The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using Mother Dough

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Using Mother Dough

Hi all,

I have only been making bread for a month so I am very new at all this but hubby bought me two bread baking books for Christmas (one of which didn’t arrive until 10 days ago) and both books recommend keeping a little of the dough back for use in the next loaf as a starter or mother dough.   

I remember my dad doing that when we were kids and he baked traditional Maltese bread which was wonderful so I thought I would do the same.

I have to say my loaves taste and keeps much better since I have been doing that but I still wonder if I am doing it right since the dough I hold back can get awfully sticky and much stickier than the dough that I make fresh which has roughly the same hydration; I can still work with it but it is really quite icky which transmutes to my new dough making it stickier than normal.

Initially I didn’t give much thought to any of this and just followed the instructions but I wonder if the reason is something to do with the recipe I am using.

Both books gave recipes using just flour, water, yeast and salt for their basic sandwich loaves but my attempts using that combination created very dense bricks brick so I looked for a solution and found lots of advice online all suggesting using milk, butter and syrup/honey or sugar to produce a softer sandwich loaf 

As a result the recipe I am actually following is this - all done by weight rather than volume.

Soft white bread

Take dough saved from last batch out of fridge and leave to come to room temperature.
Mix together 350g warm milk (43 degrees C), 20g golden syrup and 25g melted butter in a jug.

In large mixing bowl put 300g strong bread flour, 200g white all purpose flour and 3g instant yeast and mix..

NOTE  that changes slightly when you different yeast. For fresh yeast the method is the same but you need 10g but for active dried yeast you need 4g which you mix with the warm milk and syrup solution and keep the warm butter back until this next stage when you mix everything together.

Mix liquids with the dry ingredients before adding 10g finely ground sea salt.
Thoroughly mix in the salt, cover bowl and leave shaggy dough to rest for around 10-15 minutes.

When rested knead for approx 10 minutes using Bertinets French fold method using absolutely NO extra flour on the table.
Add the mother dough from last time and knead in - when you can do window pane test put your dough ball into a bowl that has been lightly sprayed with olive oil cover and prove in warm place until it doubles in size.
Turn out on to work surface that has been very lightly floured press dough down with finger tips or heel of palm to relieve some of the gas, remove 100g and put into plastic bag for next time. Divide rest according to needs and if making loaves fold each piece top to middle, bottom to top, left to centre, right to left and then in half seal and put into baking tins sprayed with oil, cover and leave to rise in a warm place till dough doubles in size.

Meanwhile put baking stone, oven thermometer and pan for water in oven and heat to about 240c/450f which in my case is about as hot as it will go.

When dough is ready pour boiling water into baking tin in bottom of oven and as soon as temperature comes back up slash top of loaves with sharp knife, and place tins on baking stone then spray oven sides and over loaves with water.

I use a fan assisted that I can’t turn off so I turn off my oven for 3 minutes to stop fan and allow even oven spring (but do not do that if using traditional oven as it won’t return to heat quickly enough).  Turn heat back to 220C and leave another 7-8 minutes then remove pan used for steam, cover loaves with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 180C.
When loaves are ready turn out onto wired cooling rack, go over tops with butter to soften and leave to cool.

Put bag containing 100g left over dough in fridge (don’t seal it closed) and if it is not used in 48 hours take out of fridge bring to room temperature, make a new dough by mixing of 200g flour with 140g warm milk or water then gently knead the two dough balls together, cover and leave to rest for 20 minutes or so then place back in fridge. You are supposed to repeat this every two days if the dough isn’t used before then but I bake every 3-4 days so I don’t get to do it a second time.

As I said so far it has worked fine producing really nice loaves,

 we are both still alive and well,  the bread tastes great and lasts really well as my last batch was made on Thursday, I have just had a jam sandwich which was delicious and hubby will be using the last of it for sandwiches tomorrow when I will make and  bake my next batch.

However  I do wonder whether I should be using milk to feed the dough as I keep reading how the dough cultures like to have an acidic base with a ph of around 4.5  and surely milk which has a ph of 6.5 is perhaps too neutral so would I get better results using water in my feed or should I even add a little fruit juice to counter the milk already in the dough???

Can anyone with more experieince please advise.

Many thanks Jean

linder's picture

 I wouldn't change a thing - it seems to be working well for you and I'm not sure what problem needs to be solved.  That is a really good looking loaf, it tastes good and you like it.  Bravo! 


Janetcook's picture

This is a great looking loaf so something is working right!  

Only thing I can think of about the stickiness from your pate ferment (Fancy name for 'old dough') is that it has over fermented which will cause a dough to become sticky.  You might try adding a bit of extra flour to stiffen it up and give the yeast more food to tide them over  before you save it for your next loaf and see if that makes a difference.  (I have never done this so I have no practical experience to share.  I bake with sd and I know if mine gets a bit old it will get sticky and flour seems to get it back to new.)

