New England “Featherbeds,” an old fashioned Potato Roll with a New Attitude

Light and fluffy, full of flavor, and the secret is the potato boiling water!

When I was a kid, my mom made bread most weekends. The rest of the week, we survived on the grocery store loaves. But her breads were always delightful, the stuff of memories, and the smell of loaves baking always takes me back to her kitchen. One of her secrets, whether she was making potato bread or not, was using the cooking liquid from a batch of boiled potatoes saved from a meal during the week. She’d set this aside and used it as the water in her breads, and told me it was a good snack for the yeast. Mom was right!

A classic potato bread

      She loved making rolls, and her “featherbeds,” a New England classic potato roll, were among our favorites. He recipe was simple and used white flour and white sugar, an egg, yeast, potato water, and a cup of saved mashed potatoes. I’m not sure how she managed to hide the mash from my brother Michael, since he could live on them and always finished off whatever was left in the bowl!

Let’s revisit these tender morsels

      It had been a long time since I thought about these, but while making mashed potatoes for a shepherd’s pie, I decided to save the water and a cup of the mash, and dig out the old recipe. I’m glad I did!

My spin

      You know by now I can’t leave anything alone. I wanted to give this recipe a little update and use mostly whole grain, so King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour to the rescue yet again! I also swapped out honey for the white sugar.

A long rest

      This bread is best left to ferment overnight in the refrigerator so the flavor will be more developed. It is worth this step, and a little patience. Mom would make the potatoes for supper, set aside the cooking liquid and the potatoes she needed for the bread, and make her bread the next morning so we’d have plenty for dinner.

Keep it even

      Even though predominantly whole grain, these still came out light and fluffy with a beautiful texture; I did add a bit more water. I made mine much bigger than mom’s, but you can make them any size you like, just try to keep them even. You can eyeball this, or weigh the dough on a scale, and divide. Using a calculator, that’s not too much math, and not too much time. This is what I do because I want them even, but mother never did! She just guesstimated, and she was usually pretty close.

Next time, I’m trying 100% whole grain. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

New England Potato Featherbeds Updated

  • 2 packets active dry yeast dissolved in ¼ cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp. native honey
  • 1/2 cup warm water (90-100 degrees or so)
  • 1 cup of mashed potatoes
  • 2 ¼ cups potato boiling water
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 ½ to 3 cups unbleached white flour

      Dissolve the yeast with the honey in about a quarter cup of warm water and set aside to bloom and bubble.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or a large bowl, combine the potatoes, potato water, egg, sea salt and white whole wheat flour. With dough hook, blend until mixed,

      Add the yeast mixture, and the white flour one cup at a time on low. Once you get to the second cup of flour, go slowly, letting the dough absorb the flour. At first it will look dry, but then sticky. Once the dough looks smooth, but still a bit tacky, turn the speed up one notch and let knead for four or five minutes. Remove from the bowl, and finish kneading. You’ll want it to be smooth, but still a bit sticky.

      If mixing by hand, add the flour slowly, and once it is hard to mix in the bowl, turn out to a floured board and finish blending and adding the flour and kneading. I often choose to do it by hand because it is a nice experience. Even with so much whole-grain flour, this is a nice soft dough.

      Place in an oiled bowl, twirl around so the top is oiled too, cover, and let rise for at least four hours, but overnight in the refrigerator is a much better plan as the rolls will develop the most flavor.

      The next day, let the dough come to room temperature, then turn it out gently, and divide into 30 to 48 large or little balls, using any method you like, but they should almost touch each other in the tin; once they finish rising the last time, they will indeed touch each other which helps them to rise high. To form them, I weigh them out, then stretch the outside of the balls around and into the bottom, then using the palm of my cupped hand, I roll them in a tight circle on an ungreased surface. This forms a nice tight ball. 

      Cover and let them rise in a greased baking pan until more than doubled in bulk. Brush with melted butter, a little flaked sea salt, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, until browned and aromatic.

