How I do Desem…

I had several emails asking me how I do my Desem bread, technique, recipe etc. So here goes…

I have been keeping an 80% hydration Desem in a bowl in the refrigerator. It has been easier to feed, and easier to use.

80% hydration dough

80% hydration just means approximately twice the amount of flour to water ratio. Like a cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water etc. Or for every five ounces of flour/ four ounces of water. Anyway, I take out one and one half cups of active 80% Desem which was fed the day before and make a preferment the night before I am going to bake. Preferment:

  • 1 – 1/2 cup 80% hydration active Desem starter – 13.5 oz
  • 1 – 1/2 cups water room temperature – 12 oz
  • 3 cups organic Whole Wheat flour aged at least one week 13.5 oz

Desem preferment after mixing:

preferment after mixing

Desem preferment the next morning:

preferment next morning

Mix together the preferment ingredients, cover and let ferment overnight at room temperature. Next morning add the preferment mixture to your dough mixer and add:

  • 2 cups water room temperature – 16 oz
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt – .8 oz
  • Turn the mixer on low and add 6 cups whole wheat flour – 27 oz
  • After the dough is mixed turn off your mixer and let the dough rest (autolyse) for ten – 15 minutes.

Desem right after mixing:

desem after mixing

After autolyse, turn the mixer on low and let it knead the dough for about 7 minutes. If you notice the dough tearing as it kneads, turn off the mixer no matter how long it has been mixing.

Desem dough after autolyse and 7 minutes of mixing:

Desem dough after kneading

Let the dough proof 4 – 5 hours or when about doubled. Then stir down dough, pour it out and shape loaves.


desem loaves shaped

I made two loaves a little over 2.5 lbs each. I then let the dough proof about 2 – 2.5 hours. When ready bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, slashing and steaming and turning loaf halfway, as usual.( I have been slashing, spraying my loaves once, and then covering the dough with a roasting lid for the first ten minutes, as it is easiest and seems to give great results).

First Desem loaf:

first loaf

Second Desem loaf:

second loaf

Both loaves

Here is the crumb from the first loaf:


So there you have it, recipe, technique and all !  Once you taste a loaf of Desem, you will go back to baking it over and over, it is that good, and addicting!


14 Responses

  1. Hi Teresa
    I have been baking with the desem starter I got from you. I have been getting pretty good loaves but nothing like your pictures. Your breads look awesome and thanks for all the detailed explanation and pictures. Your posts are a huge help and inspiration. These are the questions that I still need some answers to, hope you can help me.
    1. How often do you feed your desem?
    2. If I feed it once a week, should I feed the previous day of baking, remove the desem and make a preferment the night before the baking day? Is it like 2 builds before mixing up the dough?
    3. When I take out the desem from the fridge and mix flour and water, should I ripen the whole thing 12-14hrs at room temp. before returning 1/3rd to the container with ww flour and to the fridge again?
    4. Is a hot and humid proofing necessary?
    5. What is the best method of baking for the desem? How does it differ from the usual sourdough baking?
    6. And finally my desem looks a lot stiffer than yours eventhough I use about the same hydration. How stiff or loose should my dough be?

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  2. Theresa,
    You must go metric! : )


  3. Hi there, I have this recipe underway in the preferment stage. Is 1/2 hour really enough time for the baking?? Going by the recipes I see on the internet, there are times and temperatures all over the map. Other times given tend more towards 45 minutes or an hour!

    • Hi Jason, I bake for 30 minutes. See what works for you, everyones set up is a little different. My stone gets really hot and when I use the roasting lid, it holds in the heat right next to the loaf, so my breads are done in a half hour Use an instant read thermometer and see if the interior of your bread registers around 200-205F. It should be done if it is.

  4. OK. I am just using a plain bread pan, not a stone. Although I do have a stone. That will be the next phase.

    Some notes:

    My dough seemed really sticky and also kind of slack. I gave it a fair bit of kneading but it was still quite sticky. I was kind of reluctant to add too much flour. Your dough appears drier than mine was. I guess this is part of the learning process. I used home milled flour but did not let it age a week because I did not want it to go rancid.

    Also, my kneading was by hand as I do not yet have a mixer.

    Currently final proofing for another 2 hours. Can’t wait to try some!

  5. Theresa,
    I made a batch of Desem yesterday mostly following you advice. The starter had been at room temp for 2 24 hr feedings and aa 12 hour feeding just before mixing. I felt like the dough was going to rags. When I dumped it from the banneton, the top stayed in the basket.:>( on one of the loaves.What a mess. I thought it was firm enough but inspite of generous flour dusting it stuck.

    So, I’m wondering if the activity is just to fast to allow 100%ww to sit for 24 hours between feedings. Maybe it is getting to acidic? What do you think?

    Your Desem looks so good, I’m anxious to get this to work. Thanks!


  6. Hi Eric, if you put the word Desem in the search field of my blog, you will see my early mistakes too. If you made your own Desem it can take a while to gain strength. The main problem I had was using freshly ground flour. It will fall apart and it will also start feeling wet and slimy. I found out about “green” flour. You need to allow it to set for at least a week to ten days after grinding, like the mills do. So give the Desem time to gain strength and don’t use green flour(freshly ground). If that isn’t it, find some canning salt. I have had trouble with the chemicals they put in salt. I try to use salt without added chemicals. I hope this has been of some help. Teresa

  7. Hello Teresa
    How does one go about getting desem starter from you? How do I order it?
    Thanking you in advance

  8. On aging whole grain flour, I’m not knowledgable. When aging for a week, is it aged with any refrigeration (refrigerator or freezer)?

    Thank You for wonderful & generous sharing of advanced skills.

  9. Hi Teresa. I followed your “how I do Desem” technique and made four loave in my kitchen oven. Never thought I’d say it but I think the bread is too sour. And the crumb is a bit dense. Can I reduce the sourness by shortening the length of the overnight preferment time? Do you stretch/fold during the bake day bulk fermentation? I think if I can get the sourness under control I will like the bread. Your starter is awesome!


    • Hi Ron, to control the sour factor, you can start your preferment later at night, and you can add part of the total amount of salt to the preferment. Add .2 or about one teaspoon of salt to the preferment to help control the sour. Make sure to minus that amount of salt when mixing up the final dough. Yes, I would fold the dough during bulk ferment.


  10. To control the sour of desem: Use less starter for each of the builds, retard in the fridge a bit at various points, ferment in basement or wine-cellar, add more salt to the builds, used cold water and flour, shorter builds/ferment/proof.

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