The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Question about coil folds

justkeepswimming's picture

Question about coil folds

I used coil folds for the first time yesterday, and realized there is a gap in my understanding: how often should stretch and folds or coil folds be done, and when during BF is optimal. Is it important to do them every 30 minutes? Three times, four times or? At the beginning of bulk but not after X? Or does the "when" really matter, as long as you do them and the dough still has time to react afterwards. I suspect you don't do coil folds right before shaping, but maybe? 

And I guess while I'm asking, how do you decide whether to do stretch and folds, coil folds, or slap and folds? Does hydration drive that decision, or something else? 

This community is so generous and helpful, your  input is always much appreciated! Thanks in advance. 

DanAyo's picture

Very good questions that are typical of many astute bakers that are struggling to learn and perfect their breads. As you continue to bake and try different techniques, experience will dictate how you handle a particular dough.

Realize this. When a baker publishes their recipe (formula and methods), they are trying their best to communicate with the goal of teaching another baker how to successfully bake their bread. But the fact is, it is not unusual for that author to change or tweak the recipe and the way they handle the dough according to their read and feel of that particular dough on that given day. Circumstances such as flour, temperature, humidity, starters, and other variables keep bread baking interesting. Try every technique that interest you and perfect the ones that seem the best. Experiment and keep a mental note of what you liked and didn’t. As you bake more your confidence will rise. Small errors or mishaps will be easily recoverable. Baking bread is an ancient art that satisfies the senses.

A few thoughts

  1. Fold the dough when it starts to relax and slacken up. But 30 minute intervals or so is fine.
  2. Remember the purpose of everything you do with your dough. Folding build strength.
  3. Stretch and folds are most common
  4. Coil Folds are more gentle and tends to degas less.
  5. Slap and Folds strengthen moderately wet doughs best.
  6. Folding that ceases earlier in the bulk ferment will leave more gas pockets in the dough.
  7. Folds that continue longer into the bulk ferment will produce a more uniform crumb.

The top list is not an absolute, but written to give you an idea of how things affect your dough.

Bake often and keep asking questions. We are here to help and enjoy seeing others excel. 


justkeepswimming's picture

Thank you so much, Dan, this is very helpful. I tend to be a conceptual thinker, rather than doing things a specific way only. If there is a reason to only do something one way, no problem, but I still want to know why. Learning, experimenting and discovering new things are all pieces of the joy of life for me overall, including in baking bread.

Thanks again, and will definitely ask questions as I go. 

Cellarvie's picture

Thank you justkeepswimming for asking this perceptive question.  And thank you Dan for your astute and succinct response.  I've been intuitively alternating my bulk dough handling depending on the dough, but with variable results because I hadn't thought it through. Got it now!  Thank you both.

RainingTacco's picture

Is it necessary to do coil or stretch and folds at all, if you did slap and fold long enough that windowpane effect occurs? Wouldn't further manipulation of the dough unnecessarily degas the dough?

justkeepswimming's picture

I have never baked something that had slap and folds recommended as part of the recipe, so have never done them. I have baked recipes that include coil folds, but had never understood the "why" behind it - hence the question. The recipe I followed today uses gentle coil folds during bulk - no manual gluten development until then. 

But yes, depending on one's flour, hydration, the recipe they are following, and amount of gluten development they were aiming for pre bulk ferment, you are likely right. There seem to be a number of variables in the mix. 


RainingTacco's picture

As always with baking -there's a sweetspot. I guess if one achieved windowpane, then maybe one coil/stretch and fold during bulk would just benefit better bubble distribution, but wouldn't contribute to dough strength. At the same time it will degas the dough so its best to use coil/stretch and folds only when necessary, only when you need to develop gluten. If the gluten is developed, coil/stretch folds are optional.

Dan_In_Sydney's picture

Hi Mary,

You could hardly wish for a better first response than Dan's so I won't try (and there is little to add to it, anyway).

Instead, here is much the same but in my own words . . .

There are three semi-competing characteristics you want in your dough. You need all of them but the 'ideal' ratios are down to the type of bread you are looking to make.


The first is inclusion of gas, to grow the dough and make it rise - both during fermentation and during the 'oven spring' phase, where not only will more gas be created, but the existing gas will expand.

