How To Stretch And Fold Sourdough [A Detailed Guide]

Published Categorized as Beginner Guides

Welcome to the world of sourdough baking, where the process of stretching and folding dough plays a vital role in creating artisanal loaves with an irresistible texture and flavor. Each stretch and fold brings you closer to achieving a beautiful, airy crumb and a crust that sings with every bite. Let’s dive deeper into the art of stretching and folding sourdough.

How to stretch and fold sourdough [a detailed guide]

Table of Contents

Why Stretch And Fold Sourdough?

Stretching and folding sourdough is a fundamental technique used in bread-making for several important reasons.

Gluten Development

Stretching and folding helps develop gluten, the protein network responsible for giving bread its structure and elasticity. By stretching and folding the dough, you align the gluten strands, creating a strong and cohesive dough that can trap the gas produced during fermentation.

Improved Texture

The repeated stretching and folding action contributes to a more uniform crumb structure. It helps create an open and airy interior with well-distributed air pockets, resulting in a lighter and more tender loaf.

Even Fermentation

Stretching and folding redistributes the yeast and lactic acid bacteria throughout the dough, ensuring a more even fermentation. This promotes consistent flavor development and helps achieve a balanced tanginess in your sourdough.

Dough Strength

As you stretch and fold the dough, it gains strength and structure. This is particularly important for high-hydration doughs, as it improves their ability to hold their shape during proofing and baking.

Increased Oven Spring

The improved gluten development and structure from stretching and folding contribute to better oven spring—the final rise a loaf experiences in the oven. This leads to a fuller and more voluminous bread with a beautiful crust.

Do I Need To Stretch And Fold Sourdough?

While stretching and folding sourdough is not absolutely mandatory, it is highly recommended for achieving optimal results.

Here’s why:

  1. Improved Dough Handling: Stretching and folding helps to strengthen the dough and develop gluten, making it more manageable and easier to handle throughout the entire baking process. It increases the dough’s elasticity and reduces the risk of it becoming overly sticky or difficult to shape.
  2. Enhanced Texture: Stretching and folding promotes an open and airy crumb structure by evenly distributing air pockets throughout the dough. This results in a light, tender, and well-textured loaf.
  3. Better Oven Spring: The strength and structure developed through stretching and folding contribute to better oven spring, resulting in a loaf that rises well during baking. This leads to a more visually appealing bread with a desirable crust.
  4. Consistent Results: Incorporating stretching and folding into your sourdough routine helps to create a more consistent and predictable outcome. It allows you to develop a better understanding of your dough and its behavior, enabling you to make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired results.
How to stretch and fold sourdough [a detailed guide]

How To Stretch And Fold Sourdough During Bulk Fermentation?

Stretching and folding sourdough during bulk fermentation is a crucial step in developing gluten and strengthening the dough. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. After your initial mix and resting period, transfer your dough to a clean, lightly floured surface or a large bowl.
  2. Wet your hands to prevent sticking. Gently grab one side of the dough and stretch it upwards without tearing it, then fold it over the center of the dough. Repeat this process for each side of the dough (top, bottom, left, and right), essentially folding the dough into itself.
  3. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the stretching and folding process. This ensures that each side of the dough gets stretched and folded evenly.
  4. If working in a bowl, you can perform the stretch and fold directly in the bowl by reaching underneath the dough and pulling one side up and over the center. Rotate the bowl and repeat for each side.
  5. Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest for a designated period (usually 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your recipe).
  6. Repeat the stretching and folding process two to three more times during the bulk fermentation, maintaining consistent intervals between each fold (e.g., every 30 minutes to 1 hour).
  7. After the final stretch and fold, let the dough continue its bulk fermentation until it has increased in volume and shows signs of fermentation (such as visible bubbles and a slightly puffy appearance).

How Many Times Should You Stretch And Fold Sourdough?

The number of times you should stretch and fold your sourdough during bulk fermentation can vary depending on factors such as dough hydration, recipe, and personal preference. However, a common practice is to perform the stretch and fold technique two to four times during the bulk fermentation stage.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • For a dough with moderate hydration (around 65-75% hydration), 3 sets of stretch and fold are commonly used. Perform the first set shortly after mixing the dough, then repeat the process every 30 minutes to 1 hour for the next two sets.
  • For higher hydration dough (above 75% hydration), you may opt for 4 sets of stretch and fold. Perform the first set shortly after mixing, then repeat the process every 30 minutes for the next three sets.

