The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

hydration, kneading or stretch and fold

jowilchek's picture

hydration, kneading or stretch and fold

when working with a high hydration dough it is hard for me to knead...

the dough is wet and sticky, should I oil up my hands? (don't want to add flour that will alter hydration)

should I not knead high hydration dough? and always do stretch and fold?

Is there a cut off % level for kneading/stretch and fold (like 50% or under hydration knead and over 50% hydration stretch and fold? If no rule of thumb applies can you use either for all types of dough?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Not sure of your Q.  Try not to put your whole hand on the dough and just use your finger tips.  Try to make contact with the dough in quick short motions so it doesn't have a chance to stick to you.  Yes, lightly oil your hands but just a very thin coat, then dip your finger tips into some loose flour.  You can use a little flour on surfaces, just don't work it into your dough. (More apt to happen when kneading.) When starting to stretch the dough will seem to stretch a lot, as you start on a second set of folds, you will notice how the dough has tightened up and resists stretching. 

My rule of thumb is, if you can stretch it, do it.  If you can't pull it out far enough to fold it in half, stop.  You don't want the dough to tear so don't dig your fingernails into the dough.  Try to use the softer parts of your fingers letting the dough slip thru your grip as you flop it over onto itself.  Flour your fingers between folds if needed. 

One more tip...  always keep track of the top of the loaf.  Before folding the dough, turn it over and then do the folding.  When finished, turn the dough back to the top side up, cover and let it rest.

davidg618's picture

Here are three videos that demonstrate variations of dough "forming" for high hydration doughs: Stretch and Fold, and Slap and Fold. There are many more on You tube, scattered about TFL (use the search feature), or only a Google away on the internet. I particulary like the third one because it shows the shaggy and sticky mess one always begins with.

David G


jowilchek's picture

David, thank you for taking the time to respond and for the utube suggestions, unfortunately I can not download videos...wish I could I have watched a few on my sisters computer and thought it would be great to be able to do it at home, but I am on dial up and it takes days to download a 3 min. video so needless to say we don't bother. If I get the chanch in the near future I will try to get on her computer for awhile. Again thanks for your efforts.

Cooking202's picture

I'm not very good at this, so I hope the link works.  I love Mark Sinclair's videos and have learned so much from him.  Here goes, there are 13 videos in all:


longhorn's picture

I have gone to totally mixing by hand since I followed Robertson's procedure in Tartine.  It is a bit messy but using one hand and scraping the sticky dough off my hand when it is ready to autolyze is the messiest part. After that the dough is wet but not much sticks. It is pretty amazing to experience considering the dough is around 74 percent hydration (I drop it slightly due to the flour I use).

Hang in there! If you want to knead only after the dough is formed, try wetting your hands. It can get a bit messy too but the dough won't stick to wet hands.

Good Luck!


hanseata's picture

For the breads I sell I usually work with pre-doughs and short kneading (as in "Whole Grain Breads"). But when I come home from a trip only late the day before baking, I use stretch and fold. But then I know I have to add more water to the doughs (from feeling 'tacky but not sticky" to "slightly sticky").

With this slightly higher hydration I can S & F even normally relatively stiff doughs, like whole wheat pita dough, without any problem. And, by the way, I couldn't find that it made any difference, whether the stretched dough tore a bit or not. The result was always just fine, the higher hydration was what really made the difference.