Many bread recipes contain instructions like “punch down the dough” or “knock back the dough.” Some even go so far as to give instructions on how to do these moves. The novice may well think that “punching down” the dough means to take a fist and smash the dough, or that dough really does respond favorably to throwing the dough onto the bench so hard that it bounces. Some writers have even proclaimed that the yeast loves being beaten into submission. Sure.
As in so many other things involved with bread, the truth is a bit more prosaic. Most bread doughs respond well to a gentle, very short, resumption of kneading. This may be accomplished by a variety of methods, three of which are detailed and shown below. The why is also very prosaic: folding drives out some or all of the gasses that have been generated by the fermentation process and rearranges the dough so that the yeast has access to fresh nutrients. The build up of gas in the dough can act as an inhibitor on the yeast, a chemical brake on its activity, so when we get rid of the gas, we insure that the yeast can continue to develop and flourish. It’s as simple as that.
One further word on folding. The process should be as gentle as possible, so that the gluten that we have worked so hard to develop isn’t torn or destroyed. The gluten strands will form the network that traps the gases released during fermentation and rise, which is what gives the expansion that makes bread bread and not a tortilla. Be gentle with the dough.
Folding Dough Three Ways
In this portion of the site, I show three ways to fold dough:
- A simple method whereby the dough is given a few revolutions with a dough hook. The dough may then be turned over and given a few more revolutions.
- A simple roll-up of the dough on the counter.
- The Hamelman fold, a slightly more complicated effort performed on a lightly-floured bench.
Drop Hook Fold
This is the simplest of the three. The dough sits in the covered mixer bowl for the fermentation. After a period of time, the baker removes the cover, presses the dough hook into the dough and turns on the mixer for a few seconds. After this, the baker may turn the dough over and repeat the process with either the bottom or a side of the dough on top. When the baker is finished, he covers the dough and lets it ferment some more.
This is no more than removing the dough from the bowl, patting it out flat to spread it out and remove some of the gas from the dough, and then rolling it up like a jelly roll. The dough will then be shaped like a cigar. The baker then rolls up the dough along the other axis, forming the dough into a ball, then putting it back in the bowl.
This is the most complex fold of the three, but even so, it’s still a simple matter. The dough is removed from the bowl, placed on a lightly-floured surface, patted down flat to degas it, and then folded like an envelope, all four sides being brought over the center of the dough. Where Hamelman’s method differs from the other two is his insistence on keeping the smooth side up from this point on, even if the dough is folded again. After folding, the dough is returned to the bowl. He is also insistent that all fresh flour, the flour picked up from the work surface, must be brushed off the dough. He correctly points out that any fresh flour that is allowed to remain on or in the dough may give rise to streaks of unincorporated flour in the finished loaf, and these streaks can cause eating or visual problems.
I used a two-day old 60% biga and made a 60-ounce / 1.7 KG dough at 60% hydration, with 2 teaspoons / 10 ml of yeast total.
This isn’t much yeast for the amount of flour, but as you will see, it was enough to give me my usual basketball-boules, as can be seen in
the brotform and boule series. There were 4 fermentations of 20 minutes each and 1 hour of rising.
Here we go:
Because there are very few shots in this series, I have used only larger pictures.
Drop Hook, 7 pictures
The dough after fermenting for 20 minutes.
The dough hook just dropped into the dough.
The dough hook after about three revolutions.
The dough off the hook and turned so that the side is up. This will give the hook a new orientation for its work.
Doing a few more revolutions.
The dough up in the air after the second set of revolutions.
The dough back in the bowl for more fermentation.
Roll-up Fold, 7 pictures
The dough ready to fold.
Dough patted out and degassed.
Starting to roll the dough.
Finished the first part of the roll.
Rolling along the long axis. This will form the dough into a ball.
Finished the rolling fold.
Back into the bowl.
Hamelman’s Folding, 7 pictures
In this series, I’ve labelled the four side of the dough as if it were a clock face, with arrows to show the direction of the fold. This will help you understand what’s going on and how to do it.
Dough in the bowl, ready to be folded.
Here’s the dough patted out, ready to fold. The four points are marked like a clock face. The arrows show the direction for the dough folding.
Bring the dough at 3 o’clock over the main portion of the dough toward 9 o’clock until it’s a little past the center of the dough.
Bring the dough at 9 o’clock over the dough, toward 3 o’clock, until it overlaps the dough that came over from 3 o’clock.
Bring the dough at 6 o’clock up toward 12 o’clock to the center of the dough.
Bring the dough at 12 o’clock down toward 6 o’clock so it overlaps the dough that you brought up from 6 o’clock.
Turn the dough over, brush off any bench flour, and put the dough back into the bowl.
The Two Breads Made From This Dough
I made two breads from folded dough:
The bread in the Shaping A Boule series and
The bread in the Brotform series
Here are pictures of what they looked like after shaping, after slashing and after baking. Bear in mind that I used 2 teaspoons / 10 ml
of yeast and used biga straight out of the refrigerator. As you will see, it didn’t inhibit the oven spring one bit.
After shaping and ready to rise.
After slashing and ready for the oven.
After baking and on the rack to cool. Looks like 100% oven spring, eh.