The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

help with stretch and fold please!

jembola's picture

help with stretch and fold please!

The last couple of days I've studyed the stretch-and-fold/French fold videos, read the discussion threads that deal with it, printed some things out to study some more, and then reviewed everything a few more times.  I have the impression that once you get it, it's really too simple to even explain adequately (if that makes sense). But I don't think I've got it yet. Today I tried to apply the techniques to a double batch of Struan (the recipe posted under Favourite Recipes) and the results were not stellar (loaves were smallish.) So I could use some help figuring out where I went wrong.  I should explain first that I probably introduced too many variables when I should have stuck with just stretch-and-fold. Instead I also tried starting out in a non-preheated oven (a whole other discussion); and, since I had some potato cooking water in the fridge, I substituted that for the water. It may not have helped that I doubled the recipe either; it meant that I had to cut it into 3 pieces which may have undone some of the efforts to keep the dough structure intact. Anyway, here are my questions:

1. The recipe said to knead the dough. I didn't. I mixed with a spoon, then by hand, mostly trying to get everything to stick together without kneading. Then I let it rest for about 10 minutes. At that point I wasn't sure how wet it would be because I hadn't handled it very much yet. It didn't seem as wet as the dough in some of the French fold videos. Is this correct so far? Should I/could I have done a little kneading? Should I have added any water for a dough that looked more like the Bertinet sweet dough? Is it okay to substitute alternate techniques when a recipe tells you to knead, or is it better to use recipes that are designed for stretch and fold?

2. After a 10-minute rest, I just folded twice with one turn and put the dough back in the bowl. It was pretty tacky at that point and seemed to want to stay in a ball (not stretch).  I let it rest about 20 minutes, then folded again.  This seemed like it could be a long labour intensive process.  Should I have done a few more folds at the very beginning until the dough was more elastic? I was afraid of overhandling.

3. I let the dough rest again for about 30 minutes, then sprinkled flour on my work surface.  This time I gently flattened the dough and stretched it out into a thick square.  It handled nicely. I folded the sides over on each other, turned it and folded the two ends over each other, and put it back in the bowl.  I poked it here and there to make it look like I knew what I was doing but I suspect that didn't add anything. At this point I thought I would just let it ferment for awhile, till double. Should I have done more rests/stretch-and-fold before leaving it for an hour? How do I know when to keep up with intermitent folds and when to trust the dough?

4. I was starting to run out of time so I left the bowl covered with loose plastic and a cookie sheet over that in a sunny spot in the kitchen.  It probably got to be 75 or 80 in the bowl, and it was doubled in about an hour. Was it a bad thing to leave it in an extra warm spot?

5. Now I had to cut it into pieces, since it was a double recipe (6 cups flour plus other grains). I hate cutting a round mound of dough into 3; impossible to divide equally. At this point I was confused about the best way to form the loaves. I also wasn't sure how to deal with the middle piece which had been cut on both long sides so that all the holes were exposed.  I folded one piece like a letter (2 folds, no turns) and let it rest, then I rolled it jelly roll style as in jmonkey's sandwich shaping video. I found it hard to get it elongated and to tuck in the ends, maybe because I was worried I was destroying the structure. It would have been happier as a boule I think.  The other two pieces I tried to roll and get surface tension by stretching it under and pinching a seam. One of those I had to bake free form because I only have two pans. I didn't feel that comfortable with the degree of surface tension.  The outside seemed a bit weak to me. Corrections here? How do you get that tight jelly roll while still having the dough long enough to fill the ends of the pan? Is it possible to make it too tight, thereby ruining the airpocket structure? After cutting the dough into pieces, could I have done anything to increase surface tension on the cut sides?

6. At this point I put the loaves in the oven for final proofing. I had warmed the oven a teeny bit, then added a bowl with boiling water for humidity. They rose okay (one hour) although I might have let them get a little higher if I hadn't had to go out.  They crested over the pan.  When I slashed them though, they seemed a bit weak and then deflated a little with the cuts (the knife was pretty sharp). This surprised me because I don't think I had overproofed. I put them back in the oven and set the temp to 350 as per the recipe.  I left them in my husband's charge at that point, so I didn't watch what kind of oven spring I got.  Seeing the loaves when I returned, I don't think there could have been a lot.  Should I have turned the oven to a hotter temperature to start, then lowered it after 15 minutes or so? Should I have preheated and not listened to all those good folks who have been saving on energy while still enjoying great bread?

As usual, the results tasted better than they looked, especially with creamy chicken wild rice soup. I just would have liked to have put a nice big loaf in my freezer.  Any questions answered or errors spotted would be appreciated!

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, jembola.

I didn't want to take off my shoes, so I couldn't count all your questions. I'll just make a few observations about the saga you related and hope they are helpful.

1. Your comment about frustration dividing the dough suggests you are not using a scale. Please get one. It will not only help you divide your dough into equal weights but also make all your ingredient measurements more accurate.

2. I would suggest you work on one new technique of developing gluten at a time. You list 3 or more you used in this bake, none of which you do with confidence yet.

