What is Autolyse (AUTO-lees)? When making homemade bread, a simple pause in preparing the dough can transform the final product. Autolyse is simply mixing some of the flour, liquid, and usually the yeast. Mix until combined, then let the wet sticky dough rest at least 20-60 minutes.
This rest, or autolyze, allows the weak, disorganized gluten matrix to break down and straighten. Once the remaining ingredients are added and kneading resumes, the gluten matrix will organize and strengthen in a shorter amount of time. This can be very beneficial when mixing dough in a mixer as the strong mechanical action can quickly overmix the dough. This technique is also beneficial for rustic breads that have more water and allows the dough to rise vertically, rather than spread horizontally.
Source: https://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/09/29/using-the-autolyse-method/ and The Science of Good Cooking, Cook’s Illustrated