Using The Stretch and Fold Method To Make Bread

Using the stretch and fold method to make bread makes it really easy to fit making bread into your daily routine. This is my favourite method for developing dough. It make making bread really easy. The stretch and fold method replaces kneading.

The benefits of stretch and fold

The dough develops gluten just as well using the stretch and fold method as it does kneading the dough for 10-15 minutes. Some flours will benefit from the stretch and fold method. Wholemeal and fragile flours such as spelt and other heritage grains benefit from the gentle handling of stretching and folding rather than the constant breaking of gluten bonds that kneading causes.

The other benefits of stretch and fold include:

  • It makes less mess. the dough stays in the bowl so you don’t have to keep cleaning your work surface
  • It only requires a few minutes of your time in total so you can get on with other jobs
  • The stretch and fold method is a lot less hard work than kneading
  • It is accessible to more people than kneading as it doesn’t require 10-15 minutes of vigorous activity
  • The dough can be left to rest between stretches and fold for anything between 10 minutes and up to an hour so that you can fit your bread making around your day. If you are need to leave the house you can do three rounds of stretch and fold in thirty minutes (with 10 minutes between each session) but if you are busy your dough will happily sit in the bowl waiting for you to come back to it.

How does the stretch and fold method work?

How does it work?

As soon as you add water to flour the two proteins in the flour that make gluten, gliadin and glutenin, start to form chains. If you leave a dough for long enough it makes its own gluten structure. This technique incorporates periods of rest for the dough so that it can get on with making gluten and then we intervene with three rounds of stretch & fold to strengthen the gluten bonds. The stretch & fold technique works like this: 

  1. Mix the dough so that it is well combined with no dry bits and it feels soft and a little sticky and cover with a proving cloth, clingfilm, shower cap or similar
  2. Rest the dough (anywhere between a minimum of 10 mins up to an hour to fit into your day)
  3. First round of stretch and fold
  4. Rest the dough (anywhere between a minimum of 10 mins up to an hour to fit into your day)
  5. Second round of stretch and fold
  6. Rest the dough (anywhere between a minimum of 10 mins up to an hour to fit into your day)
  7. Third round of stretch and fold
  8. Leave the dough to prove until light and airy. This can be done at room temperature or in the fridge
  9. Shape the dough
  10. Prove at room temperature or in the fridge
  11. Bake
  12. Cool

How to do the stretch and fold method

How to stretch and fold

Mix your dough well, make sure that there are no dry bits so that the flour can fully hydrate, cover and leave to rest for at least ten minutes, up to an hour. 

Step One

Grab the half of the dough that is furthest away from you in the bowl and stretch it up and fold it over the top of the other half of the dough.
The dough will feel very stretchy at this point and will stretch right out of the bowl.

Step Two
Give the bowl a quarter turn. Repeat the stretch and fold with the half of dough furthest away from you.

Step Three

Keep repeating the turning of the bowl a quarter turn, stretch the half of dough furthest away and fold it over the top of the remaining dough until you feel the dough begins to resist you and that it may break if you continue to stretch it. It will hardly be stretching at all now. This is the dough telling you that you have done enough stretching and folding for now.  Leave the dough to rest. This gives it time for the gluten to relax and to make new and stronger chains. 

Step Four

Repeat steps one to three two more times with a rest of at least ten minutes and up to 1 hour in between. 

If you would prefer to mix your dough in a stand mixer you can replicate the stretch and fold method. I show you how here.

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