whole wheat

Desem Bread Starter Recipe

Desem Bread Starter Recipe Desem Bread And Butter

Desem bread (DAY zum) is a unique whole wheat sourdough bread from Finland that tastes just amazing! There’s nothing tricky about making the bread itself. In fact, once I have the starter going, I can make bread in literally 5 minutes a batch because it’s so simple.

The starter takes a bit more to make. It’s not hard or anything, and it doesn’t take a lot of your time, but it does require about two weeks to fully develop. Once you’ve got the starter, you just feed it each time you bake and save some to use in your next loaf. So you only make the starter once.

In this recipe, I’m going to show you how to make the starter from scratch and bake the first loaf of Desem step by step.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

At least 10 pounds (30 cups) hard red wheat, freshly ground into coarse flour. You could use fine flour, and you could use a white wheat, but we think coarsely ground red wheat is best. And it MUST be freshly ground.

You’ll be burying (Yes, you read that right. Burying.) the desem in flour, and you’ll need at least 2 – 3 inches of flour on all sides of the starter.

About 1 cup cool, unchlorinated water.

1 TBS natural salt. (We recommend Celtic Sea Salt.)

A big container, like a 5 gallon pail, large paper bag, kettle, or a very large bowl.

A place to keep the starter cool (ideally 65 – 70 degrees, but not over 72) for 5 – 7 days. We’re using our attached garage in the late fall.

Day 1:

Mix 2 cups of the flour with about a cup of cool water and knead it together.

Mixing Flour For Desem Bread Starter

After about 2 minutes of kneading, it will look like this. You may need to add more flour or water as you go. The idea is to end up with a stiff dough, though, not anything too soft.

First Desem Bread Starter Dough

And after about 5 minutes of serious kneading, it’s about ready. I’ve pulled it apart here so you can see the inside. It’s somewhat elastic now, although it’s hard to tell in the picture.

Desem Bread Dough Becoming Elastic

Form the whole thing into a ball the best you can.

Desem Dough

And then bury it deep in a bucket/bag/bowl/pot of flour. I’m using a 5 gallon pail here, more than halfway full.

Burying Desem Starter in Flour

Now you’ll need a place to keep it for 48 hours where the temperature will stay between 50 and 65 degrees. I think 60 is about the ideal, but whatever you do, don’t let it get above 70. You may need to move it from place to place to get it right. When the weather is just right, I will often put mine outside during the day and bring it in at night.

Setting the Temperature for Desem Bread Starter

Day 3: (You don’t do anything on day 2)

For the last 48 hours, my starter has been on the porch, in the garage, and in the house; I had to move it a few times to keep a steady cool temperature. During that time, it’s expanded so much that it cracked open. This is really good and shows that the sourdough process is working.

Desem Bread Starter Beginning To Crack Open

Cut away the crust and throw it away leaving about half of the dough ball to work with. (Yes, I know that’s wasteful. Hopefully you have some chickens that will enjoy it.)

Cutting the Crust Off the Desem Bread Starter

Then make a mixture of 1 cup of flour (It’s okay to use the same flour the dough was buried in.) and 1/2 cup of water. Combine this mixture with the soft dough ball and knead for about 5 minutes. Bury it in the pail of flour for another 24 hours at 50 – 65 degrees.

Day 3 Desem Bread Starter Dough

Day 4 & 5:

Repeat what you did on day 3.

Day 6:

Today, instead of cutting the crust off the desem starter, combine the whole thing with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Knead it until it’s well combined and smooth. It will be a little crusty at first but will soften as you continue kneading.

Now, instead of burying the dough in the pail of flour, place it in a glass or ceramic bowl (a pottery crock with a lid is ideal) and cover it with plastic wrap or some other lid that is not air tight. Return it to its cool place for 24 hours.

You can put your flour in the fridge now or keep it in the same cool place as before. It will take a while, but you’ll eventually use it all in the desem bread.

Day 6 Desem Bread Starter Dough

Day 7 (late morning):

It works best if you start this step in the late morning. This step gets us ready to bake the very first loaf tomorrow, so don’t worry about it too much if it hasn’t been a full 24 hours since your last feeding.

Feed your starter just the same as yesterday: mix 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water and knead it together with the starter. Cut it in quarters. One of these quarters is the starter you’ll keep for future baking. The other three pieces are the beginning of your first loaf of bread.

After you’ve fed your starter, begin the bread by dissolving 2 1/2 teaspoons of natural salt in 1 1/2 cups of cool water. Then mix in 3 cups of your coarse flour. (Again, it’s okay to take this from the pail of flour you ground on day 1.) Leave this flour mixture out at room temperature for about 8 – 10 hours.

Put your starter in a bowl also (all 4 quarters of it), cover the bowl, and store it in a place that is 65 to 70 degrees for 8 – 10 hours.

