Photo Source: Antonino Rampulla
We are trying to completely abandon the use of non-Sicilian flours for our leavened products, not only for the pleasure of rediscovering those ancient grains that, regardless of the fashion of the moment, our grandparents really used, not only to distance themselves from those standardized flavors that we can now find everywhere, but also because the criteria of wheat production in Italy, unlike the overseas jurisdictions, severely limit the use of plant protection products whose effective harmlessness for man is yet to be proven.
Even if so far we have been supplied by Italian and Sicilian mills, it is obvious that particular strong flours cannot be entirely derived from wheat grown in the Bel Paese, simply due to statistical improbability (given that production in Italian territory of soft wheat covers only 30% of the national needs) and because, for climatic reasons, few areas in Italy are able to produce particularly protein soft wheat.
The "problem" is that we are now so used to working with particularly strong flours that adapting our tried and tested mixing procedures to weak flours is not a simple matter that requires a lot of study and experimentation.
So far we have combined strong flours such as Manitoba with Sicilian durum wheat flours, such as Tumminia, Russello and Senatore Cappelli (which we manage to have really "0 km" at Pachinese farms) but never more than 50%. Our bet is to replace Manitoba with the only soft wheat flour produced and available in Sicily: Maiorca .
The problem with the Maiorca is that its strength (W) is considerably lower than the strength of the weakest Manitoba in circulation…
We are therefore following two parallel paths: a sort of autolysis with 50% of the flour and handkerchief folds with extra virgin olive oil after a first leavening .

Russello - Semola.jpg
Let's start from an assumption: the term autolysis , in relation to a dough, means nothing: although it was defined by its authoritative inventor Raymond Calvel in 1974, it is technically incorrect. Self-lysis defines the biological process by which a cell self-digests, self-destructs. So why would this term be applied to a dough method?
The autolysis method consists in kneading more or less coarsely a hydrated flour at about 50% (or 45%, or 55% ... It actually depends on the type and quality of flour).
When the flour comes into contact with water, what happens?
The metabolism of yeast and endogenous bacteria is activated immediately, consequently the relative < u> fermentation processes . The processes of degradation of polysaccharide "starch" into monosaccharides (more easily metabolized by yeasts and bacteria) by hydrolysis and, indirectly, by the activation of amylase enzymes, by amyolysis also begin. And it also begins, by activation of the protease enzymes, therefore by proteolysis, the degradation of proteins into less complex amino acids, useful for yeast metabolism, and peptides. Finally, as we shall see better, part of the gluten is also formed.
Which of the listed "-lyses" would then correspond to the self-digestion of a cell?

Sicilian flours are flours low in glutenin and gliadin , ie proteins useful for forming gluten: the resulting gluten mesh is therefore not strong enough to withstand relatively long leavening. Through autolysis, a greater water absorption capacity is obtained, so that the cooked product is less dense, softer and more regularly alveolate. However, we also use this method to give a kind of "boost" to bacterial metabolism , in order to give the dough a more complex and balanced flavor. Opting for a direct dough means risking that the degree of ripeness of the dough does not go hand in hand with the times of leavening.
We have tried and excluded methods such as the chariot and the poolish because, with these flours, the immediate addition of yeast would nullify the attempt to allow more time for bacterial metabolism (ie ripening).
The role of proteolysis in affecting the relaxation of the gluten mesh during autolysis should be resized, since by acting on less than 5% of proteins, it produces negligible effects.
Bacteria and yeasts "feed" on the same monosaccharides and disaccharides: if autolysis lasted long enough to exhaust these resources, what would be left for the yeasts to metabolize? It goes without saying that (from empirical evidence) it is not useful to push autolysis, with these flours, beyond six hours (at 18-20 degrees centigrade).

With all due respect to those who dogmatically do not consider autolysis a preference like chariot and poolish, we reveal a "secret of Pulcinella": if by "pre-ferment" we mean a dough, in which fermentation processes take place, to be used as a "starter" in indirect kneading methods, then also the so-called autolysis is a "preference" since fermentation processes take place there, especially lactic. Just as sourdough is to be considered a preference in all respects.
On reflection, even the terms pre-ferment or pre-dough seem to have been coined a bit haphazardly, even if reinforced from forum to forum, from social to social. Biga, poolish, sourdough, autolysis (and associable), are mixtures in which fermentations have already occurred. Certainly, by convention, out of habit, we continue to use this terminology but the important thing is not to take it too literally, otherwise we risk not understanding anything and convincing ourselves of "dogmas" that have nothing logical and scientific at all.
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Why oil (extra virgin olive oil)? But, above all, why later?

We began to use oil, instead of flour, to fold and cut without altering the hydration and homogeneous maturation of the dough. Continuing with the canonical chalking we would have added a "raw" element that would have complicated the eventual conservation and reworking of the cakes. However, we realized that, through this practice, the dough acquires radically different characteristics and, in this specific case, better than adding oil in the initial phase of the dough. How come?

