The dough will get stronger, and more extensible (stretchy when rested)

Stretch and Fold… Or Knead?

Most sourdough bakers appear to prefer using ‘stretch and fold’ techniques to work their dough. But traditionally, many bakers knead.

So what is the difference? And why choose one technique or the other?

Both are methods to develop the gluten which gives bread its texture and structure.

Kneading is usually done in one prolonged stage, which is ideal when baking with commercial yeast as your dough won’t be rising or fermenting for an extended length of time, the strong yeast means the dough rises much faster. Kneading is a more vigorous method than the stretch and fold technique. It involves folding, pushing, and working the dough, usually for 15 minutes or more, until the gluten strengthens, the dough becomes smooth, and if you poke it, will return to its original form. Pulling a small ball of dough from the main body will stretch out a wafer-thin, and almost see-through sheet (windowpane test).

Stretch and folds are a more extended method of developing strength and elasticity in the dough, and often used where fermentation times are going to be longer, as with the sourdough process. The starter (natural raising agent) takes many hours, or even days, to raise the dough, this also means there is improved flavour. The method involves mixing the dough and letting it rest (autolyse).  Then pulling the edges of the dough ball, and folding them over itself, turning the ball and repeating until all sides have been stretched and the dough feels stiffer.  Coil folds are a variation of this method which is particularly useful when the dough is much wetter (high hydration) and therefore quite sticky.  The dough is picked up with both hands and folded under itself in two directions.

Between these short stretch and fold manipulations, the dough is allowed to rest for at least twenty minutes before repeating the process… four or five times over several hours. After which the dough is left to do a long, slow fermentation, which continues the gluten development.

Both methods produce similar results, so, aside from the difficulties of kneading a high hydration dough, it is a question of personal preference. Let us know which method you prefer, and why.

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2 thoughts on “Stretch and Fold… Or Knead?”

    1. Martin Mosley

      Hi Sandy,
      Coiling is a variation on stretch and fold. Both are intended to achieve the same end, of working the gluten in your dough. Personal preference is the answer. Do what you’re comfortable doing, and what works for you… And please add some images of your results to the gallery here

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Disclaimer: Whilst we hope the information provided is helpful and informative, we cannot guarantee that all details will be 100% accurate.  There are many schools of thought and conflicting ideas on many of the sourdough processes and methods.  This site is simply meant as a broad guide to baking sourdough, and is not a scientific reference.

Also, please forgive the mixed US and UK spellings throughout. We have a team from various countries working on this site.This site may contain affiliate links. 

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Lame

noun

A special sharp knife, or tool which holds a razor blade, in a curved or straight manner. You use it to score the dough before baking.

Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called baker’s math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton / Brotform / Proofing Basket

A type of basket or container used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Oven Spring

The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.

Stretch-and-Folds

An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Bulk Ferment

Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be

Window Pane

The window pane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter

A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. Sometimes also called Leaven / Levain.

Autolyse

verb

Autolyse (pronounced auto-lees) is a process in which a portion of (or total) water and flour in a bread recipe are gently pre-blended and set to rest for a period of time.

This resting period gives the dough special processing characteristics and improves the overall quality of the baked goods.

During autolyse process, several events can occur in the pre-mixed water/flour mixture:

  1. Continued flour hydration. Water molecules work their way into damaged starch, intact starch granules and proteins.
  2. Protein bonds continue to develop as a consequence of adding water, creating more gluten strands without mechanical work. This leads to better gluten structure and gas retention.
  3. Flour enzymes (mainly proteases) acquire time to adapt and work on the gluten by breaking down protein bonds.Protease activity is higher at low pH (acidic conditions). This is why autolysed doughs that contain yeast or pre-ferments (e.g. poolish) often experience greater protease activity. Such doughs are more extensible, weaker, softer and show less resistance to deformation than autolyzed non-fermented doughs.2
  4. Finally, as a result, the dough feels less sticky and very smooth after the autolyse.

As a general rule, the longer the autolyse time:

  • The shorter the dough mixing time (less mechanical development of gluten-forming proteins in needed). This means less energy consumption during mixing.
  • The shorter the dough stability duration
  • The less tolerance to overmixing. Breakdown is more pronounced once peak (maximum strength) is attained.
  • The smaller the P value in the alveograph test
  • The more extensible and less elastic the dough becomes at the end of autolysis
  • The better the sheetability and machining of dough during lamination of croissants
  • The easier and faster the dough expands during oven spring (better volume)
  • The lower the need for dough conditioners
  • The better the flavor and aroma of the finished product
Leaven/Levain/Sourdough Starter
noun
  1. A substance, in this case a wild yeast starter, that is used in sourdough baking to make dough rise.
  2. Some methods of baking, such as ‘Tartine Method’ require a sourdough leavening agent be made from a sourdough ‘mother culture’ (aka your Starter). This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.
verb
  1. cause (dough or bread) to rise by adding leaven.