The Stretch and Fold Method
I suggest this technique more and more often in my classes and recipes, as it allows us to more fully hydrate the dough, almost to the point of over-stickiness, yet still create a very workable, dynamic dough, one that pops in the oven and creates more of the large irregular holes that artisan bakers (and consumers) love to see. The method is actually quite simple and I have short video that illustrates this at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1timJlCT3PM .
To work with sticky dough many bakers use flour on the work surface and on their hand, but I prefer to use an oiled work surface (either olive or vegetable) and either oil my hands or dip them in water (sticky dough won’t stick to wet or oily hands). All you have to do is to transfer the dough from the mixer to the oiled work surface, pat it into a rectangle or ball, and then pull, or stretch out about half of the dough from one side and then flip the stretched piece back over the top of the dough, about to the middle. Then repeat this from the other three sides, stretching and folding half the dough back over the top of the dough. Then, when all four sides have been folded over, flip the whole dough ball over so that the smooth underside is face up and the folded top is underneath. At this point, you either place the dough into an oiled container or leave it on the oiled work surface and cover it with a bowl. (As I said, some bakers prefer to work with floured surfaces instead–that is totally up to you.)
You can repeat this S&F at 5, 10, or even 45 minute intervals, depending on your baking schedule for the dough in question. For same day bakes, three or four S&F’s at 30 to 40 minute intervals are common, which allows the dough to ferment in between the S&F’s. For overnight dough, such as pizza or focaccia or certain rustic bread formulas, the S&F intervals can be as short as 5 minutes. Typically, four S&F’s are sufficient to fully develop and firm up the dough, but some doughs require only one, while others might require five S&F’s if they are very wet.
This technique greatly enhances the oven spring and causes the dough to achieve a kind of bounce and liveliness that is hard to replicate by conventional mixing methods. It also allows us to push the envelope regarding hydration, sometimes making it possible to add as much as 5% to 10% more water than the recipe calls for. And most importantly, it’s also a lot of fun and gives great pleasure to watch and feel the dough get stronger and more vibrant with each S&F — yet another reminder that we’re working with a living, dynamic product.
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