the autolyse occur with the starter, but without the salt. Since then, I just include the salt in the original mix, and don’t notice any significant difference.

After the initial mix which includes everything–flour, water, salt, starter–I let it rest (or autolyse, by my original definition) anywhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hours. Then, two or three rounds of folds on anywhere from 1/2 hour to 2 hour intervals, depending on what’s going on. And then, toss it in the fridge overnight or until I’m ready for the next round, which is typically 8-12 hours of bulk fermentation on my counter, depending on the temperature in the house, followed by shaping and then baking in a clay baker or loaf pans (with a second loaf pan on top). I’ve found that pretty much anything I do will be way better than what I can find in a store, so don’t stress about it too much!

I’ve evolved a bit from the treatise I wrote two years ago on the topic, Eighteen things I’ve learned from three years of experimentation with whole grain and wild yeast. Including lots of “hundos” (great word…never heard it!). In particular, I’ve found that the biggest variable that predicts success is making sure the dough has become reasonably puffy before putting it in the final proofing basket for the time it takes to get the oven hot. But not so puffy as to be overproofed. There are lots of ways to get there in terms of timing.

I may experiment with an autolyse without the starter and salt to see if I notice the difference. But it’ll have to be a pretty significant improvement to warrant the extra step.


(Melissa) #14

@improbablepantry I love the blog post you linked to. I think I’ve said the same phrase, “the refrigerator is your friend” to people I’ve given starter to :slight_smile: I also like, “You have to be around for certain milestones.” I’m picturing my dough with a cap and gown, graduating to the oven lol.

Increased effort to improved outcome ratio is crucial in my opinion as well.


(Melissa) #15

Linking below to a related experiment someone was inspired to do (long room temp autolyse, long room temp autolyse with salt, no autolyse). Interesting results, pictures and videos.


(wendyk320) #16

The lazybones in me is always happy to hear that the simplest way works just as well as the most complicated - or better!