It’s important to note that the purpose of stretch and fold is to develop gluten, strengthen the dough, and improve its structure. However, overdoing it can lead to excessive gluten development and potential loss of fermentation gases.

Therefore, it’s recommended to observe the dough’s behavior and adjust the number of stretch and fold cycles accordingly.

Ultimately, the ideal number of stretch and fold cycles will depend on your specific dough’s characteristics and the results you wish to achieve. It’s always beneficial to experiment and adjust based on the feedback from your dough during the bulk fermentation process.

How To Know When To Stop Doing Stretch And Folds?

Knowing when to stop doing stretch and folds during the bulk fermentation stage of sourdough baking is a skill that comes with experience and understanding your dough’s behavior. Here are a few indicators that can help you determine when to stop:

  1. Dough Strength: As you perform stretch and folds, you’ll notice that the dough becomes stronger and more elastic. Pay attention to how the dough feels in your hands. When it starts to hold its shape well, resist tearing, and feels taut, it indicates that the gluten has developed sufficiently. At this point, you can consider stopping the stretch and fold process.
  2. Increased Volume: Throughout the bulk fermentation, the dough should undergo a noticeable rise in volume. This indicates that the yeast is active, and fermentation is taking place. Once the dough has significantly increased in size and appears puffy, it is a sign that it has undergone sufficient fermentation, and you can proceed to the next stage.
  3. Visual Cues: Look for visual indicators of fermentation, such as visible bubbles on the surface of the dough or a slightly domed appearance. These signs suggest that the yeast and bacteria are active and have produced enough gas to contribute to the desired texture and flavor.
  4. Time and Recipe Guidelines: Following the recommended time frames provided in your recipe can be helpful, especially if you’re new to sourdough baking. Recipes often provide approximate durations for bulk fermentation, and you can adjust the number of stretch and folds accordingly. However, keep in mind that the specific conditions of your environment and the characteristics of your dough may require some flexibility in timing.

How to Stretch And Fold Sourdough Bread?

Mastering the technique of stretching and folding sourdough bread can significantly elevate your baking skills and improve the quality of your loaves. By regularly incorporating this method during the bulk fermentation stage, you can achieve several benefits.

Stretching and folding enhances gluten development, resulting in a stronger dough with improved texture and structure. It promotes even fermentation, leading to a balanced flavor and desirable crumb.

For more stretching and folding techniques, here’s what you need to know about coil fold sourdough.


What Are Stretch And Folds?

Stretch and folds are a technique used in sourdough bread making to develop gluten strength and improve the dough’s structure. During the process, the dough is gently stretched and folded onto itself at regular intervals during fermentation. This helps create a more elastic and cohesive dough, resulting in a better-textured final loaf.

How Does The Autolyse Technique Effect Stretch And Folds?

The autolyze technique, which involves mixing flour and water and allowing it to rest before adding the remaining ingredients, can enhance the effectiveness of stretch and folds. Autolysis helps hydrate the flour and activate enzymes, resulting in improved gluten development during the subsequent stretch and fold steps, leading to a more elastic and extensible dough.

Which Is The Best Stretch And Fold Technique to Use?

There are various stretch and fold techniques used in sourdough bread making, and the best one depends on personal preference and the specific recipe. Common techniques include the letter fold, the coil fold, and the double fold. Experiment with different techniques to find the one that suits your dough-handling style and yields the desired results.

By Natasha Krajnc

Hi! My name is Natasha and I'm specialized in home sourdough bread baking and currently based in Slovakia - a very small country in Central Europe. My bread baking story began in 2011 when I decided to give up commercial yeast. I felt tired all the time (especially after eating bread and other foods made with yeast), I wasn’t motivated to do anything, had trouble concentrating throughout the day, my abdomen was bloated and I was like a trumpet on steroids – basically, I was quite a wreck. I was a big bread lover (and still am) and having to stop eating bread was quite hard at that time but I felt I was on a right way to give my body a chance to heal itself.

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