Update: I now call this method of mixing the “Rubaud Method” because I learned it from the great baker Gerard Rubaud. He deserves the credit for this technique, not me.
How to mix high hydration dough? It’s a question that plagues many home bakers (and more than a few professionals, as well). For some, the answer is to throw it into the mixer and let the machine do the work. And that’s fine. It’ll do the job well.
But . . .
What if you don’t have a mechanical mixer? What if you prefer to mix by hand? What if you don’t want to incorporate a ton of flour into the dough by kneading it on the bench in the traditional manner? What do you do then?
Well, in that case, it seems you’ve only got a couple options:
Or . . .
Both can work quite nicely, but both come with their own problems.
Slap and Fold can develop a wet dough very quickly. It’ll make a silky smooth dough with great strength in no time at all. After only a few minutes of Slap and Fold you’ll have a dough that looks like it came straight from a commercial mixer.
Of course, you’ll also have bits of dough stuck to the ceiling, the refrigerator, and in your hair. You’ll have to scrape your bench or counter clean. And you may very well have a headache from the constant pounding inherent in the process.
If, like me, you’re of the opinion that bread making should be a pleasant endeavor, then Slap and Fold probably ain’t gonna cut it for you.
So your other option is Stretch and Fold.
This certainly fixes the problems of mess and headache. And thank God for that. But simply developing the dough through stretching and folding brings it’s own problems. For one, there’s the very real possibility that the folding won’t be enough to fully develop the dough.
We’re told that just stretching and folding the dough over a few hours of bulk fermentation is enough to develop the dough to the appropriate strength, but does it?
Well, the answer is yes . . . and no.
Or more accurately, the answer is “sometimes, but not always.”
You see, dough is quite the mystery. And what works one day might not work the next. So it may be that Stretch and Fold is enough to develop your dough 9 times out of 10. Ninety percent is pretty good, I won’t argue with that.
But if you bake often, that’s just not enough.
In a professional bakery, if one out of every ten batches of dough were poorly mixed, that would constitute a serious problem. A very serious problem. And the mixer responsible would have some real ‘splainin’ to do.
No. Ninety percent is not good enough.
Now that’s plenty reason for me to look for something better, but there’s still another problem with Stretch and Fold . . . .
Sometimes, just sometimes, you can’t get everything mixed into the dough evenly.
What do I mean by that?
The most common difficulty lies in getting the starter and/or salt fully incorporated into the dough. Sure, reserving some water to include when you add your salt goes a long way towards fixing the salt problem. And if you keep a liquid starter, that’s not much of a problem to work in either.
But what if you prefer a stiffer starter?
Well then, I suppose you’re just screwed. Because the truth is that trying to fully incorporate a stiff starter into a batch of dough using only stretch and folds is a real problem. I guess you might need to reserve some more water to help soften the starter before mixing it in.
And don’t even get me started on trying to add ingredients like dried fruit or nuts. Now you’re in for some real working of the dough.
But at what point does this defeat the purpose of Stretch and Fold? When does stretching and folding turn into plain ‘ol mixing?
If you’re gonna be mixing, then best just mix and get it over with.
So here’s your alternative. My preferred way of hand-mixing wet, high hydration dough.
Clean. Quiet. Gentle. Easy.
No more worrying if the salt and starter are mixed in fully. They are.
No more worrying if the dough is developed enough. It is.
No noise. No mess.
Just beautiful dough and the joy of making it.
If you’ve been happy using Slap and Fold or Stretch and Fold, then by all means continue to do so. But if you’ve been less than 100% satisfied with either, then give my method a try. It might surprise you.
Trevor J. Wilson