The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five, Number 6: Folding & Shaping

Lesson Five, Number 6: Folding & Shaping


Folding the dough is the most exciting technique I learned this year. It really is the key to working with slack doughs.

Folding occurs during primary fermentation and replaces the "punching down" step. I typically fold my dough twice during primary fermentation at roughly the same time when I would punch it down (when the dough is approaching double it's original size).

To fold the dough, take the risen dough from the bowl it has been rising in and put it top-side down on well-floured work surface.

work surface

fold the dough

Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter, gently streching it and degassing as you do.

fold the dough

Fold it in thirds again the other way.

fold the dough

Flip the dough over, dust off as much of the raw flour as you can, and place it back into the bowl. Repeat this step again when the dough has risen again.

As you do this you will feel the dough begin to strengthen. By the second time you do it the gooey, slack dough you began with ought to have tightened up enough that you can handle it with bare hands.


I have to admit, my shaping still leaves much to be desired. I think my loaves are beautiful, in their own rustic, misshapen way, but I still don't feel like I should be instructing anyone on how to make nice looking loaves yet.

One thing I can say about shaping closely relates to folding: it is all about surface tension. Both when folding and shaping your final loaf, a good part of what you are doing is creating surface tension. This helps your loaf keep its final shape despite the slackness of the dough. You acheive this increase in surface tension by forming a tight seam on the bottom of the loaf. The tighter you can make it and the more you can increase the surface tension, the better.

While shaping you also want to be degassing and agitating the loaf a little. I'm still working on finding the right amount of degassing to do. I used to really punch down and remove all the gas, but if you do that you typically end up with a very even, tight crumb. Then I went through a phase of not degassing at all and I would find my loaves would run out of steam and not spring at all in the oven. Somewhere in the middle seems to be the key: you want to let some air out and give the yeast more sugars to feed on without wrecking all of the work they've already done.

I heard a quote something along the lines of "A baker should have an iron hand in a velvet glove." It really seems to be true: there are times to be extremely delicate, but other times to treat your dough roughly. Knowing when to apply the right amount pressure appears to be something that requires much experience to figure out.

Number 5: Slow Rise.


xtina's picture

Hi there,

I've just joined this site. I'm a commis chef at a restaurant here and have been tasked with baking the breads. While I can follow the instructions laid out, the head baker is currently out of town and I'd like to find out how to make the breads better.

We make raisin walnut loafs among others, and I guess you could call them rustic, the dough is generally quite wet but because we only let it rise twice (once after mixing, and another time after rolling them into baguette shapes) would I be able to use this folding technique anywhere in my steps? and if so, at which point?


Floydm's picture

If you were to fold, the proper time to do so would be during that primary fermentation period (first rising after mixing), extending that fermentation another hour or so.

It should work on a walnut raisin loaf too. If there is a lot of sugar in the dough you have to watch out: too many rises and it'll start to taste beery. But otherwise, I suspect it'd work well.

xtina's picture

oh I see.. well I wouldn't worry about too many rises, I only let it rise twice: after mixing and after rolling out the loaves.

The dough is made to ferment in a warmer environment, so does extending the fermentation still apply?


edgewood66's picture

I fold the dough directly in the bowl (using a dough scraper). That way I don't need to add more flour. Also, when it's time to shape the dough, I take it out of the bowl and put in on the floured counter. I make a square shape, spreading the dough as much as I can (my dough is very elastic). I take the top corners of the dough and bring them down in the middle (the result looks like a house). I start rolling down the dough very tight, begining with the top corner. When it's all rolled, I tuck the ends under the dough and make sure the seam is under.

fatherjay's picture

How about now? Feeling more expert at shaping? Because I would love a lesson!

SmartySkrt's picture

I am working on a french baguette from this recipe.  I live at altitude, and I've found I need to hydrate a little more liberally than the recipe calls for (I did 3 T extra in this loaf).

No matter how much I've folded, my dough remains a sticky, unmanagable mess. What am I doing wrong?

dwfender's picture

Have you worked this out in further attempts?