Dividing the Desem Bread Starter Into Quarters

Day 7 (evening):

Since this is the first loaf of desem bread, the dough is going to rise for a pretty long time; 8 – 10 hours. It’s nice to start this step before you go to bed so you’ll have time for another short rise in the morning and then the baking.

All you need to do now is combine 3 quarters of your starter (Put the other one back in its bowl and store it at 65 degrees for 8 – 10 hours. This is the starter that will leaven future loaves.) with the flour you mixed up this morning. Knead it thoroughly. You should be able to feel when the flour mixture has combined well with the starter. It should be a fairly stiff dough. Continue kneading the dough for about 2 minutes after you feel that it’s no longer crumbly. In the video, I kneaded for about 3 minutes altogether, but you may need more time if you’re not very experienced.

Once the dough is well kneaded, round it by sliding the dough along your kitchen counter, stretching the surface of the dough as you pull. This forms it into a nice, tight ball. Then place the dough into a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap or a dinner plate, and leave it to rise at 65 – 70 degrees (cool room temperature) for about 8 – 10 hours. It won’t rise much this first time, but you should notice a difference in the size.

Rising Desem Bread Dough

Day 8: Final Rise and Bake (Start right away in the morning. It takes longer now than it will when the starter is mature.)

Deflate the dough. Round it. (Rounding dough is accomplished by kneading it into a ball shape, then sliding it accross a countertop to stretch the top of the dough ball. See the day 8 video for a demo.)

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting. (You’ll be turning it off before you put the dough in.)

Generously butter a 3 or 4 quart casserole dish and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal. Although your bread probably won’t rise very much this first time, butter the casserole lid also. Then place the rounded ball of dough inside.

It’s important that the dough rise in a humid environment, so sprinkle the lid and the top of the dough with a little water. Then turn off your oven, close the casserole lid, and put the bread in the oven to rise for 2 – 3 hours.

Proofing Desem Bread

It won’t rise much, but it will soften and sag a little. Here’s what mine looked like before I baked it.

Desem Bread Dough, Ready To Bake

Now it’s time to bake! Take the dough out of the oven so you can preheat it. I generally set my dough on the range so that it still gets some heat from inside the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

You’ll bake your bread at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the crust is rosy brown, then turn the oven down to 350 for another half hour or so. It’s a little tricky to tell when this bread is done. This timing usually works well for me as long as I use the same baking dish. You may need to experiment until you figure out the right length of time.

Here’s the finished first loaf! (You can see it rose quite a bit in the oven.)

First Loaf of Desem Bread

Day 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13

For the next several days, you’ll need to feed your starter daily with 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. If you want to, you can actually make several loaves this week by following the same instructions you used on day 7. Then, on day 14, the desem starter will be mature, and we’ll start making desem bread the way you’ll make it for years to come.

Desem Bread Video Series

Whole Wheat Apple Walnut Muffins

Some muffin recipes call for milk to make up most of the liquid. And that’s fine for those recipes. But this one is all about flavor since the apples themselves make up almost all of the liquid. If you use freshly ground soft white wheat flour, the muffins turn out light and soft, and baked in preheated stoneware pans, they’re heavenly.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Soft White Wheat Flour With Cinnamon and Rapadura


3 or 4 fresh apples, or you can substitute 2-3 cups of applesauce
1/3 c. melted butter
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. soft white wheat flour (use freshly ground flour if possible)1/2 c.
Rapadura (whole organic cane sugar)
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 c. chopped walnuts

Apple Muffins in Stoneware Pans


  • In a blender (or you can do this by hand), blend together the bananas, melted butter, egg, and vanilla.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, rapadura, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and chopped walnuts.
  • Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and spoon into buttered muffin cups.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

Variation: Apple Blueberry Muffins
Prepare as above except use 2 c. of applesauce instead of the bananas, and 1 c. blueberries instead of the nuts.

Over-ripe Mutsu Apples

Homemade Wheat Thins (Soaked 100 Percent Whole Wheat)

Homemade Soaked Wheat Thins

I packed these crackers on a winter trip to the north woods of Wisconsin, and we ate them with organic raw cheese and homemade raw jerky from a grass-fed steer. The butter I used in the crackers was deep yellow, in fact, raw too until the crackers were baked. To me, it was the most nourishing travel meal imaginable, because at the time, I was reading a book (Cure Tooth Decay, by Ramiel Nagel) that explains how to remineralize your teeth and reverse tooth decay by eating traditional foods, especially high quality, organic, yellow butter, soaked or sprouted whole grains, raw cheese, and grass fed meats.

This recipe comes straight from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, but it’s not a cracker recipe in the book. It’s actually the recipe for Yogurt Dough, which is used to make crusts for empanadas and even pizza. In somebody’s real food blog – sorry, I can’t remember whose it was – I read that this recipe produces crackers that taste a lot like Wheat Thins. And it does! It’s a simple recipe too, and best if you actually take the time to soak the flour. I use yogurt sometimes, but most often, kefir is what I have in the fridge, and I think I like it’s flavor best in the crackers. You can use either.

