The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

desem

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Steve H's picture

Desem Starter

June 12, 2009 - 7:53am -- Steve H

I am considering trying to make Desem bread, and the recipe I've found for it requires 10# of freshly milled whole wheat flour to get it going (maybe 5# according to Mike)  I do have a friend with a (small) mill so I might be able to make this happen but I have two questions:


1.  Does anyone have a Desem starter they would be willing to share? (I wonder if it is dryable/freezable like a normal starter)

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

It hasn't been a snowy winter, but (an unnervingly warm first half of January aside) it has been a cold winter. Thankfully, spring has finally arrived. Our New England canopy is finally greenish again, and the temperature has been creeping toward, occasionally even attaining, 70 degrees. Which can only mean one thing.

Time to bake burger buns.

But of course, I had a lot more baking than that in mind. Plus, thanks to a post by TheGreenBaker which led me to revisit Mike Avery's Stretch and Fold video and lesson, I decided to try not kneading anything I worked on this weekend.

It worked beautifully and is easily the biggest breakthrough for my baking technique in many, many months. Knowing that I can just mix any bread in a matter of minutes and then only need to pay attention to it for 3-4 minutes every hour or so is hugely liberating. With a 3-year-old, finding 3 minutes is no big deal -- finding 20-30 is a very big deal indeed.



The first bread I made this weekend was Desem, as we were having friends over for dinner. The menu I'd planned was relatively simple. Asparagus with lemon butter, golden cheddar soup (a delicious, easy soup from The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home with potato, carrots, yellow squash, onion, garlic, buttermilk and ... oh yeah ... cheddar) and carrot and avocado salad.

Basically, I thought these foods would go well with the bread I wanted to bake (surely, I'm not the only one here who plans menus in this bass-ackwards fashion ....).

Here's how I made it:

  • Whole wheat bread flour: 100%
  • Water: 90%
  • Salt: 2%
  • Starter: 30% of the flour was prefermented at 60% hydration


Ingredients:

  • Whole wheat flour: 350 grams
  • Water: 360 grams
  • Salt: 10 grams
  • Starter: 240 grams


First, I tore up the starter into small chunks, poured the water over it and mushed it up with my fingers. I then let it soak for about 10 minutes before I added the flour and salt, which had already been mixed together. A minute or so of mixing with the dough whisk, and I covered the bowl with a plate to rest at room temperature for an hour.

After an hour, I removed the dough, which was still very rough, and flattened it out gently, looking for thick spots with my fingers. When I found them (and there weren't many), I mashed them real good with the palm of my hand. I then did one stretch and fold and let it rest again. I did two more folds over the next three hours, before I shaped it.

Here's where I owe a huge thank you to all the kind folks who gave me advice on how to avoid the sticky sticky arrgggh sensation I'd come to know so well. It turns out Bill Wraith's advice was really key, for me, anyway. The dough was pretty wet (though not as wet as the 100% hydration high-extraction flour ciabattas Bill regularly wrangles with - now THAT'S amazing), so I was concerned that I'd get a stringy, gluey, sticky mess when I tried to turn it out of the proofing basket and onto the peel. But Bill had suggested dusting the loaf before placing it in the well-floured banneton. I did, and it worked. I used a 50-50 mix of white rice flour and whole wheat flour for dusting and, I'm happy to say, the loaf popped right out. Amazing. Thanks Bill, and everyone else.

I turned the dough out onto parchment on my peel, and then loaded it directly onto a hot stone at 460 degress F, which I promptly covered with the top half of my cloche. After 30 minutes, I uncovered it and let it bake for another 20 minutes.



The crumb was more open than it was a 85%, but still not as open as the beauties that Mountaindog and Jane pulled from their ovens. I'm wondering whether it's my dough handling? Perhaps I'm being too rough shaping the dough into a boule? Mountaindog, could you describe (or even better, video) how you shape your dough? I'm beginning to think that's the key to how you get such a beautiful crumb structure.

