Using a Sponge or Autolyse Bread 202
Once you feel comfortable making and baking a basic loaf of bread, and the loaf turns out good consistently, it's time to add some additional knowledge and techniques that will take your bread to the next level.
Using a sponge (or autolyse, as some call it) will make a major difference in your bread. Without a sponge, bread can be more crumbly, the gluten not as well developed and slices may break instead of feeling soft and, well, spongy.
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A sponge is the step in between mixing the dough and kneading, where roughly 1/2 the flour is mixed with all the liquid, yeast and sweetener. This gives the dough the chance to hydrate and bond, creating stonger gluten in the process.
Both time and the way the sponge is developed will add strength and flavor to the dough.
Time will allow the flour, water/liquid, sweetener and yeast to work together to create a strong, spongy, fragrant, wet dough that will be the basis of the final dough.
Mixing the ingredients at the right amounts will assure a nice sponge that will strengthen your bread.
Mixing the Sponge (Referring to the bread recipe you will be using):
1. Measure out 1/2 the flour into the bowl.
2. Add the full amount of yeast.
3. Add the full amount of water/liquid.
4. Addd the full amount of sweetener (honey, sugars)
5. Add eggs or other binders that may be in the recipe.
6. Mix well with a wisk for 30 seconds to a minute to allow the ingredients to come together well. The dough should look somewhat like a pancake batter.
7. Let the sponge rise, bond and bubble for at least 30 minutes.
How Yeast affects the Sponge
1. Cake yeast works more slowly than active dry or instant yeast. If using cake yeast, you can let the sponge rise for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2. Active dry and instant yeast work faster and will consume the sweetners and starches more quickly. When using these types of yeast, let the sponge rise for 30 minutes.
3. If using a natural leavening/yeast/sourdough, the same methods apply. Add all the liquid, the sourdough starter, half the flour and the other ingredients as noted above. Time is even more important when using this type of yeast. You can let the sponge rise for 3-6 hours while the yeast does its thing. During this long rise, the natural leavening is breaking down the phytates in the flour, creating a strong gluten structure and fermenting the dough to create a wonderful flavor.
Regardless of the type of yeast used, the result will be a stong, wet dough that will add flavor and strength to your bread.
Finishing the Dough
Once the sponge has had a chance to fully develop and bubble, add the rest of the ingredients including the rest of the flour, salt, oil/butter and other ingredients. Then finish kneading the dough.