Good Luck,


Gene New's picture
Gene New

Hi again

I have been so intent on trying to keep the hydration level at 70%  like the bread in my books that I simply didn’t think of adding extra flour at any stage but I will try that or I could use a little less water when I feed the dough.

Thanks for the advice and the nice comments both of you, you could be right about not needing to do much else as I made my first part wholemeal today.  Well to be honest I made two loaves one white the other part wholemeal and to my amazement they both rose really well though I won’t try creating two different loaves simultaneously again as it was really hard going as they were ready for the oven at different times so baking was a nightmare as I only have one small oven and I wanted them to both get a little steam at the start of baking.

The white , which you can just see in the background turned out much the same my last few white loaves made using this recipe and technique, but the real surprise was the  loaf made with the strong wholemeal flour since until now any form of  brown bread I have tried to produce from scratch came out as a  dense brick.

Not today this is how it turned out!

I was so surprised but I have to say equally delighted!

The only difference with the recipe was that for a single loaf (which needs half the original ingredients) I used 100g strong brown Hovis flour, 100g strong white Hovis flour and 50g all purpose flour plus a little over 1g yeast and 5g ground sea salt and for the liquids it was 175g warm milk, 12.5g butter and 10g golden syrup plus my half of bit of dough from Thursdays bread which was as icky as ever though it smelled fine .

The resultant dough was much harder to knead and I couldn't get anything even remotely approaching a window pane instead I gave the dough a rest half way through and finally stopped kneading when I could sense the dough ball had changed and was nice and springy which for me seems to be around 40 minutes since for some reason I just can’t get a milk based recipe to look and feel right much quicker!  For some reason after three or four slap and folds my dough still sticks to my fingers but just doesn’t want to stick to my  worktop any more making the dough much harder to stretch so I end up swinging it back and forth before finally folding it over itself to trap air. It’s a slow process all the same it works so I am not complaining.

This was the first time I have used Hovis flour and I have to say I am really impressed as the dough came together quickly and both this and my white loaf rose better than usual.

Anyway next time I will try to create a 100% wholemeal and I may even try a white made with water and no milk to see if its technique rather than recipe.  If I get to the stage where they all produce a decent loaf consistently it will be time to try a sour dough loaf and a proper starter - my ultimate goal!!!



linder's picture

When using 100% whole meal, you may want to approach it using half your whole meal and half your water/milk as an overnight soaker left at room temperature to allow the whole grain bran to hydrate fully.  Then incorporate that into your final dough the next day. If you can get your hands on a copy of Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads(in a public library?), take a look at his 'epoxy' method for making whole grain breads.  It is a real eye opener.  I only mention this because I struggled for a long time to go from 80% whole meal to 100% whole meal.  I seemed stuck at that point using 20% all purpose flour until folks on this site directed me to this method. 

Your breads are absolutely beautiful and I love that you are using a mother dough to arrive at these loaves.

Happy baking


Janetcook's picture

These are beauties :-)

I second what Linda said above about making an overnight soaker with part of your flour and milk/water.  I also second her recommendation on you taking a peek at Whole Grain Breads.  I bake only with whole grains and always had semi bricks until I fell upon his book and his method.  Makes beautiful loaves.

Take Care,


Gene New's picture
Gene New


Thanks for the comments and advice so many people seem to recommend Peters books I must put them on my wanted list.

Later this year our plan is for a new kitchen since the current one is at 6ft by 8 ft is far too small and the whole thing with the exception of the cooker, fridge freezer and washing machine was fitted when the house was built back in 1969. Even the appliances are getting on as only the washing machine is under 5 years old; the rest of the appliances are pre millennium.

Anyway it is more of an embarrassment than somewhere you enjoy being and I have so very little work surface that it makes making anything more of a chore than a pleasurable experience.

However if all goes to plan we will be extending the house so I should end up with a 3 by 4 metre Kitchen (approx 11ft by 13ft ) that may include a large work surface in the form of an islet plus a new, possibly NEFF hob and oven with programs specifically for bread and a steam inducing capability.

When that happens I will do much more cooking and baking and perhaps my cookery books will get an area of their own rather than being dotted here and there like they are now so if I get a book shelf I will treat myself to the Bread Makers Apprentice and the whole grains book or at least put them on my Christmas present list for next Christmas.

Once again thanks for all your help I must admit I only posted this because I didn’t want to poison anyone and I was worried about keeping back dough that was made with milk and butter in case rancidity was the cause of the ickyness however you have given me the confidence to continue what I am doing so many thanks

I find creativity in any form is extremely good for the soul - all the best Jean