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Stretch and Fold - Preparing for the Farmers Market

I can't count the number of times that people asked if that stretch and fold thing REALLY worked. As luck would have it, my wife had been visiting the bakery one night as I was preparing for the next day's Gunnison Farmers Market and took some pictures of the process. Maybe she wanted some pictures to help her remember what I looked like. I recently rediscovered the pictures and find they really put together a great overview of the stretch and fold process. Yes, that's really me, and yes, that's really me preparing for a farmers market.

A bucket of bubblin' ooze - or Poolish
1. The days before the final push, I do prep work, such as starting pre-ferments, feeding up starters, roasting seeds and such. The reward is seeing a bucket with bulging plastic wrap on it. In this case, a poolish extravaganza. While small mixers really aren't up the workload of making large quantities of dough, I do use my KitchenAid K45S and my Electrolux DLX to mix preferments. Sourdough and poolish have no real load limits in these machines.

Yes, those ARE hardware store paint buckets. They are made from the same plastic as food grade containers. However, for the purpose of ease of documentation, I suggest purchasing NSF certified buckets from a food service industry supplier. They'll be more expensive, but it will be easier to satisfy your health department inspector.

When measuring ingredients, I use separate buckets for wet and dry ingredients 2. I measure the ingredients into more buckets. One bucket is reserved for dry ingredients such as flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and grains. The other bucket is reserved for wet ingredients such as water, starter, pre-ferments, oils, butter, eggs, liquid sweeteners and so on. Having one person measuring while another mixes can get the breads done more quickly. However, when planning your bake, it is important to consider your bottlenecks. We had limited oven capacity. If we rushed at this point, we'd have far too many loaves of bread waiting for an oven at the other end of the evening. I staggered the batches of bread so they'd be ready when there was an oven waiting for them. Of course, there was more scheduling involved because not all breads take the same length of time to prepare. You need to know your kitchen, your breads and your processes. All this comes from experience. After the water, the preferments are added to the liquids bucket.
3. I usually add water to the liquids bucket, followed by pre-ferments, eggs, oils and liquid sweeteners. Reserving one bucket for liquids and one for solids makes it easier to empty the buckets. I use the rule of 240, which means some times of the year the water can be very hot or very cold.

The bakery area where I was working was pretty tight for a photographer to work with - the work table had an upper shelf that really got in the way of the picture taking. I am amazed how well Beth did in getting the important things to show without cutting off part of my head too often.

And here's a dry bucket
4. As mentioned before, we use one bucket for dry ingredients. We measure most ingredients directly into the buckets. We are using shipping scales with a 50lb capacity. We add an ingredient, tare the scales and add the next ingredient.
For small ingredients I use small scales
5. Yeast, herbs and spices are used in small quantities - but they are critical, so I use sensitive scales to measure them. While this web site is all about sourdough, I make a number of very good yeasted breads for the farmers market. I add the yeast to the dry ingredients and stir it in, as this helps protect the temperature sensitive instant yeast I use from temperature shocks from hot or cold water.
Salt is just measured into the big bucket
6. Salt is used in large enough quantities that I just measure it into the dry ingredients bucket.

With the stretch and fold process, ALL ingredients are added at the start of the process. If you were using a mixer, you'd add seeds and grains later in the mix as they could interfere with gluten development. With stretch and fold, this is not an issue, and these ingredients are much more evenly distributed than when using a mixer.