Soaking the flour in this recipe makes the crackers easier to digest and the minerals more available to your body because the phytic acid will be broken down. It’s best to soak the flour for 8-12 hours. Much longer than that, and they may become too sour. (Of course, if your kitchen is cooler, you may be able to get away with a longer soak time.)

Soaked Cracker Dough


1 cup plain, whole yogurt or kefir
1/2 pound butter, softened,
3 1/2 cups freshly ground soft white wheat flour, or, if you can’t mill it yourself, use pre-milled whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. fine sea salt, plus more to sprinkle on top
unbleached flour for rolling out the dough


Soaking the Flour

In the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, the recipe calls for creaming the butter and yogurt together, but I’ve never had any luck with that method. Instead, I’d suggest that you mix the yogurt with half of the flour and half of the salt in one bowl, and mix the butter with the other half of the flour and salt in another bowl. Once you have two separate balls of dough, one with yogurt and the other with butter, combine the two together. I do it this way, sometimes it produces a cracker with pretty marbling.

Cover the dough and leave it at room temperature for 8-12 hours.

Rolled Out Cracker Dough

Rolling Out the Crackers

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Use a pastry cloth if you have one. Otherwise, just sprinkle some unbleached flour on the counter to keep the cracker dough from sticking. Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. It’s nice to sprinkle salt on at this point and give the dough one more light rolling to press the salt in a bit. Or you can sprinkle it on later.

Either with a pizza cutter or a knife, cut out your crackers. Prick with a fork. Transfer them to an ungreased metal cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, checking now and then to be sure they don’t burn. They’re done when they’re golden brown on the edges.

Homemade Whole Wheat Crackers

How to make homemade noodles, with or without a pasta maker.

Recently, my children and I have rediscovered the satisfaction of making homemade noodles using our hand crank pasta maker.  This is truly a group activity in our house, and well worth all the effort.  Someone feeds the dough through while someone else cranks, and three others stand at the ready to cut the noodles or better yet, help lift the four-foot noodles out of the machine to dry on the counter.

It is totally possible to make noodles without a pasta maker, perhaps even preferable.  The noodles will be thicker since hand-rolling doesn’t produce nearly as thin a dough as a machine can, and consequently pleasantly chewy.

Right now, we’re using a mixture of half soft white wheat flour and half unbleached.  I fully intend to figure out a healthier alternative with 100% whole wheat, someday. (My attempts so far have resulted in a dough that tears and breaks before I can get it rolled out.)   But even if I never get around to it, these are certainly better for you than store-bought white spaghetti, and much tastier!

Mix the dough:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup eggs (about 4), lightly beaten

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the flours and salt in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and olive oil.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg mixture all at once.  Stir to combine as much as you can, then knead the rest in with your hands – it should be a pretty stiff dough, but still soft enough to squeeze without straining.

At this point, I divide the dough ball into halves and work with one at a time.  Place a damp towel or an inverted bowl over the second half of dough so that it doesn’t dry out.

To make the noodles without a pasta maker:

Generously flour your counter top.

Using a rolling pin, roll the noodle dough out into as thin a rectangle as possible.  Then, starting from one long end, roll the dough up jelly-roll style.  Slice the dough into 1/4 inch slices and unroll each noodle.  You can toss them into a pot of boiling water or soup right away or dry them to use later.

One good way to dry the noodles is to set a broomstick between two chair backs  and hang the noodles over the broomstick.  Another simple method is to lay them out on a counter, being careful to keep the noodles from touching each other too much or they’ll stick together.  Once they’re dry, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.  If you plan to store them longer than that, it’s best to put them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Here’s how to make the noodles in a pasta machine like mine:

Flatten the dough with your hands and lightly flour it on both sides.  Set the machine to the first (or widest) setting and push the dough through.  Most of the time, the dough rips quite a bit the first time through.  Just assemble it back together and put it through the first setting again.  After the second or third time through, your dough should start to resemble a sheet, even if it does have holes and tears in it.  Flour it on both sides again if it has gotten the least bit sticky, fold it, and put it through the first setting again.  Repeat this until you have a nice smooth sheet of dough.

Set the machine to the second setting; roll the dough through.  It is important to flour both sides of the dough whenever necessary to keep it from sticking to the rollers – they’re difficult to clean.

Roll the dough through the third, fourth, and fifth settings.   On my machine, this is as thin as we like our noodles to be. Keep narrowing the rollers until the dough is as thin as you like.

Move the crank over to the noodle cutter, and pass the dough through.  If you plan to dry your noodles, it’s easiest to make them very long.  Otherwise, cut them about 10 inches long as they come out of the cutter.

Toss directly into boiling water or soup, taking care not to let them stick together.

Makes enough for a very noodly pot of soup or a main dish for 6 people.

(Give me a little while and I’ll get some pictures posted.)