Nonna's Sponge Dough Bread

Makes 2 Loaves


  • Madre (Mother Dough)
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup warm (110° to 115° F) potato water
  • 1 cup King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
  • Second Dough
  • 3½ to 4 cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1¼ cups warm (110° to 115° F) potato water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Filippo Berio olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 375F 
  2. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let it proof for five minutes; chalky-looking bubbles will appear on the surface. Stir in the flour and mix well. At this point the madre will be the consistency of heavy pancake batter. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise for at least 3 hours or even overnight.
  3. When the madre is ready, it should smell yeasty, look fluffy and light, and have a myriad of bubbles appearing on the surface. The madre is now ready to be combined with the additional yeast, water, flour, olive oil, and salt to make the second dough.
  4. To make the second dough using a fontana, heap 3½ cups of the flour on a work surface. Add the salt and use your hands to mix the flour and salt together. Make a hole in the center of the flour with your fist.
  5. Pour the water into the center, add the yeast, and stir with your fingers to dissolve the yeast. Let the yeast proof as above, then add the madre and the olive oil and mix well with your fingers. Working in a clockwise fashion, begin bringing flour from the inside of the wall into the yeast mixture with your fingers.
  6. When a rough, shaggy mass of dough is formed, begin to knead the dough, adding additional flour as needed to make a smooth ball of dough that does not stick to your hands. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, then cover the dough with a towel and let it rest for 5 minutes. Repeat the kneading and resting 3 more times. Each time, you will notice that the dough is easier to knead than the previous time. This is because the flour is gradually absorbing the water in the dough and allowing the gluten in the flour to relax. The dough should become soft and no longer sticky, and it should move on the work surface with ease.
  7. Spray a large bowl with olive oil spray or coat with butter. Put the dough in the bowl, turn to coat with the oil or butter, and cover the large bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.
  8. The dough is now ready to be used. Bake until golden brown or a internal temperature of 210F
  9. Or it can also be frozen, which is useful if you want to use only half of the dough. Spray a heavy-duty plastic bag with vegetable oil spray, put the dough in the bag, squeeze out the air, and seal the bag. Freeze for up to 3 months.
  10. To make the second dough in a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let proof as directed above. Stir in the olive oil and the madre. Using your hands, mix in 3½ cups of the flour, about 1 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough is formed. Add the salt with the third addition of flour. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and begin kneading, adding additional flour as needed until a smooth ball of dough is created that is no longer sticky. Follow the directions above for kneading, resting, and rising.  Or see Bread Basket Bread for shaping options and baking temperature.
Print This Recipe



Don’t understand the recipe. Why do you have two recipes for dough, are they two individual loaves? The top one for the 1st loaf and the 2nd recipe for the 2nd loaf?

Also, where do you get potato water:

Thank You,

Paul Lally, Executive producer

Hi, Ginny,

Both doughs are combined to make a single dough that is delicate and light.

You get potato water by boiling a cut up potato until tender. Drain and save the water. Be sure it’s cooled before using in the mother dough.


So grateful for this recipe! Will make before Easter so I get it right! You are the BEST!
😊 ❤️🙏🏻

Mr. Obvious

You get potato water from mercilessly teasing a potato until it wets its pants. Catch the potato “water” in a trough and take home. Taunt the potato a second time to thoroughly humiliate it—calling it a “tuber lover” really sets it off.


All together the whole thing doesn’t make sense.Thedirections don’t say to add the two doughs together. Mr Lally says to do that but I misunderstood it to say that there two separate loaves. Can the direction be made more clear please. For a novice it didn’t seem understandable.
Mr Obvious sounds a fool.


Ok, I may have gotten it. Thank you.

Joan Costello

Can I use the starter dough in a panettone recipe?

Sharron Arnold

Thankyou. The instructions clearly say to add the made to the Fontana with extra yeast and water, resulting in a light fluffy dough or loaf.

Leave a comment

Your comment will be revised by the site if needed.