Preamble: None of the following is original to me in the least. Here I’m merely collecting the wisdom of much more experienced bread makers into one easy to find spot. And I’m not even saying this is “all there is”, much more can be found on the web, from other people with different methods.
Stretch and Fold
This is a method of handling dough which pretty much replaces, in whole or in part, the more traditional ”push and turn” method of kneading of the dough.
I’ve created a Step-By-Step photo illustration of the process in it’s own post here: Stretch and Fold Again. Although, as with most anything, there are variations on how it’s done, the basic principle is as follows:
Take your dough that has been resting and turn it out on the counter. The counter should be either very, very lightly floured for the first fold of regular dough, slightly dampened for first fold of wet dough or unfloured for 2nd and later folds of either.
Gently press or stretch the ball of dough into a large squarish shape. Mike Avery says to stretch it to about 1/3 the thickness of the original ball so if you plopped the dough on the surface and it was 3″ tall you stretch it to a square about 1″ thick, using your scraper to help pull it out from the centre. Once it’s square-ish, grab the top edge, pulling this section up to give it a bit of a stretch, then fold it down over itself to about 1/3, much as you’d fold a piece of paper in three. Next, grab the bottom section, give a stretch and fold up over itself so you’ve just folded you square into three, like you would fold a sheet of paper.
Now take the left side and fold over to the right, then finally the right side over to the left and you’ve got a stack of several folds (nine, in fact) and given a stretch each time you folded. Voila, you’ve “stretched and folded”! You’re done. Return to the raising bowl until your next fold. Check the post for a more detailed and photographed explanation.
Below are some videos from several people, just to show that there’s not just One Authoritative Way of doing it…
Here’s Mike Avery showing how he does it. Have your audio on because he’s explaining what’s happening and giving tips while doing it.
A complete demonstration with more videos of the Stretch and Fold technique by Mike can be seen here. There’s actually a fair bit of other info in this set of clips that are well worth reviewing.
Here, Bill Wraith shows yet another method:
A technique that is SIMILAR to Stretch and Fold is called the French Fold. The basic difference is that this method uses a dough’s stickiness to help with the stretching. This is typically done on the first stretch of a rather wet dough, subsequent stretches are more likely less wet and can be done with the plain Stretch and Fold shown above.
Here is a video from Gourmet.com with Richard Bertinet doing a french fold on some extremely wet and sticky egg dough.
Here’s a version by someone named “Sourdough guy”. Watch closely, he does this in just a few seconds!
He has a page over on Carls’ website here.
And here again is Bill Wraith, this time doing a French Fold:
Stretch vs French
“So, there’s much of a difference here?” you might ask. (I sure did.)
With the Stretch and Fold, you’re pushing the ball of dough out and once it’s square-ish, you’re simply folding it over itself to help align the gluten.
With the French Fold, you’re using the weight (and stickiness) of the dough ball to really stretch the mass. Folding it is more, in this case, to put the ball back together into something easier to handle as you turn it around and stretch in the other direction.
It’s been said the French Fold technique is better for the first fold on a somewhat “raw”, softer, wetter dough as it’s more robust stretch helps a new dough get all it’s gluten in order. Once the dough’s been Frenched and left to mature a bit, your next fold should be a Stretch and Fold since the dough will have it’s act together a little more and be smoother to handle.
“In the tub” Folding
Aside from the above techniques, you can also fold your dough “in the tub” or container. One reason you might wish to do this is if your dough is a wet, high-hydration dough, like ciabatta, and would be a little more difficult to handle. OR if you would simply rather not mess up the counter for what is less than a minute’s worth of folding. Whatever the reason, it’s completely possible to fold you dough right in the proofing container and really, the dough won’t care where you do it.
First off, here’s Mark Sinclair from the Back Home Bakery in Montana showing this technique on a ciabatta dough which is a rather wet dough. (Watch lots more How To videos from Mark on his YouTube space)
And again, here’s Mark Sinclair. This time he’s folding extremely wet dough right in the mixer bowl.
As you can see, this technique is a super easy and simple way to get the same results as you’d have doing the more traditional and physically challenging “Push and Shove” type kneading technique. But even so, there are people who still prefer the older technique and say they actually enjoy the workout, they find it better because they really feel the dough as it changes texture under their hand and for many it’s even a “zen” thing, it relaxes them.
If that happen to be your take then, absolutely, go for it. A big part of the joy of bread-making is the artistic/personal connection you have and if traditional kneading gives you a better connection then please don’t stop it just because there’s “another” technique. They’ll both get you to the same place, just using different roads.
On the other hand, the stretch and fold method is a godsend for those who may avoid breadmaking BECAUSE of the physical aspect of kneading, people who are injured or may have arthritis, for example, or those who feel they are too ‘small’ to properly knead their dough. Although, as you’d see by checking out Mike Avery’s video page, he does show you that even traditional kneading doesn’t require a huge amount of force, it can be done in a much more gentle fashion.
So, if you want to make bread a little simpler, give the Stretch And Fold technique a try. It’s amazingly effective and gives excellent results with a lot less work.