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Experiments with Autolyse # 2

Those of you who like to bake without thinking about what’s behind it… might want to skip this post….

This is a follow up experiment to the post Experiments with Autolyse #1  (length of autolyse)

To autolyse means to give your dough a rest period after mixing and before adding the salt to the dough. Professor Raymond Calvel pioneered this dough development stage which helped produce superior bread. When the flour and water are combined, the gluten strands are hydrated and begin to bond. Enzymes are activated and they begin their work on the dough. One of the enzymes called Protease when activated, starts to break down or digest the gluten strands.  You might think this would ruin your gluten network that you are trying to build up, but used properly on the right kind of dough using the right flour, you can direct the outcome of the bread in different ways.

With an autolyse period you are hoping to obtain a loaf with a more open crumb, a higher oven spring and superior flavor. The ease at which the dough is handled is also affected.


When salt is added, it inhibits the action of the enzymes, yeast and bacteria. So controlling when you add the salt can give you an additional tool in controlling the outcome. The reason behind these experiments is to explore some of those outcomes. Gluten is made up of two main protein strands. One is called Gliadin and the other is called Glutenin. The Gliadin is responsible for the extensibility of the dough or it’s ability to stretch. The Glutenin is mainly responsible for the elasticity of the dough or the ability of the dough to bounce back after being stretched. Flour with a predominance of Gliadin can be very droopy/weak. While flour with a predominance of Glutenin can be like a rubber ball. In either case, you would have poor quality bread.  An extended autolyse period is not used for a weak flour or a flour high in whole meal or whole grain.


If an autolyse period is used in those instances, it is usually kept short so as not to overly weaken the gluten structure which is already compromised in such dough. Although a short autolyse can be helpful to hydrate the gluten strands and to align the strands up and avoid over mixing. If you followed the first post on my Autolyse experiments then you know that I autolysed using dough with added levain (sourdough starter) added at the beginning of the mix.


To be seriously technical, a super duper correct autolyse would utilize only water and flour mixed together, the other ingredients are supposed to be added later ( a mature levain has acids, yeast and enzymes which can interfere with the autolyse supposedly) I have never done that kind ( super duper correct) of autolyse because the levain is such an essential part of the dough that it is difficult to leave it out until after the autolyse period. However, even Professor Calvel who pioneered the autolye for bread making, allows adding levain to the original dough if the levain is very wet or an indispensible portion of the dough. Let’s face it, with some dough, if you leave out the levain you are dealing with a pile of hardtack like crumbs and you cannot autolyse that. Leaving out the leavain poses some interesting questions and challenges.


For instance, if you leave out the levain for an autolyse and the dough ends up very low in hydration, you will also be working with the double hydration effect.  That is a neat trick used in dough development to help bond the gluten strands tightly before adding the additional liquid to bring it up to proper hydration levels.  I use that often because it works well and gives you a great gluten network, especially for bread in which the final loaf is a high hydration bread. In the first experiment we found out that the bread which had levain added at the beginning of the mix and and extended autolyse period of two hours actually and surprisingly produced a superior loaf compared to a loaf where a short autolyse period was used or no autolyse at all.


That caused many of you to email me or comment on trying an autolyse using a dough with no added levain compared to one with an added levain. That is what this experiment is about. To make the two doughs I had to do a jig. I needed both doughs to be at the same hydration so we did not also have a double hydration variable. So I made a formula for one dough using no levain (only flour and water) at 60% before adding the levain and salt and 66% after autolyse and the additon of the levain and salt. In the other dough I added the levain into the first stage and also had it at 60% hydration before autolyse, then added flour and water to bring it to 66% after autolyse. I autolysed both doughs for two hours at room temperature around 68F degrees. I wanted these doughs to be at a similar hydration to the dough experimented on in Experiments with Autolyse # 1  (which was at 66% hydration). These are 2 lb/907g loaves.

Dough #1 with levain (starter) before autolyse

  • 6 oz/170g  water
  • 12.4 oz/351g bread flour
  • 7.4 oz/209g very vigorous starter (fed within six hours)@ 100% hydration

Mix together and autolyse for 2 hours, covered at room temperature. Fold dough twice during this time.

1 lb 9.8 oz dough @ 60.2 % hydration

Then add:

  • 3.3 oz/93g  water (make sure to stir the salt into the water to dissolve)
  • 3.6 oz/102g  flour
  • .4 0z/11g  salt

This will yield 2 lbs 1.1 oz/938g of dough @ 66% hydration


autolysing dough @ 60%

Dough right after the first mix stage @ 60% hydration. Dough on the left is dough #1

Dough #2 without levain (starter)before autolyse

  • 9.3 oz/263g  water
  • 15.5 oz439g/ bread flour

Mix together and autolyse for two hours folding twice.

