Delayed Salt Method (autolyse)

This method is known to bread geeks and bakers alike as the 'delayed salt' method, and is also referred to as the 'autolyse'.  It's a very handy thing for bakers to understand.

There is, as usual, some conjecture regarding the correct definitive use of the word 'autolyse', but I'll save that discussion for another forum. In a nutshell, delaying the salt to allow gluten to grow and to accelerate fermentation saves a lot of elbow grease, and allows you to recreate that sensational uneven sourdough texture you'll find in all the great sourdough breads.

You can apply this method to any bread recipe at all, whether a hand recipe or if you are using a mixer. In this website, a couple of recipes you may want to try with this method are the white sourdough recipe and the wholemeal sourdough recipe.

Delayed salt allows natural, or biological, development of a part of the amino acids in gluten, called cystein, to occur, which can't happen in the presence of salt. It's a very simple way to improve your breadmaking, no matter how you choose to make bread. It's particularly useful when making bread by hand, but is also commonly used when a mixer is employed. Generally, if you are using a mixer, you would add the salt in the last third of the mixing cycle.

The delayed salt method is very simple. When making dough, simply reserve the salt in a separate container before adding it. Make your dough without it.

  • When you knead by hand, just bring the dough together. Don't work it much at all. Allow the dough to rest for up to an hour before adding the salt.

  • When using a mixer, you can bring the dough together, allow to rest for about half an hour, and then add salt.

You'll notice that the dough tightens up almost immediately after adding the salt. You will also notice that between the time you left it and when the salt is added, there has been a significant change in the dough's structure. It will have become quite stringy, with fine strands of gluten having formed while the salt was waiting to go in. All the dough needs once the salt is added is a quick turn to combine the salt right through the dough. The dough will immediately develop sheets of gluten. It will be almost shiny. Simply work the salt through until you can't feel it in the dough.

Here’s a video I made a while back which shows the autolyse method, and then a time lapse of how the dough comes together when kneaded by hand. It takes you right through to baked bread.

Most of the recipes thus far into the site's history use hand mixing methods for making dough. Because humans are not machines, they don't have the ability to work dough relentlessly for any extended period of time. A mixer, on the other hand, can provide a constant kneading action continuously. Effectively, a mixing dough by machine is about ten times more efficient than mixing dough by hand. In breadmaking terms, a machine provides mechanical development of gluten.

 Our hand technique therefore requires a few tricks to compete with highly efficient machines. About the biggest trick we can use in making dough by hand is known as natural biological development. Biological development of dough requires time, and the right set of preconditions. In bakeries, the term 'time dough' is still used to refer to any dough which has some natural (resting) development occuring.

The two major preconditions for biological development of dough to occur efficiently are the absence of salt, and optimal temperature. So that's why every recipe in this site utilises the delayed salt method. It's just a very efficient way to develop gluten, using time and natural biological processes rather than mechanical energy to do the work!

If you want to learn all the techniques and tricks, why not book a spot at one of our School of Sourdough workshops? These are held once a month in the Lower Hunter of NSW area.

If you like what you are learning (free) on this website, you can support my work in bringing this information to the people by downloading one of my e books from Amazon. There are two mini guides there, and they are both worth a look, Sole Baking for Simple Folk, and the Sourdough Fermentation Mini Guide.