The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Stretch and Fold

DanAyo's picture

Stretch and Fold

I recently ventured into lower hydration (70 - 75 %) doughs. I'm concerned about S&F. I had no problem with S&F using wet doughs. But I'm only able to get 2 folds (instead of the typical 4 folds) on the drier dough. The dough is much more elastic and it will resist stretching after 2 folds. I don't want to tear the gluten, so I stop and let the dough rest a while. After a little rest the dough becomes supple again. Then 2 more folds.

I realize that S&F are used in high hydration doughs. Is it harmful to use them on lower hydration (65-70%) doughs.


alfanso's picture

developed a good gluten network, then all you should need are 1 or 2 stretch and folds.

DanAyo's picture

Alan, are you talking about 1 or 2 stretch and folds using sets of 4 folds each. Or are you saying that 2 folds per each S&F sessions are fine.

I sure wished I lived near you. I'd love to watch you work. The images of your bread is art to me. Similar to a fine painting. Have you done any videos?


alfanso's picture

My mention above was for doughs of a lower hydration range, let's say from 65% to 70% with a well developed gluten network.  When dealing with more highly hydrated doughs, an extra series or two of stretch and folds (what I call letter folds) perhaps should be done to provide further strength to the developing bulk.  

Sometimes I see someone mention that they do (i.e.) a 6 hour bulk rise with a letter fold every 20 or 30 minutes.  And it makes me wince.  3 or 4 should pretty much be sufficient for any dough, spaced out so that IMO they aren't performed more than every 20-30 minutes apart.

As we all see in this world of bread baking, consistent nomenclature and taxonomy are not strong suits.  Which can lead to confusion when one side makes reference in Olde English and the other party in High German, but they are discussing the same thing.

In this short video I am performing the first of 3 letter folds, with a commercial IDY, spaced 20 minutes apart for a total of 1 hour prior to retard.  That is all that this, the Bouabsa baguette dough, needs as the remainder of the maturing is under retard for the ~20 subsequent hours.  This dough clocks in at 75% hydration and is extremely extensible on the first letter fold as you will see.

This is what I refer to in my initial response.  Called letter fold because it is folded in thirds as if a letter.

I have several videos on YouTube but nothing particularly consequential beyond discussing the Bouabsa bake.  The real champ of videos around these parts is our old friend Trevor. 

As far as watching me work, this is more likely what you'd see than anything else...


Sondelys's picture

I use the Tartine bread recipe . They suggest one s&f every 30 minutes x5  then straight bulk fermentation x1h1/2 

after mixing all ingredients I transfer my dough in a clear bowl and I notice that the dough is more risen than after my last stretch and fold . In fact It seems that each time I do a stretch and fold more it I deflates  the dough ...

But if I don’t the dough doesn’t hold it’s shape .

what should I do ? And why does it happen ?

I am looking forward to get your enlighten opinion 

alfanso's picture

Tartine, I believe, is a fairly high hydration dough.  As mentioned above, the higher the hydration, the more S&Fs should be accomplished.  3 or 4 S&Fs *for most cases* should be sufficient, but in this floury biznez nothing is written in stone.  

In the case of Tartine, really what it comes down to is who am I to question the Chad Robertson method?  I'm just another home baking hack, so yeah, whatever he says, goes.  

Now, to address your issue about the rise vs. S&F.  We need to examine what the purpose of the S&F is.  It is to give strength to the dough and to elongate the gluten strands in order to form a network sufficient to hold the gases during the bake allowing for the bread to spring in the oven.  

A second reason for the S&F is to redistribute the already created gases within the dough.  In the olden days - like before the internet, this was commonly referred to as punching down the dough.  But instead, in our enlightened era we are more gentle with the dough - ever more so on each subsequent S&F.  The goal being to accomplish the two points above without also deflating the dough and causing a loss of all gasses that our friendly yeast cells are busy producing.

So it is quite reasonable that the bulk rise exhibits some nice growth before the S&F, but in reality we are doing the dough a great service by executing a few S&Fs.  A controlled deflation perhaps.

An old-ish saying around these parts in terms of handling the dough - particularly in the later stages of development is to apply an iron hand with a velvet glove to he dough. 

Sondelys's picture

Mr.Alfanso I am so grateful from your simple and helpful informations. Easy to understand . May I ask you other question ? What means this abreviation IMO ?

So even though the dough isn’t rising during the process of the. 4 or 5 S&F ( i.e. the 2 first hours of bulk fermentation ) it is still all right no?  I understand that it is not imperative to get a minimal of 20% expansion as they do in  most bread books right ?  After these  2 hours I let it rise for 1 hour and it rises a little . I preshape ,bench rest for 20 min ( is it better to do it 3 times as shown on your video ?) then I shape and retard right away in fridge for 12 to 16 h  but yet most of the time there is very little or no extra rise . The oven spring is moderate .

Shall I wait that the dough increase to at least 20% at the bulk fermentation ? 

Should I let dough rise after I retard and before  I bake ?

Thank you ever so much .










alfanso's picture


What means this abreviation IMO?  In My Opinion, internet shorthand.

I preshape ,bench rest for 20 min ( is it better to do it 3 times as shown on your video ?) I'm not quite sure what you are asking here.  I'll assume that you are referring to the long Bouabsa video.  It seems as though you are mixing up sequences here, if I understand your question.  In that video - which is unique to that one bread, the 3 Stretch and Folds are performed 20 minutes apart AFTER DURING the bulk rise, and BEFORE the long cold fermentation.

As far as the other questions, there are no standard rules.  Every dough is different and the requirements for steps like

  • using commercial yeast vs. a levain,
  • mixing and mixing time,
  • bulk fermentation,
  • number of Stretch and Folds,
  • anticipated growth of the dough during bulk fermentation,
  • how long to bulk ferment,
  • whether to retard or not,
  • when to shape,
  • proofing,
  • oven temperature,
  • timing to bake,
  • etc.  

are all somewhat unique to the specific bread and formula.  These are initially determined by the author of the recipe/formula and are meant as guidelines for the rest of us to use.  The more experience one has, the more one can take liberties with the method and formula.  In other words - no one size fits all.

I am unable to be more specific, because the questions are too broad and not targeted enough.  Sorry.



dabrownman's picture

stretches out the dough before making the fold.  This is a high hydration dough.  For one of less hydration you won't be able to stretch it as far but you want to stretch it as far as it willing to go - without tearing..  The lower the hydration the more time you want between the S&F's sessions too. 70-72% hydration I f=go to 40 minutes to really let the dough relax.  People seem to not stretch the dough as far as they should for some reason.

tgrayson's picture

I use S&F on a 65% dough...I get in 3 four-way folds, but I have to separate them by 45-60 minutes.