Category :

sourdough-versary: french baguettes

other yeasted yummies

rosemary sourdough loaf || english muffins || whole wheat english muffins || cinnamon raisin english muffins || italian focaccia 



Someone very near and dear to my heart turned 2 years old two weeks ago:

Herbert! My sourdough starter, who’s been with me since March 13, 2016, lifting up my doughs and flavoring all of my favorite breads for the past two years.

One of my favorite breads is baguette. My parents and I used to have a bread and cheese dinner a couple times a month: we would buy a nice, long baguette, some cheeses, and some olives, and that would be our dinner. It was a lazy person’s dinner, and when one of my friends from school would come home for the holidays or summer vacation, we would do the same. We would go to the market where they sell local, organic food, buy a loaf of fancy bread each, a hunk of cheese, and some other bits and pieces, and sit out on the market’s lawn in downtown Carrboro having a bread and cheese lunch. For those meals, we normally chose something a little rounder than a baguette so that we wouldn’t need a knife to cut it up, and instead we’d rip into the bread with our hands and cut off chunks of fancy local cheese.



Now that I’m all grown up (meaning now that I’m over 21), every once in a while I like to treat myself to a little charcuterie dinner: a long, crusty baguette, a dried salami, some soft cheese, maybe a pate, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I started trying to make my own baguette soon after I conceived Herbert. Two years later, I decided I was ready to debut my baguette recipe, and I was all set to go for March 13 of this year: I had made some baguette to take along with me for housesitting, I had the salami and prosciutto ready to go and the wine was waiting in my car…but the bread was a failure and a disaster. For the past two years, no matter how diligently I take notes on my attempts at baguette, it’s been a series of forward steps and backwards leaps: I want the end result to be airy but I need to be able to handle the dough. I don’t want my bread to be too dense, but it needs to have shape. Sometimes the dough is too wet, sometimes it’s too dry. Some batches proof too long and some don’t produce enough dough.



It finally occurred to me last week (yes, 2 years after starting this project), that there might be some kind of Golden Ratio for a recipe like baguette. Anything French probably has a revered-and-protected ratio for ingredients. I searched and searched and searched and didn’t find any specific ratio or any really credible source…but I did learn about hydration. There’s no perfect ratio of water to flour for baguette, but there is a range of hydration ratios. The range for baguette is somewhere between 60-70% hydration*. 75% or more hydration means you can’t handle the dough (great for focaccia and ciabatta), and anything under 60% is dense with small air bubbles (sandwich loaves.) I did some calculations, factored in my sourdough starter, and decided on 63% hydration: not too dry and dense, but substantial enough to handle.



*In this case, the hydration ratio is the ratio (by weight) of water to flour, not water to total weight of the dough. That is, 50% hydration would mean the water:flour ratio is 1:2 (the water is 50% of the flour.) 63% hydration means that the weight of the water is equal to 63% of the weight of the flour, not 63% of the dough.

It turned out perfectly: I was able to shape the baguettes easily, they held their shapes through proofing and baking, the holes (as you can see) are big and airy, and the crumb is fluffy with the right amount of chew. The crust is crunchy and flavorful, and shatters in the way that French pasty crusts often do, and the bread inside is yeasty and nutty and totally satisfying.



french baguettes

adapted from Bread Illustrated, by America’s Test Kitchen

makes 2 baguettes


In general, when using sourdough starter, you can expect the whole process of making bread to take at least 24+ hours. A good rule of thumb when using your starter in place of dry yeast is that dough made with starter takes about 4 times as long to proof the first time as dough made with dry yeast. If your recipe says to let your dough (made with yeast) rise for 2 hours the first time, allow yourself at least 8 hours of rising time when using sourdough starter. This is because the yeast in your starter works more slowly than dry yeast, but the trade-off is that it works more thoroughly, as well (in terms of digesting the carbs and making them more accessible to you.) Your bread will be healthier, so to speak. If you want your dough to proof (ferment) for a long time to get a really strong flavor, let it rise in the refrigerator: it won’t stretch as much (meaning it won’t overproof), but the flavor will develop a lot. Additionally, if you don’t want to spend a whole day watching your dough, assemble it the afternoon or evening before, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, then move on to the shaping and second proofing the next morning or afternoon.


