The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

In-container folding (a la Tartine) to develop dough strength

cliquenoir's picture

In-container folding (a la Tartine) to develop dough strength

Good day, all. 

I'd like to get some of your personal experiences - successes and failures - using the in-container folding method (in place of traditional mxing/kneading) that is featured, amongst other places, in Tartine Bread. 

I have been working with this process since about November, including daily feeding of a starter that I feel is healthy and predictible. On most baking attempts I get decent rise, but I feel that I'm at a bit of a plateau and would like to make another jump in performance with my loaves. One place in the process that I feel like I'm falling short is gluten development. I have a sense of the feel of well-developed dough, with both extensibility and elasticity. However, I'm not getting this feel with the in-container folding method. 

There are a number of telling pictures in Tartine Bread - for those of you who have the book for reference: 

- On page 57, pulling the dough from the container, it's clear that it's releasing nicely from the sides. It's especially telling with this type of container because it is plastic the dough has a tendency to cling when underdeveloped.

- On page 62, during the folding illustrations you can really see how well the dough is developed. The surface is smooth and the stretches show off the extensibility.  

So, in short, have any of you had success with the in-container method reaching this level of dough strength? 

Thanks in advance. This has been a really fun project.  



proth5's picture

used this method of folding in the container in another context and it is quite successful. I've worked with dough hydrations up to ciabatta in this way.  In fact I've started with a dough that was little more than thick soup because it was very under developed and brought it to baguettes this way.

My caveat is that I have only used the "in container" stretch and fold (not the fold in a bowl with a plastic scraper) when a very large amount  (30-50 pounds) of dough was involved.  You need to get the dough off the container (with high hydration doughs wet hands and plastic scrapers help) and hold it well enough to give it a really good tug.  This is where the large quantity of dough is helpful - one end kind of "grips" the container so you can get a really good stretch.   Do this in all four directions and the dough develops nicely.

Vigor matters.  A little weak pull and a fold will not develop the dough nearly to the extent of a really good tug.  This is where folks can go a little off course.  "My teacher" puts it as your strength giving the dough strength and I would never disagree with my teacher (well, not about dough development anyway...)

With smaller quantities (like home baking) I find that it is more effective (and just as easy) to get the thing out of the container and give it the requisite stretch on the bench.  Once again, vigor matters.

Hope this helps.

cliquenoir's picture

Many thanks for your reply.

On the next round, I'll go at it with a bit more vigor as you say. Another couple indicators that I've used for comparision are feel - tacky vs. sticky - and the overall surface appearance. My dough results so far have been closer to sticky rather than tacky and the surface appearance has retained a bit of a shimmer (due to the higher hydration) whereas in the Tartine Bread photos the surface is clearly smooth. That said, in your experience, the stretch and fold method - either in or out of the container - should provide for positive results in both areas. I'm looking forward to the next attempts. 

I suppose another concern is developing enough strength before overproofing. It's pretty easy to keep the dough at 80F, so I'm aiming for 20%-30% volume increase in roughly 3 hours.


p.s. I'm still curious to hear others' experiences.

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

Your description nails my experience so far when slavishly following Robertson's protocol.  Weak dough development with in-bucket turns.  I even bought a Cambro plastic bucket from a restaurant supply store to replicate his method (talk about slavish).  But proth5's "vigor" suggestion strikes a note that rings true.  I'll give it a more decisive go this weekend (with CM AP flour this time too).  I tried Bertinet (is that his name, from Bath, UK) slap & stretch a while back, but the dough's too sticky, to the counter, for that.  I'm also curious to read others' comments here.  Good luck!


proth5's picture

the next obvious suggestion is: If the dough isn't developed enough, give it another fold.

"Vigor" is a subjective thing and varies with our personal fitness, but one or two more folds won't hurt.

And I'll add another caveat that my "bucket" is a rectangular container (Yeah, a Cambro - full of deadly toxins...), not a true bucket shaped one.  Much easier to get the folds done...

Nickisafoodie's picture

I find that a light coat of olive oil on the inside of the container helps the dough come out cleanly.  Once the dough comes together strectch and fold every 50 minutes 4 times.  You will feel the dough tighten up.

Try starting out with 65% hydration ratio until you get the feel - this level works good for baguettes, pizza dough and much more.  Sometimes the 72+ hydration doughs are harder to handle, so perhaps a few loaves at the lower ratio will give you a sense of the dough development and then move up to the higher levels after a few successes at the lower.

Lastly, when forming your loaves, make sure you are tighten the dough properly.  Unless you are using a vessle like a dutch oven, a 72% hydration dough will tend to flatten out if using just a stone.   I also find that 470° for first 15 minutes and 425° for the remaining bake gives a good rise and nice crust (after 45 minute preheat at 500°).  So temperature. tight loaves and hydration all play a part in final success - in addition to proper gluten development...