I like working with wetter doughs than the opposite. I feel it always gives a better crumb. It's definitely a pain but I've noticed slap and fold is great for kneading wet doughs and as youknead it closer to the point where the gluten is developed enough the dough takes on a much better consistancy and looses its ridiculous stickiness. Just curious what you worked out

Doc.Dough's picture

Stop using volume measurements and weigh your ingredients; target for 72% hydration for the final dough. Wet the counter (slick surface) where you do the stretch and fold with water, and keep your hands wet.  The dough will slide around a bit, but you can coax it to stretch by lifting and spreading the dough.  If it is still sticky, wet your hands again. Then do your folds.

Get a polypropylene dough tub to ferment in (something like a CAMBRO RFS8) so that the dough slips out easily without using any oil.

If that isn't enough, try a higher gluten flour and develop it more completely before you start your bulk fermentation.

LTWong's picture

I've tried doing a ciabatta today, and I use water to moisten the surface and my hands so that the dough will not stick and that has worked. However, I had a hard time trying to merge the edge of the fold into a tight seam in the centre and I ended up degassing more than I should. So, I had a rather tight crumb. 

Any advice on how to create a tight seam with a wet dough is appreciated. Thanks.

nofate's picture

Just to back up what Doc.dough said, wet the counter and your hands.  This has helped me immensely.  Here is a copy of a comment I put on the Autolyse section of this blog that contains two Must Watch videos about S&F:


2 Hour Autolyse and Stretch & Fold made easy 


I ran across this series of experiments by Northwest Sourdough :

Experiments with Autolyse (Autolysis) #1

Experiments with Autolyse # 2

The basic idea is to add yeast to your initial mix, then autolyse for 2 hours before adding salt.  I have been routinely doing this since I read these articles and the results have been very rewarding.

Adding salt is also fairly easy.  But you have to get the dough, which is very sticky in high hydration doughs, spread out so you can sprinkle the salt evenly over the dough, then fold it up into a ball for bulk fermentation and more stretch & folds.  After numerous disastrous attempts to do this using flour to dust the counter and hands (all the while reducing the hydration of the dough), I ran across the following article listed under "Highest Rated Articles" on TFL's home page:  Eye Opening Techniques.  There is a wealth of information there, but if you read down to near the bottom, there is an entry by ehanner (evidently his last entry on that article before his passing- I have noted that he is held in high regard by long time members of TFL), French Fold-Slap & Fold , that links to two videos.

Stretch & Fold video #1

Stretch & Fold video #2

If you have difficulty handling sticky dough without getting it all over your hands, watch these videos.  The first time I watched this guy doing this, I was thinking "What in the (expletive deleted) is he doing putting all that water all over the counter and his hands?!!  Well, I tried it, and it worked.  Have used it ever since, and I only use flour during the shaping phase of the process, otherwise it is difficult to pinch the loaves/baguettes closed because they get really slippery.  It is so idiot simple I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't thought of it myself.

Anyway, on adding salt:  notice in the second video how he spreads the dough out a little before folding it up?  I have found that by getting a little more extreme with that and (still with barely wet hands & counter, adding moisture as needed if the dought begins to stick anywhere) spreading the dough out to about 1/4" to 1/2" thick, you can evenly sprinkle on the salt, then fold up the dough for bulk rise.  I have even added dried cherries, toasted pecans and salt all together, then done a frisage to incorporate the large pieces evenly, before folding up and placing back in the container for bulk rise.  It is amazing how easy it is to do a frisage without dough sticking to your hands when you keep them moist.

Another thing I have found useful is a very wide bowl that I found several years ago when first starting to bake bread.  It allows easy S&F in the bowl, still using wet hands & plastic scraper.  I don't have a counter like the guy in the video so I just turn on the cold water in a very small spaghetti thin stream and wet things as needed.

I have become a huge fan of 2 hour autolyse and S&F throughout the whole process of building a loaf.  I no longer have to stand at a mixer, in fact it's not used anymore except to mix up a quick bread (an instant yeast type bread with one rise and a loaf pan).  Nor is it necessary to spend frustrating time scraping dough off my fingers and hands.  The whole process has become much easier, and the levain does all the work, not me.

urbanix's picture

The links for the videoes doesn't seem to be working. Could anyone please update the links? Or, if those videoes are no longer available, perhaps someone could suggest some similar ones? Techniques like these are far easier to understand by watching videos than reading instructions.