2 oz sourdough starter (or, 7 g/0.25 oz dry yeast, 1 oz water, and 1 oz all-purpose flour)

8.5 oz all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

5 oz water



Useful/Important Tools: These are all optional, but if you make bread frequently, you’ll find these all to be really helpful. The only two I think are the lowest priority are the lame (you can use a regular knife), and the baguette pan (if your dough has enough structure, you don’t need it, but it does help brown the bottom of the loaves.)

a couche (n., koosh, a linen pastry mat for shaping and proofing the dough the second time)

a lame (n., lahm, a box cutter for slashing the dough before you bake it), or a really sharp paring or slicing knife (a slicing knife gives you a deeper cut with less effort than a paring knife)

a spray bottle filled with water

a baguette pan

a rectangular pizza stone

a large pizza peel

parchment paper


make the dough

In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the starter and flour with the dough hook(s). Mix until the mixture is crumbly, then mix in the salt. If using dry yeast, combine the yeast, flour, and salt in the bowl/mixer.

While the mixer is running, pour in the water. Keep mixing for 5-10 minutes until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. It can stick to the bottom of the bowl a bit, but it should clean off the sides.

The dough may feel a little tacky/sticky to the touch, but you shouldn’t end up with too much dough coming off on your fingers when you touch it. You’ll want the dough to hold its shape when you handle it, but not to be so dense that it doesn’t rise or produce air bubbles. If you can see it pooling or sliding down off the hook, it needs more flour. If it holds its shape but feels sticky, you can either add more flour in the bowl, or leave it as is and dust it liberally with flour when you get to the shaping stage. At this stage, your dough should be able to hold its shape without feeling too sticky.

Lightly (or liberally) flour a clean work surface and dump out the dough. Without kneading it too much, shape the dough into a smooth ball. It only needs to be smooth on one side: pull and stretch the sides and corners into the middle, so that the opposite side is a smooth ball.


the first proof/rise

Place the dough, seam side down, into a large, lightly greased bowl and brush a little bit of oil onto the surface (using your hands, a paper towel, or a basting brush.) Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it rise for at least 8 hours (at least 2 hours if using dry yeast.) If you have time to finish the process in the same day, you can let the dough rise at room temperature. Otherwise, put it in the refrigerator.

The longer you let the dough proof/rise the first time, the more flavor it will gain from the yeast. The trade-off, though, is that dough can only stretch so much: if you let the dough rise too long, it will lose its elasticity. When you handle the dough, it’ll deflate but it won’t shrink back to its original shape: the dough will look saggy. Additionally, the wetter your dough, the more it will rise as it proofs (and consequently, the harder it will be for your dough to hold in the gas produced by the yeast.) If you see a lot of air bubbles on the top surface of the dough, it has probably risen too much.

The best way to test a dough like this is to gently press down in the center with your knuckle*: it feels puffy like foam and returns to its original shape when you remove your knuckle, then it’s good. If you leave an indentation, it still needs to rise. If it deflates, then deflate the whole batch of dough, reshape it into a ball, and let it rise again.

*Similar to how you test cakes and muffins with your finger.

At this point (once the dough has been rising for the first time), if you want more of the flavor, you can either let it rise in the refrigerator, or alternate between deflating the dough (and reshaping it) and letting it re-proof. The dough can proof and ferment for a long time but it can only gain so much volume. If you want a really developed fermented flavor (meaning a really yeasty flavor), make sure you let it rise at a lower temperature (in the refrigerator), or you deflate the dough occasionally.


shaping the dough/the 2nd proof

Once the dough has doubled in volume (the other vital indicator that it has risen and proofed enough), and passes the knuckle test, you’re ready to shape it into logs for the final/2nd proofing:

Dump the dough out onto a lightly/liberally floured, clean work surface. Divide the dough in half, setting one half aside until ready to shape.

