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Folding the dough (coil fold, stretch and fold) is a typical step that is found in many homemade bread recipes. The motivation for this step is that it contributes to make the dough stronger. What does it mean? How does this action make the dough stronger? What is the impact on the final result?

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    If by folding you mean kneading, does this answer your question? Kneading causing gluten
    – dbmag9
    May 9 at 17:15
  • It's not clear what you are asking? Are you talking about kneading, or using a stretch and fold technique as part of a no-knead recipe?
    – GdD
    May 9 at 17:26
  • Seems pretty clear to me...not sure it's a duplicate, but I could be convinced.
    – moscafj
    May 9 at 23:42
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    I am talking about coil fold and stretch and fold, not kneading
    – firion
    May 10 at 6:09
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    The answer of the question is not different between the terms "stretch and fold" and "kneading"; stretch and fold is just a type of kneading. So this seems to be mostly a linguistic question, since not everybody knows that "strong" dough is the same as dough with developed gluten.
    – rumtscho
    May 10 at 6:30

4 Answers 4

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A "strong" dough is a dough which holds together well. Bread doughs and pasta doughs, when compared to other doughs, are strong in the sense that they are not crumbly, but very cohesive.

Within the spectrum of bread dough, a strong dough is a dough that feels like play-doh. Right after kneading, it sticks little or not at all, it is elastic (wants to return to its original shape after deformation), and when it rises, it is capable of trapping lots of gas.

This is caused by the internal structure of the dough. It is held together by an elastic mesh of a protein called gluten, and when bakers say "strong dough" they mean a dough in which the gluten mesh is stronger than in the weak dough. The mesh is denser and holds together better.

The way kneading (including stretch and fold) makes dough stronger is by creating gluten. Flour contains the precursors of gluten, glutenin and gliadin; when they meet each other in the presence of water, they stick together. When enough of their molecules stick together, they form the mesh, in which the starch and other dough substances stay embedded. The physical action of the kneading makes these molecules meet each other and stick together, creating the gluten structure.

The stretch and fold technique is used mostly in very wet bread doughs, where traditional kneading doesn't work well. It creates a better-aligned gluten than traditional kneading, because you are always working in the same direction. But I wouldn't call the stretch-and-folded dough stronger than traditionally kneaded dough.

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    Maybe two clarifications....dough isn't at full strength right after stretch and fold....time is often a factor necessary for structural development, and kneading might not be part of that process. Second, neither stretch and fold, nor kneading actually create gluten. Gluten is present in the wheat flour, it is activated by water, it is aligned into a network by working it.
    – moscafj
    May 10 at 10:31
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    @moscafj strictly seen, gluten is not present in flour. What is present are glutenin and gliadin - they have to be combined in the presence of water to get gluten. It is a fine point many sources gloss over, because it doesn't have much practical importance - for making bread, you have to knead, and then you have gluten, and for allergies, you don't want to consume raw glutenin or gliadin any more than you want gluten. But in an explanation of how gluten gets formed during kneading, it is worth mentioning. The alignment you mention happens during the formation of gluten.
    – rumtscho
    May 10 at 11:09
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    And you are certainly right that you can get gluten without kneading, or that it is frequently best to combine kneading with resting. I restricted my answer to kneading only, because that's the focus of the question.
    – rumtscho
    May 10 at 11:11
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Gluten in wheat forms strands when it comes in contact with water. Whether kneading or stretching and folding, this process process aligns and strengthens those strands. That is how the dough becomes stronger. The strength of these strands is important for the formation of the crumb.

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How does this action make the dough stronger? What is the impact on the final result?

rumtscho and moscafj have nice explained how kneading works, so I'll limit my contribution to folding that happens after that point.

With some breads, after you knead the dough and let it rise once, you turn it out of the bowl, stretch it out into a rectangle, and fold it over on itself a few times. While this stretching might help further develop the gluten a little bit, the main purpose is to gently deflate the dough a bit, and to move the dough around so that the yeast cells are redistributed and get access to fresh food, leading to a strong second rising.

After the dough has risen and you're ready to shape it into a loaf, you follow a similar process of stretching the dough out a bit and rolling or folding it in on itself. The idea here is to stretch the outside layer a bit so that it forms a smooth surface over the loaf that contains the loaf and defines its shape.

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  • I would say the two things - task and technique - are orthogonal. The task you describe (deflation after the first rise) can be done with any type of kneading (or even without proper kneading, with real punching), and the other task (initial kneading) can also be done with either stretch and fold, or with kneading in the round. The shaping is maybe the more interesting part, since here you don't get the same results if you don't stretch.
    – rumtscho
    May 11 at 12:19
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I agree with the other answers but want to add one point about the stretching of the gluten frame as it interacts with the yeast. Think of the difference between a stack of ten bricks and a stack of ten sheets of plywood. The plywood is thinner. When you stretch and fold and again and again, you move the dough away from the brick paradigm toward a paradigm of thinner walls of gluten (and more of them). Those will then interact with the yeast and produce gas, which is trapped by the gluten walls, producing the magic that is bread. Baguettes or ciabatta with big bubbles in the dough tend to correspond to more stretching-and-folding.

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