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Experimenting with Desem Starter

My last two batches of Desem were pretty different. The Desem starter is now very stable and reliable so I thought I might try experimenting with it a bit. Last week I made a batch of the more traditional Desem recipe which is in Laurel’s Bread Book. The dough is raising higher and the malt flavor of the wheat is very pronounced, not to mention how wonderfully sour it is EVERY time. I didn’t put any malt in the dough at all for the first batch but the fermenting of the Whole Wheat made the dough taste like malt, especially when toasted. I started with about 3.5 lbs of dough:

Desem dough

This doesn’t look like over 3 lbs of dough , but it was. I made this dough from the preferment of the starter from the night before. I then let it bulk ferment for four hours at which time I took the dough out of the bowl and shaped it and then put it into small bannetons:

shaping dough

bannetons with Desem dough

While looking at this picture, I remembered the first time I tried Desem and my dough was a wet mess and I tried putting it into the bannetons and how terribly the dough stuck and ruined my bread! The dough was then placed in the warm oven ( I turned on the oven to 200 degrees long enough to warm up the baking stone and then turned the oven off and kept it cracked open) and covered with a wet tea towel to keep it humid:

Desem being proofed

I proofed it for two hours, taking the dough out of the oven after one hour so I could heat the oven and placing the dough on a rack on top of the warm oven with the dough still covered. Here is my result:

Desem Bread

Next I decided to try to use my Desem starter to bake up some lighter bread made with 1/2 bread flour. I also decided to use a regular loaf pan for baking. I used 2 cups of Desem prefermented from the night before and followed pretty much the same schedule as the last Desem dough, four hours bulk ferment and two hours proofing. I missed with the two hours proofing though, although the dough felt ready, it really needed another 1/2 hour or more to proof. Here is the dough proofed and ready to shape:

dough ready to shape

I shaped the dough like a regular loaf where you fold over the ends and then fold over lengthwise, pinching the dough together with the heel of your hand. I then placed the dough into loaf pans:

dough in loaf pans

The dough felt proofed enough, so I poked a couple of holes into the top as suggested in Laurel’s Bread Book. It is supposed to keep the top crust from separating from the rest of the loaf.

 proofed Desem dough

 I wasn’t satisfied with it though, so I also slashed and then I baked the loafs at 450 degrees for five minutes, spraying several times, and turned the oven down to 400 degrees and baked another 40 minutes, turning halfway. Here are the loaves:

Desem Bread

When the bread came out I waited for it to cool a little, and then I spread butter all over the loaves to help make the crust soft and chewy(this was supposed to be a softer Desem). As you can see, I needed to allow the dough to proof longer. I think with the added bread flour, I needed not only to let the dough raise longer but maybe at room temperature instead of in a very warm oven. I will have to try that next time. The crumb was pretty nice although a little dense:

Desem Crumb

If you want to experiment with Desem and don’t want to wait the two weeks for the starter to get going and then another month for it to gain strength, I have a limited amount of Desem for sale on my website. It will be sent as a small piece of dough ball at a very low hydration so it won’t raise while enroute. You can find out more about it at the bottom of the page at:

http://www.northwestsourdough.com/starter.html

Click on the picture of the Desem bread and it will take you to another page that tells more about the Desem starter and what you need. You will need Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and a good supply of fresh organic Whole Wheat flour plus some really good water and a cool place in your house. Desem is fascinating, especially for those who love Whole Wheat breads.

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