If you’re using a couche for the second proofing, spread the couche out somewhere so you can place the loaves on it as you shape them and flour it liberally. You can also place the shaped loaves in a sheet of parchment paper, which you’ll transfer directly to the oven when ready to bake, if you’re using a pizza stone and pizza peel. If you want to go really simple and avoid the couche, the stone, and the peel, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the shaped loaves directly on the baking sheet.

To shape the loaf, gently pat out the first half of the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the top of the rectangle over, leaving a bit of the bottom exposed, and seal the edge with your finger tips. Continue this folding and sealing process a few times (3-6 times). This folding will help create the spiral-y shape of the air bubbles in the finished bread, and it will help ensure that the width of the baguette is mostly consistent (ie., that it doesn’t look like a dumbbell.)

After you’ve folded and sealed the dough a few times, place the dough seam side down and roll it out into a log, rolling from the center outwards. The log can be as long as you want, but be sure that it isn’t longer than the pizza stone or baking sheet (or else the edges of the dough will droop over the edges of the stone/sheet.) You should be able to pick it up with a pizza peel and fit it into the baking sheet or onto your pizza stone. Around 14 inches long and a few inches wide is good.

If you want the pointed ends, pick up one end of the log (about 2-4 inches of the end), and roll it between your hands, gradually tapering to a point. Do the same with the other end. Beware that this will add length to the log, so make sure your logs aren’t too long. If you want rounded ends, skip this step.

After the loaf/log is shaped, transfer it to the parchment paper, the paper-lined baking sheet, or the liberally-floured couche to proof while you shape the other loaf/log.

Repeat each of the previous steps with the other half of the dough, leaving a few inches between each log wherever you’re proofing them. If you’re using the couche, bunch it up between the logs so it forms a little ridge or wall to keep them separate.


baking the baguettes

Preheat your oven to 400 F/200 C. If using a pizza stone, place the stone on one of the oven racks before you turn the oven on (same if you’re using a pizza steel.)

Lightly grease one side of a sheet of plastic wrap and cover the logs while they proof. By the time the oven is heated, the bread should be ready to bake. The greased plastic wrap helps prevent the surface of the dough from drying out and cracking.

The second proof should only take about 30 – 45 minutes, regardless of whether you’re using dry yeast or sourdough starter. If you let the dough rise too much the second time, it will be difficult to transfer it to the oven, because dough gets wetter as it rises (when you’re proofing it, not when you’re baking it.)

The logs won’t have doubled in size after the second proof, so use the knuckle test to see if they’re done: using a knuckle, lightly press down in the center of the log. If it springs back like foam, it’s ready. If you leave an indentation, it needs to rise longer. If it shrinks and deflates, ball up all the dough and go through the shaping steps again.

When the logs are proofed and ready for baking, transfer them to the sheet of parchment or the parchment-lined baking sheet (if they aren’t already on a sheet of parchment paper.) Spray or brush them with water, and slash them diagonally a few times along their lengths using the lame or a sharp knife. These cuts will turn into the almond shapes in the surface of the finished.

If you’re using a pizza stone or steel, slide the pizza peel under the sheet of parchment, open the oven door, and slide the parchment and dough off onto the stone/steel. If you’re using a baking sheet, put the baking sheet with the dough in the oven.

Let the baguettes bake for at least 40 – 45 minutes, until dark brown but not charred. The pointed ends might char and burn, and the parchment paper may burn, but the bread should be the color of bronze or amber, maybe even a little bit lighter*.

When they’re done baking, you can either turn off the oven and let them cool/dry inside the oven as it cools down, or you can transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Make sure you let them cool so the bottoms are exposed, or else the bottoms will get soggy and not crispy.

*If you want a softer bread with a thinner, softer crust, rather than the really crispy, flaky crust of a baguette, lower the oven temperature to 350 F/175 C and bake until golden. Lower oven temperatures mean the insides will bake through faster than the surface can brown, so you end up with a lighter surface color, and a thinner, softer crust.