Ingredients are dropped into bus tubs,liquids first
7. Once measured, the ingredients are added to a bus tub, liquids first. Bus tubs have lots of advantages. They are food safe, the are a convenient size, and they are cheap.
Some ingredients need persuasion to be poured
8. In some cases, the ingredients don't pour very well. Honey and syrups just form sticky masses on the bottoms of the buckets. A plastic scraper can be a great help.
The mix is done by hand, Mike is shown putting his hands in the bus tub
9. The liquid and dry ingredients are given a very rough mix by hand. The goal is not a well developed dough, just that all the flour be wet. If there are strands of gooey pre-ferments in the dough, that's OK.
A closeup of Mike mixing the liquid and dry ingredients
10. Some people have trouble getting their hands into the dough. All I can say is, "just do it - it's only flour, water, salt, and leaven, it won't kill you!" Doing the stretch and fold mix helped me get over my dislike of wet doughs.
Another closeup of Mike mixing the liquid and dry ingredients
11. I reach under the ingredients to bring the stuff on the bottom to the top.
Still another closeup of Mike mixing the liquid and dry ingredients
12. This is a fairly quick action.
Getting all the dry ingredients wet looks a bit like kneading
13. The goal isn't kneading, the goal is just to get all the dry ingredients wet. Sometimes this looks like kneading, however it doesn't take nearly as long. In another kitchen, my wife measured while I mixed. I was usually waiting for her to finish measuring - and she was very fast at measuring. Often the most effective mixing approach is to open ones hand in the dough, clench the hand into a fist compressing and mixing the ingredients, and then repeating.
The ingredients are looking like a ragged dough
14. I'm about done mixing at this point. The dry ingredients are wet, however the dough is very, very rough looking. And that's OK. This is about a 10 or 12 loaf batch.
Mike covers the bus tub with cling wrap
15. When these pictures were taken, we were in the mountains of Colorado, where the humidity was so low that any dough left unprotected dried out. I covered dough with plastic film. You could use food safe trash bags, oil cloth, or any of a large number of things that would keep air and pests out of the dough.
A closer view of some ugly, rough dough
16. A close-up picture of some rough, ugly dough. It didn't really need to be this well developed, but I find plain doughs require more work to get to the point where all the flour is wet than doughs with grains, seeds or other aggregate in them.
The doughs are stored in a bakers rack
17. One other advantage of bus tubs is they fit nicely onto bakers racks. This makes it easy to move a lot of dough around the bakery. Each rack can hold 5 or 6 tubs of dough, and each tub can hold up to 22 loaves worth of dough.
An hour later, the dough is looking better!
18. With no further work on my part, the dough is already looking better than when it was put on the rack.
Once uncovered, the dough is dumped out of the tub and onto a work surface
19. It may not be very glamorous, but we uncover the dough and plop it onto a work surface. Some doughs stick to the bus tub, and they can be helped along with a dough scraper or fingers.
The ribs on the bottom of the bus tub left an impression on the dough
20. The dough awaits. The only doughs that seem to rise during the stretch and fold process are heavily yeasted ones. However, the riser is definitely active during this time.
Mike is using a dough scraper to stretch the dough
21. I reach under the dough to more tease it out than stretch it. It is important to reach under the dough to really stretch it and develop it. Some people only press on the dough from the top but that only develops the dough on the top. Reaching under the dough develops the entire mass of the dough.
The dough gets stretched in all directions
22. The dough is stretched in all directions until it is about 1/3 as high as it started out. While the dough looks better than it did, it still isn't very pretty.

It is at this point where any lumps of dry stuff remaining in the dough should be found and mashed out of existence. Or, it's time to frissage.

The dough is folded like a letter
23. The dough is folded like a letter, 1/3 is folded down from the top.
Dough takes more effort to fold than paper
24. It tales a bit of doing to get the dough folded down.
Now fold up from the bottom
25. The folding continues with the bottom being folded up.
Next, fold in from the right
26. Then the right is folded to the center
And in from the left
27. And the left is folded on top of that.
After the final fold, the dough is put back in the bus tub
28. After the final fold, the dough is put back into the bus tub. The dough is still pretty rough, but it is coming along.
The dough, an hour later!
29. What a difference an hour makes! The dough has relaxed, spread out a bit and become much more homogeneous.
Mike is persuading the dough to come out of the bus tub
30. This time the dough is a bit stickier, so it needs a bit more persuasion to come out of the bus tub.
The dough has become much more developed
31. After a second hour in the bus tub, the dough has become as well developed as most doughs are when they are mixed in a machine.
The dough gets stretched again
32. Yes, we stretch again, however this time it's easier.
The dough gets folded again
33. Once we've stretched, we fold again. Stretch and fold. It's not just a catchy name.
The dough improves dramatically
34. As we do the stretch and fold, the dough improves dramatically.
We re-fold
35. We fold over the tube of dough.
And then its ready for the tub again
36. Once folded, the dough is ready to go back into the tub.
A nice dough being removed from the tub
37. We're about to do our last stretch and fold on this dough!
Dough ready for a final stretch and fold
38. For most doughs, we do three stretch and folds, followed by a rest period as long as the time between the stretch and folds. Different doughs may benefit from more, or fewer, cycles. Some may prefer more, or less, time between cycles. The important thing here is to pay attention to the dough and see what it wants.
We stretch
39. The dough is stretched.
We fold
40. And the dough is folded.
and we fold again
41. And then the dough is folded again
Dough ready for it's last rest
42. The dough is ready for a last rest, after which it will be ready to be scaled and loafed.

After that last stretch and fold, I let the dough rest again for the same amount of time I give the dough between stretch and folds. Then it is time to scale the dough, round the dough and let it rest for 10 to 30 minutes. At the end of that time, final loafing, a rise and a bake are in the dough's future. I hope the stretch and fold pictures have helped aspiring farmers market bakers on a budget.