Bread Technique: Folding the Dough

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[Photograph: Donna Currie]

As always with our Knead the Book feature, we have five (5) autographed copies of The Art of Baking Bread to give away this week. Enter the contest here.

Since The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini is technique-heavy rather than recipe-heavy, we're giving you some techniques here that can be applied to your own bread-baking routines.

The folding technique here is not for forming the final product; this is done after the first rise to create structure in the dough. It seems rather complicated, but once you run through it one time, you'll know exactly what you have to do.

This is more likely to be required for high-hydration doughs than for your basic sandwich loaf.

Step by Step

  1. Scrape the dough out of the container and place it directly in front of you.
  2. Gently stretch the dough into a square. (The dough has a tendency to return to the original shape, so just keep working at it until you get it where you want it.)
  3. Using both hands, pick up the right side of the dough and lift it off the work surface, stretching the dough upward as you lift (just don't tear it.)
  4. Fold the flap of dough one-third of the way across the square.
  5. Repeat step 3 for the left side of the dough.
  6. Fold the flap of dough across the rest of the dough.
  7. Using both hands, pick up the end of the dough farthest from you and repeat step 3.
  8. Fold the flap of dough one-third of the way across the dough.
  9. Using both hands, pick up the end of the dough nearest to you and repeat stop 3.
  10. Fold the dough across the rest of the dough.
  11. Flip the dough over so that what was once bottom of the dough is now the top. The surface of the dough will be shiny and smooth.
  12. Place the dough about one foot away from your body and cup both hands around the dough so that your little fingers can touch the work surface.
  13. Drag the dough toward your body, making sure that the dough remains in contact with the work surface at all times. Friction is required in order for the dough to come together properly (so your work surface cannot have too much flour or oil on it or the dough will slide too much.) The bottom edge of the dough should become pinched between the work surface and your fingers. The top surface of the dough will begin to stretch and tighten (i.e. the surface of the dough will become more and more smooth.)
  14. Rotate the ball of dough about one-third of a turn, repeat steps 12 and 13 until all of the seams created by the foldeing are no longer visible and the dough comes together in the shape of a ball.
  15. To further tighten the ball, cup your hands around both sides of the dough.
  16. Lightly grip the dough (but enough so that the dough adheres to your hands) and stretch the surface of the dough downward.
  17. Keep stretching - but don't tear the surface of the dough until your hands are cupped underneath the dough, almost to its center, and your palms are facing up.
  18. Rotate the dough and repeat until a nice, tight skin is formed across the ball.
  19. The surface of the dough should look tight, and air bubbles should appear just beneath the surface. At this point, return the ball of dough to its container, cover it, and continue the fermentation process as described in the specific recipe.

What Worked: Many recipes don't even include this step, moving from first rise to final shaping without any handling in bewteen. It's great to have such detailed instructons for this step. And good to be reminded that it's okay to make a more complicated loaf.

What Didn't: When I read the "dragging" instruction, it didn't seem like it would work, but once I had my hands on the dough it made perfect sense.

Suggested Tweaks: Keep in mind that most recipes don't even include this step, so if you mess it up, your bread will be just fine.

Adapted from The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini. Copyright © 2012. Published by Skyhorse Publishing. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved

About the bread baker: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. You can find her on her blog, Cookistry or follow her on Twitter at @dbcurrie.