Desem, Day 7

This is the continuation of my accounts of making desem bread, which is made with just flour, water, salt and nothing else. It's somewhere between regular baking and a science project.

On Day 7 (which was yesterday actually...I fell asleep before I could blog it), the desem, now sitting all alone without its flour bed, is taken out of the container, softened with 1/3 cup of pure water, and then fed 1 cup of flour. The whole thing is then kneaded quite well, about 10 minutes, until it gets rather sticky. It even sticks to the surface of whatever you are kneading it on. (I knead it on my kitchen table, well cleaned beforehand of course. The table is just the perfect height for me to put full pressure on the dough.)

It's then divided up into 4 quarters. One quarter, which measures about 2/3 cup and contains 1 cup of flour, is returned to the container. This is the desem "mother", which will be kept over for future bakings. The container goes back to the cool place where the incubator-pot used to reside. The rest of the dough is kneaded back to gether into a smooth ball, placed in a bowl with a lid (I use a glass casserole dish with a lid), and let to rest overnight at room temperature.

Room temperature: that's the tricky part. If the temperature is too high, the dough turns sour in a bad way and won't develop its rising powers very much. Our house has floor heating (the heat source is geothermal), and the temperature is at a constant 21° C, or about 70° F. This is at the upper range of the recommended temperature range of between 65° F and 70° F, or 18.3° C and 21.11° C. So the desem does pretty nicely placed inside the kitchen cabinet.

Now...those of you living in the U.S. might be thinking "65° F and 70° F? That's room temperature?" Especially if you live in a typically overheated apartment. That's what I thought too actually. 65°F or 18°C is pretty cold. The ladies who wrote the book live in a farmhouse, apparently, which must be pretty drafty or something. This is one of the points that annoys at least one person that's read the book...the authors keep a cow for fresh milk, and other things, and my friend the confirmed urbanite finds this totally unrealistic. I think it's safe to say that 99% of us do not have the means for keeping cows. But I digress.

My apartment in NYC was heated to about 78°F, if not more, and even at my mother's house out in the suburbs of Long Island, the thermostat was usually set to around 72° F. I think that's pretty standard for American houses. So, you will have to find a relatively cool but not too cold spot for the desem dough to rise. Again, the only way to find a cool enough spot is to go around with a thermometer and measure the temperature. In an apartment building I may even try out the basement or laundry room, perhaps with a note on your bowl saying "please do not disturb, science experiment in progress."

Filed under:  bread baking desem

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Actually, I think Laurel's kitchen dates back to the 1970's or early '80's and when I was growing up at that time we had an "energy crisis" and kept the heat at 68 or below. I still find that to be the most comfortable temperature, but I digress: I think the book just might reflect the time and the ecological consciousness of the authors.

Desem was moistened, fed, kneaded and separated as you described. Now to wait.
I'm glad you and Amy have discussed the 18C-21C temperature range. What I've never understood is how all the NHS (National Health Service) literature in the UK relating to small children bangs on about how this temperature range is what a baby's nursery should be set at - the ideal being 18C (64F).
Perhaps this is to counter the determination many parents have of wrapping layers upon layers around their babies. Our own thermostat is at 21C, 1 degree more than the recommended. Seems ideal to me, especially with our kid who will kick off any form of covers or sheets during the night no matter what the temperature. The desem seems to be thriving also, particularly near the front door where it is that bit cooler. Seems incredible to me that 16C is considered an ideal, that's the temperature at which you can ask to be excused from working in an office environment.