Desem - first try
After posting a forum question here on desem a few weeks back, I got some helpful hints from gt, JMonkey, pumpkinpapa, northwestsourdough, and maki (thanks all). I studied the recipes in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book  and The Bread Builders , and improvised between them and what JMonkey posted here . I converted an existing vigorous batter starter to a stiff whole wheat one to make the desem starter, then fed it for the past 2 weeks more or less according to Laurel's method, burying it in fresh whole wheat flour, storing it in my cool 59F basement in between 1:1:2 daily feedings. After 2 weeks, the desem starter seemed nice and spongy, so I decided to give making a desem loaf a try this weekend.
Here is my little ball of desem just brought up from the basement ready to be expanded. It no longer needs to be buried in flour at this point, so as per Laurel, I keep it wrapped in 2 layers of clean linen inside an airtight container.
The inside of the ripe desem looks nice and spongy...
For this recipe, I used Allan Scott's weight ratios in The Bread Builders, just dividing his recipe by 6 for two smallish loaves rather than 12. I took about 230 g (8 oz) of my ripe desem, tripled it by adding 150 g water and 300 g flour, to give me 680 g (1.5 lbs) of expanded desem starter. I took 230 g (8 oz) of that and wrapped it up for storage as the starter, while the remaining 460 g (1 lb) was left at room temp. to ripen for 14 hours for making the final dough.
The just-fed desem starter ready to go back into the cellar:
Here is the final dough recipe I used (makes two smallish loaves):
453 g ( 16 oz) ripe desem starter
726 g (26 oz) organic whole wheat flour
631 g (22 oz) cool water
14.2 g (0.5 oz) sea salt
Dissolve the ripe desem starter (refreshed or expanded 14-16 hours before) into the water and mix well. In large mixing bowl, combine salt and flour, then add water/starter mix and knead with dough hook on stand mixer until blended. Continue to knead at speed 2 for 12 minutes. Dough will be softer than starter dough, but smooth and slightly tacky/sticky at the end of kneading. Place dough in covered bowl or container and let rise for 4 hours at 65-70F. Dough should have risen slightly, turn it out onto counter after 4 hours and divide in half, give each half a stretch and fold, and form into two tight boules. Place each boule in a floured banneton and cover with plastic to proof for 2.5 hours at 80-90F.
(Here is where I had a slight dilemma - I had to unexpectedly leave for the rest of the afternoon/evening just as I shaped my loaves to proof, so I put them in the frig overnight, took them out at 5:30AM the next morning, and let them warm up for a few hours until they rose enough and looked ready to bake - I did not want to over-ferment them since the recipe's final proofing time is rather short).
I preheated my oven to 500F and placed a lightly oiled 5 qt. Lodge cast-iron dutch oven inside to preheat as well. When the oven was ready, I flipped the firm dough out of the banneton and into the hot dutch oven, slashed the top, and covered it with the lid - no misting/steaming necessary. I baked it at 500F for 20 min. covered (it smelled great while baking...), then turned it down to 450F and baked it for another 20 minutes uncovered, after which it was nicely browned and the internal temp. measured 204F. So far things look pretty good:
I could hardly wait to cut into it to see if I had a brick or something worthwhile. It felt lighter than I expected when I placed it on the cooling rack. After 1.5 hours, I sliced in, and was very pleased with the result. Although I didn't get big holes, the crumb was not at all dense or heavy, instead it was very light. The crust was exceptional - very crispy on the outside, while the crumb was light, moist, and slightly chewy, with a nice flavor and no whole wheat bitterness.
A few more slices...it was delicious...
I am hooked - this bread was great, despite having my process interrupted and having to retard it overnight. I look forward to making it again, and hope that it will be even better as the desem starter matures over time. Maybe I'll even get bigger holes someday, but if not, this is still a delicious, light bread for a lean 100% whole wheat one. I am especially pleased with the results the Lodge dutch oven gave - the crispy crust and the high domed shape of the loaf - and no metallic taste, probably due to proper seasoning. I picked it up thinking I'd try a no-knead bread at some point, but have not got around to it yet - nice to know it is useful in this way as sort of a la cloche as well.
This is the flour I used for the desem - maybe someday I'll grind my own wheat berries to make fresh whole wheat flour like Allan Scott and Laurel Robertson do, but for now, I am pretty happy with King Arthur.