1 lb 8.8 oz/703g dough @ 60% hydration

After autolyse add:(make sure you stir the salt into the starter to dissolve)

  • 7.4 oz/209g very vigorous starter @ 100% hydration
  • .5 oz/14g bread flour
  • .4 oz/11g  salt

This will yield 2 lbs 1.1 oz/ 938g dough @ 66% hydration

After the autolyse period, in both cases, you will have to knead the ingredients into the dough  with gentleness. The slurry will not want to incorporate right away. Just do the best you can and during subsequent folding, the dough will come together.


Dough after 2 hours autolyse

Dough after 2 hours autolyse and 2 folds

After two hours autolysis and two folds, the dough with the levain (dough #1) was more stretchy and slightly sticky, with some bubbles. Dough #1 without any levain, was tough, tight, hard to fold and of course had no gas bubbles.

Right after incorporating the second part of the formula (slurry with salt), the dough is not yet well incorporated. The gluten strands are visible. It is difficult to incorporate the slurry, but just let the dough rest, time and subsequent folding with do the job for you:

Dough after incorporating slurry and salt

Dough after incorporating slurry and salt, you can see the gluten strands

Even while incorporating the slurry and salt, I found that dough # 2 was tougher and more difficult to work with. That is the dough on the right which did not start out with added levain.  The gluten strands were tight and well bonded on it.

After this point, I folded the doughs once each hour and noted how they were doing. After two hours more and two folds the doughs looked like this:

Two hours (4 hours total since first mixing) after autolyse and adding salt.

Two hours (4 hours total since first mixing) after autolyse and adding salt.

After an additional two hours (6 hours total since initial mixing and flour hours after autolyse) the dough looked like this:

Six hour post mix and four hour post autolyse.

Six hour post mix and four hour post autolyse.


All along, dough # 1 had more bubbles, which increased over time and was stretchy and easy to handle, although slightly more sticky. Dough # 2 was tougher, resisted handling and had less gas activity and fewer bubbles. Dough # 1 was really 2 hours ahead in fermentation time.

At this point, I covered the both doughs and refrigerated overnight. Next morning, I used my new Brod and Taylor proofer to warm the dough up. This was the first time using the proofer and I was interested to see how well it performed.

Warming up the dough

Warming up the dough

The proofer was barely large enough to hold both bowls of dough, but I got them in. I had the proofer set at 76 F degrees. It took three hours to warm up the dough and mature enough to shape. I took the dough out of the refrigerator at 6:00 am and shaped the loaves at 9:00 am. Then I wanted to proof them at 76F degrees but found out the proofer could not fit two 9″ round bannetons. So I stacked them up:

Stack them up

Stack them up.


The heat source is from the bottom and I had a small tray of water for humidity. Because it is warmer at the bottom, it is s good idea to change the loaves position once in a while. The proofer preformed very well and kept the temperature pretty even.  This proofer will be very handy with some of my “sour” experiments where temperature is critical.

I knew that loaf # 1 would be ready to bake first so I did not worry about staggering them timewise.

Loaf one was ready to bake in three hours, even with the warming proofer ( slowing the dough down in the refrigerator but not shaping until after it warms up next day, slows the dough down quite a bit.  I took both loaves out to take a picture of them at this point (you can see how much more fermentation dough # 1 has accomplished):

Both loaves after three hours additional proofing

Both loaves after three hours additional proofing

Dough # 1 looked ready to bake, but the dough was sticky, so it was hard to tell (when I pushed my finger into the dough it pretty much stuck). I baked it but it needed another 1/2 hour or so of proofing as the crust cracked all around.

Baking was accomplished in a preheated oven at 450F degrees. I used a baking stone and a roasting lid to cover the loaves which were slashed and sprayed once with water. The roasting lid cover was removed after 21 minutes in the oven. I then proceeded to brown the loaf  for 11 minutes longer at the same temperature and I turned the loaf once for even browning. My baking stone is a 3/4″  Fibrament ( which I love). I preheat for a good hour or more if the loaves are lazy. I preheat the roasting pan lid for about five minutes before putting in the loaf. 

