I seem to have fallen prey to semantics and the definition of autolysis and autolyse, etc, and thought I knew something I didn't.
So, I did some more research to see what is involved because the actual science of bread is very interesting, IMHO. I found a post on google groups at http://groups.google.com/group/rec.food.sourdough/msg/085194522a9db241
that I've copied below. Kind of like a set of definitions from various places. Lots of benefits I didn't realize.
From: Janet Bostwick - view profile
Date: Sat, Apr 24 2004 9:01 am
Email: "Janet Bostwick" <nos...@cableone.net
> maybe you can explain the mechanism
> and the expected result of the "autolyse" process.
"Artisan Baking Across America," by Maggie Glezer.
" The term "autolyse" (pronounced AUTO-lees and used as both a noun and verb) was adopted by Professor Raymond Calvel, the esteemed French bread-baking teacher and inventor of this somewhat odd but very effective technique. During the rest time, the flour fully hydrates and its gluten further develops, encouraged by the absence of: compressed yeast, which would begin to ferment and acidify the dough(although instant yeast is included in autolyses lasting no longer than 30 minutes ecause of its slow activation): salt, which would cause the gluten to tighten, hindering its development and hydration; and pre-ferments, which would also acidify the dough. The flour's improved hydration and gluten development shorten the mixing time, increase extensibilty (the dough rips less during shaping), and ultimately result in bread with a creamier colored crumb and more aroma and sweet wheat flavor.
At the end of the autolyse, the once-rough dough will have greatly smoothed out and become much more extensible. Salt, compressed yeast, and pre-ferments are now added and the mixing is continued. While it may seem strange to add salt directly to a dough, as long as it is finely granulated, it will quickly dissolve. If you are hand kneading, you can actually feel the dough tighten and dry when the salt dissolves.
Here is the technical explanation of what's happening during autolyse: The term "autolyse" means "self-destruction," referring to the proteolytic--or protein-attacking-enzymes during this hiatus. While it might seem contradictory to want to dismember gluten when it is supposed to be developing, it is, in fact, one of mixing's primary steps. When gluten first forms, it is jumbled together in an uneven manner. During mixing, the gulten is pulled apart and rebonded into a stronger and more uniform network. The autolyse facilitates that step without mechanically altering the dough. The reason acid-producing ingredients like pre-ferments and compressed yeast are avoided is because these proteolytic enzymes work more effectively in a more neutral pH environment.
Finally, the bread's color and flavor are improved because the dough is mixed less, so that less air is beaten into it and, thus, less oxygen. Oxygen is believed to oxidize the flour's unsaturated fats and bleach its yellow pigments. The fats are a source of vitamin E and an important source of flavor. Oxidizing them destroys their vitamin E content and unpleasantly alters the flavor of the bread."
"The Baker's Companion," King Arthur Flour
"Most of the recipes in this chapter include a step called an autolyse, in which the flour, starter, and water are combined and allowed to rest for 20-30 minutes before the remaining ingredients are added and the dough is mixed. This simple step prepares the dough for the mixing or kneading that follows. When flour and water are first brought together, the gluten is disorganized and tangled, and it must be mechanically pulled apart by kneading before it can reassemble into organized long strands. An autolyse gives naturally occurring enzymes the chance to untangle the gluten, so less mixing is necessary to develop the dough. Salt and additional yeast, if used, are not added until after the autolyse, because they tighten the gluten--just the opposite of what an autolyse accomplishes. An autolyse also increases the dough's extensibility, which is its ability to stretch without pulling back like a rubber band. This makes the dough easier to shape and increases its ability to rise in the oven."
"The Bread Baker's apprentice," Peter Reinhart
"One of the techniques that bakers often use to minimize mixing (and thus to reduce oxidation that causes natural bleaching of the flour) is to mix the flour and water for only 4 minutes, enough time to hydrate the flour fully, and then let the dough rest for 20 minutes. During this resting, or what the French call the autolyse, the protein molecules complete their hydration and begin bonding on their own. Then, when the mixing resumes and the other ingredients are added, it takes only 2 to 4 additional minutes to complete the mixing process, during which the newly formed gluten molecules continue to bond to one another in more complex ways."