      Let cool, then enjoy with butter or whatever you love on a potato roll. They freeze nicely, and love to be given away to others as well.

Sylvia’s Featherbeds

400 degrees 20 minutes

  • 2 yeast cakes
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 2 ¼ cups potato water
  • 1 egg
  • Tsp. salt
  • 7 cups flour

      Dissolve yeast and sugar in water.

      Mix together the mashed potatoes, potato water, egg, salt, and four cups of flour. Add the yeast mixture, and flour to make a dough. Turn onto the board and knead until smooth, adding flour to keep from sticking. Rise to double, shape into rolls, let rise again, then brush with butter and bake.

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72 Comments Add yours

  1. Sherry Mackay says:

    these look delicious. the only proper bread i make is overnight in the fridge no-knead bread. Mmm potato water? I must keep that in mind.

    1. Give it a try Sherry, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. It makes for a lovely texture.

  2. Mary says:

    I love making bread and haven’t purchased bread in a long time. I will make these lovely sounding rolls. What a nice loaf it would make too. Your Mum was on to something good here. :))

    1. Thank you Mary! She sure was. Always using that potato water, and we often had potatoes. Nothing went to waste in our house, with delicious results.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    I’ve never heard of featherbeds and like the charming name. The rolls look delicious.

    1. Thank you Ally! I hadn’t heard them mentioned in years! Don’t know why they popped into my mind, but I’m glad they did because they really are delightful!

  4. If only I could knock on your door and offer to taste test. 🙂

    1. One of these days, I expect to have exactly that happen!

  5. Bernadette says:

    Happy Mother’s Day Dot and thanks for sharing your updated Mother’s recipe. I always enjoy how you make everything a little healthier.

    1. Ah, thanks Bernie! zi miss her so much this time of year, both Mother’s Day and her birthday, but I think about her all the time and try to keep her legacy alive.
      Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!

  6. Jenna says:

    I know these must be heaven Dorothy, so interesting about the potato water!

    1. Thank you! The potato water is and old, but good, kitchen trick to enhance the yeast. Works like a charm!

  7. NativeNM says:

    I can only imagine the aroma in your kitchen while you were baking these! Oh they look so delicious! Happy Mother’s Day!

    1. Thank you! It was definitely an aromatic experience!
      Have a wonderful day!

  8. AJ Schenkman says:

    Is there a gluten free recipe for it. I love this stuff but unfortunately can’t eat gluten anymore. 👩‍⚕️ 🩺

    1. I’ve never had luck with gluten-free yeast breads, but I’m sure there are quick bread recipes that use mashed potatoes. I’ll have to look around!

      1. AJ Schenkman says:

        Thanks for getting back to me. It has been tough. I loved bagels and sourdough bread. Sigh!

      2. Just wondering, have you tried any of the whole grain, yea stead breads made with spelt rather than wheat? The gluten strands are shorter and easier to digest than our modern wheats, and some folks can tolerate them much better.

      3. AJ Schenkman says:

        Doc said no! Gluten drives Hashimoto. I do not have celiac. Thank you though

  9. Nancy says:

    So tasty I bet!
    My Mom baked bread about three times a week. I am sure it’s why I have thunder thighs! But when it came out of the oven and she pulled out the butter… we all pulled a chair up to the table.
    Oh the memories!
    I guess I’ll be saving my potato water… 🙂
    Happy Mother’s Day! 💐🌷💐

    1. I have similar memories! There is nothing on this planet I’ve ever eaten that tasted better than her freshly made bread and butter. The stuff if dreams!

      1. Nancy says:

        Exactly! And when we go back to our place in Pennsylvania (my childhood home), I still have the table that she placed the loaves of bread on. My heart is full every time I step into her kitchen.
        Thank you for taking me back down the sweet path of memories!

      2. Oh, how wonderful to be in that kitchen! 💕❤️💕

  10. Suzassippi says:

    Once again, a good story coupled with food. I laughed at “You know by now I can’t leave anything alone!”–so Dorothy! I would love a featherbed right now!

