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Two desem bakes with home milled Red Fife (my previous attempt used a converted starter). 

This differs from my previous attempt in that it uses:

  • a home grown desem (from the same Red Fife wheat)
  • a lower percentage of PFF (10%)
  • higher hydration (79% and 81% (this would have been problematic with the previous starter))
  • retarded overnight final proof
  • shorter 1.5 to 2 hour soaker (based on comments in a TFL community whole grain bake about long autolyse)
  • ambient temperature of roughly 80F

The home grown desem effort was motivated by Mariana's comments.

The lower PFF was motivated by Debra's comments on inverse relationships between PFF and hydration levels as well as the lower PFF used by Jennifer Lapidus for her desem section in her book Southern Ground (former apprentice of Alan Scott), and mdw's success at low hydration with his converted starter (and most TFL bakers in general with whole grain sourdough baking (idaveindy, etc)).

I had assumed a high PFF and a hot final proof were requirements of desem baking, but above discussions make me think it is mostly the starter itself, as there is quite a lot of variation in the approached presented in LKBB, The Bread Builders, Bread, and Southern Ground (the latter using the popular cold final proof at higher hydration).  

Basic formula:

I ground Red Fife berries (from breadtopia) 1 click back from ticking in a single stage and used a fairly short 1.5-2 hour soaker.  I used a warmish room temperature BF to roughly 60% for the first one and a slightly lower 50% in the second one after getting a flatter loaf than I like in the first attempt.  The final proof ran overnight in the fridge with a measured final temperature of close to 40F.  I baked covered for 35 minutes (Challenger pan) and uncovered for 5 minutes.  I left the oven dial at 400F (which gives me a temperature somewhere between 450F and 475F).

First one (81% hydration (slightly flat)):

Second one (79% hydration):


I'm quite happy with the result using the new starter and this approach.  Unfortunately, with hot temperatures arriving in NYC, I'm doing much less baking in the apartment now.

headupinclouds's picture

Inspired by Benny's red fife bakes, and an earlier red fife by @suminandi that caught my eye, I wanted to see what I could learn from working with this flavorful but fermentation intolerant heritage grain.  I'll be doing a few bakes with this one using desem at different percentages of PFF.

Based on Benny's baking notes and comments from others, I erred on the side of caution in this one, and it might be a little underfermented.

Details to follow.



  • 20% PFF
  • hydration by feel in lower 70's
  • final pH 4.12 (very sour to taste)

headupinclouds's picture

I stopped by the Grow NY grain stand at the local farmers market and picked up the lone bag of Frederick soft white wheat berries they had and a few bags of stone-ground flour from Farmer Ground and Small Valley Farm so I could sample some local wheat varieties and try a few bakes with professionally milled whole grain flour for comparison with Mockmilled flour.  Larger bags of wheat berries can be ordered for pick up in advance.  I am interested in the Renan flour, but a 50 lb minimum is a bit intimidating.  If someone in the NYC area is interested in splitting an order please let me know. 

In addition to the wheat flour, I picked up one bag of whole rye from Farmer Ground.  I have been wanting to try the recipe for the Finnish (ruis)reikaleipa from Daniel Leader's Living Bread, so I queued it up.  (Leader refers to it as reikaleipa, although Wikipedia clarifies the rye version is technically ruisreikaleipa.)   It is a thin circular UFO-like rye with a hole in the middle, which was traditionally used for storage and aging on poles just below the kitchen ceiling.

From Wikipedia:

This is lower hydration than the whole rye Volkornbrot I've been learning to bake and has a pleasantly chewy texture.  It would be a great bread for a camping trip!  It employs a single rye sour build prior to the final mix, but I was quite surprised by the depth of flavor from such a simple formula, and am not now unsure why I don't bake rye more often.  Leader recommends consuming within 4 days, although various articles I have seen suggest these were often baked in large quantities and consumed well beyond that.  Taking a hint from the small Finnish cafe where these were photographed, we baked the holes and post stenciling dough remnants as biscuits and ate them as egg sandwiches for brunch to get a preview of the flavor while the larger loaves cooled.  The recipe suggests baking a 12 inch round with steam, although our gas oven is unforgiving to uncovered bakes, so I opted for two 8 inch discs that would allow for covered bakes in a round DO and lodge pan at 400 F for 40 minutes.  The photos below indicate a doubling in the initial rye sour after approximately 12 hours, followed by a roughly 30% rise of the final mix at 1.5 hours and an additional 25% post-shape rise after 45 minutes with a corresponding reset of the aliquot jar.

