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Adding Old Starter to Bread Dough

Aug 12, 2008 | From the kitchen of Rose

Several of my recipes I've offered on this blog give an option for adding old unfreshed stiff sour dough starter when making bread dough. I do this to add depth of flavor, moistness, and longer shelf life. I always have left over starter after the weekly feeding of my sourdough starter so I freeze it exactly for this use.

I would not want to add it to a soft bread dough such as a soft white sandwich loaf or brioche because it makes the texture slightly firmer. But I do add it to most other doughs and I do add it to challah because it makes the dough more stretchy and easier to braid.

You need to keep in mind that there is no salt in this starter so you need to add extra salt to balance the flour and water. You may also need to use a slightly larger pan or cut off the equivalent amount or weight of dough and bake it as a roll.

If you retard the dough overnight, it will not rise quite as high so you can then use the same size bread pan as the one you would use without the starter. A bread that rises to 5 inches for example will rise to only about 4 1/2 inches if retarded for 8 to 12 hours.

Of course you will need to make or purchase a sour dough starter and add enough flour to it to make it the consistency of soft bread dough.

To determine how much starter to use in the dough, multiply the weight of the flour in the dough by 16% and that will be the weight of the starter.

For every 75 grams/2.6 ounces of starter add 1/8 teaspoon salt to the recipe.

I like to soften the starter by cutting or tearing it in pieces and soaking it in the water used for the dough for 30 minutes before adding the other ingredients. This helps to distribute it more evenly throughout the dough.

I am so devoted to this technique I may never write another bread book because it presupposes people will have or make or buy a starter and I feel it would be a serious compromise to omit this! The alternative would be to give the recipe with and without added starter the way I do for recipes on this blog...hmmmmmm


Woody Wolston
Woody Wolston in reply to comment from Bill Bezek
09/11/2012 12:35 AM

Hi Bill,
The introduction chapter sections; the headnotes; understanding sections; technique, ingredients, and equipment chapters in each book will many tips to the whys and how to make recipes. In many cases, we have been generously given a recipe from a chef, restaurant, or another author and converted it for the home baker as well as the professional to make it, which Rose always enjoys sharing her thoughts in her headnotes.
You can always ask questions on the blog which is our forum.
For some recipes, we have just thought of an idea, researched other recipes, and experimented until we come up with a combination of flavors that we like and a recipe that is practical. With any recipe making it to print, there have been many that have failed or been put on the shelf.
But a failed recipe is good, because it gives information for making a good recipe. My T'ai Chi master frequently quotes his Chinese master. "Little loss, little gain; big loss, big gain"
Another route to an understanding of recipes and training is to either take community education, baking supplier, or culinary school classes or work at a bakery.
Rose & Woody


Dear RLB,

I just made my first challa loafs and learned a bunch. I learned how little I know about bread making. I enjoyed the process alot, but need training. You clearly are a star, what can I do to learn more about the why behind the recipe? Can you be reached for questions?? Making bread is full of history, basic to life and fun. All help would be great!! Thx you are just amazing my wife loves your books.


mark, the easiest thing is to follow my instructions for converting the liquid starter to the stiffer starter but you could also calculate how much water and flour are in the stiff starter versus your liquid starter and add the same amount of flour as is in the stiffer starter and then remove the extra water from the recipe.


Hi Rose,

I like your suggestion about adding old starter to many of your bread recipes. The starter that I keep is typically a more liquidy one, based on feeding with equal weights of flour and water. You mention using starter that is 16% of the weight of a recipe's flour. What percent would I want to use of my more liquid starter?



Hi Mary,

Rose is talking about using old sourdough starter, so the reference to soft sandwich bread is about starter, not a sponge. In fact, many of Rose's sandwich breads (and others) in the Bread Bible use sponges. I encourage you to check out the book and the Bread Primer on Epicurious, posted in the About Me section of this site.


