The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions on using old dough

dareo's picture

Questions on using old dough

For the past two months I’ve been making bread with a 100% hydration sourdough starter. Thanks to discovering this forum I’ve read quite a few tips & tricks that have helped me evolve my process and get to the point where I can make a pretty decent loaf. Nonetheless, since I’m basically preparing the same bread every day I’ve been thinking about trying to use old dough, which seems to be the approach at the artisan bakery in the small village that is nearby.

What I am hoping to achieve using old dough is to reduce the amount of time necessary to develop the flavor that I like. Every day I prepare 800g of sourdough at 60% hydration using my 100% hydration starter. The amount of starter that I use is normally 20% (baker’s percentage). It’s a basic dough consisting of flour, water and salt - no yeast or diastatic malt, and the whole process starts off with a one-hour autolyse.

I’ve come up with the following process and since I’m still a bread baking rookie I have questions and doubts on whether the approach is feasible and some other details. So here’s what I’m thinking:

1. Prepare 1100g dough in the morning (around 07:00)

2 . After the autolyse, kneading and bulk fermentation, use 800g to make bread and set aside the other 300g in a cool place in the house (temperature between 15 and 18 degrees centigrade).

     Q1.   Based on making an 800g boule or bâtard, is 300g an adequate amount of old dough?

     Q2.   When making the initial batch of dough, should I use a higher percentage of the 100% hydration starter (30 or 40%)?

     Q3.   Should I put the reserved (old) dough into the refrigerator instead of leaving it in a cool place until the next day?

3. Around 22:30 (before going to bed) mix 500g flour with 300g cold water and let it autolyse overnight.

     Q4.   Does this make sense? I’m considering this to save time in the morning by a) already having the autolyse complete, and b) not having to make my brain work so hard by forcing it to measure ingredients before I have a substantial amount of coffee in my system ;-) 

4. The next morning, between 07:00 and 07:15 add the 300g of dough from the previous day and 10g of salt to the 800g of flour/water mixture that autolysed overnight. Then knead so that bulk fermentation starts no later than 07:30, and once it’s complete, reserve 300g for the next day to start the process all over again.

     Q5.   Am I correct in my understanding that the old dough is sufficiently fermented so that I no longer need to add any of my 100% hydration starter?

5. The bread needs to go into the oven no later than 12:00.

     Q6.   Is this timing feasible? If not, then

     Q7.   would I need to add some baker’s yeast to make it feasible? If so, then

     Q8.   how much?

     Q9.   If I do use baker’s yeast, would I get any benefit from adding diastatic malt?

     Q10. If I don’t use baker’s yeast, would I get any benefit from adding diastatic malt?

If you remove the questions from that process description, it really looks very simple. That’s what concerns me. Can it be that simple and still produce a good loaf of sourdough bread?

Looking forward to your feedback and any other considerations that I should be taking into account.

DavidEF's picture

 You can use Old Dough in place of starter in your bread, but be sure not to let it over-ferment. I would put it in the fridge. The flavor will still develop fairly well in a 24 hour period. Or, you can add more salt to it to slow down the yeast at room temperature, while the LABs play away! Maybe put the total amount of salt for the 1100g of dough into just the 300g of old dough. Then, when you mix in the new water and flour in the morning, you don't have to add salt again. Just do so after you separate a new 300g ball. If you refrigerate it, you may find the timing of your final proof needs to be quickened. If so, it is okay to add a little bit of commercial yeast. In fact, if I'm thinking correctly, the original practice of using old dough was just for the flavor, and yeast was always added for the rising agent. I don't know how much it would take, but I'd expect it to take 1/2 tsp or so for one loaf, if the sourdough is still active in the old dough, more if it isn't. I don't know about diastatic malt, maybe someone else can guide you on that. I think it would probably help accelerate things, but I don't know how much.

Or, better yet, why not mix up your dough with a smaller inoculation of starter at night, and let the whole thing bulk ferment overnight? Then, there is no measuring, no mixing, no guessing in the morning! You can just shape it, give it a final proof, and bake! You also wouldn't have to mess with what would basically be a second starter, with a lower hydration and salt included, and figure out how to maintain and use it.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That when you switch to a lower hydration (100% to 60%) you will see a slow down in yeast fermentation, give the firmer starter a few extra hours to ferment before using if it needs it.  More food, more time to ferment.  

I would increase the starter base just for the first feeding (switching to 60% hydr).  Later use less starter to flour as the firm starter gets more potent with each saving of "old dough."  I would let the "old dough" starter get in a bulk rise before chilling if you plan on using it the next day.  If you are baking less often, chill sooner so more food is reserved for the starter yeast over the period of days chilled.  

Make sure the old dough has fermented enough before using.  If need be, you might have to let it ferment at room temp before adding to dough.  So pay close attention to when your now 100% starter is ready for work, aroma, feel matrix, taste.  The thicker starter will be pretty much the same only thicker and no bubbles popping on the surface.  You may find that cutting the old dough with a knife to look at the bubble structure inside is a great way to judge the starter's activity level.  You want to see lots of bubbles but not a collapsing structure.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

some back up old dough ping-pong balls.  Work in just a little more flour into ripe starter and chill right away.  Label well and forget about them.  I also put on warning labels to keep chilled.

dareo's picture

DavidEF & Mini Oven - Thanks for the feedback! DavidEF’s comments on overnight fermentation and maintaining a second starter with a lower hydration and salt included pushed me towards another experiment before trying out old dough.

I’ve previously tried overnight fermentations in the refrigerator (both bulk as described by DavidEF) and final proof - meaning bulk fermentation was done at room temp then the loaf was shaped, put into the banneton and into the fridge overnight. Although I had reduced the amount of starter in both cases, I had problems with overfermentation in that I always took the dough out of the fridge and let set for a couple of hours to come up to room temp before proceeding with the next step in the process. It was difficult to test the readiness of cold dough.

I was reading another thread on here where someone had said that they got very good results when taking the dough from the fridge and putting it straight into the oven, so I decided to try it. I guess it’s taking a leap of faith trusting that the dough is adequately fermented. On the first try I took the dough out of the fridge when I turned the oven on and let it set while the oven was heating up. On the second try I took the dough out of the fridge once the oven was already heated up.

What I experienced in both cases was that it was really easy to score the cold dough (that’s a plus). I also noticed that when I scored the dough I could see the crumb already forming, instead of wet and sticky (overfermented) dough I had seen when doing other overnight fermentations. Oven spring was great and the bread turned out a bit better (flavor-wise) than doing it all in the same day. I can’t say that I saw any difference in the results between the two tries, but one thing is certain - this approach fits my schedule better than what I had initially considered when I first asked about using old dough and I only have to maintain the one starter so I think I’m going to stick with this for a while.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

most important part!  That and flavour.  All else is secondary.  A lot of folks report improvement in flavour too!    

You don't have to stick to one kind of flour either, trade out parts with other grains and see how they affect the loves made "down the line" as the ageing brings out flavours from the flour.   :)