It sure popped in the oven though:

Loaf # 1 with levain added during initial mixing

Loaf # 1 with levain added during initial mixing


Loaf # 1 crumb

Loaf # 1 crumb

Dough # 2 was a sluggard. I waited for three more hours and baked at 3:00 pm! It still looked underproofed so I made the mistake of slashing slightly deeper than I should have:

Loaf # 2 with no levain in the initial mix

Loaf # 2 with no levain in the initial mix


Loaf # 2 crumb

Loaf # 2 crumb


This is a good time to mention that the first loaf was baked 3 hours after beginning proof and the second loaf took 6 hours! So when you see in a formula that the loaf can take 1 – 3 hours or so, well, it means just that, it really can take a long time depending upon lots of variables. I should have waited 3.5 to 4 hours for each loaf instead of the 3 hours I allowed.  Loaf # 1 was a higher loaf and loaf # 2 was lower, but larger in diameter. That was because of slashing dough # 2 too deeply. I think they both would have been the same size if I had not slashed too deeply on the second loaf.

Loaf # 1 and # 2

Loaf # 1 and # 2


Loaf # 1 and # 2 side view

Loaf # 1 and # 2 side view


Loaf # 1 and # 2

loaf # is higher loaf # 2 is wider


you can see the difference more clearly in the crumb

you can see the difference more clearly in the crumb


loaf # 2 is at the top

loaf # 2 is at the top


You can see that loaf # 1 had a more open crumb. It also had a nicer crust with a spray of blisters. The crumb feel was nice on both loaves, velvety soft, yet chewy.  They were both nice loaves. I would never hesitate to add the levain in before autolysing again. I have done it that way all along and I am used to it anyway.  So I would have to state that according to the outcome of this experiment and my past experience, I prefer to add the levain before autolyse. The outcome to me, is just what I am shooting for anyway, easier to mix up, easier dough handling, less fermentation time, great oven spring, nicely blistered crust, open velvety soft crumb… gee what more could you ask for????

Edited to add: Jump starting the autolyse with a vigorous levain seems like the desired thing to do. You are bringing in the very thing you want right from the beginning, plenty of Protease and enzyme activity, wild yeast and gluten that is already predigested. Make sure your starter is freshly fed within 6-8 hours and very vigorous. 


With a long autolyse without the levain, the dough never did seem to catch up fermentationwise to the first loaf. The dough was harder to handle throughout the experiment and the crust and crumb seemed to suffer in quality. However, this was just one experiment, it should be repeated to see if results are similar.


I can see a use for withholding levain or yeast in a dough. If you have a weak flour that is giving you trouble, I think using this formula with the double hydration and adding levain later in the mixing, could possibly strengthen the dough. Also if you have a reason to seriously slow down your dough (maybe experimenting with the sour) this would also work.


There is one more thing I have not mentioned yet and that is this two hour autolysed bread has a noticeably stronger, very wonderful wheaty aroma. It was noticeable to everyone. You wanted to stick your nose in the loaf and breath deeply, especially the next morning. Imagine finding your family with their noses stuck in the bread in the a.m…. where is my cup of coffee anyway?

Have fun baking, you know I do…..

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  1. JaypeeJaypee
    July 13, 2016    

    Hi there,

    I’m reading through your blog, but I feel a lot of frustration not knowing what the heck is “hydration”, like in: “For instance, if you leave out the levain for an autolyse and the dough ends up very low in hydration, you will also be working with the double hydration effect”.

    And all the “percentages” like in: So I made a formula for one dough using no levain (only flour and water) at 60% before adding the levain and salt and 66% after autolyse and the additon of the levain and salt. In the other dough I added the levain into the first stage and also had it at 60% hydration before autolyse, then added flour and water to bring it to 66% after autolyse.

    I think you need to explain all that before going on with so much bla, bla.

  2. mlml
    May 1, 2016    

    6 hrs of fermentation before fridge & 3 hrs after. Isn’t 9 hrs much longer than usual? Many breads have around a 4hr proof, after salt, & no time after fridge?
    What would you change with about 25% whole grains in the dough?

  3. November 23, 2015    

    I could tell no real difference mainkg tortillas using the spelt flour. I used the press first, then used a rolling pin to get them a bit thinner.Spelt flour behaves pretty much just like wheat flour, except that the gluten is a bit more fragile. For tortillas and quick breads that doesn’t matter, and when using spelt flour for bread I just don’t knead it as long.

  4. yoniyoni
    July 24, 2013    

    Hi Teresa. I have a question about baking stone (soapstone). Is steam injection with boiling water can destroy electric oven and stone damage when it lay at the bottom of the oven? tnx

  5. yoniyoni
    July 23, 2013    

    Today I made rolls from a third bread flour, rye flour thirds and one-third wholemeal flour with 70% hydration of water (includes sourdough) plus sugar.