I love your books and the techniques have really improved my bread baking (using 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook), but my question is I want to make sandwich bread with a sponge, but I see here that you wouldn't recommend that? Or what type of pre ferment would you recommend for sandwich bread?
Thank you


Dear Rose,

Thank you for your wonderful cookbooks.

I just made your olive bread, but instead of using the biga in the recipe, I used some old starter (16% of the total weight of flour), just like you recommended. Do you now prefer to use old starter instead of sponges, bigas, poolish, etc. as stated in the BB recipes?

Also I've noticed that in your new bread recipes you've posted on this blog, you tend to use Gold Medal Bread Flour (aka Harvest King). Is that now the flour that you prefer for all of your breads (instead of Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose)?


joel, try read the chapter on how to sub yeast with starter. I have done it for the Basic Heart Bread with incredible results. the flavor is unbeatable, too!


This is out of curiosity, but do any of you suppose that it's possible to substitute old starter for a pre-ferment? Or is a pre-ferment still important to provide the bread with good structure?

Okay so maybe it's not entirely out of curiosity... I was thinking of making one of the hearth breads for a dinner tomorrow, and being hard-pressed for time (both today and tomorrow!), I was very very tempted just now to simply substitute an equal weight of starter for the pre-ferment. Not wanting to risk disaster, I went ahead with beer bread (which is my ultimate favourite last-minute recipe from the BB)... but the substitution thing is something that might be really useful in future! Any thoughts?


thank you amy! to answer your first question, the starter is for added flavor and keeping qualities but you still need the same amount of added yeast. you understood the amount correctly.

it's impossible to know exactly what you did differently with the galette but it sounds like a combination of too much juice and not enough bottom heat. i don't know if you weighed the peaches or exactly how much water they released and how much you reduced it so you need to follow the instructions very carefully. reduce the juices til very syrupy as in the photo. but you should try baking on the floor of the oven--checking after 20 minutes to make sure the bottom crust doesn't burn and when it's nice and brown raise it to the next shelf.

all i can do is give very specific recipes and photos but i can't be there to know if you are following them to the letter. if you tell me your crust was ruined due to sogginess all i can assuming is that you are deviating from the recipe in some way but i can't know how. try making smaller versions as practice ones and i'm confident you'll work it out to your satisfaction.


Rose - this info is so valuable to me. Lots of times I run into bread recipes that I'd prefer making with my sourdough starter. But I didn't know how to make that conversion.
So to make it clearer for myself - I go through the weight of the flour called for in the recipe and multiply the weight of the flour in the dough by 16% and that will be the weight of the starter.
Question: should I delete the yeast called for in the recipe?
By the way, I wonder if you'd had a chance to read my question regarding the peach galette that I made recently where I still ended up with a soggy crust?



Scales weigh by ounces or grams whether or not you are weighing liquids or dry ingredients. A cup of water will weigh 236 grams or 8.337 ounces on a properly calibrated scale.

I think where your confusion is coming in is that Rose recommends using a fluid ounce jug measure for liquids and the stacked cups for dry ingredients. This is because "there is a difference in volume between liquid and solid measuring cups". The quotation is straight out of the Cake Bible page 439. If you have a scale, it is recommended to use grams as they are more accurate than ounces. You will soon get used to it and I'm sure you will find it fast and so accurate! Good luck and ask if you need more help. Most regulars on this site use the weighing method and Rose makes it so easy as all ingredients in the Bibles are offered by weight (except very small quantities).


Melanie, I would answer, either way!


Do I thaw it first, or just take it straight from the freezer into the soak?


I have a question about measuring liquid ingredients. I just pruchased a scale that weighs both dry & liquid ingredients. I was reading that a cup of water has a different weight using a scale for dry ingredients than it does using a scale that measures liquids. In your books are the weights given meant to be used with oz or liquid oz or does it make a difference?


Freezing my otherwise discarded starter is my backup in case my refrigerated starter gets contaminated.

After feeding your frozen starter, about 3 times, it is just as lively.


What a great idea for a "presupposing" book! Please go for it! That should increase the amount of starters all over the world!!! :)



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