3. The Struan bread is not the best one with which to learn the Bertinet method, I think. Try it with a wetter dough without lots of different textures. 

4. You say your dough didn't want to stretch. That suggests it didn't rest long enough to relax the gluten. Maybe, by that point, the gluten was developed enough. I can't tell. If the dough tended to tear, the gluten probably wasn't developed enough yet.

5. Slower fermentation makes a better tasting bread. You were in a rush, it sounds like.

6. If the loaves deflated when you slashed them, they were most likely over-proofed.

7. Jmonkey's video is excellent. Watch it a few more times. It may also help to read a bread book that has good descriptions as well as photos or drawings of the steps in shaping a pan loaf. There are several good methods. See books by Reinhart, Hamelman or Greenstein. (Those come to mind at the moment, but there are plenty of others, I know.)

Again, I really recommend finding a good instructional resource and a good recipe and stick to them until you feel you have mastered them. Then, trying other variations will be more productive for you.

I do hope this helps some. I know I didn't cover all your questions.


cake diva's picture
cake diva


I don't think I've seen the video.  What is it about, and is it in this site?  I could learn a few more tricks myself.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, cake diva.

Look at the menu near the top of the TFL screen. See where is says "Home Forum Lessons Handbook VIDEOS" etc.? Click on "Videos." Scroll down until you find JMonkey's video.


jembola's picture

Yes, I did ask a lot of questions didn't I. Sigh. Just not feeling that confident yet.

Here is the distilled version:

Is it okay to substitute folding in a recipes that ask you to knead? (Is extra water needed?) Or are some recipes better suited to folding and some to kneading. 

Is a french fold by nature minimalist? Or are there times when you might do several consecutive folds before letting the dough rest some more?

How many stretch and fold/rest repetitions might you do before leaving the dough to rise for 60 -90 minutes?

ClimbHi's picture

Compared to most posters here, I'm still a newbie, but here's what I do. I mix, then knead just a bit -- maybe 5 minutes -- until the dough starts to get "doughy", as opposed to crumbly. Then I let it rest for 15 - 20 minutes. Stretch and fold. I do the rest/stretch & fold two or three times (less if I kneaded more). That seems to do the trick.

Pittsburgh, PA

ejm's picture

If you are just mixing and not kneading at all, my guess is that you can do as many "stretch and folds" you want - until the dough actually looks like a smooth pillow and when you gently press your finger against it, the indentation disappears quite quickly.

I mix dough by hand using a wooden spoon until the flour is encorporated (sometimes I weigh the ingredients; sometimes I measure it with cups - both methods produce good bread but the scale is a nice thing to have). I usually let the mixed dough  rest for 20 minutes to an hour and then with the help of a dough scraper, I hand knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes. If the dough is particularly slack, I use the "stretch and fold" method about three times.

I don't usually add extra water. If I'm measuring the flour in cup measures, I usually withhold about 1/2 cup of flour and use only as much as is required for the kneading, stretching and folding. (Use as little flour as you can for the stretch and fold.)

Don't worry too much about overhandling the dough when you are hand-kneading it. I doubt that there are very many people who can overknead dough when doing it by hand.

From your description, it sounds like the loaves may have over-risen. The rising temperature does NOT have to be warm. In fact, I think a cooler rising temperature produces better tasting bread. The counter top (away from any drafts) is perfectly fine. If your kitchen is really cold in winter (mine is) then put the rising bowl into the oven with only the light turned on to push the temperature up to around "room temperature". 

A way to tell whether dough has risen enough for shaping is to run your finger under cold water and poke a hole in the top of the dough. If the hole fills up quickly, it hasn't risen enough. If there is a whoosh of air and the dough deflates a little (or a lot), it has risen too much. If the hole stays in exactly the same configuration and the dough remains otherwise intact, it is ju-u-st right and is ready to shape.

One way to tell whether the shaped dough has risen enough is to flour your finger and gently press against the side of the shaped loaf - it should very slowly spring back. For comparison, try pressing early on to see how it quickly springs back when the dough has not risen enough. If the indentation stays, then it has probably overrisen.

Hope that made sense!


P.S. Useful books with excellent sections on mixing and kneading: "The Bread Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum, "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field, "Artisan Baking Across America" by Maggie Glezer, "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking" by Laurel Robertson


jembola's picture

Thanks, this is great, ClimbHi and ejm.  The tips on how to assess the quality of the dough at different stages are especially helpful.  thanks for telling me what you do.  I'm looking forward to my next batch of something.

xaipete's picture

I had never even heard of stretch and fold until I watched Mark's video. I highly recommend it. After watching it three times and trying it out in various breads now over the last month, I really feel like a pro. Thanks, Mark, for such a great video!


cake diva's picture
cake diva

I totally agree!  I enjoy watching Mark's videos and have learned so much from them.  Wow!  Those kalamata loaves look amazing!  I'd go visit his bakery if I lived within a 500=mile radius from Back HOme Bakery.  Mark, you rock!

rolls's picture

the stretch and fold is different to the french fold technique. is this right? thanks