Mix, Rest, Fold

“Bread is made from just flour, water, salt, and yeast. Just as the earth is made from just earth, air, fire, and water.”  –  Carol Field

Life in the mixing bowl is complex. But before flour touches water, the baker must be aware of her surroundings. For consistent bread to be achieved, the dough must be up to temp. To get a predictable rise, the dough temperature needs to be between 78 and 82 degrees, or in front of a hilarious comedian. The former can be achieved most effectively with water temperature. I suggest using water temperature of around 90 degrees. If your house runs a little warmer, then cool your water down to around 75 degrees. This is a loose guideline, and if you forget, don’t worry, there are ways to control dough temperature later on in the process.

To begin, place a large mixing bowl on the scale. Using a liquid measuring cup or pitcher, pour 700 grams of warm water into the mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, scrape in 200 grams of your levain. Remember, it’s up to you how long you let it ferment. If you chose the 2 hour “flying” levain, just make sure it floats on the water’s surface to ensure readiness. Add the 800 grams of white flour, 100 grams whole-wheat, and 100 grams rye flour to the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, mix all the ingredients until they are totally hydrated. Use your hands to get any dry bits up off the bottom of the bowl. Pay attention to how the dough feels at this point. It should feel slack and wet. In time you will be able to adjust the hydration level of your dough by touch.


Once your dough is mixed, you will leave it to rest, covered, for 30 minutes. This rest period is known as the autolyse, and it is essential to the development of the dough. While the dough sits, the flour becomes fully hydrated. Gluten stands begin to form, adding strength and extensibility. Dough work-up is easier, and the resulting breads have a greater volume, better flavor, and a more open crumb structure.

While your dough is resting, wash up any used containers and tools. In a small container or cup, measure 20 grams of coarse salt. After the 30 minutes, pour in the salt, and with wet hands, mix in the salt into the the dough. Transfer the dough to a clear, 4 quart plastic container and place the lid on top. Wash up and take a breather.

You’ll notice that this dough is not traditionally kneaded. In place of this, you will perform a series of “folds” that will strengthen and give structure to the dough. These folds will be done every half hour for 3 to 4 hours. Using a wet hand, reach down to the underside of the dough, stretch it up, and fold it over to the other side of the container. Repeat this action three more times, a quarter way around the dough each fold. Pay attention to the feel of the dough. At first it will feel stiff and resistant, but after about 2 hours it will start to feel more extensible and aerated.

If your dough is a little on the cold side, it will take longer to rise. As mentioned above, you want to keep your dough in the range of 78-82 degrees. There are some actions you can take to warm it up. One is to place it in a small room with a space heater on low. The other is to put it in the oven with a pot of boiling water. Take the temperature of your dough often to ensure a consistent rise. If the opposite ails you and your dough is too warm, just place it in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes and check its temperature. It does sound a bit like taking care of a sick child, but one you get to eat!

The bulk rise will take 3 to 4 hours. I encourage you to go the full 4 hours, but if you are pressed for time, then by all means stop at 3. The dough will be soft and billowy, with greater extensibility. You will a notice a 20 to 30 percent rise in volume and air bubbles on the side. Do not expect a full doubling. Start to listen to your dough. Use your senses. Sourdough is forgiving, but give it the time it needs. You will be rewarded with a more complex flavor, greater volume, softer crumb, and a crisper crust. Bread with a soul.


The next page will continue the process up until the bake. As always, please leave me a comment if you have any questions or need any clarification. Opus Est Diligo!


5 responses to “Mix, Rest, Fold

  1. Hey Luke,
    I’m very excited for the next post. I’ve been following along and, after a few unsuccessful attempts, I think I finally have a living culture. It doubles and collapses every time I fed it while it was at room temperature. I just made my first Levain and put the rest of, as my roommate started calling it, “Jimmy” in the fridge. (Sample roommate conversation: “Oh, are you making bread again?” “No, I’m just feeding my culture.” “Oh…?”) The switch from the commercial quick-rise yeast I’ve been using for the past several months to a homemade one has been a challenging but very rewarding discovery so far. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into that first loaf of real homemade bread!

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