Folding versus Kneading

carla's picture

In some of the German baking forums the pot-baking (New York Times Recipe) was hotly discussed.

Some people baked it and were a bit baffled as to the folding method, as in Germany doughs are all kneaded and then formed into loaves.

Could you english-speaking people please explain what the folding actually does?

I was under the impression one folds a dough so the gluten develops without heavy kneading which has the added advantage that less air (=oxygen) is kneaded into the dough and so Vitamins (like Vit. E) are not oxidised to the extend they can be when mixed for 10 minutes in a commercial machine. So the folded loaves would have better taste and better colour.

I have been told that - oh no! - the folding is only to form the breads and has nothing to do with gluten formation...

So what are your opinions?
Bill, Dom, Jeremey and everybody else...

244 users have voted.


matthew 2006 November 30

My understanding is that folding is used during the fermentation stage after the needing and before the shaping. In some techniques the inital kneading/mixing is very brief and the majority of the gluten development occurs during the fermentation and folding. Other techniques use a reasonably traditional mixing/kneading but still throw a couple of folds in during the fermentation.

With some breads (particularly yeasted) I believe that it is used as a gentle punching down to prolong the fermentation and thus promote greater flavour development. I believe it is also used to gently improve the dough structure (gluten development I guess) without introducing the degree of oxidation that equivalent kneading/mixing would at the beginning of the process while also preserving as much as possible the gas cells forming in the dough to promote a nice open structure.

If you examine the dough just before and just after the fold there is a definite difference in it's physical characteristics.

I'm sure there is somebody on the forum with a much better technical understanding than me though.


wadada's picture
wadada 2007 February 13

First post!
Hi everbody, I just joined the forum. Until recently, I was a baker at a small bakery in here in Vermont. I left so I could breathe (white lung!)
I'm not a formally trained or educated baker, but I've had my hands in many tons of dough over the years, so I thought I'd share what I've learned about folding.
It certainly aids in gluten developement. Especially when hand-mixing dough, folding helps you fully develop the dough with less actual mixing time. With a mixer, this means less potential oxidation. With hand-mixing wet doughs like miche or ciabatta, I like to give them as many a four folds, depending on the flour. Stiffer doughs usually only take two.
Other benefits include degassing and distribution of "yeast food" (If you will forgive the overly-technical term).
Finally, and this one is handy in a drafty bakery with a hot oven room and a chilly delivery room, it evens the tempurature of the dough. If you mix the dough a little warm, leave it in a cool place until the first fold. You are then folding in cool dough that will lower the tempurature of the whole mass.
Timing the folds takes practice and observation. You want the dough to be relaxed when the bulk fermentation is complete and it is ready to form.
I hope that helps!

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2007 February 13

Welcome, Tyler! Thanks for sharing your folding observations. The part about achieving a relaxed dough before shaping is particularly helpful.

Looking forward to learning much from your baking experience. Hope you're breathing better now.

chembake 2007 February 15

Hi everbody, I just joined the forum. Until recently, I was a baker at a small bakery in here in Vermont. I left so I could breath (white lung!)

White lung?

I had more than three decades of baking experience and never experienced that...?
Tyler...? could you discribe to me its symptoms.....?

wadada's picture
wadada 2007 February 16

Tight chest, gasping for breath, especially in bed. I don't have asthma, but I can now imagine how awful it must be! I forget what my doc called it..."reactive airways" maybe.
On top of that, my sinuses we all plugged up, all the time. I don't think I breathed through my nose for a year! I even wore a mask.
I was the only one at the bakery who was affected like this (though lots of folks had the sniffles!). I imagine with better ventilation it might not have been as bad, but it's a small bakery in an inadequate space.
I hated leaving the bakery. Great bread, great owners and co-workers. I loved every part of the proccess, but I had to listen to my body.
When I fill in a shift it all comes night and day. At least I know I made the right choice
I'm applying for a job at a local least there's fermentation, and free beer!

chembake 2007 February 16

Ah....might be some form of hypersensitivity to flour dust...

I am just lucky that in all my bakery work it was done in well ventilated areas( or I am just insensitive to dust?) and even if flour dust clouds is so common in bakery operations I never experienced that discomfort that you had....
I hope that someday you can still find a better bakery to work with.
IMO...there is so much fun in bakery work mate and baking skills is much better to cultivate than beer making....

Keep in mind...a true baker no matter how many other jobs he take will always be a baker by heart....

Take me as an example:
I had been involved many food technology related jobs ranging from food R&D, chocolate and sugar confectionery,snack processing , etc but I always go back to breadbaking & flour confectionery( a strange word for fancy baking? ) whenever right opportunity comes .....

wadada's picture
wadada 2007 February 21

It was a hard choice to leave the bakery, but it had to be done. It was a 40-minute drive to work, and up in the snowy VT hills. It's kind of nice to not have to drive there, but I do miss it!
But I will keep my hands in the dough, and maybe I'll kick the sensitivity some day. I only went to the doctor once, since I don't have health coverage (USA!!!), but I just got married and can get on my wive's plan.
I'm not out of the game for good, I expect. Just needed a change.

SourDom 2006 November 29


my (non-technical understanding) is that stretching and folding acts to elongate and intersperse air bubbles as they form. This serves to give the dough a more robust structure, and help it to maintain its shape without degassing. It helps with getting an open texture.


TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2006 November 30

Yes, what Dom said.

Folding is like gentle punching down...degassing the dough a bit so that it will rise better and result in a more stable dough, not crawling on the surface. A folded dough is supposed to produce a bolder-looking loaf with rounder sides, not flattish. The dough is also partly oxidized in that process as oxygen is incorporated in it.

I love to fold and turn, and feel the dough change in texture and feel each time. Especially, if there are loads of!

carla's picture
carla 2006 November 30

Thanks for your answers TP and Dom.

So if it is done to help the structure it could be that folding is helping to form the gluten into stable strands.

Or it could be that it is only to form the loaves better so they don't go flat like a pancake.

Still not quite sure.
Must investigate a bit more.

Jeremy's picture
Jeremy 2006 November 30

Carla if I could remember exactly and verbatim what JHamelman said I would tell you, TP check your book and get back to me? but what I understand is that the shape if done correctly and the slashes depending on what kind of dough are also deep enough and the timing of the breads rising, those old indicators like pressing the dough forget about! Keep a schedule and analyze!


Bill44's picture
Bill44 2006 November 30

Well I don't know the technical reasons for the two methods, all I know is that they both work for certain situations.
I generally knead for dough under 65% hydration, and stretch and fold over 65% hyd.
As for forming loaves I usually gently hand flatten the dough and then roll up into a loaf shape, and put it into a banneton.

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