When making bread, there are numerous techniques you can do to develop the gluten inside the dough and one simple way to do that is by using the slap and fold technique.
The slap and fold technique is a great kneading technique if you have wet dough. It’s done by turning the dough out onto a flat working surface and then gently picking it up before swiftly slapping (with some force) the dough down again onto your work surface. After which, proceed to fold the dough away from you (similar to tucking it underneath itself).
It takes a bit of practice though to get the hang of it but it’s an effective way to quickly strengthen your dough without having to use any equipment such as a stand mixer.
When to use the slap and fold technique?
The slap-and-fold method for kneading dough is most effective when used in the wetter dough. A wet dough that’s ideal for this technique should have at least 78% hydration.
The percentage is subjective, though, as your dough’s hydration will depend on what type of flour you use as well as the flour-to-water ratio. This is why it’s recommended that you experiment to see how hydrated your dough should be when using the slap-and-fold method.
If your dough is too stiff or dry, it’ll be hard to stretch and you won’t be able to properly slap and fold it. If that’s the case, just knead the dough the common way—stretching and folding it together as you incorporate a piece of the dough into itself.
How do you perform a slap and fold?
The slap and fold technique is done by turning the dough out onto a flat working surface. Then gently pick it up before quickly slapping (use some force) the dough onto your work surface.
You can then proceed to fold the dough away from you (similar to tucking it underneath itself).
To keep your hands and work surface clean—wet your hands frequently with the water in between the kneading process.
Keeping your hands nonstick will help avoid tearing the dough excessively. For your work surface, you can use a scraper to remove any stuck bits back into your dough.
When to Slap and Fold During the Breadmaking Process
Start the slap and fold process after the autolyze step. For the uninitiated, the autolyze step is when the flour and water have been mixed, followed by a rest period of 20 to 60 minutes.
Or you can also slap and fold for a few minutes after combining just the flour, 85% of the required water in your recipe, and your leavener. After a few minutes of that, you can proceed to add the salt but withheld the remaining water and do another slap and fold until the dough strengthens to your desire.
You can also slap and fold only once—before adding the salt and remaining water or after all the ingredients have been incorporated. This essentially boils down to preference.
How to Handle High-Hydration Dough
Too much dough hydration makes the slap-and-fold process a bit messy and sometimes difficult as well.
To make sure your dough doesn’t become too hydrated, you can split up the mixing stages or do a bassinage mix where you slowly add the water through the mix so your dough doesn’t end up too sloppy in the beginning.
For instance, withhold some of the water and start the slap and fold process. Once your dough can build some strength, add a little more water to the dough while continuing to strengthen it in a second slap-and-fold session.
Slap and fold process: step-by-step
To do a slap and fold technique, follow the step-by-step process below for detailed instructions:
- Place your dough on a clean work surface
- With wet hands, grab each side of the dough (left and right) with your hand in a pincher position
- Pick up the dough and slap the long-hanging part onto the counter
- While still holding it, stretch it towards you (the part of the dough that has been slapped to your working area should stick and anchor to the surface so the whole dough stretches)
- Quickly fold it over the part that has stuck to the counter
- Repeat and make sure you’re rotating your dough 90° each time you slap and fold it so all parts are strengthened equally
- As you slap and fold, pick up the dough and slap it down on your working area
How long does to slap and fold sourdough?
Continue the slap and fold process until your dough has strengthened enough.
You’ll know it’s strong if the whole dough is already smoothed and stops sticking to your working surface. It will also start holding its shape as a whole without the excessively untidy sections.
How long it takes for the process to finish will depend on your dough (what flour you used and the level of hydration). Another factor is how effectively you perform your slap and fold technique.
However, a good rule for most bakers is anywhere around 3 to 6 minutes.
This yields a dough that typically requires 1 to 3 sets of stretch and folds to be strengthened. Do note that this duration applies if you use enough vigorous force during the process to give the dough a powerful stretch at each step. If you have a more gentle approach, it might take you longer to finish the whole process.
Here’s a video by Richard Bertinet himself that illustrates the process of how a wet dough can go from being disheveled and loose to smooth and nicely strengthened at the end. Observe how the transformation happens in just a few minutes of kneading when done right.
Use the slap-and-fold kneading technique if you want a quick way to strengthen your dough. Just make sure to use higher hydration bread recipes or those that require higher whole grain percentages to get the best results.