Looking to improve your sourdough bread? The stretch and fold technique will strengthen your bread dough without kneading. Video and step-by-step photos included.
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. 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.
HOW TO STRECH AND FOLD SOURDOUGH
With lightly wet fingertips, grab a portion of the dough and stretch it upward.
Fold the dough over toward the center of the bowl.
Give the bowl a one-quarter turn and repeat (stretch the dough upward again and fold it over toward the center).
Continue until you have come full circle to complete 1 set, or 4 folds around the bowl.
Tip: When you do the first fold, the dough will feel loose and elastic. As you continue the dough will start to tighten, usually around the 3rd or 4th fold. All normal. After about 2-4 sets, the dough will go from flat and dense to plump and jiggly. That’s how you 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.
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.
Just remember: not all doughs require it.
However, it’s easy, practical and super effective when applied as an optional step.
Tip: Just a heads up… when you stretch and fold the dough it may or may not look similar to mine. This is normal. It all depends on the specific recipe you’re following. For reference in the video above, I’m using my Artisan Sourdough with All Purpose Flour recipe which is around 70% hydration.