How to Stretch and Fold

Most bakers remember the time when they discovered a stretch and fold for the first time. It can sound complicated but it’s actually a really simple step that first-time bakers can use.

Once you’ve learned the power of a stretch and fold you’ll be using them all the time!

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When is a stretch and fold used?

Stretch and folds are implemented during bulk fermentation. They agitate the dough to strengthen the gluten and increase the rate of the dough fermentation process.

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

Every baker has their own preference though one stretch and fold every hour is typical.

See my beginner’s bread recipe to put this method into practice.

Sourdough stretch and folds

Sourdough bakers often use more and use other methods depending on the development of the dough. These are explained on the sourdough stretch and fold page. These methods could also be used in non-yeasted bread.

What is a stretch and fold?

There are many ways you can use to stretch and fold dough. Here are two of the most common methods:

Standard stretch and fold:

Place the dough on the table

First, rub a bit of oil or dust some flour lightly on the table and drop the dough on top. If it’s been kept in a 4 sided container great, if not just picture 4 sides on the dough. Don’t play with the dough too much, you want it nice and relaxed.

stretch one side of the dough

Take the right hand side with your hand and stretch it out as far as the dough feels comfortable, using your left hand to hold the rest of the dough on the table.

fold the dough over at a third

Then fold it over itself, at roughly the two third point.

And again to the middle

Fold over again to the centre point of the dough.

fold over the side

Then take the left side of the dough, stretch it out and then fold it over the other edge. You can do it in two stages if you like, or just one stretch and fold over is fine.

pull the dough from the bottom

Pull the bottom of the dough towards you

fold the dough to the centre

Fold over to the centre of the dough -not all the way to the top.

fold over

Take the top of the dough and stretch up 

finished

Again, fold over, this time to the edge. 

place the dough back in the bowl

Place the dough back to rest in the bowl- whilst basking in your own glory “How much goodness and strength have I just put into that dough!!”

In the bowl stretch and fold

This way doesn’t create much strength in the dough but works wonders when strength isn’t important like in ciabatta or focaccia. It makes little mess and I use it quite a lot.

take a piece of dough

Take a piece of dough from the edge and stretch away

fold over

Fold it over the opposite edge of the dough.

turn and stretch

Turn the bowl 45 degrees and take the edge and stretch again

bowl stretch

And fold it over.

next stretch

Repeat this turn, stretch and fold techniques 5-6 times.

turn the dough over in the bowl

Turn the dough over so the rough edge is at the bottom of the bowl.

finished

Done!

What are the benefits of a stretch and fold?

By using the stretch and fold technique, the dough receives the following benefits:

  1. The gluten network is realigned which supports a stronger structure.
  2. The yeast gains fresh food to feast on.
  3. The outside edges of the dough gain more strength to support it when rising. 

The stretch and fold method increases the intensity of fermentation which is similar to how kneading works. A first rise without any stretch and folds will take a longer time to achieve the result it would if they were included.

It’s important to consider the quality of the fermentation and understand it’s not all about duration.

Is degassing the same as stretch and fold?

Stretch and fold is a technique that works similarly to degassing. To be fair, if you dodn’t have the wish to learn a stretch and fold method then a simple punch down would be adequate.

A degas removes the gas from the dough so a stronger gluten structure can be reformed once it’s reshaped.

A stretch and fold stretches the gluten and distributes the ingredients.

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