    I relied on a two hour autolyse with young starter (its first month), I added a pinch of dry yeast.
    Then I added 2% salt and mix again.

    The dough 45 minutes
    Swelling second half hour
    I did the stretching dough puffs

    Good result. Rolls were beautiful, beautiful crumb.

  6. yoniyoni
    July 23, 2013    

    Moment maybe I did not understand autolyze not strengthens gluten?

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      July 23, 2013    

      Autolyse helps break down the gluten enough for the dough to be extensible. If you have a really strong dough with a high protein, autolyse might help to open up the structure, but with most bread flour or AP flour, I wouldn’t do an autolyse with an 80% hydration ciabatta, as it might soften the gluten too much when you need strength. You could experiment an do one batch with an autolyse and one without and see which one comes out better.

      Folding strengthens the dough.

      • mlml
        May 1, 2016    

        I usually make 80-82% hydration mixed flour breads. Is it only all white doughs that would suffer with an autolyse @ this hydration?

  7. yoniyoni
    July 23, 2013    

    Interesting. That’s a recipe for Ciril Hitz and stretch and folds do not stretch enough gluten Maybe I’ll take down the percentage of water …

  8. yoniyoni
    July 23, 2013    

    Teresa, thank you.

    Is autolyse method is also suitable for Ciabatta, a high percentage of water (80%)?

    And another question do you think throughout your experience should I buy books bread or is it a shame to waste shelf space if I’m going to use only a few recipes

    Teresa, thank you.

    Is autolyse method is also suitable for Ciabatta, a high percentage of water (80%)?

    And another question. Think through your experience should I buy books bread or is it a shame to waste shelf space if I’m going to use only a few recipes

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      July 23, 2013    

      Hi Yoni, I wouldn’t do an autolyse with a very wet dough. You want the full strength of the gluten. Also, I love bread books, they give me inspiration even though I almost always make my own formulas.

  9. yoniyoni
    July 22, 2013    

    Hi Teresa. Can I ask you what this method of baking with roasting lid cover?

  10. yoniyoni
    July 21, 2013    

    Hi Teresa I have a question what is roasting lid? How to use it, I just do not know a method to work with

    Is this method is also suitable for breads with high hydration of 80% as Tz’iabata?

  11. ElviraElvira
    April 29, 2013    

    I baked bread this way just 2 hours ago…
    Oh Teresa….It’s wonderful!
    Thank you!!!

  12. ZZ
    November 13, 2012    

    Thanks Teresa! Your experiments are very interesting, I wonder what would happen with a different autolyse period instead of 2 hours.

    I’m personally going to be experimenting and will post my results on thefreshloaf forum, I’ll link it here when I get it done, but my experiments are going to not be with a levain at all as I’m not making a sour dough, but I want to see what happens with just adding yeast before or after the autolyse period. Its similar but as I can tell from your experiments the slightest changes can make all the difference!

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      November 13, 2012    

      Hi Z,I would be happy for you to link back here with your experiment! I will be interested to see your results.


  13. August 30, 2012    

    vielen dank für die information.

  14. DoronDoron
    May 9, 2012    

    First of all, terrific article well done!

    I have a Neapolitan pizza dough I want to try this mixing method on. The problem is it calls for a little bit of oil and honey as well. I know most traditional recipes don’t contain any sugar or oil but that’s the way I do it and I don’t want to change that. I guess I have two option regarding the incorporation of the two ingredients into the dough:

    1. Dissolve honey and oil in the water with autolyse
    2. Dissolve honey and oil in a slurry after autolyse period

    I’m not which is the proper way to go and how it would affect the dough or maybe you have another solution.

    Thanks and once again great article! Loved it!

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      May 9, 2012    

      I am not a purist when it comes to autolyse. I realize that other things besides salt affect the protease enzyme and other enzymes, however, in my experience, the salt is the one thing that has the largest impact. So I do add other ingredients to the dough before autolyse and I have noticed that I still get a superior dough from autolysing even with other added ingredients. Of course some affect the dough more than others. Honey can slow down the enzyme activity if done in large enough quantities.

      If I were you, I would add the honey and oil before autlyse, it is a pizza dough, so I am sure the amount of honey would be small. Go for it and check back with your results.

  15. February 21, 2012    

    Thank you! Forgive me if I missed this:
    I bake 4-5 times a week, just for home. approx 75% hydration
    approx 900 g organic malted white
    120g rye
    23 g salt
    400g 100% liquid culture
    700 ish water
    I usually add salt with everything before autolyse.. big NO NO I guess…but how do you add salt later?????? and how important is that
    also i usually autolyse 45 minutes.. I will try for longer!!!!

