What is the purpose of folding/toweling my no-knead bread?
October 15, 2007 8:12 PM   Subscribe

What is the purpose of folding and covering my no-knead bread with a towel?

I'm talking about the No-knead bread recipe, as mentioned on this post: (http://ask.metafilter.com/73507/Make-my-No-Knead-bread-tastyer)

So the instructions on all of the no-knead bread recipes say that after the bread rises for 12-24 hours in a sealed container, you fold the dough a few times, and then cover it with a towel and let it sit for around 2 hours.

1. Why do you fold the dough? What does this do? I enjoy understanding why things work, and in cooking I figure it will help improve my skills.

2. What does covering it with a towel do? Why a towel? Does it absorb moisture? Keep moisture in?

Anyway, if anyone can provide some explanations for how bread baking works, especially this recipe, that would be great.
posted by ceberon to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You probably want to read the bread chapter in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.
posted by janell at 8:26 PM on October 15, 2007

(This is my opinion, I'm not a trained baker.)

I think the folding of the dough is to create a seam. You know how breads have that slash on top? When you plop the bread into the hot dutch oven, the recipe tells you to do it so the seam lands face up. As the bread is baking, the seam provides a gash where steam can escape.

As for the towel, I think it's to not allow moisture or foreign particles in. I don't know. I've never really questioned the towel :) I'm interested now as well!
posted by spec80 at 8:30 PM on October 15, 2007

The reason it's possible to make bread with wheat flour is because of a protein called gluten. Gluten is very long and isn't folded-and-hooked like a lot of proteins, but initially it's kind of tangled up.

The kneading process used in dough straightens the gluten out and aligns lots of gluten molecules the same direction. That's the difference between "bread" and "biscuit" (as Americans use the term).

The "folding" you're talking about is actually the same as kneading, and its purpose is to straighten out the gluten, at least somewhat.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2007

It helps it develop the crusty-crust/softy-insides when it bakes, without developing an unpleasant skin-crust while it rises.

If the bread gets the skin-crust, it gets trapped and it can't rise anymore, but if it's covered in plastic, the whole surface stays completely pliable, and becomes a thin, soft crust when it's baked.
posted by headspace at 8:33 PM on October 15, 2007

1. After the first rise, you want to de-gas the dough a little and re-activate the yeast to allow for the second rising. Folding is the gentle maneuver you're looking for so that the dough is de-gassed without it being flattened.

2. Covering it with a towel keeps it from drying out, which would make it have a dry crust on top that would keep it from rising as much as it could the second time around.

For a much more detailed explanation, look up The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart which explains the chemistry of bread baking in nice detail.
posted by agent99 at 8:34 PM on October 15, 2007

(My response is for the towel, sorry I wasn't specific!)
posted by headspace at 8:34 PM on October 15, 2007

Gluten is the reason why you have to be really careful how much mixing and stirring you do when you make biscuits. If you do very much, the gluten starts to straighten out, and then your biscuits will be chewy and bready instead of flakey and soft.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:35 PM on October 15, 2007

Where I come from, we tend to cover things with a tea towel to keep flies out.
posted by b33j at 9:11 PM on October 15, 2007

Yes, folding is a way to get long, aligned strands of gluten, as well as deflating the largest gas bubbles, without working the dough very much -- this lets you have a wetter dough than you could knead.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:17 PM on October 15, 2007

It's a way of adding structure. I don't know that it's critical on this kind of loaf since it's contained in a dutch oven, but on more traditional loaves, the tension of the gluten helps the bread rise upwards instead of spreading out.
posted by O9scar at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2007

agent99 is correct. You're both aligning the gluten a bit and shifting around the sugars so that exhausted yeast start to feed again. The two hour rest is to allow them to really get going prior to baking so that you get what's called "Oven Spring" when you do bake.

The towel is to keep it from drying out.
posted by OmieWise at 4:06 AM on October 16, 2007

I forget to do the fold, it seems to still work.

And I don't use towels, I use seran wrap. I was making such a mess of towels that I was worried I was going to eff up the washing machine. Seran wrap works pretty well, I think.
posted by sully75 at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2007

« Older What is the proper name of these telephone...   |   Maybe they could try this on Joe Morgan for a few... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.