Desem, Second Baking

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.

It's been a week since I baked the first loaf of desem bread. Since then I've been feeding it almost every day (I skipped a feeding when we went to the LOTR trilogy marathon and Return of the King premiere, but I did feed it extra the next day.) I started with 1 cup of flour's worth of desem. During the week the desem was fed 3 cups of flour. I used 1 cup of flour worth of desem, or about 2/3rds cup of the dough, on Thursday to make some desem dosas (or dosai...) and so, I ended up with 3 cups of flour worth of desem. Confusing? Yes it can be. Well, if you lose track of how much flour you've fed the desem, you can simply measure it by packing it tight into standard measuring cups.

The second baking should follow the instructions for the first baking: that is, the proportion of ripened desem "mother" in the bread dough is 50%. This means I need about 3 cups of flour worth of desem, or a bit more than 2 cups of actual desem. Therefore, last night I fed the desem a cup of flour with 1/2 cup of water, to end up with 4 cups of flour worth of desem. 1/4 of this was cut off and kept as the ongoing "mother. The rest, I left to ripen overnight at cool room temperature (see my previous notes about temperature) in a large bowl covered with a plate.

8 AM: Time to make the bread dough. I take out the desem, which seems to be a bit spongy (a good sign), add 1 1/3rd cup of cool bottled water, 2 1/2 tsp. of salt, and then 3 cups of whole wheat flour. When I dissolve the desem in the water, it almost disintegrates completely, with just a few gluten threads left. That's a good sign - it means the desem is maturing nicely already.

After adding the flour, I knead it well for about 15-20 minutes until it feels nice and stretchy, then back it goes into the covered bowl to rise.

16:00, 4 PM: Eight hours later and the bread has risen quite a bit! I take it out, divide it into two pieces, and round off each. (see last week's entry). Last week, the dough only rose enough to form one loaf, but this time it's already rising enough for two loaves.

I place both loaves on a greased and cornmeal-dusted baking sheet, wet a large plastic bag on the inside, put the whole sheet inside the bag, seal it up, and put it in the oven set at the lowest setting, as per last week for the final "warm", humid rising.

17:30, 5:30 PM: I take the sheet out of the oven so I can heat the oven up. The dough is rising nicely indeed.

18:00, 6:00 PM: Time to bake. I need to provice extra humidity to the loaves. Now...last week I covered the loaf with a glass casserole to achieve this. I would have done this again, plus another bowl to cover the 2nd loaf, but I broke the casserole during the week (don't you hate it when you break a favorite dish or something?). So, I provide humidity in another way: I place a pan of boiling water on the bottom rack, and I also spray the loaves thoroughly before they go in.

The loaves bake initially at 230° C / 45° F for about 20 minutes, then 180° C / 250° F for 50 minutes, as per last week.

19:30, 7:30 PM: And here's the result:
Each loaf is about 25 cm / 10 inches or so in diameter

The leavening power for the second week is quite impressive. Last week, the same amount of dough only produced one loaf that was about the same size as these! The crust didn't split off this time. I did let it brown a bit too long - I think I will try 15 minutes at the high temperature next time.

Desem bread really tastes the best after it's cooled, and we let it cool for a while before eating. We had it for dinner actually, with some soup. It tasted wonderful. The crumb was much lighter, and the crust was nice and crispy.

The next time I'll post the recipe for baking desem bread when the desem is mature - which mine already is, after 2 weeks. From here on, all I have to do is to feed the "mother" desem at least every other day or so, always using unchlorinated water and organic whole wheat flour, and it will give me many many great loaves, not to mention other desem-based goodies.

It's really a fascinating thing to try if you are interested in natural yeast breads. It does require some patience, but if all the conditions are right it's certainly worth the effort. I hope my accounts here will inspire some other people to try it too.

Filed under:  bread baking desem

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I am trying to revive a desem that I froze a couple of years ago, then tried to revive and got
side traced at it. I am at the first baking phase. Your accounting is quite interesting. My first attempts did not turn out well, that's why I put it in the freezer. I am anxious to see if I can master the desem this time. I now realize that I skipped the first rise before the actual bread recipe. I have just finished the kneading and have placed the dough is a cool spot until morning then I will place it at room temp until it has ripened.
Wish me luck!

Lisa, I hope it turned out well! It's such an interesting bread to bake isn't it? :)

I just want to say thank you for the time you took to document your experiences. I am just preparing to begin my desem. I have Laurel's book discribing the process but it is nice to have your input on what to expect at the various stages along the way. I just cleaned my flour mill. It is an older electric one I got as a kit in the 70s with two circular stones for grinding. I have an ideal temp in our pantry on the north side of our adobe home here in the mountains of New Mexico. It's 50 degrees in there most of the time. So if I clean the mill well it should get off to a good start.