The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

What about Laurel Robertson's Desem Starter ... ?

BROTKUNST's picture

What about Laurel Robertson's Desem Starter ... ?

I recently bought Laurel Robertson's  'Bread Book' and I thought that the 'incredible' desem starter sounded like a very complicated,odd and wasteful way to make a sourdough starter - although, so it is claimed, the desem would be 'better' than a sourdough starter. However to build an incubator of 10 lbs of organic flour and the must-have requirement of a temperature of 50-65 F at 'all times' sounds like too much if the outcome is not something way spectacular. I was waiting that the book called for that in the thirteenth night, at full moon, a special spell has to be spoken over the desem by a virgin under a thousand-year old oak tree ... (I guess that had to be left out because people messed up the spell and did more harm than good.)

So, did anybody actually went through the trouble of 'giving birth' to a desem starter ? Was it worth it ?


JMonkey's picture

I like the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book an awful lot. It helped me more than any other book I've read to make good-tasting, high rising 100% whole wheat bread.

I also love making Desem bread, but I'll also be the first to admit that sourdough is not the book's strong suit. When they speak about sourdough starters other than Desem, the book recommends adding yeast to get the starter going, which isn't very good advice, and with Desem ... well, I personally don't see much value in making it the way she recommends.

I did try to make the starter her way, though: Fun, but not really worth the trouble, I thought.

But the bread, I think, is well worth making. Basically, just take your sourdough starter and convert it to a 100% whole wheat starter at 50-60% hydration. Also, keep it cool when you feed it, preferably below 65 degrees F.

Here's some other links here on Desem:

Good luck -- it's a great bread. Feel free to ask questions here; quite a few people have made it successfully.
BROTKUNST's picture

That's a down-to-earth response I was hoping for ! I will read thoroughly through your links and will try the coversion suggestions !



mountaindog's picture


Although I was happy with the desem I made in the link JMonkey gave you above, I got lazy and failed to maintain my stiff desem starter in my cool basement for much longer. I was happy to discover, however, that I was able to make a high-hydration WW sourdough that I liked even better using the recipe by Jane, using only my batter starter converted to WW, documented here - I liked this version because it was more open and less dry even after 5 days. It may not taste like what a true desem should taste like, since that is probably dependent on whatever unique lb's live in a desem starter under those conditions, but it's good enough for me, enough that I probably will not go to the bother again of making a real desem starter. If I ever have the opportunity to taste a real desem bread, though, I'd like to see what it tastes like (I don't think the starter used in my first trial at desem was mature enough to be representative).

BROTKUNST's picture

Good point.

How does the taste of the desem bread differ from a well refereshed, not-so-sour 'regular' barm ?



tmccarthy27's picture

The Desem Bread is a very different WW bread because of the microorganisms that leaven the bread. This is NOT a sourdough! I concede they are difficult little critters to isolate and grow because of the need to keep their environment cool (50-65 degrees).  But it is an exceptional loaf, and for those who have reliable, cool basements- easy. 

For those who are interested in diving into this Flemish adventure:  I have found an ideal "cave" for desem in my son's college refrigerator plugged into a temperature controller (the INKBIRD ITC-308 outlet thermostat temperature controller for about $38 is the best one out there. As you would expect- Amazon has it.). Keeps the environment a steady 55-60 degrees.