The role of gluten

We know that glutenin and gliadin, ie the two types of proteins most present in flour, in contact with water and due to the mechanical action of kneading, bind to each other, forming the protein complex we call gluten. The optimal quantity of water in a dough is above all relative to the protein percentage present in the flour: therefore speaking of hydration of a dough in absolute terms it is obvious that it is technically a minchiata incorrect.
At optimal mixing, more or less gluten is formed in relation to the amount of water used:

- with little water, less gluten is formed than potentially could be obtained, which results in greater hardness and friability of the dough;
- with the "right" amount of water, the amount of gluten is maximized and, consequently, the ratio between toughness and elasticity of the dough;
- if the water is greater than the quantity sufficient to obtain all the potential gluten, obviously no more gluten is formed, but it de-concentrates, giving the dough more softness but less toughness.

The elastic gluten mesh serves to retain the gases resulting from leavening , especially carbon dioxide. Obviously the higher the percentage of glutenin and gliadin in the flour, the greater its strength . The greater the strength (W) of the flour, the more suitable it is for long leavening, since it is able to better retain carbon dioxide (which plays a primary role in the alveolation ).
In very large lines, with theoretical equal strength, the gluten mesh that forms in soft wheat is generally more elastic and extendable; in durum wheat, on the other hand, it is more tenacious and resistant to extension.
A dough is constantly evolving and letting the loaves "rest" after the cut allows you to "relax" the protein chains, allowing them to be manipulated more easily. The toughness of the gluten mesh is therefore maximum during the peak phase from kneading. The processing of the dough has a physical limit beyond which it is counterproductive to proceed in order not to damage the protein bonds, compromising their elasticity.

Salt also plays a role in strengthening the gluten mesh. However, the moment of its insertion into the dough has always been a dividing argument for the inhibitory effect it would have on yeasts. Instead, from a recent research, it even seems that would stimulate de facto metabolic action .
Unlike salt, sugar instead hinders the development of gluten, as well as oil and especially saturated fats such as butter, margarine and lard. It is no coincidence that the shortcrust pastry is mixed with a large amount of butter, precisely to hinder the formation of gluten. In particular, sugar intervenes between the protein chains, limiting their development; fats, on the other hand, reduce their interactions by binding to hydrophobic proteins. The adverse effect of the amount of sugar that we could put in a salty dough (2%? 4%?) Is however negligible.
During cooking, the gluten, pushed by carbon dioxide and water vapor, coagulates and the starch gelatinizes, generating the alveoli.

What is the effect of oil?

We have always had the impression that the oil, added through folds after the formation of gluten and a "first leavening", formed a sort of protective film around the gluten mesh, enhancing its effectiveness, which it would have made it possible to obtain satisfactory baking results even using very weak flours such as Sicilian ones. It is no coincidence that the surface tension of extra virgin olive oil (I hate the abbreviation EVO ...) is greater than that of water, i.e. the cohesive force of the oil molecules is higher ( therefore it takes more force to detach two molecules of oil than of water).
Compared to water, oil is lighter, less dense (in fact it floats there) and insoluble. We said that in order to form gluten, glutenin and gliadin must come into contact with water: the oil, if introduced before mixing, not being soluble in water, therefore remaining separate, hinders the contact between water and proteins, thus making the formation of gluten is more complicated. However the oil, if introduced after the formation of the gluten mesh and a "first leavening", precisely due to the greater tension and lightness compared to water, creates a sort of "film" on the dough and on the protein chains already formed . This "film", by retaining water and carbon dioxide more effectively, maximizes the formation process of the alveoli, making the product softer. Another effect of the oil introduced in this way is the isolation of carbon dioxide bubbles from each other which, failing to unite into larger bubbles, amplifies the alveolar regularity.
The lubricating effect of the oil increases the level of extensibility of the mixture as it allows the protein chains, reducing friction, to flow more easily between them.
The slowing down of the metabolic activity of yeasts and bacteria, due to the oil, is in this case an advantage since it preserves a given amount of sugars which are then useful for the Maillard reaction.

Is it therefore possible to make a dough with only Sicilian flours?

Let's first dispel another “dogma” circulating among lovers of leavened products and the like: different types of flour, mixed in the same dough, “travel at different speeds” . In other words, there is the belief that in a dough in which different types of flour coexist at the same time, each flour yeast and ripens on its own: it is an incorrect belief. In fact a mixture of flours behaves as if it were a single peculiar flour : the resulting dough is a compound with its own characteristics, not the sum of the doughs that would derive of the single unmixed flours. The reason is apparently trivial: the simple presence of one flour mixed with another influences the chemical and microbiological processes that would occur differently if these were separated.
However, the behavior of the individual flours still gives us some indications on how their mix could “work”.

In fact, we are experimenting with the mixing percentages of three types of flour:

- Majorca, replacing Manitoba, certainly not by strength correspondence (W) but by certain characteristics that soft wheat confers in terms of flavor and texture (more fragrance);
- Russello (semolina), for its characteristic flavor and consistency (more elasticity);
- Senatore Cappelli or Tumminia, both whole durum wheat, for their greater liquid absorption capacity and the typical rustic flavor which, if well dosed, gives the final product that particular quid .
The purpose of this post is certainly not to give you yet another self-styled miraculous recipe but it is simply a sharing of useful notes to have some more theoretical tools to better understand what we do when we are about to mix water and flour.
Text Source: Antonino Rampulla
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