Desem Bread – Pulling it All Together

Sorry if I’ve left any of you hanging on the desem – this week has totally gotten away from me. I’ve been working on an article for Canning Across America which will be up hopefully next week, planning the spring/summer/fall garden, organizing a large seed buy for the Seattle Urban Farm Coop, and managed to squeeze in a weeknight date with my hubby so I just haven’t been in front of the computer.

So from the top, to start a desem based on the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book:

Day 1 Combine 2 cups of organic stone ground bread flour with 1/2 cup filtered water. Knead it until you have a nice ball of stiff dough. If you are using a bag of ground bread flour simply bury your wild creature in the middle of the flour bag, seal it up and store it somewhere that is between 50 and 65 degrees. If you have no flour bag simply use a plastic container with a lid or another small paper bag that you can roll up and secure against bugs somehow. It will stay in that spot for 48 hours.


Day 2 Do nothing with your desem.

Day 3 After digging out your ball of dough cut off any of the hard crust that may have formed and remove enough dough so that your remaining dough is about half of what you started out with after taking it out of the flour.


Add 1/4 cup of filtered water and work that well into the dough ball.


At that point add enough flour and/or water to get your dough ball back to the size you started with. This is called “feeding” the starter. Knead the flour and water in until smooth and then bury your dough ball back in your flour again in your cold cellar or garage (50-65 degrees.)

Day 4 Repeat day 3 directions.

Day 5 Repeat day 3 directions.

Day 6 Add 1/3 cup filtered water to your desem and work the water in so that the dough is completely dissolved. Knead 1 cup of flour into the dough mass to create a nice dough ball then store the desem in a covered non-reactive container like a glass bowl or quart sized yogurt container with tight fitting lid. Return the desem to your cold cellar or garage.

Day 7 Add 1/3 cup filtered water to your desem until the dough is completely dissolved just as on day 6. Add 1 cup of flour and knead for about 10 minutes to a nicely developed dough. Cut your dough into quarters and return one quarter to your closed container and ultimately to the cold cellar or garage.

Combine the other three quarters into one dough ball, place in a large mixing bowl and cover it with a platter. Leave it on the counter overnight so it’s ready for baking in the morning.

Day 8 through Day 14 Each day soften the desem from your cold storage with a few tablespoons of filtered water and then feed it 1/3 cup of flour just as you have been doing all week.

Day 15 on Feed your desem twice a week according to how frequently you bake bread. You will feed your desem about a half day before you want to make bread. Just remember to save a portion of your desem for future loaves.

On Day 8 or Later – to Bake Bread In the first two weeks your desem is not fully ripe and therefore won’t make loaves as light but you can still bake with it at any time.

Using about 2 1/4 cups of desem, soften it with 1 1/3 cups of filtered water. Add another 3 cups of flour and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt until your dough comes together. Using the bread hook on a mixer, knead for about 3 minutes, then turn off the mixture and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Check to see if your dough is too sticky or too dry and adjust by adding small amounts of water or flour accordingly. Knead for another 6-8 minutes until the gluten is developed.

To test for this pull off a small blob of dough and stretch it gently while looking towards a source of light. If the gluten is developed enough it will stretch without tearing and form a “window pane” that you can see through.

Place the dough in a large bowl and cover it with a dinner plate in a draft free location at room temperature for 8-10 hours. As your desem gains in strength over it’s life this time will reduce by half. It’s ok for this first proof to go over so if you need to just ignore it and go to bed. Proceed with the next steps when you wake up (or calculate the following steps backwards from when you have time to bake the bread.)

Take the dough out of your bowl and gently deflate it on a lightly floured work surface. Flatten the dough and press it into a flat circle about 1″ thick. The following shaping directions are a little difficult to understand so I’m hoping to take pictures on Saturday. Until then try to use your imagination. Although complicated, they are necessary to develop surface tension which is then distributed throughout the dough. It’s this tension that gives your dough the structure to support a good rise and give you a nice, airy texture.

Take the top edge of the dough and fold it down to the middle of the circle, pressing to seal with the heel of your hand. Take the right edge and fold it in to the middle of the circle, pressing to seal with the heel of your hand. Take the bottom edge and fold it up to the middle of the circle, pressing to seal with the heel of your hand. Take the left edge and fold it in to the middle of the circle, pressing to seal with the heel of your hand. Think of these folds as the petals of a flower all folding in to the center.

The center of the circle that you are looking at will become the “stem” of the flower and ultimately the bottom of your loaf. Take your loaf on it’s side and roll it gently under one hand, putting pressure at the base of the flower so that your loaf tapers into a tear drop shape with the point of the tear drop being the flower stem.

Now taking both hands on either side of the flower lift it up so the top of the loaf (the side that was down on the counter in the beginning) is facing you. Very gently take both hands at 3 and 9:00 respectively and pull them down on either side of the dough, stretching and smoothing the top layer of dough. Now place your hands at 12 and 6:00 respectively and repeat the process.

Cover the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes and then repeat the process again – by flattening the dough into a 1″ tall circle and shaping once more. Place the dough either seam side down in a round glass casserole dish with lid which you’ve dusted with cornmeal, or seam side up in a bowl which you’ve lined with a tea towel dusted with cornmeal. If you have a glass casserole dish you can bake it directly in this once it’s finished the second rise. If not you would let it raise in the bowl and then gently turn it over onto either a wooden peel heavily dusted with cornmeal or directly onto a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal to bake. If you have a pizza stone this is the time to use it.

Your second rise will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours and the more humid you can get the environment, the lighter your bread will turn out. One way to achieve this is to boil water in your microwave and then remove it and raise your bread in the microwave. You could use a recently unloaded dishwasher as your proofing oven. Or you could also use your oven with a pilot light on and place a pan of boiling water in there with the bread dough. Proof your dough until it “feels completely spongy to the touch and loses all it’s firmness, it may even sag just a little.” according to the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

When your dough is ready, barely slash the top to avoid having the top crust lift up on the loaf. Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes and then at 350 until it’s done, around 190 F. This should take about an hour in total.

The longer this dough takes to rise, the tangier and darker it will be so don’t throw it out if you aren’t happy with the flavor from this first loaf. Just eat it with some mustard, cheese and beer and bake with it again a week later, then another week later before making up your mind.


This dough can also be used to make pitas or crackers anytime you want in the same way those logs of cookie dough are always ready to be shaped and baked just when you need them.

6 Responses to Desem Bread – Pulling it All Together

  1. Will you be taking pictures of the Desem bread shaping process? I still have a hard time visualizing that step.

  2. Hi Sylvie,

    I have them ready to resize and upload – so sorry I’ve left the desem hanging. And then I’ve been so sick it’s died on me. :(

  3. Pingback: October Unprocessed | Sustainable Eats

  4. Pingback: Experiments with Desem and Sourdough « Bread for Life Blog

  5. hey! this is great. my housemate ran a coop sourdough bakery in ypsilanti michigan in the nineties. we recently restarted a starter frozen since 1991!

  6. basically did this! with my friends =)

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