  16. November 18, 2011    

    Hi Teresa, how interesting! I too will experiment with adding the levain to the autolyse (after all one has to when using liquid levain, so why not with a firm one?). But I just visited with baker Gérard Rubaud in Vermont and since he is rather a Calvelian purist, he doesn’t do that. What he does is make sure the levain and the autolysed dough have more or less the same texture before trying to incorporate one into the other and the temperature of the levain is as close to 80°F as possible, in order to avoid the problem you mentioned of hard pebbles of levain never getting incorporated. He has also experimented with various durations for the autolyse and what gives him the best result is 30 minutes. But then his bakery is always warmish (between 72 and 78°F) and that may play a role too… He also adds the salt at the end of the mixing, so as not to hinder gluten development at all.

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      November 18, 2011    

      Hi MC, please experiment and report back, this seems to be a major interest to many serious home bakers. Thank you for your input and observations. I am sure this is not the last experiment I will do….

  17. oliverdeoliverde
    November 7, 2011    

    Thank you so much for the post and the pictures. I will attempt this experiment, as I have always autolysed my dough with the starter. I get great results, but I am always interested in other ways. Great site!

  18. ww
    November 6, 2011    

    hi Teresa,
    thanks for your great work.
    I read your 1st experiment, and the question that’s just shouting to be asked is: why is the 30min autolyse so inferior in process and results?? I had always thought that some autolyse – even very short- is better than none. INdeed many books get you to do a 20min-45 min autolyse. I usually do 45 mins myself.So it’s really interesting to see that, according to your experiment, it would be better to not autolyse at all than do a short one. question of flour aside – because i do believe that the flour makes a huge difference – why do you think this is the case???

    As for your 2nd experiment, i was once inspired to be ‘Calvelian’ and purist abt it and did an autolyse with only flour and water, adding the leaven later. My doubts were quickly confirmed. The flour and water was so dry and hard to mix, and when it came to adding the leaven, whatever gluten and structure that had built up was destroyed in trying to incorporate the siginifcant amt of leaven. I added up having to knead quite a bit, and the final loaf was tight and dense – like your experiment.

    So my conclusion abt adding leaven to autolyse or not is: depends on the qty of leaven. If it’s a small percentage, it could work. But if much of the hydration comes through the leaven, it does not make sense.

    As for adding salt, I got the idea of holding back some of the water to dissolve the salt in and adding it as a sort of solution from doing the same with baking soda when making pancakes.

    I feel taht your second experiment here where you stagger hydrations is almost akin to a double hydration method. In any case, both loaves are beautiful, and if it were me, would be very happy with the second loaf even if it’s the ‘inferior’ one :))

    sorry if i missed this somewhere in your post, but what hydration is your leaven? is it a 100% one?

    Your experiment makes me want to try a 2hr autolyse myself. Wonderful wheaty smell did you say…Thanks once again!

  19. November 5, 2011    

    Thank you Teresa for sharing with us your experiment. It is intriguing.

  20. northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
    November 5, 2011    

    Hi Judd, I think you already know the answer to that one… 🙂 make up two or three loaves using your flour and experiment. It would be great if you came back and posted your results here. Have fun…
    Oh by the way, Jeremy Shapiro from http://www.stirthepots.com/ sent me to your blog… awesome, what a treat! http://weekendloafer.com/ I will be adding you to my blogroll.

  21. November 5, 2011    

    You are a real scientist!Great job…I am glad I found your articles on your blog. It makes sense that that dough without the levain would be lagging behind…but not by that much! I have always withheld the levain mainly because I was not sure of what the extra enzyme activity would have on the overall process…and timing…but your experiment is proof positive(no pun intended).You wrote “not used for a weak flour or a flour high in whole meal or whole grain.” I use T80(82-85%extraction) for making miche… do you think I can getaway with an extended autolyse?
    Judd@ Weekendloafer

  22. November 4, 2011    

    Really interesting. I have found there is much better oven spring after the two-hour autolyse, and a better crumb, so I will now do this routinely. I tried this by autolysing before adding levain, but I will now try it the other way.

    Thanks for you hard work on this, it has made a great difference already to my loaves.

    • northwestsourdoughnorthwestsourdough
      November 4, 2011    

      Thanks Tim, It always made sense to me to jump start your dough with added active levain anyway. You have a portion of the dough already filled with enzyme activity and very autolysed already.


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