The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough - knead vs. stretch and fold

BarbaraK's picture

Sourdough - knead vs. stretch and fold

Hi Everyone

I've just started on my sourdough journey. So far  I've made San Joaquin Sourdough from dmSnyder, Norwich sourdough from Susan of Wild Yeast,  Essential's Columbia Country French style and last Peter Reinharts' Basic Sourdough Bread from his B.B.Apprentice book. Many thanks to all who provided lovely recipes, advice and methods on this site.

We've loved all of them although I know they will improve as I become more experienced. I made two loaves each time  and as an experiment held the 2nd of each (as suggested by Susan)  in the frig after forming them, baked them immediately from the frig. the next day   and we found them noticeably more interesting with more depth of flavour than the loaves baked the day before. In fact my husband, who was brought up in Central Europe, thought he had died and gone to heaven to at last have bread which reminded him of his childhood.

Both Essential's and Reinhart's specify kneading or the mixer, which is something I would prefer not to have to do. My question is does anyone know if the kneading is essential with these two recipes or could I substitute wet-handed Stretch  and Fold as I find that physically less demanding than kneading?Also can I use a higher hydration or would it be likely to change the whole character of the bread? 

I almost always use unbleached white bread flour with a proportion of whole-grain rye.

Any help or advice  from more experienced bakers would be so much appreciated.






David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I can't imagine it ever matters whether you hand knead, stretch or mix your dough. But certainly there is no need for a machine and people succeed with stretch and folds or slap and folds without ever really kneading. 

WoodenSpoon's picture

I'm not familiar with the Essential recipe but I do know that the Reinhart one is pretty stiff making it easier to knead then stretch and fold, but if you can make S&Fs work for you I think they would take the place of kneading nicely. I say hydrate away and while you are changing the formula I bet the differences will be positive.

dabrownman's picture

hydration for slap and folds for white breads - which are my favorite.  No knead takes even more water to work well say  75% or so.  Most recipes can be adapted to be made my machine, kneading, slap and folds, stretch and folds, some combination of them or simply no knead.   

dmsnyder's picture

Stretch and fold gives you a more open crumb than machine mixing, all other things being equal. You can also combine them, just machine mix for a shorter time and use S&F periodically during bulk fermentation.


isand66's picture

I concur with David.  I use my mixer on low speed for about 5-6 minutes and then do 3-5 sets of S&F before doing a bulk fermentation in the refrigerator overnight.  This is different than putting the shaped loaves in the refrigerator.  I prefer this method but others love it the other way.  I suggest you experiment until you find the method you like best.


BarbaraK's picture

Thanks everyone for all the generous advice. I'm now encouraged to try some experiments based on your ideas.

Even  Reinhart himself encourages you to experiment with his method so it seems that nothing is set in stone.

One further question if I may. I've previously always used long overnight cold bulk fermentation . Does anyone use both overnight bulk frig. fermentation AND then overnight refrigeration of the proofed loaves in the same bake?


Cheers and thanks



clearlyanidiot's picture

I haven't tried the exact procedure of using both overnight bulk proof, followed by overnight shaped loaf fermentation, but there is too much of a good thing.


Dough that has fermented too long gets this... Ball of goo like quality, due to unwanted changes taking place.Having said that, some no-knead recipes I've seen call for sitting in the back of the fridge for days.

Closest thing I actually have made off the top of my head was using some 3 day old paté-fermenteé that was left over, and was already starting to get that goo-ball like quality, but then I did bake it on the same day.


Please post the results of your experiments, as now I'm interested if such a procedure is workable, with good results.


BarbaraK's picture

Many thanks for your comments. I've had a couple of sourdough failures since you wrote and decided it was due to becoming a little lax with my starters thus went back to basics and made sure they were extra lively.  I've been staying with the Wild Yeast adaptation of Hamelman's Norwich Sourdough on the basis that I needed to perfect one method before moving on since, before the fails, I've had (at least for us) some really lovely bakes.

I follow the Wild Yeast N.S. method but before dividing and forming the loaves I bulk retard in the frig. let the dough warm up the next morning for a couple of hours and then form, proof and bake etc. This has worked well for me.

However on my last bake disaster arrived in the form of several on and off power outages. As the dough had already started to warm up I didn't dare put it back in the frig. and didn't dare start to bake until sure the power was

definitely back. In the end had to leave it on the counter at room temp. (21 degrees C ?)for a total of eight hours after which I formed, proofed and baked, expecting some for of failure.

I'm not yet always sure if a loaf is under-proofed or over-proofed although the finger-poke seemed O.K. at that point .

I can't make a direct comparison with my previous loaves as I was using a different flour. I've always used a percentage of Prior's whole rye but this time used Prior's unbleached white as well and possibly the starter was better.

I think the oven-rise was possibly just slightly less than usual but it looked beautiful when done. More importantly to me it had an incredible depth of flavour - the best of any of my loaves so far - and perfect crumb with some nice holes. I was truly surprised and delighted.  Bearing in mind your apt warning that there can be too much of a good thing I thought that you and others might be interested in my forced experiment.

I regret that after eight hours of fretting over my loaf I didn't remember to take photos.  Now I shall have to do a bake with my usual method and the above-mentioned flour to see if there's a difference.  I also plan to try putting one of the formed loaves back in the frig overnight one of these days but shall have to double my quantity of recipe for that as at the moment I've been halving the recipe for one large loaf. 

How far can/should one push it I wonder?

Thanks for your interest.





PetraR's picture

Hi Barbara,

I am baking for about 1 year now with my Sourdough Starter and I learned, like you, by trial and error and that is the best way to learn.

I use my Bread Flour starter only to enhance my White bread * I add a half of cup unfed Sourdough Starter to my recipe just for the added taste and I beliefe the crumb gets a nicer golden brown colour *

I now use my Rye Starter only and my Dutch Oven instead of baking on a Baking Sheet, never had better bread.

My Rye Starter, after feeding grows much faster than my Bread Flour one ever did and also my loaf has a nicer rise during Baking.

I found the S & F Methold that works a treat for me and I have now Bread that is always of the same qualith.

Before it was always a LUCKY Guess how it will turn out lol

BarbaraK's picture

Thank you for your thoughts. It seems we have the same taste in bread. I too love a rye starter.

Could I just clarify a couple of interesting points?

 * Do I understand correctly that for your white bread you use a white-bread- flour starter PLUS half a cup of unfed sourdough starter for its added taste?

* For the initial mixing do you only mix by hand in the bowl just enough to incorporate the ingredients?

Like you, I find the Dutch oven baking covered for the first 20 minutes works best and gives us the best crust, not too hard - just right . 

Many thanks for your time Petra .







PetraR's picture

Yes, we seem to have the same taste:)

For the white Bread , which is a normal loaf with yeast , I do add half a cup of unfed Sourdough Starter which is made from Bread Flour.

The Recipe for the * normal * white Bread is

500g Strong Bread Flour

300ml water, 1 part boiled and 2 parts cold.

1 ½ tsp Salt

1 tsp Sugar

2 tsp yeast.

To this I do add half a cup of unfed Sourdough Starter * that Starter was made with Strong Bread Flour and water 1 year ago and is lovely  and lives in my fridge *

I bake this loaf also in the Dutch Oven with the Lid on on highest Temperature for 30 minutes and than without the Lid and a lower Temperature for 20 minutes more.


BarbaraK's picture

thanks for the recipe and  tips Petra. I will definitely try that recipe and it's a great way of using up spare starter. I would never have thought of that.

Happy baking!


PetraR's picture

You are very welcome:)

PetraR's picture

S & F for me any time, gives such a beautiful crumb.