The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Desem starter

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Desem starter

Ever since reading about Desem bread in Laurel's Bread book years ago, I've been eager to bake with it, but have felt a bit intimidated about the whole process of creating a healthy starter.  I was wondering if anyone has a Desem starter they would be willing to share.  I can offer an exchange of some starters I have collected, and will also pay for postage and handling.  If you're interested, please send me a message.  Thanks so much.  

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

www.sysmatrix.net/~jkandell/Desem-web-jk6.doc is an interesting article on Desem, by Jonathen Kandell.  In this article he presents a much less strict method of making desem, as well as suggestions for baking with it.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Thank you so much for this information, Mangochutney.  This seems manageable.  Not having 5 pounds of freshly milled organic whole wheat flour to begin with, as Laurel suggests, had always stalled my attempts at trying to develop a desem on my own, but I will give this a try.

Barbara 

Zoologuy's picture
Zoologuy

I’m not a microbiologist and I don’t play on on TV, but my readings in Island Biogeography, decades-old experience with desem and recent experience making a wild yeast starter in a class at SFBI all align with much of Jonathan Kandell’s Primer.

In the mid-80s my kids and I spend a wonderful day with Alan Scott and his family at the end of which I brought home a piece of desem from which I started many lovely loaves. I don’t remember what finally happened (probably neglect) to that desem but do recall that it changed a little over time, not for the better or worse, just different.

Along with the influences of temperature regimes that Laurel’s book held in high importance and Jonathan’s primer discounts somewhat, I think biogeography may have played a significant role as well.

Whether we begin with a genuine desem or a real San Francisco Sourdough Starter, when we take it home we feed it there. Ideally with freshly ground whole wheat flour in the case of desem. That flour or the unbleached white that feeds any other starter contains its own complement of yeasts and bacteria imported from the fields in which the wheat grew.

The addition of yeasts and bacteria from flour feeding a starter will produce interactions with the microbes already thriving in the starter. Some will go extinct in the new island of Levain to which we have introduced them. Some will coexist side-by-side with the older inhabitants. Some may come to represent a greater and greater part of Levain’s biota. Some of the older residents may become even more prominent in the new mix, or less, or even go extinct. Eventually an equilibrium will be struck...at least until flour from another source (different miller or different species: rye, spelt, kamut, etc.) is introduced.

Compared to oceanic islands, coastal islands have floras and faunas much more like those of the nearest mainland. I suspect that if I received a desem or other starter from a friend and kept it under the same conditions of temperature and hydration—and fed it from the same sack of flour (mainland) as my current starter, that eventually they would be very similar if not indistinguishable. Perhaps someone within this community has an experience of doing just that.

Incidentally, I count myself fortunate to have been guided through the building of a new liquid levain starter during SFBI’s Wild Yeast course (Artisan II). Had I produced on my own a mix that stank the way that one did after 24 hours, I think I would have concluded I’d done something wrong and thrown it out, but three days later it smelled lovely and powered lofty loaves that were delicious.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

I think I was romanticizing somewhat the method of creating a Desem.  This explanation tells me that I can actually create one with my current starter.  At least that is what I am gleaning.  Thanks.

Zoologuy's picture
Zoologuy

Barbara,

I think the inference you have gleaned is a sound one. The prediction you've made about developing a Desem from an existing starter is eminently testable. In fact I'd like to take it on myself. I've mostly kept a liquid levain going with a feeding of 2:5:5 :: levain:water:AP flour and converted some to stiff starter as needed, but perpetuating a stiff starter fed with home-ground WW flour would be new to me.  If you'll be doing something similar we could keep in touch about it.

I'll be downloading the "Desem Primer" to use as a starting point and grinding organic hard winter red wheat (Giusto's) as the food source.

Michael

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Michael,

I'll be interested to see your results.  I am afraid I don't have access to freshly milled flour, nor to Giusto's, so my attempts would be somewhat watered down in the sense that all requirements for a true Desem would not really be met.  Still, I'd be willing to try, given the ingredients I have available. 

jkandell's picture
jkandell

Mangochutney, I have an updated version of my desem instructions at 

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3FeiHQDzJOnRzlTWEpaMUtENDA/edit?usp=sharing

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Thank you Mangochutney and esp Thank you, jkandell!

I had also recently read Laurel's directions for desem and was in awe of how much flour she recommended. My reaction was to immediately dismiss doing it. I keep a small amount of a polish consistency SD starter and her method seemed too large and wasteful a scale for me. Grapesized starter and building for a weekly bake, I can handle.

Now I might try this! I grind my own flour from hard red spring wheat and have recently been experimenting with non-wheat flours, as well. It will be interesting to see how things go.