Au revoir!

Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, Breads, Vegan

spiced swedish meatballs and brown gravy


My family isn’t Scandinavian, per se, though it’s clear we wish we were. My paternal grandfather was Irish and born in England, while my paternal grandmother was from Ohio, but also Irish much farther back. On my mom’s side, my grandmother’s family came over from Portugal a long time ago, and I don’t know about my grandfather’s family.



In other words, we’re European-ish. But we’re not Scandinavian. If anything, we’re Irish, but I’ve never made corned beef and cabbage myself and I’ve only successfully made an Irish pot roast once, so this blog isn’t quite ready for a real Irish recipe.



My dad’s family has lived all over the world, from Chicago to Copenhagen. In fact, my dad and some of his siblings went to high school in Copenhagen (and yet the only Danish he remembers is “Vi skal spise snart,” meaning “We’ll eat soon.”)

From my Irish grandfather’s English upbringing and his family’s travels, we’ve adopted a weird variety of family traditions. I don’t know where Birthday Mouse came from, but I do know that our Christmas risalamande is one of the family’s Danish traditions.

We called our grandparents (when they were still with us) farmor and farfar (our cousins called them mormor and morfar), the Swedish words for “(paternal) grandmother” and “(paternal) grandfather.”



Even though we may not have any Scandi in our blood (aside from one aunt through marriage), we have plenty of Scandi in our hearts. And so here are some köttbullar (pronounced “hyutt-boo-ler”), Swedish meatballs. The main flavor in the meatballs is the onion, and though the spices are optional, I refuse to make them without allspice. The general recipe is cooked onions, bread, milk, eggs, pork, and beef, fried in butter. Butter is hit-or-miss with frying, unless you have a good cast iron pan (which I do, and I always use cast iron to make these) that can withstand the wear and tear. When I make the meatballs, I end up not needing any extra fat between the butter for the onions and the fat from the red meat, but if you do need to add more fat for frying the meatballs, you can use vegetable oil, a combination of vegetable oil and butter, or just butter (but watch your pan and your heat if you use butter.)

My version of Magnus Nilsson’s recipe has a tiny Mediterranean flair: I deglaze the pan with white wine (you can also use beer) and make a cream sauce from that.



spiced swedish meatballs (svenska köttbullar) and brown gravy 

adapted from The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson

serves 4


4 Tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter

1 yellow onion or half of one large white onion

1 tsp ground allspice

4 oz milk or cream

1.5 oz stale bread or unflavored breadcrumbs

1 egg

8 oz (1/2 lb) ground pork*

8 oz (1/2 lb) ground beef

a hefty pinch of salt

a hefty dash of ground black pepper

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour**

1/4 c white wine or light beer

1 c chicken stock

1 c heavy cream (for the sauce)

Egg noodles for serving


*Be sure that you’re not buying pork sausage or anything with the word “country” in the name: that’s breakfast sausage and is already seasoned (and very, very salty.) If you can’t find plain ground pork, or you can’t grind your own, ask the butcher.

**You only need the flour if you aren’t cooking the noodles. The water that you boil the noodles in will get starchy and you can add some of that to the sauce to thicken. If you are serving the noodles, then skip the flour. If you’re using the flour, add it after removing the last of the meatballs and before adding any liquid: flour for making sauces should go into the pan before the deglazing liquid.


Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet on the stove, on medium heat (you can use a different type of skillet or pot if you want, but I highly recommend bare or enameled cast iron.) While the butter is melting, mince the onion finely (because the onion bits will be in the meatballs.)

Add the onions and ground allspice to the skillet and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown a little bit and turn translucent, about 5 – 10 minutes. Prepare the rest of your ingredients while onions are cooking.

When the onions are done, turn off the heat but leave the skillet as it is, so you can use it to fry the meatballs.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the milk/cream, bread/crumbs, egg, pork, beef, and a hefty pinch of coarse salt and ground pepper.

Add onions to the mixture and combine with a spoon, whisk, or your hands, until the mixture is mostly uniform and you don’t see any dark red/pink spots left.

Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let it firm up. With ground meat, it’s best to handle and cook it cold because it holds its shape better. You still need to be careful about internal temperature, for sanitation reasons, and ground meat is generally less sanitary than whole pieces of meat. Make sure your meatball mixture is chilled so the meatballs don’t fall apart in the skillet, but while cooking, make sure they brown thoroughly and cook all the way through.

Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C, in case you need to finish the meatballs in the oven, and set aside a large ceramic baking dish.

Reheat the skillet that you used for the onions, on medium-high, adding more butter or vegetable oil if the bottom of the pan looks really dry.

Use spoons, your hands, or a cookie scoop (the cookie scoop is the safest and most consistent way to scoop the meatballs) to scoop the mixture. If you need to, roll the scoops of meat between your hands to form spheres.

Add the meatballs to the skillet. You should immediately hear sizzling as soon as you put the first meatball into the skillet, but not as much sizzling as when searing steaks. If you don’t hear the sizzling or you don’t see any bubbles around the edge of the meatball where it touches the pan, increase the heat slightly. If you immediately see smoke or the sizzling is intensely loud, reduce the heat slightly.

Add as many meatballs as you can without crowding the pan (they should be able to sit about 2 inches or 4 centimeters apart), let them brown on the bottom, then flip them to brown one more time on a different side. Each batch will probably take 3-5 minutes to brown on two sides.

You can either continue turning the meatballs to brown more than twice, and cook them through entirely on the stove, or you can transfer them to a baking dish and finish them in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes.

Test a meatball by cutting it in half: if it’s brown inside, that meatball and the others in the same batch are done.

When the meatballs are almost all done, start a pot of water boiling for the noodles. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add a splash of olive oil and about 1/8 c (most of a handful) of salt. Add the noodles and cook according to the directions on the package, but save about half a cup of the pasta water for the sauce before you drain the noodles. As soon as you drain the noodles, pour some olive oil on top and toss the noodles and oil together to keep the noodles from sticking while you finish the sauce.

Once all the meatballs are seared and out of the skillet, reduce the heat of the skillet to medium-low.

There should be plenty of fat in the pan from the meat, but if it looks dry or crusty, add a little more butter.

If you’re using flour for the sauce, instead of pasta water, add the flour to the pan and whisk to coat it completely in the oil. Let the roux cook and darken for a few minutes. (If you’re using pasta water for the sauce, save that for later in the process.)

Add the wine or beer and bring to a boil. While the alcohol is boiling, scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet and whisk them into the alcohol. Let the alcohol boil down for 2-3 minutes until the volume is reduced and the liquid is a bit thicker.

Add the chicken stock (if you have pork bone stock, that will also work), and continue boiling to reduce and thicken the sauce.

Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the cream, about 1/4 c at a time. Once the cream is totally incorporated, increase the heat to let the sauce simmer so that it thickens. If you’re using pasta water, add that to the gravy at this point. Let the sauce simmer at medium-high heat for about 5 – 10 minutes, tasting and seasoning occasionally, until it coats the back of a metal or wooden spoon.

Turn off the heat and add the finished meatballs to the sauce to coat them. Serve over the egg noodles.


Smaklig måltid! (“bon appetit”)

Nick P.


Categories: meats, savory

muffin of the month, february 2018: cheddar tomato muffins

previous butter + milk monthly muffins

6/17, balsamic roasted strawberry muffins || 2/17, glazed lemon poppyseed muffins || 8/16, gluten-free blueberry buttermilk muffins || 6/16, blackberry almond muffins



Cheese is in the air this week. Or is it love?

They’re basically the same thing.

When I think of February, I think of Valentine’s Day: chocolate, roses, champagne, fake aphrodisiacs, raspberries, tomatoes, cheese. I’m not the only one who thinks of tomatoes and cheese, am I?



If aphrodisiacs were a real thing (and we’ve proven time and again that they are not), cheese would be at the top of the aphrodisiacs list. Ignore the fact that it makes some people (me) fart like an angry motorboat.

