White Sourdough using dough starter

Written by Warwick Quinton. Posted in Basic Sourdough Bread Recipes

White desem bread

This White Sourdough bread recipe utilises the 'dough starter' sourdough method.

There are different ways to make bread using a dough starter, or desem, and the way i've settled on here is one way only - and I choose it because it's easy to maintain, and because of its resilient nature. It also has an absolutely distinct flavour, and if you are a long term sourdough propeller head like me, you'll appreciate it straight away as being one of a kind, as all good ferments become over time. The longer, the better!





 You'll need:

1200g of white stonemilled or roller milled wheat flour

White organic flour


120 - 200 grams (approx) of dough (desem) starter

700 - 800 mls of water

25 grams cooking salt

You'll also need:

Thick (heavy duty - not a salad whisk) whisk or fork. Whisk is best. You can get great small ones at kitchen stores.

Like other dough starter recipes, this one does best with a fair bit of bench work.  If you are lazy, there are some shortcuts, which I'll explain as I go along... However, the 'dough starter' or desem sourdough starter is tough stuff!

The easy way to knead dough by hand is by quite a few short bursts of activity over a few hours. You can be doing something else at the same time, like writing your book, for example. The breadmaking is quick work, just a few repeats. Awesome, awesome bread awaits!


Dry dough before mixing



Mix the dough starter with almost all of the water - but reserve about 100 mls for adding later. The water will become cloudy with little lumps through it. Allow to stand for ten minutes, if you like. Whisk a couple of times at the middle and the end to help the starter disperse. You will end up with a milky consistency.




Add about half the flour - about 500 - 600 grams, give or take. Whisk it a bit to form a soft, shaggy sponge. Leave this to stand for about half an hour. (You can also put the sponge in the fridge overnight if you want it to really do its thing - this can also be good if you have limited time to spend on doughmaking). Thickening dough

Pre - kneading method from 'sponge' to 'dough':

Slowly add the remaining flour to the sponge.  To get it all in, you might also need to add the remaining water, a little at a time.

Once the flour and water have been combined, you have what bakers call a 'shaggy dough'. This can be left to stand for about half an hour to an hour or so. This will save kneading - what will happen is called chemical development, which is where the chemical action of enzymes acts on the gluten, while simultaneously, yeasting fermentation occurs. It's all a bit magic.

Please note: this process, also known as 'autolyse', provides developmental benefits, but actually impedes development if left to occur for too long. I recommend up to an hour is ideal.

When it's rested, spray or wipe the dough with water, then sprinkle on the salt. The best way to get the salt into the dough is to push it through the dough with your fingers at first. Then, as the dough comes together, start kneading it into a large ball.

Take it out of the mixing box or bowl, and give it a good knead.


Here's a good basic kneading technique:

Dough on bench



Place the dough with the seam facing you (in other words upside down) on the bench.




Flattening dough with knuckles


 Flatten out the ball of dough with your knuckles. Fold into a longitudinal rectangle and flatten again with your knuckles. Go for evenness at first, both in thickness and width. (Try poking the dough down with the tips of your fingers to even out the dough before flattening it).




Rolling dough into a cylinder


Roll up into a cylinder. After it's rolled, turn the cylinder sideways (pointing the cylinder away from you, or at ninety degrees to your body). The seam should still be on top. Flatten again with your knuckles, and roll up in the same way. 

This 180 degree turning process (that is, two ninety degree rolls) is known as a 'baker's turn'. You can give the dough two full turns (which equals four ninety degree 'rolls') before it becomes too tough to knead.

Rest the dough for about fifteen minutes, with the seam now at the bottom. Repeat the whole turning process another one or two times. The more turns you can get into the dough, the better.

If you find the dough is tearing when you turn it, it will need to rest before more work is done.

Place the ball of dough back into the dough box with the seam at the bottom, cover and rest. 

