The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What to do when dough doesn't keep shape after many folds?

nicodvb's picture

What to do when dough doesn't keep shape after many folds?

The subject says it all.

The rare times that I prepare bread with wheat flour -whether with a low or a high hydratation- my dough never keeps the shape even after a lot of folds: 5, 6, 7, 10 it doesn't matter: 10 minutes after the fold the dough is as flat and large as before.

I try to use average gluten flours, more or less equivalent to all-purpose, but the result is always the same *depressing* ciabatta.

Do you believe that it's the flour that is lacking or that I'm doing something wrong? I tried a lot of different flours, but the only one that worked well is a high-gluten flour that I use only for sweet breads. It's very strong (W400) and I'd prefer not using it for bread because it requires a lot of fermentation to come out soft (I don't like chewy bread).


flournwater's picture

Are you "folding" or "stretching and folding".  The stretching is a critical element in the technique.

Formulas for bread dough are typically based upon a specific type of flour that the originator used in developing the bread.  Additionally, flour, even the same type/brand, can vary from one batch to another so it's important to learn to read the dough at various points in the process.  I suspect that simply adjusting the amount of flour you're using in the formula (assuming you'r weighing your ingredients) incrementally from one bake to the next will eventually get you the dough you seek.  Try this experiement.  Carefully weigh ingredients for your formula using an AP flour and a hi gluten bread flour (using about 4.5 ounces of flour and an appropriate 55% hydration for each) and handle in identical manners.  Work withi them side by side and see if your detect any differences.  Repeat the experiment with 52% hydration; weigh carefully.  The experiment isn't for naught  - you have at least a few dinner rolls.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think you got used to rye sucking up so much moisture, it just seems weird but you gotta add more flour.  If you're using your starter, it will loosen up more as it ferments, more than the same recipe using instant yeast.

Daisy_A's picture

Hi nico,

I've had this happen a bit at times and found one of Andy's posts very instructive, one in which he noted that it is extremely hard (albeit not impossible), to over=mix by hand and that under-mixing is more likely to occur instead. I was also surprised to hear on one of the Hamelman videos that in a medium level short initial machine mix of only 3 mins. the dough is turned 900 times. 

I now no longer rely solely on S&F and autolyse to develop lean sourdough. I have also moved from giving post-autolyse dough 200 small turns in either the bowl or the air to giving it the 900 turns it would receive in a mixer. Dough strength with my starters and flours (mostly bread flour with medium to high gluten strength cut with rye and wholemeal), leapt up. 

I think the following things might be worth trying:

Give the dough a more assertive mix post autolyse and before the S&Fs

Mix some of the stronger flour in with your regular flour (I'm guessing you thought of or did this?)

Ponder what you want from your bread and method. In my experience hearth breads with lower intervention mixing are firmer (I like them this way!), whereas I find producing a softer bread requires much more intensive mixing for much longer. I can't see how S&F only with medium gluten flours will produce soft and strong although there is bound to be a baker out there who can! 

Best wishes, Daisy_A

Ford's picture

Perhaps, your problem is that you are not giving enough attention to shaping the loaf.  Try to develope tension in the surface of the loaf by stretching the surface layer.  Check out shaping in the search box, upper left on this page.  Shaping is important even if you put your dough in a loaf pan.


nicodvb's picture

@flournwater and @Ford: as you have immediately noticed I don't stretch the dough a lot, only minimally. This may be a serious failt on my side that I'll fix with the next baking

@Mini: you may be perfectly right: my being so much accustomed to deal only with rye may have distorted my perception of the right hydratation of the dough. Actually I can't avoid to feel wheat doughs somewhat ... strange:-)

@Daisy: I noticed that I have to use about 50% high gluten flour to get the right consistence. Yes, I always work the dough a lot by hand before resorting to S&F.


Thanks everybody, Iìll keep you updated.


Chuck's picture

I've found that there's a hydration range where holding shape is no problem (up to 60%?), another range where it depends on technique (60-70%?), and a third range where dough won't hold its shape no matter what and some kind of aid is required (beyond 70%?).

Of course the exact numbers change with different flours and different recipes - maybe for some reason the flour in your problem loaves is sucking up a little less moisture so the effective hydration is enough higher to make a difference. For extremely slack doughs, I've found it necessary to either use bannetons/brotformen or to get the dough pretty cold in the refrigerator and bake it cold before it has a chance to warm up and flatten (cold enough to hold its shape yet warm enough to rise is a trick:-).

In that middle range things like better flours, more and more careful stretching and folding, a lot of attention to forming a "gluten skin", and careful shaping all make a difference. But with just a little more water, none of those things are enough any more.