How to Knead Sourdough Artisan Bread

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What do you think of when you hear the phrase “kneading bread?” Lots of labor with your arms or using a stand mixer come to my mind as you work the dough to develop gluten strands. Sourdough Artisan Bread uses a very different kneading process. Instead of using a lot of force to align the gluten strands, sourdough artisan bread primarily relies on the long fermentation process, during which the chemical reaction between flour and water are harnessed and a few simple strengthening methods are used to strengthen and align gluten strands. This article will teach you a few of the different processes used so you will know how to knead sourdough artisan bread.

A Little Sourdough Bread Chemistry

As soon as water and flour are mixed together, the initial structure of a gluten network begins taking place. Many times sourdough artisan bread recipes call for an autolyse or a fermentolyse to begin this process of strengthening the dough before the dough is completely mixed together. Time is an important factor in artisan bread because gluten develops cross-links all by itself with the molecules even without mixing the dough.

What does Kneading do to Dough?

Mixing by machine or by hand develops the gluten molecules even more, aligning them into a network of strands. Stretching increases the strength and elasticity of the dough which is very important as the network of gluten strands traps the air bubbles produced by the wild yeast. This makes for a loaf of bread with good oven spring, nice crumb and great flavor. 

Sourdough Artisan Bread uses a combination of time and folding techniques during bulk fermentation to develop the gluten and strengthen the dough.

Looking for a Sourdough Recipe to Test this on?

Stretch and Fold

To “stretch and fold” dough, wet your hand (so it doesn’t stick to the dough). Reach down to the bottom of the bowl of dough and pull the dough up and over the top of the dough. Turn the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Turn another quarter turn and repeat. Perform one more 1/4 turn with stretching and folding the dough. Cover and set aside. Take note of how the dough feels through this process. It will go from feeling a little shaggy to smooth and elastic. Watch this video for an example of a stretch and fold.

Coil Fold

A coil fold is a technique of picking up the dough from the middle and letting the dough fall down onto and under itself, resulting in a coil. This is typically done with high hydration dough, like this sourdough focaccia bread. Once the dough is initially mixed, it will be very sticky. Place the dough in a rectangular container or glass pan. Cover it and let it sit. After half an hour, open the container and perform 4-6 coil folds. The dough will be very sticky for this first set of coil folds but will strengthen over time. Wet your hands with water. Place your hands under the middle of the dough and pull up. The dough will stretch up (but should not tear) and release from the bottom of the bowl. Once the dough releases, let the dough fall back under itself. Repeat the process for both sides of dough. Then turn the container and repeat the coil fold. Don’t worry if the dough is super sticky for the first one or two coil folds. It will transform into beautiful dough throughout this process. Watch this video to see the coil fold process.

Slap and Fold

For dough that needs some extra strength in developing the gluten strands, a slap and fold is a great method to use. A slap and fold strengthens the dough quickly and efficiently, forcing the gluten strands to align and resulting in a smooth and elastic dough. Over just a few minutes (3-5 is what I usually do), the dough will go from being stringy and “just mixed” to smooth and elastic. To slap and fold, scrape the dough onto a clean countertop. Using WET or DAMP hands pick the dough up and slap it onto the counter. Stretch the dough toward yourself and fold the dough up and over, away from your body. Pick the dough up and repeat this process until the dough strengthens and begins to feel smooth and cohesive. Watch a video of the process here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Lamination? Can I use lamination to knead sourdough bread?

Lamination is a method to help strengthen dough or add inclusions into sourdough bread. It is frequently used in place of a stretch and fold to help strengthen gluten strands or to add inclusions to bread. You can watch a video of the lamination method here.

Do you ever use a mechanical mixer for sourdough bread?

I use a mechanical mixer for sourdough bread that is NOT artisan. Sourdough cinnamon rollsbabka and this white sandwich bread all benefit from being mixed in a stand mixer. Artisan bread, however, is typically developed over time and with gentle mixing methods.

Do you have to use these mixing methods? What happens if you let the bread sit and only use fermentation time?

Fermentation time is powerful! You can make great sourdough bread with very few stretch and folds or mixing at all. My beginner no-knead recipe is a perfect example. The gluten strands will not be quite as developed in this bread and the crumb will be more closed with dough that only uses fermentation time. It will still taste great and is an easy way to make sourdough bread, especially as a beginner.

What Artisan Sourdough Bread recipe do you recommend? 

I love this recipe for sourdough artisan bread. I’ve been making it for many years and it’s still my favorite.

Looking for more delicious sourdough recipes?

Sourdough Artisan Bread Guide

Want more in-depth Sourdough instruction?

Check out my online sourdough classes or take a class in person.

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One Comment

  1. This is so helpful! Your photos and descriptions are wonderful…thank you for sharing!! ❤️🙏🏻👩‍🍳🍞