Autolyse is a preferment technique pioneered by Professor Raymond Calvel. It is unique in that no fermentation occurs in an autolyse. An autolyse is, by definition, a mixture of flour and water which is allowed to sit for as little as 30 minutes to as long as 12 hours. Autolyse means "self digesting", and during this time the enzymes on the flour are activated by the water and begin to digest the starches. To be clear, there is no riser in an autolyse.
This has a number of advantages:
- Greater bread flavor
- Greater dough extensibility
- Greater ease of mixing
However, the autolyse also decreases dough elasticity, so a weak dough can become much weaker.
If an autolyse is made with white flour and allowed to sit too long, it will begin to discolor and turn gray. While not a health concern, it is unsightly. If you are planning on holding an autolyse for more than 10 or so hours, add some salt to it in order to slow the enzymatic reactions. Remember to account for the salt in your final dough forumla.