Pull Apart Soft Bread (Old Dough Method)

by - November 22, 2017

Pull Apart Soft Bread

Pull Apart Soft Bread

I felt like having some a plain and soft bread and this Pull Apart Soft Bread is easy to eat and good on its own without any need for butter or jam.  The flavour of milk, butter and egg infused into the bun gives it all the flavour it needs.

I used pâte fermentée (pre-fermented dough in French) or sometimes called "old dough" to make this soft and flavourful bread.  Traditionally, bread makers take a portion of the bread dough made and save it overnight for next day baking.  I made it from scratch since I did not have any ready old dough. With this method, the bread is more flavourful and aromatic due to the higher acidity and fermentation gasses produced during the slow fermentation.

Please click on Bread Making Method to understand more details.

It is advisable to read the below general notes before starting baking.


For kneading, please regard the timing provided as an indication only. It is only meant as a guide.  Timing may differ depending on the brand of flour and electric mixer used. The protein content may vary from one brand of flour to another.

Some have experienced the dough breaking during the second proofing.  If that happens it is due to over kneading.  Please stop the machine and check your dough during the final cycle of kneading to ensure that you don't over knead. Every machine is different and there is always a chance of over-kneading when using a machine. You may need to adjust this timing and stop as soon as you reach the window pane stage.

The right flour plays a very important role in bread making.  Usually bread flour content around 11.5 - 13.5% protein, while high gluten flour is around 13.5 - 14.5%.  All purpose flour content less protein around 9 - 11%.  To achieve fluffy, soft and light bread, I used Japan High Gluten Flour in most of my bread baking.  Sources from here and here.

The liquid measurement given is also a guide.  It is advisable to always reserve some liquid and not add it all in one go.  This would give you the opportunity to adjust if necessary. If dough is too dry, add the reserve liquid one tablespoon at a time until the right consistency.  This is because each flour absorbs water and hydrates differently. 

Please note that the proofing timing may also vary depending on your climate and environment. The humidity and temperature at your place will influence how dough rises.  
If you are unable to judge by just looking at the dough, you can do the finger poke test:
  1. First Proofing:
    • Lightly flour or oil your finger or knuckle, gently poke in the centre of the dough then remove your finger.  If it bounces back immediately without any indentation then it needs more time.
    • If the indentation stays and it doesn’t bounce back or if the dough collapses, then the it is over proved.  
    • If it bounces back just a little, then the dough is ready to be punched down and shaping.
  2. Second Proofing:
    • Lightly press the side of the proved dough with your finger.  If it bounces back immediately without any indentation, it means the dough is under proved and needs more time before baking.
    • If the indentation stays and it doesn’t bounce back, it means it has been over proved.
    • If the indentation slowly bounces back and leave a small indentation, it is ready to bake. 
    • There will be a final burst of rising once the bread is placed to bake in the oven and it is called oven spring. 
If your bread collapses or gets wrinkled on top after removing from oven, it could be because your dough over proved during the second proofing. Please proof your dough until it just reaches or is slightly below the rim of the pan.

Do also note that the baking temperature and timing provided are what works for my oven and should also be regarded as a guide only. Every oven behaves a little differently, so please adjust accordingly for your oven.

If you have any questions regarding this recipe or any other post, please leave me a comment in the “LEAVE A COMMENT” link and I will reply you as soon as possible.

Recipe - Pull-Apart Soft Bread 

Yields:  6 buns


Old Dough Dough:
125g bread flour (I used Japan High Gluten Flour)
½ tsp yeast
½ tsp sugar
Pinch of salt
80g water

Main Dough:
300g bread flour (I used Japan High Gluten Flour)
1 tsp instant yeast
32g (4 tbsp) milk powder
40g (4 tbsp) brown sugar
1 1/2  tsp salt
30g butter/olive oil
40g whisked egg (from 1 big egg, balance use for egg wash)
135g water

Egg wash:  
10g whisked egg (from the above) + 1 tsp water

Rolled oats

9 inch square pan

  1. For the Old Dough:
    1. Combine water, yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Then mix in bread flour and knead with your hand for few minutes until smooth and shiny.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Cover with cling film and let it prove for 1 hour in a warm and dark place. 
    2. After 1 hour, place into the refrigerator and use the next day at least after 10 hours or up to 16 hours. 30 minutes before using, take out the sponge dough from refrigerator to return to room temperature.
  2. For the main dough:
    1. Line the baking trays with parchment paper.
    2. Put all main dough ingredients (except butter/oil) and all the old dough in a bowl of stand mixer and knead for about 5 minutes or till the dough comes together. Add in the butter/oil and continue kneading for another 12 - 14 minutes or until achieve window pane stage (the dough at this stage should be able to be pulled and stretched into membrane).  During the whole kneading process, I stopped few times to prevent the motor from overheating.  
    3. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 - 60 minutes until double in size.  I usually left it in the same mixing bowl and covered.
  3. To shape:
    1. Punch down the dough to release the air.  Transfer the dough to a clean floured surface then divide into 6 equal portions.  
    2. Roll out each dough with a rolling pin into rectangle shape. Roll up the dough like a Swiss roll until a long log is formed. Place all dough in prepared baking pan.
    3. Let it rise for another 30 - 45 minutes or until double in size in a warm and dark place.
  4. To bake:
    1. Preheat the oven at 190C (top and bottom heat) or 170 (fan-forced mode) for 10 minutes.
    2. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with rolled oats.
    3. Bake at preheated oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
    4. Remove buns from oven and the pan, let the buns cool on rack.

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  1. Do you think it's possible to replace the water with milk for the main dough? So that it 2ill taste more milky. Or will the texture be affected?

  2. Hi there, I am so sorry for late response as I have overlooked on all the comments.
    Yes, you may replace milk.

  3. Hi, can I shape them in circle and bake like bun?

    1. Hi, thanks for reading this recipe and asking. Yes, of course you can. If you shape into individual single buns and not pull apart buns, please bake shorter time 12 - 20 minutes depend on your oven.

      Cheers :)