Stretching and folding sourdough: How many times is enough?

three sourdough loaves: stretch and fold experiment

Stretching and folding sourdough dough is one of several common techniques used to build dough strength. Some other techniques include the coil fold, kneading, and slap and fold. (Note: If you’re interested in the scientific details of the gluten and bread dough strength, this research article is useful.) In this test, I just focus on the stretch and fold technique. I first learned this technique from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases). Many sourdough recipes I’ve come across call for a specific number of stretch and folds at specific intervals. Does the exact number of stretch and folds really have a significant effect on your dough? If you lose track of time and forget a stretch and fold, is your dough ruined?

Details

Here, I followed my basic sourdough recipe and scaled it to make three loaves. I made the leaven and then dough. Then, I divided the dough into three equal parts by weight.

Stretching and folding sourdough loaves schedule

I stretched and folded the dough for one loaf twice in the beginning of the dough proofing, then left it alone for the rest of the time. For the other two loaves, I folded one loaf four times and the other eight times.

Stretch and foldLoaf ALoaf BLoaf C
19:10 am9:10 am9:10 am
210:00 am 10:00 am10:00 am
3skipskip10:30 am
4skip11:00 am11:00 am
5skip skip11:30 am
6skip12:00 pm12:00 pm
7skip skip12:30 pm
8skip skip1:00 pm
Total number of stretch and folds248
stretching and folding dough schedule

Shaping

Then, 30 minutes after the last stretch and fold for loaf C, I shaped all three loaves into taut balls. After resting on the counter for 20 minutes, I transferred them to bannetons and put them in the refrigerator overnight.

Baking

After cold proofing in the refrigerator for about 24 hours, I preheated by Dutch oven for about an hour in the the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, I baked each loaf for 25 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit covered with the Dutch oven lid. After 25 minutes, I removed the lid and decreased the oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and baked the loaves for 25 more minutes.

How did the loaves compare to each other?

Surprisingly, all three loaves were very similar. The crust of each loaf was very bubbly and crispy. Each loaf rose quite a bit in the oven (amazing oven spring!) However, if I had to choose a loaf with the best crust and oven spring, I would choose the loaf whose dough was stretched and folded four times. This loaf had the most bubbly crust and most oven spring.

Here, you can see a close up of all three loaves. For the top loaf, the dough was stretched and folded twice. The dough for the middle loaf was stretched and folded four times, and the dough for the bottom loaf was stretched and folded eight times.

Below is a comparison of the inside of each loaf. Once again, all three loaves were very similar. The loaf whose dough was stretched and folded four times seemed to have the best bubble distribution, although the difference is minimal between the loaves. As you probably would expect, the flavor of all three loaves was the same.

stretching and folding sourdough
stretching and folding sourdough

You can make good sourdough loaves with minimal stretching and folding

The three loaves here were very similar and almost identical even though the dough for each loaf underwent a different number of stretches and folds. Therefore, it is good news that you can obtain a good sourdough loaf without worrying about the exact number of stretches and folds at specific timing intervals!

4 thoughts on “Stretching and folding sourdough: How many times is enough?

  1. Great instructions. I’m surprised that you’ve got tons of followers on Instagram, and I’m only the 2nd to like this post. It’s fantastic, never saw a comparison like this before.

  2. Thank you. This is very helpful for those of us who wonder when more (or less) is better. The pictures are beautifully done as well. Happy baking!

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