Nevertheless, I was the only one who was a bit disappointed. The flavor was everything I could have hoped for from a Desem loaf. One of our friends thought it had to have some rye in it.

On Sunday, I made sourdough waffles that came out ... very strange. The salt apparently didn't blend into the dough, which resulted in waffles that were mostly bland, except for pockets of pretzel-like saltiness. Unappealing, to say the least. I'm not sure what I did wrong, as I thought I'd blended the salt well. Guess I didn't. Anyone else ever have this problem? Pretzel-waffles are a concoction I can't recommend to anyone.

After church, I took a trip to Debra's Natural Gourmet in Concord to pick up another 50 lb bag of hard red spring wheat. It's a bit of a hike, but worth it - it's the only place I can get big bags of wheat berries in Boston that I know of, and it's relatively cheap. Just less than 50 cents a pound for organic berries.

So, in the afternoon, I made Kaiser rolls (gonna grill turkey burgers tomorrow night - yum) and some sourdough sandwich bread.

First though, we had to have dinner. Earlier in the day, I'd pulled a sourdough pizza doughball from the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. Around 4pm, I put it on the counter and, after a trip to the park with Iris, came back to make the sauce, grate the cheese, chop the toppings and make the pizza. I was a bit concerned, since this doughball had been in the freezer for one month, but it turned out well, as you can see below.

.
I'm not sure why the cheese bubbled up to cover the toppings (roasted bell peppers, sliced turkey sausage and black olives) but it tasted fine, anyway. I used a new brand of feta, so maybe that's it?



The whole wheat Kaiser rolls turned out really well, though I made them wetter than I'd intended because I didn't compensate adequately for the eggs. I didn't do the Kaiser roll fold, though - I just tied them in an knot. My daughter wanted me to play dominoes (the knock-down kind, not the boardgame), so I didn't have time for anything really fancy.

Last, the whole wheat sourdough sandwich dough.



I used the stretch-and-fold method with both the rolls and the sandwich bread, and, I've got to say, the dough was at least as well developed as it is when I knead, and may have been even better. The only change I made to the recipe was to melt the butter for easy incorporation. From now on, I'll be much less kneady guy.

I thought I'd leave you with one more photo, just to prove that I don't do all the baking in the house. While I went to get grains (btw, I bought 6 lbs of spelt berries while I was there. I can't WAIT to try them out!), Aurora and Iris made brownies!



I used to lick the spoon in exactly the same way when my Mom made brownies.

Heck, when no one's looking, I still do.
JMonkey's picture
JMonkey



Well, thanks to Mountaindog, Tomsbread, Jane and, I'm sure, many others. I finally succeeded in baking a Desem bread at 85% hydration. The key really was folding and gentle, but firm, shaping. I folded three times during the bulk fermentation, preshaped and then did a final shape. It paid off -- the only flatbread I baked this weekend was a pizza.

I was also very pleased with the flavor of this Desem. Slightly tangy with a rich wheaty flavor that seemed as if it'd been baked with butter, though there was nothing but flour, starter, water and salt. The crust was crisp; the crumb was moist and chewy. Truly, a magnificent bread -- thanks folks! This doubter has been converted.

I also baked bagels Saturday morning (recipe is here). Just like Breadnerd says, bagels are a perfect bread to bake in the morning -- so quick (well, relatively speaking) and so tasty.

ron45's picture

The Bread God

March 2, 2007 - 11:52am -- ron45

I built this oven soon after I became enamored of building with cob [clay dirt lots of sand and straw. Kiko Denzer's book was a great help. And cob is a pure delight to work with. If there is a sculptural cell in your body cob will bring it out.....for better or worse. I'll add other shots later. It seems pretty clunky to have to upload pics one at a time. This is in a lot of ways my favorite stage of the oven's completion but it needs lime plaster on it to protect it from the elements better.