Production of this gas occurs as part of the fermentation but any time you touch the dough, you risk releasing the gas or dispersing it through the dough. Either result may actually be desireable, depending on the type of result you are after. When making a Neapolitan pizza, for example, the center is quite agressively flattened to stop it rising (much) when cooked. Sandwich bread should rise but no one wants their mustard to start leaking out so even distribution of the essential gas - without fully releasing it - will allow the bread to rise uniformly, without large holes being generated.


To hold the gas, you need a strong gluten network. This is developed by working the dough, whether via machine or kneading or slaps or letter folds or coil folds.

As you work the dough, you develop the strength, however that developing strength manifests with a tightening of the dough. This is good, but the tighter it becomes, the to hard it is to work and the more likely you are to tear the dough while working it.

As mentioned above, however, when you knead the dough, you also disrupt the formation and 'pockets' of the very gas you are building the gluten in order to trap!


This is the other essential property for retaining the gas created during fermentation. While you need a strong gluten network to contain the gas, if that network doesn't extend with the expanding gas, you won't get much of a rise. I think of this like inflating a balloon - you need a certain amount of strength in the ballon so it doesn't break but if you've ever tried inflating a water balloon with your own breath, you'll understand that too much strength is not always a good thing!

Different doughs will be more or less extensible due to the flour, the fermentation time and the other ingredients but most of this comes down to gluten - if your flour is high gluten, it will naturually lack extensibility when made into a dough. Certain ingredients, like fats can reduce this strength and that is what 'shortening' means - it shortens the gluten and makes the gluten network weaker. That's one reason fat is so essential to soft baked goods.

The other thing that aids extensibility is time, because it allows the gluten network to 'relax'. (This is the action of the enzymes in the mixture degrading the gluten network.) Think of any pancake recipe that instructs you to mix (which strenghtens gluten) only until just combined and then leave the batter to rest (to allow it to 'relax').

The result

The end result of all this is that - for and given recipe - different methods, amounts and timing of gluten development will accentuate different characteristics and therefore the various sequence and specifics will be designed accordingly.

For a general 'artisan' bread - a boule or batard, for example - you will need to develop a gluten network that is both strong and extensible and that also has enough gas. The two general ways to do this are to mix to 100% (or close) gluten development right from the start and then leave it alone or to gradually build gluten during the fermentation.

The former option is simple: develop the gluten fully and then leave it, unmolested, to build gas during the bulk fermentation period.

The latter option involves repeatedly disturbing the fermentation. That being the case, a gentler action is warranted. The gentler the action, however, the less it develops the dough so the more you may need to do it to achieve the same result and the more often you are therefore disturbing the dough. It's a balancing act.

So what about the waiting?

AS above, developing the dough tightens it and resting it loosens it. The reason for alternating is to allow a much more gentle, gradual development.

Different types of folding techniques vary in force and effectiveness. Slapping is quite effective (and very useful on wetter doughs) but is quite violent - even the gentler versions - which is why, personally, I only ever use that as the first 'fold' and thereafter use gentler folds. The 'coil' fold method is designed to be very gentle but you may find you need more 'rounds' of them to achieve sufficient developement. The last, and most common is the standard stretch and fold, which is a great blend of development and gentleness.

Note, however, that more folds means more time disturbing gas pocket formation and also, the shorter the length of indisturbed fermentation.

Due to this, gentler folds are far more useful with a dough that will take a long time to ferment, like a sourdough as, even after 3 or 4 rounds of folds, there will still usually be many hours of undisturbed fementation. Compare that to a loaf made with the standard (in grams) 7g packet of yeast to 500gm of flour, which will usually be double in around 2 hours. Three sets of folds at half hour intervals would take most of the fementation time!

Why half an hour between folds? Simply because that's a good guide for how long it will take for most doughs, made out of most flours, at usual hydration levels to recover and relax. Keeping the rest of the minimum means that you will get your development finished sooner, leaving longer for the dough to build up volume.

At least, that is how I have come to understand it.

Obviously, different breads have different requirements - a ciabatta, for example, is very wet and very airy but also doesn't rise vertically a lot so you won't need a great deal of manual development of the dough (which will be difficult at high hydration anyway!). Not getting much development, it will have lots of time to itself to develop those big holes.