The Autolyse Process - why it reduces gluten

by Les Saidel - May, 2010

According to manuscripts originating in medieval France (1290), bakers in the royal court of Louis I used a technique of separately mixing the flour and water portions of their bread dough and leaving the mixture to soak overnight. The following day, they would mix in the remaining ingredients and knead the dough.

Note: This differs from the Sourdough process, whereby the entire dough, including the wild sourdough yeast, is left to slowly ferment overnight.

The flour used in those times was high extraction flour, containing all parts of the wheat grain. The overnight soak insured complete hydration of all parts of the flour and made the dough more workable.

More recently, Professor Raymond Calvel (1930-2005) has made an in-depth study of the chemistry and science behind this technique and coined the term Autolyse.

Gluten, in dough made from flour, consists of symmetrically arranged protein chains formed by two primary proteins - glutenin and gliadin. Each of these proteins provides unique characteristics to the dough structure. Glutenin provides extensibility, i.e the ability to stretch. Gliadin provides elasticity, i.e the ability to retract.

The correct balance of extensibility and elasticity is required when forming a dough. You do not want a dough that is too elastic, or it will not rise to its full volume and will be difficult to handle and shape. Similarly, you do not want a dough that is too extensible, or it will be too weak to hold its shape and will result in a flat loaf.

With the incidence of high speed electric mixers in the early 20th century, the dough created acquired an excess of elasticity, making it difficult to process in production lines. The resulting research by Professor Calvel led to the adoption of the Autolyse process in the mechanised bakery. Autolyse has the effect of "relaxing" the dough and making it more extensible, allowing it to be easily shaped and processed mechanically.

In the Autolyse process, besides full hydration of the flour, the enzyme Protease is created. This enzyme destroys proteins in the gluten structure and weakens it.

The degree to which the Autolyse process is applied to the dough development process will determine the eventual strength of the gluten structure. The longer and more intense (more flour used in) the Autolyse, the more protease will be created and the weaker the gluten structure will be and vise versa.

In the creation of Rambam Bread, the Autolyse process is intense, resulting in a larger degradation of the gluten structure and thus a lower gluten content in the resulting bread.

Note: Rambam Bread is NOT gluten free. It does however, contain less gluten than regular breads that do not use an intense Autolyse process.

Les Saidel

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