Ron

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ron45's picture

desem bread

February 26, 2007 - 2:30pm -- ron45

Hello I just finally got logged in. This web site has crashed my browser [surfari mac os X ] more times in one day than it has in 5 years. I switched browsers to get going. I have baked my third desem bread batch a few days ago and am pretty pleased with the result. But I have questions so I hope there are some other desem users here.

To begin:

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey


Laurel Robertson, I owe you an apology. I pulled a loaf of Desem bread out of my oven about an hour ago, and, unable to wait any longer, just cut a slice to eat. Without doubt, it is the most delectable, fully flavored whole wheat loaf I have ever eaten. Why it took me this long to get it right, I don't know. But I'm glad I did. When I'm making dinner bread from now on, I'll be making this.

First of all, folks should know that I didn't use a starter made according to the methods described in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, which requires 10 lbs of freshly ground flour. I'm sure you can make it that way, but there's an easier method. I just took some of my regular whole wheat sourdough starter, created a dough ball at about 60% hydration when I fed it, and left it in my chilly (55 degrees F) basement to ripen. I fed it once a day for three days, building it up each time, until I had about 200 grams or roughly 7 ounces of dough. On the final build, I increased its size by a factor of 3, and let it ripen for about 16 hours at 55 degrees, more out of convenience and necessity than calculation. If you don't have a whole wheat starter, it's simple to convert. Just take some of your regular ripe starter, and feed it in the following weight ratio of 1:4:4 -- starter: water: whole wheat flour. Refresh it two or three times like this, and you'll have your 99.99% whole wheat starter. (I won't tell anyone if you don't that it's not absolutely pure).

I screwed up my math in preparing the dough, so I ended up with about 38% of the flour as starter rather than the 30% I'd hoped for, but I'm not sure it would make that much difference. You do want a fairly large amount of starter, if I'm reading Laurel's recipe right -- somewhere in the range of about 30%. I also went for the customary 2% salt and aimed at a hydration of 75%.

Here's my formula:

  • Whole wheat flour: 100%
  • Water: 75%
  • Salt: 2%
  • 30% of the flour was pre-fermented at 60% hydration.
That worked out to roughly:
  • 220 grams starter
  • 260 grams water
  • 320 grams flour
  • 8 grams salt
I mixed it up and kneaded for about 300-400 strokes, until I could stretch a small piece of it into a translucent film (i.e. the "windowpane" test). As for consistency, I was aiming for dough that felt very tacky, but not exactly sticky. Then I formed it into a ball and let it ferment for four hours at about 64 degrees F (the temperature of my kitchen). It more than doubled in size and when I poked a wet finger into the dough, it didn't readily spring back.

Next, I gave the dough a stretch and fold, let it rest 15 minutes, and then shaped it into a ball. I placed it in a banneton (well-floured) and then used my makeshift proof-box to keep it at roughly 85 degrees for 2.5 hours. At that point, the dough had inreased about 75% in size -- perhaps it even doubled. In any case, I slashed it and put it into my cloche, which had been warming in a preheated, 500 degree F oven for about an hour. I had a slight mishap getting it into the cloche (I was a bit too forceful with the peel, and slammed the loaf into the side of the cloche, turning it over on its side. It mushed it a bit, but nothing serious -- the bake took care of it, mostly. You can see the dent on the bottom right of the loaf above.). I repositioned the bread and covered it. The bake was 30 minutes covered at 500, then 15-17 minutes uncovered at 450. I let it cool for one hour.



As you can see, the crumb does not have the huge holes one expects in white bread (I'm just about convinced that any "whole wheat bread" that has sports huge holes probably consists of at least 50% white flour), but, even so, the bread is not at all heavy or dense. The crumb is light and chewy, with a wonderful crispy crust. The flavor? It's tangy, but not overpoweringly so. There's a buttery undertone, maybe? The flavor lingers long in the mouth after eating. Really, the flavor is tough to describe aside from being complex and delicious.

Like I said, when I have company in the future, this is the bread I'll serve. Utterly delicious.

Well done, Laurel Robertson. And thank you.

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