I have found that it works well for shorter fermented doughs that will be fermented over the course of maybe 9 hours. It gives the flour a chance to hydrate and get the fermentation process going. If you are doing super long ferments it might be skipped. The real value, from my observations, comes when using a shorter workflow.
Also, when using sourdough, since the levain is pre-fermented, it is considered an ingredient and not an addition to hydration or flour totals (in my opinion). And it is perfectly acceptable to autolyse with the levain included, which contains no commercial yeast. Maybe Peter would like to comment on this further - it would be interesting to hear his take on this.
I generally subscribe to everthing that you have said but on the matter of incorporation of the levain
in the autolysis process, but I'd like to play the role of the gadfly for a moment.
First, as you know, and as I mentioned in the excerpted portion of my last post, Prof. Calvel deemed the autolyse method to be "especially valuable in the production of natural levain
leavened breads". However, in his book, at footnote 3 on page 91, he says (with some repetition of the excerpted portion mentioned above):Dough autolysis refers to a rest period that occurs after 5 minutes of mixing a fraction of the flour and part of the water, excluding the remaining ingredients. This rest period improves the links between starch, gluten and water and notably improves the extensibility of the dough. As a result, when mixing is resumed, the dough forms a mass and reaches a smooth state more quickly. Without autolysis, these processes would be slowed by the acidity of the natural levain.
It is that last sentence that discusses the potential of the natural levain
to acidify the dough that leads me to believe that Prof. Calvel would have said that the natural levain
should be added after the autolyse rest period. However, I read elsewhere that Prof. Calvel came to accept the addition of a natural levain
to the dough during the autolyse rest period, and I read something along the same lines with respect to the incorporation of commercial yeast in the dough during the autolyse rest period. However, I have never been able to attribute those additions to Prof. Calvel himself. Prof. Calvel was a very prolific writer (his book lists a total of 92 articles and books that he had written) but most of the articles he wrote are in French. Maybe somewhere in those articles, or possibly after the book was written, he discussed the above matter. But if I were to say that it is acceptable to add a natural levain
or commercial yeast as part of the autolysis, I would qualify such use by saying that the duration of the autloyse rest period should be less than that which would be needed to allow the levain
or commercial yeast to acidify the dough. In his book, Prof. Calvel does give the autolyse rest period times. I discussed such durations, in the context of commercial bread production, at Reply 15 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,3220.msg74624/topicseen.html#msg74624
. If one of such durations is used, and if there would be no acidification of the dough, or a minimally acceptable amount of acidification, I would say that it is perhaps safe to add a natural levain
or even commercial yeast to the dough during the autolyse rest period. I think that it is clear however, that, with respect to commercial yeast, it would have to be used in very small quantities. But even with a natural levain
, one cannot use it in very high amounts.