How to Stretch and Fold Sourdough

Stretch and folds are used during bulk fermentation to encourage a strong structure, maintain a consistent temperature and help the dough to develop evenly. When we want to stretch and fold sourdough we are going to use one of the following techniques. As sourdough tends to be kneaded gently we use stretch and folds to accelerate gluten development alongside speeding up the organic development of the dough.

A stretch and fold schedule is a routine given to a batch of dough. The dough is pulled out, stretched and folded before it’s left to rest in a container for a period before the action is repeated. Here’s how to do a standard stretch and fold that I use in the majority of my breads, including my sourdough bread recipe for beginners

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Standard stretch and fold steps

The original version of stretch and fold is a fantastic way to provide even distribution and give the gluten a good stretch. 

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Step 1

Place the dough on the table

Make an oil slick or lightly dust flour on the work surface. Empty the dough out of the bowl and roughly flatten the dough into a square – don’t fiddle with the dough too much, as long as there are four sides, we’re good. 

Step 2

Pull one side

Take one side and stretch it away from the centre, use your other hand to hold the remaining dough down. Stretch as far as the dough will let you without tearing it. More stretching means the gluten is worked harder.

Step 3

and fold into the centre.

Fold the side over at approximately ⅔’s the width.

Step 4

Take the opposite side
Stretch again
and fold over

Repeat the stretch on the opposite side and fold over to cover the other fold. The second fold stretches to the opposite edge.

Step 5

Take the top side and stretch
and fold over two thirds
Like this.

Take the edge at the top of the dough and stretch it up and fold over ⅔’s down. 

Step 6

Pull the bottom side.
Fold over, all the way this time.
That's it

Take and pull the bottom of the dough and fold it over its opposite edge.

Step 7

Return to the bowl!

Done! You should feel that tension has been put into the dough. Now you’ve finished, place it back in the bowl, cover and continue the bulk ferment.

How many stretch and fold should I do at a time?

The standard bulk fermentation routine includes one stretch and fold every hour. When the first rise is fairly short the gaps between folding can be decreased into 20-45 minute intervals. This will accelerate the development of gluten.

What stretch and fold’s do to sourdough bread?

  1. To stretch the gluten to encourage an elastic structure
  2. Redistribute the temperature of the dough
  3. Redistribute the sugars and yeast to accelerate fermentation

Dough that undergoes stretch and folds has a stronger gluten structure and a reduced bulk fermentation time.

No- knead sourdough baking

But in sourdough baking, kneading is often swapped with a sequence of stretch and folds. A basic routine is 5 minutes of folding every 30 minutes over the first 2 hours though it can be tweaked.

More aggressive techniques of stretch and folding the dough have been introduced in recent years. These aids the development of gluten and are less labour intensive than kneading.

The stretch and fold methods used in sourdough baking

Stretching in the bowl

This method works pretty well. It doesn’t work the gluten as well as other techniques do but keeping the folds in the bowl makes a lot less mess – especially with oily or sticky dough! Here I’ve done this method using 4 sides however in the basic stretch and fold guide I use 8.

Step 1

Leave the dough in the bowl this time.

If you are using a round bowl, imagine the dough has four sides like a square. If you are using a square container then there’s no need to imagine!

Step 2

Put your hand underneath the dough
Pinch and pull the dough out.

Take the top edge and pull it away from the centre of the dough. Use your other hand for stability if you need to. Stretch as far as the dough will go without tearing it.

Step 3

Fold over to the side opposite.

Fold the edge over to the opposite side.

Step 4

Turn the bowl.

Turn the bowl 90 degrees.

Step 5

Pinch again
Pull outwards again
Fold over.
Turn again.
Stretch!
Fold
Turn, stretch...
Fold.
Look great!

Repeat the stretch and folds for all four sides.

Step 6

Turn the dough over

Turn the over placing the seam at the bottom of the bowl.

Step 7

Look at me!!!

You are done!

Cover the bowl and bulk fermentation can continue!!

The coil fold

If you want to build tension in the dough for maximum strength coil fold’s are fantastic solutions. They are also make working with wet dough much easier. It’s quite hard to explain in words so check out the video below for clarity!

Step 1

Wet your hands in water. 

Step 2

Lift the dough up in the centre by getting your hands down the edges of the bowl and pulling up.

Step 3

Stretch the dough upwards to form a U-shaped curve and lay the curve over the top of the dough piece. 

Step​ 4

Lift again from the centre and fold the curve over the bottom of the dough piece.

Step 5

Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the two folds.

Step 6

Done! Place the dough back in the bowl, cover and continue bulk fermentation.

Letter (envelope) fold

Step 1

Place the rested dough on the table
Stretch out into a rectangle

Turn the dough out onto the worktop and stretch into a rectangle.

Step 2

Fold one side to the centre

Take one edge and fold over so it meets the centre.

Step 3

Then take and fold the other side
Again, to the centre.
Push down to cement the seam.

Using the opposite side of the dough, repeat the fold.

Step 4

Take the bottom of the dough
and fold to the centre.

Pull the bottom of the dough and fold it into the centre.

Step 5

Then pull the top all the way over.

Fold over the top to cover the dough.

Step 6

Done!

Pick up the dough and return it to the bowl. You’re done and the dough can continue its bulk fermentation!

The Tartine method stretch and fold

This is a pretty revolutionary method used to make sourdough bread. It is a no-knead method that has been quickly adopted by home bakers across the world. The Tartine method doesn’t knead the dough, instead, it uses several stretch and folds over a short period to in effect do the kneading.

Using the Tartine method is easier than kneading the dough. It won’t develop the gluten as well as kneading does, but it works well for sourdough bread.

It creates a dough with ease whilst still creating a structure. It’s also a good way to practice stretch and folds! You can get the book here on Amazon:

Tartine Bread: (Artisan Bread Cookbook, Best Bread Recipes, Sourdough Book)

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What is the Tartine method?

In a nutshell, it works by not kneading the dough. Instead, it repeats a stretch and fold method repetitively at short intervals of 20 -30 minutes for 2-4 hours. This develops the gluten and allows the dough to be developed at cool temperatures for more flavoursome artisan bread.

Which is the best stretch and fold technique to use?

There are many different types of stretch and folds that you can use. What makes the difference is the amount of stretching the gluten undergoes. It doesn’t matter which technique is used yet the amount of kneading and the length of the first rise must be adjusted.

Making tweaks in the preparation of the dough ensure high-quality bread can be made – regardless of which stretch and fold method is used.

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