I noticed the crust puffing up in a few places after I uncovered it, so I used a chopstick to dock it while it was in the oven.  I will probably do that ahead of time for the next bake.

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This was an end-of-week project to use up the bran from my tempering + bolting experiments with Yecora Rojo.  It is named after Phil Hartman's (RIP) Colon Blow cereal skit on SNL:

None of this was measured very precisely, but I wanted a classic moist carrot cake type bran muffin texture.  I was surprised how pleasant, moist and fluffy the bran can be as the main ingredient.

  • 570 g Yecora Rojo bran + middlings at 100% hydration w/ a portion dedicated to a bran levain build
  • I did throw in 1/3 a cup of sifted YR at the last minute for binding, although I think I could have skipped it
  • 3 large carrots (shredded)
  • 12 Medjool dates
  • a couple of tablespoons of honey
  • 5 g of salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda

I made a soaker with the bulk of the bran and let it sit overnight to fully hydrate next to a large bran levain made from the remaining portion at 56F in my wine fridge and mixed it all the following morning for a half-day of fermentation (timing not critical), and then mixed in the remaining ingredients, including the baking soda, and baked it in oven ramekins at 375 until done.  It clearly needed more time after my 30-minute timer went off.  I didn't measure the remaining time, but I would guess it went another 15 minutes or so.  I let it set overnight and tried them the next morning.  They are delicious.



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This is my second attempt at the home oven home milled soft white wheat pizza napoletana from Adam Leonti's Flour Lab.  The first attempt was posted here.  This version uses a sourdough starter instead of the yeast called for in the recipe and I increased the hydration from 63% to 70% -- an adjustment based on experience with the first attempt (I would probably take the mean of these next time).  The bran was sifted with a #50 mesh and added to the starter ahead of time.  I made a soaker (water + salt) with the sifted flour and placed it in a wine fridge overnight. 

The first version was one of my first open oven bakes using my fibrament stone.  It was good, but the pale crust was a disappointment.  This seems to be a problem with gas ovens, and I purchased a disposable aluminum baker to cover the pizza for the first half of the bake to help trap steam to trigger a maillard reaction.  I baked covered at 550 F on the stone for 7 minutes, then removed the pizza on a baking tray and rotated it carefully in the lower broiler section to take advantage of the exposed upper flame in order to sizzle the toppings and further brown the crust for another 3 to 4 minutes.  It was a big improvement. 

The 1000 g flour dough was fermented on the counter until slightly pillowy, then shaped into 4 mini boules, two of which were chilled in the wine fridge for dinner that night, and the other two went in the back of the fridge for the following night.  The difference in flavor and extensibility between the two nights was remarkable.  I enjoyed the first night, and the soft white wheat sweetness was enjoyable but a bit too strong.  It required a fair amount of patience shaping the low gluten soft white wheat on the first night to avoid tearing (there was no throwing this one in the air).  On the second night the longer fermented dough was much more extensible and easy to shape (if a bit sticky), and the additional sour notes from the extended fermentation balanced the sweet flavor of the wheat nicely.  Baking at the lower temperatures a home oven supports provides more opportunity to cook lots of toppings.  These were full meal red sauce pizzas with sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, Miyoko's cultured plant based mozzarella cheese, tamari marinated tempeh, portobello mushrooms, and red onions.  Fresh basil was added at the end after the broiler flame sizzling.  The soft white wheat works surprisingly well in this context.


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CB 1:

  • home milled durum wheat (100% extraction) at 500g total (400 g mix + 100 g in levain) @ 70% hydration
  • 20% PFF via sifted and remilled bran powder levain (#30, #40, #50 stack) final 12 hour build 5:6:10 at 56F
  • overnight soaker (salted) from 400 g semolina
  • 2% salt
  • used a standard fold + roll batard shaping w/ tension which immediately created a bunch of pockmarks on the dough
  • 12 hour final proof in fridge
  • try increasing hydration next time
  • reasonable oven spring but tight crumb (flavor is nice and "bright")
  • monitored pH as I read comments that durum doesn't like acidity


headupinclouds's picture

A continuation of JMonkey's Desem with a whole wheat soaker (the epoxy method outlined in Whole Grain Breads) and an aliquot jar for proofing.  Bulk fermentation ended at <= 25% and final proof ended at around 75%.