Ever since I started this Monthly Muffin series, I’ve been thinking I should do something savory. Jalapeño english muffins are still on the docket for some time in the future, but I’ve actually had the idea of cheddar tomato muffins in mind for at least a year. I attempted them once maybe a year ago and then never got back around to them. I had so little faith in the results of that first attempt, I decided I wasn’t sure if I was ready to date again.



I mean, if I was ready to attempt to make cheddar tomato muffins again.

And now here we are, back in the game. And the game is bright, cheesy, herb-y, and delicious.

The muffins are made with just the rind of the tomato and without all the excess water from inside, shredded cheddar cheese, fresh oregano, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top, plus a splash of ground white pepper for a little kick.

I considered using sundried tomatoes, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of them compared to fresh tomatoes. On the other hand, fresh tomatoes are insanely watery and I knew even before attempting these that it would be frustrating trying to get the recipe right. I remembered a technique I learned in a knife skills class at work for prepping tomatoes so that you avoid both the seeds and the water.



I don’t remember what it’s called, but here’s a little illustration. It’s essentially the same thing as supreming an orange.

  1. To start, you slice off about half a centimeter from the stem end and the opposite end of the tomato, so that you have both a flat surface on one side, and a window on the other through which you can see where the rind ends and the pulp begins. You can eat or toss the bit of the rind with the stem end, and keep the other piece for the muffins.
  2. Angle your knife so it’s approximately parallel with the side of the tomato (the curve) and place the edge of your blade right where you see the rind meet the pulp.
  3. Use a gentle sawing motion to cut the rind away from the fruit, changing the angle of your blade as you cut around the side of the tomato (from top to bottom), to conform to the curve of the tomato. Your goal is to get as much of the curved rind as you can, and as little of the watery pulp as possible. It’s similar to fileting and boning meat: you want your knife to follow the shape of the bones.
  4. You’ll end up cutting the rind off in strips approximately 1-2 inches wide, and because the tomato is a sphere and your knife is a straight line, you’ll have to cut off multiple strips of rind. I usually end up with 5-6 strips, as if I’m trying to make a pentagon or hexagon with the top and bottom of the tomato. (Insert Phantom Tollbooth reference here.)
  5. Once all the rind is cut away, you should have a disc from the bottom end of the tomato, and about 5-6 strips of rind from the sides, plus a squishy, jewel-like ball of tomato meat that has no skin.
  6. Now, dice the tomato rind. You can eat the skinless tomato meat balls or do whatever else you want with them. I’m not sure how they’d hold up for tomato sauce without the rind (I’ve never successfully made tomato sauce.)

Voilà! C’est une tomate sans les organes!

Making the muffins without the tomato meat means you won’t have to worry about too much moisture in the batter, the muffins getting damp after baking, or adding excess flour to compensate. Whenever you bake with fruit, you’ll always end up with excess water.



cheddar tomato muffins

makes 1 dozen


8.5 oz (2 c) all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp ground white pepper (can substitute black pepper if you want)

8 oz (1 c) milk

2 oz (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs

4 oz shredded cheddar cheese

6-7 oz diced tomato rinds (~3 regular tomatoes, 5~6 Roma tomatoes)*

2 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced

~1/4 c finely grated Parmesan cheese, for finishing

*The cutting and dicing technique is nearly impossible with cherry tomatoes, because they’re too small to hold while cutting. A larger tomato is easier, and a firmer tomato is easier to peel and dice than a soft one, as well.


Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, white pepper, and baking powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, and eggs, until uniform.

Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture and quickly combine.

Add the cheese, tomatoes, and oregano, and fold the batter together just until no dry patches remain.

Scoop the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way, and sprinkle a large pinch of shredded Parmesan cheese on top of each muffin.

Bake 25 – 30 minutes until springy to the touch and the tops are turning a bit golden.

Let the muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Muffins keep for up to 48 hours wrapped individually in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.



Nick P.

Categories: Breads, muffins, savory, seasonal produce