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Kneading dough is what helps the gluten develop strength, ultimately giving bread its structure and shape. There are a number of different kneading techniques, called upon for different kinds of bread.

For almost all the bread I bake, I use a techinique called “stretch and fold”, which isn't unlike kneading, but a little more delicate for our dough (and easier on our hands!).

From left to right: a sourdough dough just after mixing the ingredients; after one set of stretch-and-folds; after three sets of stretch-and-folds.

To knead dough using the stretch-and-fold technique, follow these steps:

  1. Using a wet hand, grab the edge and underneath of part of your dough. (Wetting your hand will help prevent it sticking to the dough; you may need to re-wet it a few times during this process. I usually keep a mixing jug of water nearby for this.)
  2. Pull the dough up and stretch it just to the point of resistance—you don’t want to tear it.
  3. Fold the stretched piece of dough back on top of the rest of the bread, about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way.
  4. Repeat this around the circumference of the dough, until it feels firm.
  5. On the last stretch-and-fold, grab the dough from its underside and flip it over so that the folds are facing down.
  6. Repeat this process 2–3 more times at 20–30 minute intervals, during the first 2 hours after mixing the dough.

Note that during our kneading, we're not pounding the bread with a rolling pin or with our fists, but rather just gently encouraging our gluten strands to strengthen through a repeated series of stretches.