I have read some methods that suggest regular 'stir downs' or stretch and folds during bulk fermentation, every 30-60mins. Some say this aids gluten formation. What do folks here think of this technique?
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The stretch and fold method is an alternative to the more vigourous kneading method of gluten development - which is an essential requirement for making good bread. Basically it substitutes time for energy. With kneading, you can get to the 'window' stage of development in as little as 5 minutes but maybe ten or more depending on the flour, hydration and vigour whereas with S&F what you need more of is time, and not so much energy, to get to the same stage. The folding is largely to incorporate air into the dough to give somewhere for the carbon dioxide that is generated to escape to and to collect. Kneading does the same sort of thing as well and depending on how well it is done, you might end up with smaller more evenly distributed bubbles in the final loaf than with the S&F method. The hydration of the dough also has an influence on bubble generation and loaf crumb texture (along with a lot of other things as well - but I am talking about a simple starter, flour, water salt loaf here). You can also substitute short conventional kneads spread over time if you like.
Fundamentally, it doesn't matter how or when you get there, as long as you get to the correct stage of gluten and proto-bubble development before you shape your loaf.
Keep on bakin'
There seems to be several different methods of doing the stretch and fold. I have followed Dom's 4 way which ends up with my dough in a ball at the end. He also mentions folding twice which I assume would be just the first 2 folds. I read another place which folds a couple of times trying to trap air inside the folds.
Can anyone address this? I am confused.
Previously I used the autolyse and delayed stretch and fold technique. 30mins without salt, then 4 brief S+Fs at 10,10, 30 and 30 mins. This time I am going to space the S+Fs out more 3 goes spaced 45 mins each. Each round I stretch the dough and fold into three (like a letter) vertically and horizontally. We'll see how it goes.
I like the S&F method, but I don't trap any air. I try not to degass too much, but, when there are large "bubbles", I make a habit of popping them. I don't need any extra gas, since I get a good rise on the final proof, and don't really want big holes in the final product.
I realize that these giant gaps are all the rage with "artisan" bread, but mine is usually eaten as some kind of sandwich, and big holes aren't a plus.
I do the autolyse 30 mins no salt, then a 4 minute burst in the Kenwood chef to get medium gluten development. Then into a bowl to rest with S&F at 50 mins and then again at 1hr 40. These S&F are really that throwing technique where you hold the dough then throw it forward, thus getting a good stretch, then scoop it back into a roughish ball and thow again. I've not noticed any difference between 5, 10 or 20 throws. Shape into a ball and back into the bowl for more resting. (There is then 1 more 50 min rest before preliminary shaping, 15 mins rest before final shaping and a 2 hour bench prove.) Finished product has a few largish holes near the crust if I didn't see and pop them while shaping, but nice texture throughout. Was good to read Farinam's explanation of why what I do works - time over effort! Thanks!
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