Flemish desem bread, part 1 +

Yield: 1 starter

Measure Ingredient


Making this bread, once you get set up is easy; getting set up can be involved. The starter is an old timey creature and totally natural. To quote Laurel's Bread Book (and I will be apt to do that several times because she does it so well) the desem is a living partner in the twice-weekly adventure of its baking. This is not a project you would try once to see how you like it, but is perfect for serious bread eaters who can bake regularly and who want the best possible bread.

The earliest original recipe can be traced back to the Lima Bakery in Belgium. Picked up from there by a chef (and physician) named Hy Lerner. At this part of its journey it was found by the writers of "The Laurel's Kitchen's Bread Book" and I'll try to pass it on to you gentle folk. Laurel's staff reports that they feel they have developed a perfect home-style version on the Pacific coast.

THE DESEM: The secret of the chewy-light texture, full-mellow, tangy flavor and the extraordinary keeping quality lies within the desem.

Desem (day'-zum is Flemish for starter) Not to be confused with sourdough. It is much more sophisticated and universal than any rustic sourdough. They have tried many sourdough starters but none can hold a candle to either the flavor or the leavening power of the desem. Problems come only when the simple requirements of the desem organisms are neglected through using flour contaminated with pesticide residues or with mold from a dirty mill, or using chlorinated water, or the easiest pitfall which can happen is that the temperatures get too warm or too cold. Laurel's staff states here that it is their longest recipe and their simplest bread! It takes 2 weeks to get a desem starter going. The first 5 days (the starter's infancy) is spent in a special kind of incubator; a big bag of flour.

On the 6th day the desem is moved to the covered crock or jar. You feed it flour and water every day this week and keep it carefully cool.

WHAT YOU NEED TO START: Pure water. organic, stoneground wheat, and some time in a cool cellar to bring it to vigorous life. Many of us lead lives sufficiently hectic that to make a commitment to the regular care of a starter dough seems like a luxury.

WATER: Pure spring water is the best, not distilled, we want the minerals! Use this water at room temperature or cooler to feed your desem and make up your dough. If you're using a dough hook, your water should be cold!

FLOUR: Coarsely gound and fresh, preferably not more than 5 days from the milling-that's the ideal. The flour you choose should be milled from hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat. It must not have been treated with pesticides, and it must have been milled in a clean cool mill. Becuase of these requirements, making a desem can tell you a lot about your flour. You'll need at least 10 pounds of flour for the desem's incubator, to surround it while it is developing. Because its freshness is so important, it is well worth the trouble to grind this ammount yourself. You can buy wheat berries at natural food store. If you use a grain mill, be sure that it is absolutely clean.

They speak here of a lady who found her flegeling desem growing a "cover crop" of green mold. If you do grind your own flour, when you measure it tap the sides of the measuring cup to compact the flour because it will be lighter and fluffier than bagged flour.

TEMPERATURE: Find a place that is between 50 and 65 degrees to keep the desem. The temperature is CRITICAL to growing the right organisms in the starter. Above 70 degrees souring organisms are favored; below 50 degrees the leavening agents hibernate.

TIME: It takes 2 weeks to develop a desem. During this period, to help the new starter get going, you need to feed it every day with a small portion of fresh flour and water. You can use your desem to bake with after the first week. Even when the desem is very young, the bread is delicious; in fact, in some ways the flavor is most interesting at this stage.

This series (of which this is only the first one) has been gleaned from "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, A Guide to Whole Grain Bread Making" If you truly want to make the leap into desem, I would strongly reccomend purchasing the book, It (the book) is incredible.

Look for additional posts.

Mary Riemerman

Submitted By MARY RIEMERMAN On 05-09-95

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