I’m not used to teaching, so if you find errors in grammar or meaning – or if you’re confused, please let me know here or on Mastodon (opens in new tab).
Today I’m going to deal with the vexed question of making a Mother-dough. Hopefully I’ll be unvexing it.
This is not like cake baking. The two things are very different. Bread making is tactile, touchy-feely. Sooner a later you’ll be doing a lot of what follows by eye and touch rather than measurement. You’ll be experimenting with different strong flours, different water, different amounts of each.
For now though: Be calm. You’re only in this for deliciousness. It’s not macho posturing or competition.
Different bakers have different approaches even to the basics. The process is not magic, nor does it work for some people but not others. The dough wants to be made, it wants to live.
We are going to talk about ratios and percentages at some point. Believe me these will make your life so much easier.
Finally, if you’re not enjoying it, don’t do it. Go and buy some bread from your local bakery.
Let me dispel a myth: sourness in naturally yeasted dough can be controlled. By you. The sourness of your final loaf depends very much on the way you treat your Mother and Starter doughs.
Hold on a second, Tim! What do you mean Starter-dough and Mother-dough. This already sounds too complicated.
Mother vs Starter
Mother-dough is a dough that you’re going to make once and then look after, cull and feed it as often as you are able to.
Starter-dough is made by taking a small amount of Mother-dough (I use 15% M to S) to start your loaf or loaves or buns or croissants or… you get the idea.
So, think of your Starter-dough as the child of your Mother-dough.
Those are important distinctions for me.
However, both have some things in common.
Both are feeding grounds for good bacteria and to a lesser extent naturally occurring bread yeast – not all yeast is good for bread making. One is good for beer making. Some are good for nothing. Some are good for flavour.
As with any feeding ground (think grasslands for cows) if the herd (our good bacteria and airborne bread making yeast) eats everything, then they’ll weaken and eventually starve to death.
A healthy Mother-dough full of happy, well fed bacteria and yeast will enable you to produce a joyful starter dough and that will provide you with delicious bread.
How to make a mother
So, Tim, how the hell do you make a Mother-dough (aka Motherdough)? Like this. And remember the initial process takes a few days. It is faster to achieve when it’s warmer. All that means is that the cooler it is, the slower things happen.
Here we go.
Take 10 grams of good, strong flour. Do not be precious about this right now, 11 or 12 grams is fine.
Strong flour means high in protein – look at the back of the pack for this.
High protein is anything over 12% and less than 14% (people argue about this, but then again people argue over most things). I’ll tell you about why you need to think about protein some other time.
You can make this a mix of white, brown, rye if you like. I’d start with strong white flour. Do not get hung up on organic this and that for your first attempt.
Put your 10 grams into a soup bowl (a wide plate with sides to hold the mixture – we’re looking for surface area here).
Boil, say, 200 grams of water and let it cool. Store it somewhere after you’ve reserved 10g (or ml if you prefer).
Guess what you’re going to do next? Yup, gently mix the 10g of flour with the 10g of finger-temperature water.
Put this somewhere reasonably warm if possible (25-27c for example) but airy.
Leave it there uncovered. Yes, uncovered.
Go away and tell your loved ones that you love them, have a drink, go for a walk, buy my novel.
Come back roughly a day later.
Throw away – yes, throw away – 5(ish)g of your 20g mixture. You’re going to be throwing away a lot of what you think might be an essential mixture as the years go by. Never fear though, this used-up feeding ground (remember) is great to make very savoury pancakes.
OK some maths (I hate maths). Remember I mentioned ratios and percentages? Well, bread bakers use these a lot because they are incredibly useful.
In this case you’re going to discard 25(ish)% of the old mix and add 100(ish)% of fresh water and flour.
WAIT, SLOW DOWN, BREATHE
Don’t get vexed by all the numbers and percentages. After a while you absolutely will be doing this by eye and by feel. Making bread is very much about feel. It’s really tactile.
For now though, stick with me and the numbers. And remember other people have other methods; this one is mine and it works for me.
Next, add 20g of fresh flour and 20g of warmish water.
Go away for a day.
Come back… discard 25% of your by now 35g (or ml, same thing) and add another your fresh water and flour mix.
This time cover it. Ideally with some muslin if you have it. If not a tea-towel or, and I do this all the time, a J-Cloth. J-Cloths and their like are bloody brilliant for bread making.
Repeat this process: throwing until you see bubbles forming. Beware of Fool’s Bubbles though. These are the bubbles formed if you stir the mixture too vigorously.
Depending on the weather, temperature, humidity, the quality of the flour you can source and afford, the amount of yeasts and bacteria on your fingers and in the environment, you may have to keep repeating this process for a week, maybe longer, before you see any ‘life’.
Did I say to use your hands, your lovely fingers? Use your hands and fingers!
By ‘life’ I’m talking about that good bacteria breeding, and those yeasts farting and burping bubbles.
Once you’ve got about 100(ish)g of mixture in your plate, transfer it to a glass jar that you can seal and open.
There, you have a Mother-dough.
What to do with your mother
So, how do I use this Mother-dough—> Starter-dough combo to make bread, Tim?
Right, here’s how: you take a small amount of Mother. This becomes your Starter. You add some fresh flour and water to your Starter.
You let that mixture rest for a while, say 30 to 40 minutes (or longer if you need to go and do something else). You’re doing this in order to develop a ‘gluten matrix’ – more on that another time, suffice to say, you need a good strong one. This period is known as an ‘autolyse’ and that’s as technical as I’m getting for now.
You then add the rest of the flour and water you need to make a loaf. You also add the salt at this point and never before.
Bingo, you have your bread dough, but that’s for another time if you come back.
Why do you need a jar you can easily open and close? Well, bacteria likes an anaerobic environment; yeast likes some air.
More good bacteria (this is called lactobacteria or Lactobacillus) produces more lactic acid and this means your final dough will be more sour. Less lactic acid means less sourness. See, told you.
That’s it for now.
If I get enough engagement with this, I’ll do some more, maybe even an Ask Me Anything session. If not, I’m obviously doing this wrong, for which I apologise.