Old Dough Sourdough Method

Written by Warwick Quinton. Posted in Basic Sourdough Bread Recipes

Old dough

'Old Dough' Sourdough Starter (also sometimes called 'cowboy starter', and 'goldrush starter') is quite possibly the simplest way to keep a sourdough starter, and yet for some reason there is very little information available about it. Most of what I've read online has been using what I'll call a 'liquid' starter, which you have to feed quite regularly. There is a bit of information about using the thickness (liquid balance)of the starter to control the time between feeds, but the old dough method is just an easier way to go, if for no other reason that there is virtually no feeding! Those cowboys knew how to get decent bread on the go, and soon, you will too!





So what's this 'old dough' method all about anyway?Chunk of old dough

In a nutshell, if you're a regular sourdough baker, you'll appreciate the old dough technique. There is no sourdough starter to feed at all - just a chunk of dough, which is small, ripe, and makes a brilliant loaf of sourdough bread! It's also very transportable.

How does it work? You just cut off a chunk of dough each time you make sourdough bread, and store it in a container, ready for next time. That's it. Like I keep saying - simple!

But, there are a few things you need to be aware of, before diving in to Old Dough.

  1. While you can use yeasted dough to reserve as old dough, cerviseae (refined yeast) will overpower any sourdough culture you might have established. So if you want to preserve your sourdough culture, avoid making old dough from yeasted bread. That includes semi leaven recipes.
  2. Whatever bread you made last time, that's the DNA for your latest loaf. So if it was wholemeal, that's what this one comes from. Very good if you only make one type of bread, but not so good if you like variety - it introduces a lot of flavour variables.
  3. If you like lots of grainy 'multigrain' and 'seeded' breads, you'll need to make provisions so that these extras don't end up in the 'old dough' ferment. They will show up in every loaf you make later on - not a problem if you stick with breads with seeds and whole grains, but if you are making a plain white sourdough, the seeds and chunks of grain may be unattractive. You can reserve dough for 'old dough' before seeds and the like are added, of course, and you'll need to build your sourdough system to accomodate these issues.
  4. Finally, with this method, you need to recalculate most recipes so that enough extra dough is made to reserve some. On this website, you can 'up' the measurements of most regular recipes by about 15%, but this is difficult with other, less consistent recipe systems.

Note: Yes, SourdoughBaker does have a nice, consistent recipe system, doesn't it? If you like the way it's put together, or even if you don't, why don't you drop me a line? I'm always open to suggestions!

Old Dough Method tends to work best when the baker is making the same type of bread each time in similar amounts. It doesn't work as well when lots of different types of bread are being made by the home baker.

Advanced Baker's Tip: You can use any the recipes in this site to create an old dough - there are many of them, including wholemeal sourdough, white sourdough, light rye sourdough, medium rye sourdough and more. You will end up with a 300 gram chunk of old dough from any of them. This is enough to make two loaves of one kilogram each next time. Follow any of the quick adjustment methods below and you'll soon be free of the extra work involved with keeping liquid starter.


Here are some helpful tips on using, storing and making old dough:

Old dough ready for storage

  • You can keep your old dough in a smallish plastic container in the fridge, as long as you don't clip the lid tightly, so it can breathe. It doesn't need to breathe much in the fridge, though, because while it is cold it is almost dormant. If you're using other recipes, remember to modify them to allow for an extra 300 grams of dough, to reserve your next batch of old dough.

  • To do this, you can either increase the flour weight of the recipe by 200 grams, and the water volume by 100 mls (quick and dirty, but it works), or simply use the recipe you've chosen as is, cut your 300 grams of old dough off before adding salt, divide what's left in two, and make 2 slightly smaller loaves than the recipe says. This latter method is probably the simplest, as long as you don't mind a slightly smaller loaf just this once. You'll still get a 300 gram  chunk of old dough to use, which for many people is just the simplest way to make sourdough bread in the long run.


  • Note: For perfectionists and detail freaks: If you want accuracy, work out how much you need the recipe to increase as a percentage from the total dough weight, then apply that percentage to all the measurements in the existing recipe, to get the new weight. So, if you want to turn a 2kg dough into a 2.3 kg dough, increase all the measurements in the recipe by 15%.  I've already done this to all the recipes in this section, so you don't need to. But any of the recipes in this site can be adjusted in this way to give yourself extra dough to reserve.


  • Fridge loaded with fermentsOnce you've put it in the fridge, the renewed chunk of old dough will take at least a few days to a week to mature or ripen. If you need it sooner than this, I suggest that you leave it out of the fridge for a day or so.

  • It is still useable even when it gets very soft! I have made excellent sourdough breads out of old dough that is a month or more old.
  • If you really think your old dough has gone too far, you can break off half, and use 100 grams of flour and 50 ml of water to refresh it. It will be useable in a day if left out of the fridge, and sooner in warm weather.
  • Most of the recipes here say to reserve your old dough before the salt is added, but you can reserve your old dough after the salt is added too. This will slow down fermentation times, allowing you more time between baking sessions!



Until next time,

Happy Sourdough Breadmaking!