  • the aliquot jar markings in these images represent the starting height, 1.25x and 2x, even though the final proof was started at 1.75x -- in subsequent experiments and their images the final proof line was adjusted to 1.75x.
  • updated bakers percentage formula for these experiments in this link  (84% hydration)


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This summer, while social distancing in our cabin, I purchased a small wood fired pizza oven where I practiced applying my sourdough starter to making sourdough pizza.  At temperatures between 900F and 1000F (the later being "Hi" or my IR gun) the challenge is to continuously rotate the pizza to keep things from burning while ensuring the top and bottom cook evenly in 1 or 2 minutes.  In addition, chopping lots of tiny hardwood pieces of the precise size needed to keep the little firebox roaring adds to the list of chores.  Our felled locust burns very hot and works exceptionally well for this. 

I was missing the sourdough pizza from the Summer and have also been missing the excellent Neopolitan style pizzas from several nearby restaurants (Motorino, Robertas, etc) due to pandemic driven isolation now that we are back in our little Brooklyn apartment.  Inspired by recent TFL posts on home oven pizza, and after recently acquiring an oven stone to support the task, I leafed through some whole grain focused pizza recipes in Adam Leonti's Flour Lab and settled on the Pizza Napoletana [1] .

The recipe calls for a soft spring wheat flour (Frederick preferred).  I went with a Palouse Soft Spring Wheat (unknown variety) that would arrive in time for milling and baking on New Years Eve, but am interested in sourcing some of the recommended Frederick for a follow up.  He indicates his preferred wheat variety for each recipe.  In this case he explains:

I used Frederick soft spring wheat flour because it maintains that signature white hue, mild flavor, and soft crumb that is synonymous with Naples's most famous food.

The recipe is a basic 63% hydration dough:

  • 630 g water
  • 1000 g soft spring wheat flour
  • 14 grams sea salt
  • 2 grams active dry yeast (I used a chunk of Desem starter)
  • Neutral oil for greasing
  • Desired topping

I wanted to experiment with my cool low hydration Desem starter, which I substituted for the ADY.  I milled the soft white wheat coarse-to-fine and then made a soaker (saltolyse) which sat in the fridge for a couple of days to improve extensibility.  The dough felt far too dry at 63% hydration with this wheat (noticeable cracks and fraying) so I ended up increasing the hydration significantly after warming it up and mixing in a chunk of refrigerated Desem starter prior to bulk fermentation.

To add to the list of accumulating violations, this was destined to be a plant based pizza (i.e., no mozzarella).  I sourced a plant based cheese that melts reasonably well, tastes good, and doesn't resemble a rubbery polymer based lab creation upon melting: Miyoko's organic cultured vegan mozzarella.  On a related note, I sampled a fermented tofu at a Japanese restaurant in the Lowesr East side last year that was one of my notable culinary memories of 2020.  I think it would work swimmingly in this context, but I have yet to find a local source for it.  The process is described well in online videos, so it may be another one for the home fermentation lab.

I waited for some signs of fermentation and reasonable gluten development given the low protein flour, then shaped it carefully with the backs of my hands before finishing the slightly fragile dough into a pizza with raised crust using the tips of my fingers, taking care to de-gass the center portion before adding toppings.  The oven stone was approximately 525F.  After 5 minutes or so I added the fresh basil (at 500F the pizza cooks too slowly and the basil would otherwise dry out) and then cooked for another 2 minutes or so before removing it.

The flavor of the crust was excellent (beyond my expectation at least), with a mild tender sweetness and suppressed but still noticeable tang.  It did rise pretty well for the whole grain flour, but the biggest mark against the pizza was the crust color, which was unfortunately pale and somewhat lifeless, which was a real shame.  From recent discussions, I believe this is related to cooking uncovered in a gas oven.  I always use a wide clay cloche for my hearth bread bakes, and have not had success with open stone bakes and improved steam.  Perhaps something akin to a cloche is needed to trigger a maillard reaction.  Following older TFL posts on the subject, I may experiment with an inverted Graniteware roaster placed on top of the baking stone, or a "disposable" aluminum alternative. 

