How to Stretch and Fold Sourdough

Learn how to stretch and fold sourdough for gluten development and dough strength. It’s one of the most important steps in the bread making process. In this post, you will learn different methods to achieve a well developed dough. Developing gluten and building dough strength gives the dough elasticity and structure, allowing it to stretch and rise during fermentation. A strong gluten network is essential for holding the gases and air bubbles produced during fermentation. This makes the dough rise properly during baking and gives the bread a light and airy crumb. A well-developed dough also promotes good oven spring and contributes to the final shape and texture of the bread. 

The Stretch & Fold Method

The stretch & fold technique is one of the most common methods to develop dough strength without kneading. This technique involves picking up one corner of the dough, stretching it, and then folding it back over itself. This creates layers that will hold the gases produced during fermentation. It is usually done after mixing the ingredients and is an easy way to transform a shaggy dough into a smooth and elastic dough. The stretching and folding should be done multiple times during the bulk fermentation and can be spaced apart 15 minutes to 1 hour. At first, the dough will fell very weak and slack, but with time and repeated stretching and folding, it will start to tighten up and become stronger and more elastic. As a general rule, it is common to perform 3-6 rounds of stretching and folding, depending on the recipe and dough texture. For example, a very wet and slack dough might need more rounds than a stiffer dough that’s already pretty strong. 

  • Mix the ingredients and let the dough rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water, jumpstarts the gluten development, and makes the dough easier to work with. 
  • Wet your hands to prevent sticking and grab a corner of the dough. Lift it up and stretch it out until you feel some resistance (but don’t tear it), then fold it back over itself.  
  • Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the process. You can do this until you feel the dough becoming smoother and more elastic.
  • Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes to 1 hour. Then perform the next round. With each round, the dough will become stronger and more elastic. 
Stretch & Fold Method

The Slap & Fold Method

The slap & fold technique is an effective way to quickly develop gluten and strengthen the dough. It is particularly useful when working with wet doughs. It involves repeatedly slapping the dough onto the work surface and then folding it back over itself. This creates surface tension and promotes strong gluten development. 

  • After mixing the ingredients, let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the water and makes the dough easier to work with. 
  • Lightly spray your work surface with water to prevent sticking. Dump the dough out onto the work surface. 
  • Wet your hands and pick up the dough in the middle. Then, slap it onto the work surface and fold it over itself. 
  • Continue slapping and folding the dough for a few minutes. Depending on the dough, this may usually take anywhere from 3 – 10 minutes. The dough is sufficiently developed when it comes together into a smooth dough package that can hold its shape on the counter without spreading out flat. 
  • Once the dough is sufficiently developed, shape it into a ball, and place it in a lightly greased bowl for the bulk fermentation.
Slap & Fold Method

The Coil Fold Method

The coil fold method is a more gentle but also very effective way to develop gluten and build dough strength. It is done by lifting the dough up in the middle and then folding it back over itself like a coil. This creates surface tension, strength, and layers in the dough. This method is often used in combination with the stretch & fold technique during bulk fermentation. 

  • After mixing the dough, let it rest for about 30 minutes to one hour. This resting period allows the water to fully hydrate the flour, making the dough easier to work with.
  • Wet your hands to prevent sticking. Pick the dough up in the middle and lift it up until one end releases from the proofing container. Then, lower it back down again, tucking the loose end under the middle and folding it over itself. This creates a coil shape with multiple layers. Rotate the dough and repeat on the other sides. 
  • Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to one hour and perform another round of coil folds. You can repeat this process a few times until the dough feels smooth and elastic. After a few repetitions, the dough will not stretch very far anymore and starts to hold its shape. This is a sign that it’s properly developed. 
Coil fold method

Sourdough Lamination

Dough lamination is a process that is typically found in pastry making and involves adding layers of butter in between layers of dough (like making croissants, for example). However, it’s also a great technique for lean doughs and promotes gluten development. Lamination works particularly well if you want to add inclusions to your bread dough, such as olives, sun-dried tomatoes etc. It is done by stretching the dough out as thin as possible on your work surface without tearing it and then folding it back up into a neat little package. This method stretches and strengthens the gluten strands, improving the dough structure and elasticity. It is a useful method when working with wet and elastic doughs. If you have a stiff, low-hydration dough, this technique might not work very well. 

  • Spray your work surface with water to prevent sticking. Dump the dough onto the work surface. 
  • Wet your hands and start to gently stretch each corner of the dough outwards. Keep stretching until the dough is as thin as possible (almost see-through) but be gentle and make sure to not tear the dough. 
  • Optional: If you like, you can now sprinkle fillings over the dough. 
  • Then, fold one side of the dough towards the center and continue to fold in the other sides until it comes together into a tight little package. 
Sourdough lamination

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