AnnaInNC's picture

just spritz the bowl with some olive oil before dumping the undeveloped dough.



PiPs's picture


I spent a week playing around with Chad Robertsons batard shaping method that you see some videos. I learnt a couple of things from this experience. All the doughs were developed in a plastic rectangular tub that I had sprayed with oil once at the beginning. The first doughs I made, I folded the dough with really vigorous letter folds in the container. These developed so much strength that by the time it came to shape they would not relax and spread out like you see in the Tartine book. They were impossible to shape using Chad's method. The next batch I mixed using Chad's method of just gently grabbing corners of the dough stretching and folding in gently 2-3 times. By the end of the bulk ferment I could preshape the dough easily but it was a lot stickier. The pre shaped dough spread like in the book and I could try Chad's method quite easily. Not the easiest shaping method, but effective with wet and sticky dough :)

So there is alot to be said about how you stretch-and-fold. as proth5 says ... vigor matters


longhorn's picture

I have used both round containers, square, and tubs and my preference increases as the list progresses. I find the round bucket-like containers less satisfying, square buckets somewhat better, and tubs best of all. My favorite small batch tub is clear, contains 5.2 liters and is about 14 inches by 12 as I recall and about 5 inches deep. It does 5 pounds of dough very nicely.

I agree that the vigorousness of the folds matters. But I feel like I can control the amoung of development better in the tub where the folding feels more consistent and less random.

Bake On!


simon3030's picture

I have only been baking for around 18 months, but tend to get a bit obsessed with the amount of information available....I did two courses with Tom Baker (bread & sourdough) at loafonline, in Birmingham, UK, which were brilliant, and I learnt so much...but, as I said, I obsessed about breadmaking, and found this site which shows in steps, an in bowl method that is very forgiving.

I use it for sourdoughs and yeasted, white & wholemeal, sponge, poolish & traditional. I work full time, but can work from home, so on a Friday, start the doughs off in the bowl at around 0800, stretch & fold in the bowl, occasionally out, to get some air in, 3 times, with 45 minute gaps, then a final shaping, with really good stretching - as as has been mentioned, vigour is useful!.

The sourdough loaf I posted here - - was done like this - dough made, 3 x s & f over an evening, shaped, overnight in fridge in a baneton, left to  warm up for about 3-4 hours and baked. It was really noticeable over the 3 strecth & folds how the dough had developed - it was initially a little sticky, but after the third time, it was glossy & felt good - you know how it goes?

It's so much easier than all that  kneading.....and means that you can have several different doughs on the go at the same time, and you're not spending hours kneading them all...just about 30 seconds each, every 45 minutes.


bredtobake's picture

Hi Chris,

I've only made the country bread once -- I purchased the Tartine Bread book on Thursday evening, did the bulk rise on Friday from 6 - 10 pm, then shapped, and then retarded the final fermentation until this morning at about 6 am, when I let them warm for an hour, and finally baked. I have to say, I was very very skeptical about the stretch and fold technique, since I'm still an inexperienced bread baker, but wow! one of my best crumbs yet. One thing I did though, since I live in a 100 year old house with terrible insulation that is always cold in the winter, I heated up my pizza stone in the oven and then turned the oven, letting it cool to about 90 F. Then I did the bulk rise in the 90 F oven, in a stainless steel bowl, covered with a towel to prevent any direct heat. It seemed to help. Anyway, aside from my ill-executed lame scores, my batard turned out pretty much the same as the one in the book - amazing consistant large holes, nothing too irregular or too dense, and delicatly sour taste. Anyway, perhaps its worth a try to bulk rise a bit warmer...

cliquenoir's picture

I wanted to say thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences, recommendations and input. Sorry I haven't had a chance to get back sooner. Since originally posting, I've had a few more chances to work with the formula with each go at it making successively better bread. Today's Sunday bread was the best yet. I think much of it has come down to timing -- using the starter when it's most mature, using the leaven at its youngest but still strong enough stage, and remaining patient during the final dough's bulk rise. I've also found that I like working with a larger volume (3kg) of dough. It actually seems a bit more forgiving. 

Today's Sunday bread:

The crumb has a really nice mouth feel and the flavor is pretty fantastic. Getting closer.

Again, thanks for everyone's input. 

p.s. I thought I'd share this cast iron combo that I'm using for my oval loaves. It does the job quite well. I will tell you, however, pulling a heavy 500F cast iron beast out of the oven -- especially when loaded with bread -- keeps you real honest. Enjoy, and please be careful.

- Bayou Classics Cast Iron Oval Fryer with Griddle Lid (can be found on Amazon and elsewhere)