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 works. 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 - the life of a baker's wife can be a lonely one. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.