The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Stretch and Fold Questions - French Bread from Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA)

troglodyte's picture

Stretch and Fold Questions - French Bread from Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA)

I have been making baguettes using a new-to-me recipe, the French Bread recipe in Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice (15th Anniversary Edition). This is my second attempt at this recipe. The first bake turned out reasonably well. 

The recipe calls for four "stretch and fold" operations at 30 minute intervals. You grab the end of the dough, pull and fold it 2/3 across, then fold the opposite side all the way across. Turn 90 degrees and repeat. Done.

The problem for me is that by the second or third stretch and fold operation, the dough is so tight and inelastic that it does not want to stretch. Another problem is the dough is fermenting and growing quickly, with large bubbles forming inside. Ambient temperature is in the low to mid 70s (F). Here are my questions:

1. Is it normal for the dough to become "unstretchable"? Should I be resting the dough longer than 30 minutes between stretch and folds? What am I missing here?

2. Should I be degassing the dough at the start of each stretch and fold, or allow the large bubbles to form and the dough to grow? 

3. Is there something that I may be missing about the four stretch and fold steps or the next step (hour long fermentation) that comes before shaping ? 

clevins's picture

The dough will resist stretching at a certain point, especially as you finish a set of S&Fs. At that point, just let it finish bulk. 

If you find it inelastic in the first set, that would be odd (though I've never done that recipe). Did you knead it before putting it in bulk?

troglodyte's picture

Yes, I kneaded by hand approximately four minutes, then let it rest 30 minutes in a lightly oiled bowl before starting the stretch and folds. The dough felt just right - smooth and slightly tacky. 

The first stretch and fold gave a very easy stretch. The second stretch and fold was tight. The third and fourth stretch and folds were essentially impossible. 


clevins's picture

I'd wait a little longer for the 3rd one (maybe 45 mins from the second S&F) and see how it is. I often only end up with 3 S&F sets if I've developed the dough much during mix. Ultimately, let the dough guide you. 

Benito's picture

In general, if the dough hasn’t relaxed yet, there is no need to do a stretch and fold.  You do them when the dough has relaxed and is telling you that it needs some structure created by a S & F.  I’m not familiar with that recipe for baguettes but if it is anything like his recipe for baguettes in his Artisan Breads Everyday there is too much yeast in it and it ferments really quickly.  If you are getting very large bubbles that you don’t want to become tunnels in your bread yes pop them as you go,


Ming's picture

The number of stretch and folds is dictated by the condition of the dough, if it resists then it does not need it. If you use a lot of yeast then the dough may develop very fast, it may not have a 2-hour window for you to do 4 stretch and folds. Good luck and have fun with it. 

mariana's picture

- Is it normal for the dough to become "unstretchable"? 

- Not in that recipe. In that recipe your flour or blend of flours should be moist enough and weak enough for the dough to relax after 30 min rest and be stretcheable again.

Your flour or blend of flours is either much drier or much stronger than that in the original recipe and with the amount of water indicated it is stiffer and becomes even more stiff with time as flour proteins continue to absorb water with time during the first 1-2 hours after mixing flour with water. Basically, your flour (mix) needs more water initially, or working with very wet hands as you stretch and fold to add small amount of water to the dough as it hydrates. 

- Should I be degassing the dough at the start of each stretch and fold

- No. S+F is a form of degassing on its own, a very gentle degassing. As you stretch it out, the large bubbles will collapse. 

- the dough is fermenting and growing quickly

- well, it is supposed to. In this recipe there is a bowl and indication that the dough should double. In a bowl you cannot see the actual doubling of the (volume of the) dough, it is not a measuring cup. So when the ball of dough in a bowl 'doubles' (in height on in diameter) it is actually at least quadruples in volume if not more. Basically, Peter wants it to grow to the max volume. And if it grows to the max volume before 1 hour ends, then gently push it down (degas) and let it rise again, until it doubles AGAIN. 

Do not worry about those large bubbles, they will be dealt with during dough division, preshaping and shaping stages.

best wishes, 


troglodyte's picture

Thanks to everyone for their helpful insights and inputs. I have copies of the books The Bread Baker's Apprentice (15th Ann. Ed., aka "BBA") and Artisan Breads Every Day, both written by Peter Reinhart. The French Bread recipes in the two books are very different.

I looked at both recipes, and chose the recipe from BBA. The BBA recipe is made in two parts. The first part is a pre-ferment called a pate fermentee. Mine was retarded in the refrigerator for two nights. Mixing the dough adds the same ingredients in the same quantities as the original pate fermentee. The pate fermentee and the dough each use a 50/50 mix of bread flour and all purpose flour, and each uses 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast. The total instant yeast used is 1 teaspoon. That does not seem like "a lot of yeast" to me. 

(I did NOT use the recipe from Artisan Breads Every Day. The recipe in Artisan Breads Every Day creates the entire dough first, then retards it in the refrigerator overnight. It uses 100% bread flour and 2-1/4 teaspoons of instant yeast.)

I used a 50/50 mix by weight of First Street High Gluten flour from Smart and Final (12.8-13.2% protein) plus Great Value all purpose flour from Walmart (protein unknown). 

All my life I have used glass mixing bowls for baking and cooking. I am aware of the difficulty in measuring rise in bowls. I have been shopping for vertical tubs to measure dough rise more quantitatively, but have not found ones I like at the right price yet. 

This bake had other issues. It was my first time using a couche for the final rise of three baguettes. I got huge oven spring, but overbaked the loaves. The crusts came out too dark and crunchy, and the crumb was not nearly as open as my previous bake of the same recipe. Both this bake and the previous bake had the same stretch and fold issues.

Thanks to everyone here, I have some new ideas to try and new thoughts to consider. Thank you!