Another consideration is the lack of top heat in the home oven.  When the mini wood fired pizza is roaring, the chimney draws the flames from the rear firebox along the low ceiling over the top of the pizza and up and out the chimney.  That is helpful for matching the heat pizza stone underneath and providing the signature char. 

In our gas home oven there is no top heat source, but there is a broiler that could serve this purpose.  Next time I'm inclined to bake 1/2 way through covered on the stone, then remove and place under the broiler with a turning peel to add a hint of charring to the top crust.  It is worth a shot and would add the main missing element to the final product.

Any thoughts on this issue are appreciated.

[1] baking 400 F degrees short of the 932 F target using home milled whole grains would clearly cause some concern in the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), so this is really an "inspired by" translation.  In the words of Stevie Wonder "Ya gots to work with what you gots to work with."

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This post illustrates starter maintenance and an end-to-end bake of a whole wheat Desem loaf using home milled hard white spring wheat berries (Prairie Gold) using JMonkey's Desem post as a blueprint. It is relevant to some of the starter yeast-vs-LAB ratio discussions on TFL this past week.   It is fun to find such useful posts and discussions from the TFL "archives" back in 2009.  He summarizes the style succinctly, and helps dispel a lot of mystique around this style of bread:

I enjoy making Desem, which is really just a traditional Pain au Levain (French sourdough) made with whole wheat flour. From what I've read (and if others have read differently, please, chime in!) the French, historically, have disliked a strong sour flavor in their breads, and so bakers had to work very creatively to eliminate as much sour as they could, especially when sourdough was the only levean they had!

Here's what they did:

    1. They kept their starter firm.
    2. They kept their starter cool (50 to 60 degrees F)
    3. They used quite a bit of starter so that the bread would rise quickly and the bacteria would not have much time to produce a lot of acid.

I've been interested in heading in this direction for my regular home milled whole wheat bakes, and a number of Desem posts from notable TFL bakers caught my attention, which I summarized in this thread.


I've been maintaining a cool 50 % hydration starter fed at a 1:1:2 ratio for a couple of weeks and have had some luck achieving the desired temperature range of 50-60 F by storing the starter in a mason jar inside a wide mouth thermos with large ice cubes refreshed at the 24 hour feeding cycle.  A lid and silicone jar top provide some insulation to prevent direct contact between the starter and the ice cubes.  From occasional measurements with an IR gun this seems to reach an initial temperature of a little below 50 F and it slowly climbs to a little below 60 F by the next feeding, which can be adjusted by the number of ice cubes.  The stiff low hydration starters don't readily provide the same peak volume feedback associated with higher hydration starters, so this exercise has required a little bit of blind faith.  In this temperature range, feeding the starter the night before and using it the following morning seems to work out fine in practice.  One recipe I read described a ripe Desem starter as resembling the texture of a kitchen sponge.  Using a pH meter or Doc's weight loss approach may provide a better mechanism for optimizing the maintenance schedule, and I'm interested in any additional thoughts in this direction.


The dough was mixed for an initial conservative 75% hydration per the above post, and I used a refrigerated overnight saltolyse, so very little gluten development was required on the bench.  I used the water allowance from the low hydration starter for the laminate-roll-spray-and-cut-up style mixing and continued to add water by feel with the sprayer.  I bulk fermented at a warm active kitchen room temperature (77-80 F) to roughly 1.3x using an aliquot jar, at which point I pre-shaped, rested, folded, stretched and rolled it into a tight burrito.  I dusted it and placed it into a banneton for a very short final proof (probably 1.5x via the aliquot meter).  The dough was very strong.  I have found the HWSW Prarie Gold exceptionally easy to work with for a whole grain flour and will be interested to try a similar bake with some heritage grains soon.  I slashed it then placed it in a batard clay baker in the oven at about 475F for 20 minutes and another 18 minutes uncovered, after lowering the temperature slightly.




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