The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Slap and fold help

Rickenheimer's picture
Rickenheimer

Slap and fold help

Hi everyone! So I decided to try my hand at slap and fold today. I watched some youtube videos on how to do it and read through the perfect loaf guide but I still have some questions after doing it the first time. For reference I decided to start trying it with this recipe from king arthur (https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/french-style-country-bread-recipe), since I enjoy it and its fairly quick to make. It did work out in the end though it took me quite a bit longer to get the dough to where I think it should be. Here are my questions:

 

1) The dough seemed to go back and forth through phases where it was become tighter and then becoming long and slack. As far as I could tell when I was working more confidently and quickly this happened less but still occurred. I wonder if it was something I was doing that was making it go through these phases or if that's a normal part of the process?

2) It took quite awhile for it to stop sticking to my fingers. I tried wetting my hands once or twice and that seemed to help but it would stick to me again once they dried out. This did seem to improve towards the end but the videos I've watched don't seem to stick that much so I'm assuming it has to do with me still learning the technique. I don't mind sticky fingers but having it stick so much made it a bit harder to do the slap and fold. Are there ways to keep it from hanging on to your hands so much?

3) Occasionally when I would do the fold part it would flip over to the other side of the dough on the counter and it made it a lot stickier. I'm assuming that this is because it was the opposite side of the dough but is there a good way to quickly come back from this when it happens?

 

Those are the main questions I have. Thanks in advance for any tips!!

alfanso's picture
alfanso

If I'm reading the formula correctly this is a ~70% hydration dough, which should not be as sticky as what you describe.  None the less, here you are.  

I do virtually nothing other than slap and folds (French Folds - "FF"s) to mix the dough.  It is completely normal for the dough to seem as though it comes together, and then a few dozen folds later seems to fall apart and/or create a thick loop of dough.  It will eventually come together again and then repeat the process once or twice more.  Depending on how many FFs you do.  This is very typical with most of the doughs that I work with.

If you are mixing by hand, I suggest mixing the final ingredients into the sponge and then use the pinch and fold method to incorporate the two components together.  THEN allow for the 15-20 minutes for the new flour to hydrate.  Cover the mixing bowl for those minutes.  Then begin your FFs.

The FF phase should be less sticky if you do this.  Take the total number of FFs that you want to do and divide that by 2.  FF for that number, cover the dough on the counter and let rest for 5 or so minutes.  The return and complete your FFs.  You'll find that the dough has begun to form and behave within just that 5 minute rest period.  I almost always do 200 or 300 total FFs.  Once you get the facility down, it becomes a simple routine task.

Now, what to do if the dough remains really sticky?  Stop, cover the dough and wait 2-3 minutes.  Then continue.  Becomes sticky again? Wash rinse, repeat.

If you wait for any short period of time between individual FFs, the dough will adhere to the workbench.  Use a moistened dough scraper to water loosen and break the dough free from sticking whenever this happens.  Both for this issue a well as the one above.

Once your FFs have begun, it is too late to add more flour.  If you feel you need to add more then should be done earlier when the dough is still in the mixing bowl.

One main benefit of FFs is that it is next to impossible to over mix and/or overheat the dough during this phase.  Another benefit is that over time you should start to get a reading As to how the dough is performing, and as you become more familiar with it, you'll find that the dough is "talking" to you.

Here are two more videos of FFs.  These are performed at normal speed, but you can change the playback speed of the video from normal (1.0) to slow (0.5) with the settings gear in the lower right corner of the screen to better see what's going on if you wish.

Report back on your experience.

alan

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Rick, the advice and videos offered by Alan are solid. It is possible that your expectations (since you have no prior experience with Slap & Folds) are throwing you off.

Here are few ideas to consider

  1. Don’t reach in and grab the dough. Lift it by placing your fingers underneath the dough and LIGHTLY holding the top portion with your thumbs. Since many bread doughs are sticky, allow the dough to grab you instead of you grabbing the dough. <Think about that.>
  2. Slap and Fold (also known as French Folding) is a phenomenal method for developing gluten in doughs that are slightly wet and up to very wet. It is not efficient for drier dough. Depending on the characteristics of the dough, Slap & Folds can be very light and gentle or aggressive and forceful.
  3. Alan mentioned a phenomena that most (if not all) dough transition through during the process. The dough will behave nicely and then all of a sudden it will start to fall apart before your very eyes. This is normal and to be expected. Carry on, and you’ll see that it quickly cones back together again.
  4. If the dough is very slack, speed is helpful. A slack and/or wet dough will tend to “slack off” and relax if the repetitions are too slow. Try to find a rythmatic pace that is comfortable and on the quicker side. This is especially important with wet dough.

