Looking to improve your sourdough bread? This technique will do it! Learn how to stretch and fold sourdough with my easy step-by-step instructions and video.
Bakers use the stretch and fold technique to improve the quality of their sourdough bread.
When done correctly, it will strengthen the gluten and gently incorporate air into the dough without kneading. I talk more about this in my book Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. But for now: the benefit is an increase in volume, a lofty high rise, and if you’re lucky a more open interior crumb. Plus, it’s the most satisfying sensory experience (who doesn’t love touching bread dough?!).
The technique can be done on the countertop or directly in the bowl; the latter option is what I’m showing you here.
- Stretch the dough upward
With lightly wet fingertips, grab a portion of the dough and stretch it upward.
- Fold the dough
Fold the dough over toward the center of the bowl.
- Stretch and fold
Give the bowl a one-quarter turn and repeat: stretch the dough upward and fold it over toward the center.
- Stretch and fold again
Continue until you have come full circle to complete 1 set, or 4 folds around the bowl.
Baker’s Tip: When you do the first fold, the dough will feel loose and elastic. As you continue, the dough will start to tighten up, usually around the 3rd or 4th fold. After about 2-4 sets, the dough will go from flat and dense to plump and jiggly. That’s how you’ll know the technique is working.
How Many Times Should You Stretch And Fold the Dough?
Stretch and folds are completed in sets.
The first set is usually done about 30 minutes into the bulk rise.
Then, you’ll complete up to 4 additional sets spaced about 15 minutes to 1 hour apart, depending on the dough’s flexibility and your own personal baking schedule.
Baker’s Tip: As a general rule of thumb, the sets for high hydration doughs (wet dough) can be spaced closer together because the dough is slack; about 15-30 minutes apart. For low hydration doughs (dry, stiffer dough), the gluten will need more time to relax, about 30 minutes to 1 hr. Otherwise it won’t stretch properly. As always, these are suggested timeframes. Watch the dough and not the clock!
So, Is It Worth it?
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find ways incorporate the stretch and fold technique into your baking routine. And with practice and repetition, you’ll notice changes in the look, taste and feel of the sourdough bread. Just remember: not all doughs require it. However, it’s easy, practical and super effective when applied as an optional step.
Baker’s Tip: When you stretch and fold the dough it may (or may not) look similar to mine. This is normal. It might be stiffer or even looser; it all depends on the specific recipe you’re following. For reference in the video above, I’m using a dough that is approximately 70% hydration.