    1. Oh, you are just a day late my friend, but next time I make them I’ll give you a call!

      1. Suzassippi says:

        Hmm..if I am a day late now, then I figure by the time you give me a call, I book a flight and get there, I will be scrounging for crumbs.

      2. Nah, I’ll tuck some aside for you!

  11. I’ve never heard of potato water! But that’s not really shocking as I don’t come from culinary masters! This summer might be the perfect time to attempt bread! Thanks Dorothy! 💕C

    1. Mom often saved the potato boiling water for the water in her breads. It always encouraged a good rise.
      The Summer of Bread sounds great. And tasty!

  12. Ronit says:

    This is such a lovely tribute to your mother.
    I haven’t made potato bread in a long while, but now I wonder why! I’ll definitely make these tasty looking rolls very soon! 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit. They are so delicious!

  13. What a great recipe and what a lovely name. Thanks a lot.

    1. It is a really fun name and light as a feather!

  14. TaMara says:

    Love potato bread. Going to see if I can find KA’s white wheat here so I can give these a try.

    1. Good luck with your quest! You can order it online if you can’t find it, and you can often find a free shipping code!

  15. They look oh so good! Clever Mom to use the potato water that way and to hide the potatoes from brother.

    1. He was very hard to hide potatoes from!

  16. I would love these rolls. They look wonderful. Saving your recipe.

    1. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

  17. gleeguilford says:

    Sounds delicous!

    1. Thank you, they were definitely memorable!

  18. Christy B says:

    I love how you update recipes and get creative with them. A warm roll, yes please!

    1. I’ll same you one from the next batch!
      Thank you!

  19. nancyc says:

    I love potatoes and I love rolls, so this is the perfect recipe for me to try! 🙂

    1. I know! A perfect marriage!

  20. Oh wow Dorothy, these sound amazing and had not heard about the potato water and mash hack before. Would be happy to indulge with lashings of butter.. ♥

    1. I would be hard pressed to think of any more exquisite food than really good bread and really good butter!

      1. Me neither lol as my hips have testified too over the years lol ♥

      2. 🥖🧈💕in moderation, of course! Jacque Pepin says good bread and butter would be his preferred last meal!

  21. terrie gura says:

    Ooooh, potato rolls. This is exactly where my two favorite foods join hands and send me whirling into pure bliss. I love your updates, of course, especially the touch of honey and the white whole wheat! Mmmm

    1. I know! How could anything with yeasted bread and potatoes not be sublime???

  22. I can almost feel the amazing flavor of the freshly baked bread 😋😉
    I could live on mashed potatoes too 😆

    1. Yes, potatoes, good bread. Definitely two of my desert island foods!

  23. RobertaEaton Cheadle says:

    Hi Dorothy, what an interesting recipe. I wonder if the inclusion of potato came the WW1 era of wheat rationing.

    1. That’s a good question! I have no idea of their history, but it would be fun to find out.

  24. These look so good!! I’ve saved the recipe to try.

    1. Thanks Liz! They are always so soft and delicious, I think you’ll be pleased.

      1. You’re welcome, Dorothy!

  25. I will pass this on to my husband for his bread baking challenge!

    1. I think you’ll be pleased! Let me know!

  26. Marilyn says:

    Those buns look delish!

    1. Thank you! We love them as much as the original.

  27. konen hashmi says:

    I don’t do much vintage cooking but these vintage style cooking looks really nice 👍🏻

    1. Thank you! I try to give these old recipes a little twist to make them more approachable for the way we eat today!

      1. konen hashmi says:

        Yeah there has to be some alternation otherwise it it’ll become very difficult for you to replicate a dish from a completely different era.I appreciate your work🙂

      2. Thank you for your kind words.

  28. kevinashton says:

    Your potato featherbed rolls look wonderful Dorothy. I also love the food stories you write with your recipes.
    Best Wishes

    1. Thanks Kevin! It’s all about the stories!

      1. kevinashton says:

        I agree Dorothy 🙂

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