The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Whole wheat Desem bread

md_massimino's picture

Whole wheat Desem bread

I've been going through the recipes in the KAF Whole Grains cookbook and I was wondering if anyone has tried to make Desem bread.  The starter for this bread is a stiff starter...twice as much flour as water (which is a royal pain to feed, btw)

I used the quasi-desem recipe in the book with mixed results.  There's no all porpuse flour at all in this recipe, but the book says that it should be a light bread.  I had a really good first and second rise, but after I shapped the loaves for the third rise not much happened and consequently I got a very dense bread.  Has anyone else had success with this style of bread?

Floydm's picture

I've not baked a Desem bread, but there are couple of helpful Desem threads from folks who have here and here.

Good luck.

md_massimino's picture

Hah, I had a duh moment and didn't search first before posting.    Thanks Floyd, I appreciate the links anyway.

JMonkey's picture

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 thier breads, and so bakers had to work very creatively to eliminate as much sour as they could, especially when sourdough was the only leven 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.

So, here's how I make mine.

I keep my starter at about 60% hydration. That's still stiff. I find that anything lower than that is really tough to work with. In the winter time, it's pretty cool in the house, so if I want to make Desem, I make sure that I keep it in a cool room, generally below 65F, and preferably below 60. I don't bother with the special instructions to make it. Coverting a normal starter to a Desem starter and then keeping it cool achieves the same effect, so far as I can tell.

The recipe looks like this:


  • Whole Wheat Flour: 100%
  • Water: 75%
  • Salt: 2%
  • (30% of the flour is in the starter at 60% hydration)


  • 240 grams stiff starter
  • 350 grams whole wheat flour
  • 285 grams water
  • 10 grams salt

I dissolve the starter in the water, and then add the salt. When the salt is dissolved, I stir in the flour, and knead the dough until it's developed. Usually takes about 10 minutes.

The first rise usually takes 4 hours at room temperature. I then gently preshape the dough into a round so that there's a tight skin on the outside, but without having disturbed the big bubbles in the interior. I cover and wait 15-20 minutes, and then shape again into a round, again, making sure that I'm giving it a tight skin, but leaving the interior relatively undisturbed. I then place it in a banneton (dusted with rice flour) or in a bowl that's been lined with baker's linen or a linen napkin (again dusted with baker's linen).

I place the shaped loaf inside a picnic cooler on an upturned bowl. I then throw a cup of boiling water in the bottom and close the top. This gives a hot final rise. The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book recommends a hot rise to get a light loaf. I don't know about whether it makes the bread any lighter, but it does speed the process and give it more flavor, in my opinion.

After an hour has passed, I put another cup of boiling water in the bottom, and then check the loaf 30 minutes later. If it looks fully risen (poke it with a wet finger -- if it comes back only verrrry slllowwly, it's ready), I'll bake. Otherwise I give it another 30 or so.

I bake either in a cloche or on a stone with steam at 450 (preheated for 1 hour) for about 35-40 minutes. Cool on a rack for an hour before slicing.

It's a great bread, and though I wouldn't describe it as heavy, it's not "light" compared to white breads. But it is delicious.

Good luck! Hope it comes out well.


md_massimino's picture

Part of my annoyance with the recipe in the book is the starter, honestly.  If the bread was a winner straight away I would deal with with a 50% hydration starter.  I'll try a 60% and see how that goes, maybe this weekend.  Thanks for the advice and the recipe, will let you know how it turns out.

md_massimino's picture

I meant to ask, how often do you feed the starter?  Do you wake it up first?  I'm wondering if I should feed it at all since it's kept cold.