Here s a video of dough that started out as slop. It started out as a mis-calculation of water, but serves to illustrate the powerful abilities of the Slap & Fold method.

Use THIS LINK for best viewing.

It would be great if we could share a kitchen together. In five minutes of hands on practice, you could see how simple this method actually is. Once you get it, you’ll be able to help others...

HTH,
Danny

Lolakey's picture
Lolakey

Some really good advice here! I've had similar experiences with slap and fold for wet doughs that seem to firm up, then becoming slack and sticky again. 

I hope it's ok if I ask a follow-up question: when do you actually stop doing slap and folds? My dough will sometimes firm up really nicely after a while (10 minutes maybe?), and I think to myself that I'm pretty much there, but the very next moment it becomes slack again. Sometimes it feels like I could repeat this cycle forever... 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Lola, it seems most of us have a certain amounts of reps that we want. Super developed is 150 rest 15minutes or so and finish up with another 150. To be honest that is probably over kill, but once you get into the rhythm they become enjoyable.

Best advice - use your discretion. You don’t always want to fully develop the gluten up front.

Lolakey's picture
Lolakey

So the dough will, in theory, continue to firm up and fall apart no matter how long you keep going? I guess I'm after signs to look for when it's fully developed. Sometimes I think it is, but if I don't stop right then and there it is as if the dough goes slack because the additional handling tore the gluten strands apart. Conversely, maybe I need to do more repeats since my technique probably isn't the best. Either way, I guess I need to start counting!

Even though I struggle sometimes, I find slap and folds to be very enjoyable for some reason. 

alfanso's picture
alfanso

In theory, sure, but in actual practice, this "phenomenon" ceases to happen after a number of FFs as the gluten is formed.

 Of course, the variables are great.  The quality (baker's skill) of the FFs themselves, the hydration of the dough, the composition of the flours, any other add-ins during the final mixing stage (oils, fruit, nuts, etc.), resting times between stages of FFs...

Once you feel that the dough has developed enough, then it is time to dump it in the BF vessel, give it time to become cohesive (time, ambient temp., percentage of pre-fermented flour in the levain or amount of commercial yeast, etc.).  

Don't become anxious and make the mistake of folllowing up with S&Fs during BF every (ex.) 10 or 15 minutes.  Give the dough time to relax, develop and strengthen the gluten strands and allow the gasses produced to have an effect.  A lot of bakers will limit their S&Fs to 1-3 over a 2-3 hour BF. 

The whole baking process is a kind of puzzle at times where you often have to figure out how the pieces fit together.

Rickenheimer's picture
Rickenheimer

If I may ask a follow-up question. I'm curious about what you said about add-ins. How would the technique of the FF change if you had add-ins, particularly hard ones like nuts? Wouldn't the nuts potentially tear apart the dough during this process? 

Benito's picture
Benito

I wouldn’t add any add ins before you do slap and folds.  I think you want to develop the gluten before adding anything that might interfere with gluten development.  So for example, I’ll do French folds after I have added salt as it helps ensure that the salt is well distributed.  Then I might do a stretch and fold.  Next I’ll do a lamination and add the nuts/fruits/seeds etc. during lamination.  Many formulas will have you add the add ins during the second stretch and fold if they don’t include a lamination step.  However, I am partial to lamination for add ins because you can ensure they are very evenly distributed if added then.

alfanso's picture
alfanso

I was giving what-ifs, not absolutes.  If you are mixing by hand and decide to add any of the 3 dimensional items, either wait until the first S&F, or incorporate gently during your final FFs.  I prefer the former (curve ball warning) with the exception of the exception stated below!

When bakers use mechanical means, they generally add these ingredients on the slowest speed as the final mix is terminating.  

