The stretch and fold method helps develop the gluten in the dough and strengthen high hydration doughs. When making sourdough, the initial dough is very sticky and shaggy. This is because it has a high hydration. By doing stretch and fold at regular intervals, the dough develops good strength. You will be able to see the difference in the dough with every stretch and fold, with a sticky messy dough turning into a well-formed dough. To put it in simple words, we need to stretch the dough out and fold it onto itself. Every cycle of stretch and fold must be done at an interval of 20-30 minutes. The stretch and fold itself should not take more than a minute.
I aim to perform six sets of stretching and folding at an interval of 20 to 30 minutes. To perform stretch and hold, wet your hands. Gently loosen the dough from all sides of the bowl. Grab a portion of the dough and slowly stretch it taking care not to break it and fold it towards the center over the dough. Keep turning the bowl and repeat the process until all parts of the dough are covered. Carefully flip the dough and round it up. Cover and let it rest until it is time for the next set of stretch and fold.
This method can be used to handle dough for any sourdough bread. See the video below to see how stretch and fold is done. Check out how the dough changes as we progress with stretch and fold.