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Desem Starter - When is it ripe? - How to use it?

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sournewb71's picture
sournewb71

Desem Starter - When is it ripe? - How to use it?

I'm trying to convert a regular sourdough starter into a desem starter.  I was curious to know when is a desem starter ripe?  Do you just wait until it is soft?

Also how do you use it?  Do you just make a sponge (stiff or liquid) as you would with other recipes, but using the desem starter?

I'm also looking for definitive resources on desem starter breads, if you have any references or books you'd recommend let me know.

 

Thanks

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Hi sournewb71,

There a couple of books available which describe various methods for starting and maintaining a desem style starter.

"The Bread Builders" - Dan Wing and Alan Scott (no recipes, though Alan Scott does run through a baking session and gives some rough measurements that you can scale down)

"The Bread Book" - Thom Leonard (fascinating little book about growing wheat, grain mills and baking desem style breads - volume measurements only)

"Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" - Laurel Robertson (Great book for baking wholegrain breads - has a large chapter on desem breads, though I find it overly complicated and have never really used its method)

I use a desem starter for the majority of my baking and after doing a fair amount of reading on the subject I don't think there is such a thing as an "authentic" recipe or formula.  In essence a desem starter is more about how it is maintained - hydration, temperature, feed ratios and the flour used -

- It should be kept stiff  - 50%-60% hydration
- It should be kept cool - 18C-21C
- I use a feed ratio of 1:1:2
- Preferably using freshly milled wholegrain organic grains

At those kind of temperatures and feed ratio I find my starter is ready between 8-12hrs  - you have some flexibility with time as the starter is pretty tolerant. It should smell fruity ripe - not vinegary or sour - this part is hard to explain - maybe spend a day noticing the change in volume and aroma as it develops.

I usually expand it in size for the amount required for baking - I keep it at the same stiff hydration and either dissolve it in the water before mixing in flour or mix flour and water together and squeeze through the starter.

If you have a look through my blog you will find information and some pics of my desem starter - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/blog/pips

Hope this helps
cheers,
Phil

sournewb71's picture
sournewb71

Thanks Phil.

So the longest your desem starter can go without being refreshed is 12 hours?  I was hoping to go the route of a desem starter in order to bypass refrigeration and give me more flexibility with maintaing it.  I did a quick look through your blog and I'm impressed.  I hope to be able to make bread half as good as you one day :).  I'm currently just messing around with Hammelman's sourdough recipes, with two different starters which I keep refrigerated.  

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Sorry for the confusion ...

The times I gave you were for building a starter for baking with. I personally refresh it every 12hrs as I don't want to much sourness developing but if you had cool temperatures you could push it out to 24hrs easily ... but you could start to lose control of the flavour at this length of time.

We have just come out of summer here so my desem has been living in the fridge during the week. It gets fed on a Tuesday evening and is allowed to sit out in the overnight cool before being refreshed again and placed into the fridge until Friday evening when I build enough starter for baking on a Saturday. It is refreshed and placed back in the fridge Saturday morning or afternoon if I am doing a larger bake. Once winter comes and temperatures drop I will probably go back to feeding it daily.

The trick with the desem is keeping it cool. Wholewheat flour will want to ferment rapidly and the cool temperatures and stiff hydration keep this at bay. So instead of sourness you get fruity sweetness....this is increased even further when using fresh milled flour. Smells quite unlike a regular sourdough starter.

I don't think you can go too wrong with Hamleman's formulas ...

Cheers,
Phil

 

sournewb71's picture
sournewb71

Phil,

Thanks for the clarification.  Out of curiostiy have you ever tried feeding your starter higher proportions and just leaving it out?  I don't normally feed my starter small ratio feeds, more like 1:10, which taked about 12 hours at 70F.  I wonder if you fed the desem starter a 1 part starter : 5 parts water : 10 parts flour how long you could get away with keeping it on the counter.  You see when I first read of desem, 'old dough', 'cowboy starter', it was described as having a longer shelf life, something you could ball up and store in your bag of flour until the next time you needed to wake it up.  Since refrigeration tends to destroy the microflora of sourdough cultures it seemed an intriguing way to get around that.

PiPs's picture
PiPs

You could feed the starter at the ratio and have a happy and healthy starter but it would smell and taste different to the desem starter. The longer times and warmer temperatures would encourage enzyme activity plus the acid producing bacteria and by the end of the day you would have a fairly slack and sour starter. It would raise bread and have a earthy sour flavour but that's not what I want in my wholewheat breads. If you were wanting to leave it out longer it would be safer using a starter made with white flour at a stiff hydration. It will develop a slower and be easier to manage.

I think refrigeration can be used effectively if you treat the starter nicely and manage the way it is fed before placing it into hibernation :)

Cheers,
Phil