Exception: A problem could come in when you have a single S&F in the middle of the BF.  In that case you may not get equitable distribution and decide to add an additional S&F.

Lolakey's picture
Lolakey

I normally make bread with a fairly high percentage of whole wheat, mostly 50/50, but anything from 50% to 100% really. I sometimes substitute some of the whole wheat for whole spelt, emmer, einkorn etc. Maybe 5 % rye. Hydration is normally between 70% and 80%, depending on the flours used. 

I guess I can always compensate with a few stretch & folds in the bowl during bulk if my FFs don't cut it. Just got to be careful not to overdo it, as you say.

Forgive me for asking again, but you said that the cycle of the dough firming up and falling apart "ceases to happen after a number of FFs as the gluten is formed." In other words, IF the dough still behaves this way, I can assume gluten is not sufficiently formed, and that I need to continue with FFs? And if the dough holds its shape for a longer period of time (how long?), I can stop and proceed to the bulk stage? I know there is a "feel" to all this which is acquired through experience, but until I reach that point some general guidelines would be so helpful! Then again, it might be wishful thinking as things are obviously more complex and dependent on a number of variables. 

alfanso's picture
alfanso

1) The variables are many with the above to consider.

2) The BF will take care of any uncooperative segments of the dough.  So as you approach your self-defined upper limit of FFs and the dough begins to misbehave, just add in a few more FFs until it comes back together.  If it doesn't, refer to the first sentence in this paragraph.

There is nothing cast in stone or magical about the number of FFs.  Over time I had settled on 300 most of the time - for years, but lately have begun to throttle down, and probably will do so again soon.

When it comes down to it, there is no substitute for experience.  And if you have a problem and can correct it the next time, you are better off than never having had the problem at all.  If you never have problems, you likely won't grasp why something works.  I was a programmer decades ago, and my best learning experiences were from diagnosing my own errors (and a lot of them!).  Those stayed with me.

Lolakey's picture
Lolakey

Yes, hands on experience is ultimately the most valuable tool you can have. Especially with bread. Even so, this thread has given me insight which will definitely be useful for when I'm actually standing there, in my kitchen, with wet dough sticking to my hands. Thank you! Time to experiment!

Rickenheimer's picture
Rickenheimer

Thanks for adding this question! I was actually wondering this myself after I posted my first few questions so I'm glad you asked. 

Lolakey's picture
Lolakey

I'm glad we can help each other out! I thought about posting questions like these, but you beat me to it :) 

Rickenheimer's picture
Rickenheimer

Thank you, everyone, for the great tips and feedback! I'm definitely going to be implementing some of these when I do my next loaf. I'll report back on how it goes :). 

semolina_man's picture
semolina_man

He is a French born and trained pastry chef.  He has a few slap fold segments in making brioche and other breads.  Arguably the best chef on YouTube. 

Rickenheimer's picture
Rickenheimer

Hi everyone! Since everyone took the time to help me figure out how to get better at using this method I figured I'd share an update of my most recent attempt. I looked at all the videos everyone shared and also went through this lady's video on youtube which I found helpful as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dUZ0O-Wv0Q. Here's a picture of my dough after about 10-12 minutes of slap and folds

 I think I did an ok job in the end. I felt like I could've gone a little longer but figured I had to stop at some point. The dough stuck to me far less this time and I think I was able to keep going more effectively than last time where it just fell apart a few times.

Here's some pics of the finished loaf:

And here's a slice!:

 Thanks everyone for all the help. I think I'm on my way to getting the hang of this method and really enjoying doing it.

Benito's picture
Benito

Well look at that, you did an incredible job.  The dough looks well developed at the end of your slap and folds.  But even better is the great oven spring you got with your loaf and the nice crumb.  Really incredible work you did, all your practice has paid off, you should be super proud.

Benny

alfanso's picture
alfanso

Nice work and advancement of skill.  Once you do get comfortable, you should be able to knock off a few hundred FFs quite quickly.  If a dough is stiff it will take more time and effort for each individual FF until the dough becomes more compliant.  For example, exclusive of the 5 min. rest period half way through, I can run as many as 300 FFs in 6 minutes with a high hydration dough.  So I don't think that going beyond 10 minutes should be necessary.   But with more practice you'll reach an equilibrium that works for you.

Very nice boule.