Rolled and ready for a turn

 Using baker's turns, you will get a really well developed dough, which is comparible to a dough made in a mixer or bread machine. 

You don't need to knead with a machine - but even if you were keen on using a mixer, the same technique (kneading then resting at fifteen minute intervals) will bring amazing results!


Once you have put a number of turns into the dough, allow it to proof for at least four hours out of the fridge, or up to twenty four of hours in the fridge.

General Kneading Tips:

  • Remember, the more turns you can get into the dough, the lighter your finished bread will be. You will notice that with each successive turn, the dough feels silkier and more elastic.


Gassed Dough



  • Once the dough begins to feel slightly stick or tacky, that's about it - after this point, all your efforts will have a negative effect. Leave it alone now. It will recover.
  • If a dough is really soft (that is, if it runs all over the bench in only a few minutes after kneading) you may find that adding a little sifted or 'flung' flour over the dough will make it easier to handle. Even just dipping your fingertips into flour before handling a soft dough can make a world of difference.
  • Once your dough feels light and elastic, allow to proof for a couple of hours, just at room temperature.
  • With a small amount of ferment, such as with desem recipes, you can allow the dough to fully 'gas' overnight. Then, you simply divide the dough as per the next step, and proceed.

After the first proof, no matter whether it's four or six or even twenty four hours, your white desem dough will be ready to be cut and rough rounded.

Second Proof (intermediate proof)

Divided dough


Remove the dough from the box or bowl it's in. Place it on the bench, and simply divide the dough evenly in two. You can weigh it, or use your eye.


Round the chunks or dough. Spray with water and leave on the bench. You can also put the balls of dough back into the box to prevent them from skinning. You can allow the balls to second proof at room temperature, or  pop the box back into the fridge to be moulded into shape in twelve to twenty four hours.

Moulding and Third (final) Proof


Rounded dough


Whether you have chosen to rest them on the bench or in the box, they will need to have doubled in size. Allowing them to fully 'gas' is very important. Then pick up each ball of dough using only the outsides of your hands, cupping the dough like a bowl with your hands underneath. I guess you could say it is a bit like holding a book in your palms. Stretch the face of the dough to begin a cylinder shape, and simply squeeze the base together with the outside edges of both hands. 




Slashed white desem


Spray the doughs with water, and dust with semoilina or rice flour. Slash as you normally would.

Place on flat baking trays, allow to proof (in boxes, as usual) until quite large and not resisting being poked with a little fingertip. If you're heading for the 'sole' of your oven, you can let these babies get massive before baking, because the 'kick' will be large.

You will get an amazing rise from this bread. The crumb, when it's baked, will glow - because of the development that you will have achieved from so many kneadings.

The white desem dough will rise a great deal from the final turn, and I found that I could literally proof it until it was almost overfilling the trays I used. Even when I proofed them for what I thought would be well and truly long enough, they still kicked out sideways in the oven, indicating that they could have even gone further!  This bread will give a big oven kick, if you've mixed and turned the dough correctly - so it might take a couple of attempts making this recipe to understand how much oomph there is in the dough.

If you've really got this dough right, though, and you have a pizza stone or hot tiles in your oven, you can proof this dough for an really, really long time, and it will hold its shape in a batard no worries at all. It loves a good sole bake!


White desem sourdough


As a default setting, I preheat my oven to 200 to 240 degrees celsius for all breads baked on trays. Once the bread is in the oven, I wind it down to about 180 for twenty minutes. Then, right down to 160 for the remainder of the bake. The total bake can be up to an hour. If you want a really thick crust, go down to 140 and hold there for another 20 minutes or so.


I think this bread is best made with a thick crust, but however you like your crust, it is an utterly delicious style of sourdough. I have to say that I've tasted a lot of sourdough bread in my time, and this one is up there for flavour. It's complex, delicate, earthy and subtle, all at once. Quite an achievement.


Happy Sourdough Baking!


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