Skip to main content

Learning Loaf #6a: Incorporation and Autolyse

Once you have your tools and ingredients out, it's time to get started for real. Let's go!

Get Your Meez Ready #

Baker term alert!  "Meez" is slang for the french mis en place, which translates to "putting in place."  It refers to getting all your ingredients and tools out and getting your ingredients scaled out before you start mixing.

If you've ever dug through a drawer for a spatula with a hand that's covered in goop, you'll know why it's a good idea to get your Meez in order first!

Some tips:

  • Scale your flour right into your big mixing bowl.
  • Scale the other dry ingredients - salt, yeast, sugar and milk powder - into a smaller bowl one at at time. Add to your flour one at a time as you get the weights right.
  • Small amounts: You won't need a lot of yeast most of the time. If you only need 3 or 4 grams, be sure to boldly add the yeast to your scaling bowl. The scale has trouble with accuracy if you dribble in one grain of yeast at a time. Over time, you'll get used to how big of a pinch to grab to start with.
  • Measure your butter. Leave it somewhere warm to soften up a bit.
  • Water Temperature: Scale your water into your water jug. Make sure the water is tepid - 80F to 85F.  That sounds hot, but it isn't really.  If the water feels just barely warm on your skin, it's fine.
learning loaf ingredients

Our Meez is ready. Let's go!

Roughly Incorporate The Ingredients #

OK. Finally, let's bring it all together. If you're mixing by hand, try to pick one hand as your mixing hand and use it from here on out.  (When I took the pictures I had a "mixing hand" and a "click the camera" hand!)

mixed up dry ingredients

With your mixing hand, gently mix up your dry ingredients in the bowl to get the salt, yeast, etc. throughout the flour.  Add the butter and roughly mix that in too.

water in the middle of the flour

Make a "well" in the middle of the flour and add the water into the well.

hand mix

Gently swirl your mixing hand in the water, bringing flour into the mix.

the point where we stop mixing

Keep swirling, turning the bowl as needed, to get all the flour into the mix. It won't look anything like a dough yet; more like a rough, extremely thick batter.

a shaggy lump of barely-dough

Once all the flour is wet (a few small dry bits are ok), you're done for now. Clean off your mixing hand (it'll be pretty goopy), cover the bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes.

What Just Happened? #

At this stage you're trying to get two things accomplished. Get the right amount of ingredients in the bowl and get everything wet.

Get Your Ingredients Right #

And I mean right to the gram.

Scaling accurately is important if you want consistent results. Not just consistent flavour and texture, but consistent timing too.

Too much yeast and your dough will move too fast. Too little and you'll be wishing you could go to bed before your loaves are ready to go in the oven.

Get Everything Wet #

All those dry ingredients just sit there doing nothing until the water is added. Once water is in the bowl though, amazing things happen.

  1. The flour hydrates. Ha! Three words that describe so much.
    • starch molecules that were broken during milling soak up the water and expand.
    • enzymes in the flour wake up and start attacking the other starch molecules, breaking them apart and turning them into sugar.
    • two proteins in the flour start connecting and combining into long chains called gluten
  2. the yeast wakes up and starts looking for something to eat. Sugar. That would be the sugars that those enzymes are creating from the starch in the flour.
  3. the salt, extra sugar and milk powder soak up some of the water, dissolve and start interacting with the flour at the molecular level too.

What Happens During The Rest? #

We give the dough a rest at this point (artisan bakers call this stage "autolyse") because the flour takes a long time to fully hydrate. So let's give it time to finish the job.

In 20 minutes, that ugly, sticky mass you left in the bowl will already be more solid and easier to work, because so much of the water has been absorbed.

And the gluten in the flour will already have a head start in forming the long protein chains that will eventually raise your loaf. So you have less work to do in the next phase.

Next up:  We mix! But not for too long...