Week 6+7 - Macarons Chloé - Pierre Hermé Macaron

Ladies and gents, this is our 6th article for week 7 or our #Fridaycookbookproject! What happened there? Oh you know, I was just too busy that week 6 and decided to go easy on myself and give myself a break. Also, knowing what I know about macarons, I imagined this article would need to be thought through a bit more than the others so I don’t just mindlessly overwhelm you with too many details and just focus on the bigger picture. And the pictures - my favorite part. :). One thing to know about me is that I probably made over 40.000 macarons in my life. Sounds crazy, right? I know. And it really is.  Long story short, I spent a lot of effort to perfect mine and then used that knowledge at many cafés and pop up festivals. It was a fun time. Now the long story and the actual recipe for those who are still with me:

You see, macarons are the right cookies to get to a regular perfectionist. But a control freak like me, oh we can get really wired. So a long time ago, I started, succeeded for the first time and then not again until attempt #39. That’s a fact. And obviously something that happens to a lot of people, for some reason! Must be the beginners luck. Anyway, being the nitpicky person I am, I couldn’t give it a rest until I saw the perfect results again. But what are the perfect macarons? 

Let’s not go too deep in this article since I am trying to keep it short and actionable (I once wrote an 18 page article about them and that didn’t even cover everything so …), but it’s important to know what a perfect macarons should look like, so you know what to aim for (psst - I made ALL od these mistakes at some point):

1. The foot / skirt or whatever you want to call it - most iconic and tell-tale sign of a true, well created macaron - the frilly layer around the bottom of the cookie. Without it, you made a delicious cookie, perhaps, but not a macaron. Sorry.  In the same time, the foot shouldn’t be too tall, which would indicate a hollow cookie shell which is WRONG, too. Stressed, yet?

2. Flat smooth top  without wrinkles, oil stains, cracks, irregularities, points, lumps, domes… Just smooth and nice. 

3. Regular circle shaped cookie shells - not lopsided. 

4. Nice color, not too flamboyant, more like muted and pastel. No one wants to eat a ton of food coloring, even though according to pastry chefs, macarons are the one type of sweets where food coloring is not seen as a bad thing. Also, traditionally the color should make sense and correspond with what the filling is made with. For example, who wants pink pistachio macarons, right? 

5. Not eaten immediately after filling. The right macarons need at least 24 hours of rest in the fridge, depending on the moistness of the particular filling so that the cookie shells can absorb some of it and are crisp (not hard, though) on the top and nice and chewy inside.

6. Spelled MACARONS and never, never, never MACAROONS. That’s a completely different cookie, made with coconut. Macarons, on the other hand, are sandwich cookies - the shells are standardly made of almonds flour, egg whites and sugar though there are ways to give those various flavors, too, and actually Pierre Hermé, the author of this week’s book, could tell you all about that. Anyway, the different flavors come mainly from the fillings. We’ll talk more about that later. 

Sounds hard, right? That’s because it is. Plus, there is literally no recipe in the world that will work for everyone! It very much depends on the technique and conditions, too (yes, seriously, the weather - as in humidity especially). But you’re a tough cookie (…). You are still here and willing to learn! And you shall succeed… one day. Or today! But you won’t know if you don’t try, so let’s get to it. Let this fact be of comfort to you - even big, famous Parisian  pastry house toss about 20% of their daily production due to imperfections! :) Ready?

I personally normally use a different recipe that works best for me and that is a result of my almost 40 initial, carefully monitored and recorded attempts. Anyway, I have to say that Pierre’s recipe worked really well for me, too! Both are using the so called Italian meringue which is made using hot sugar syrup (while the French method used for example by Pierre’s biggest competitor house, Ladurée, uses just regular cold meringue. Hey, did you know that there was a Swiss method, too? Don’t even get me started about that one!) However, just remember these few pointers:

1. Always sift your almonds flour after mixing it with powdered sugar. Otherwise the clumps may cause problems later.

2. Use GEL food coloring and not liquid. It will help keep the batter the right consistency. If you only have liquid coloring, use no coloring. It’s ok.

3. It’s really great to have a candy thermometer but if you don’t have one, either get one (highly recommended and especially for macarons) or if you really can’t, to tell the right temperature for the sugar, watch for big bubbles first that then turn into small bubbles and the liquid doesn’t seem so liquidy anymore. It’s hard to guess temperatures, get the thermometer. 

4. Age your egg whites. That means, separate them and keep them in a plastic foil container with a few holes poked in the top in the fridge for a few days, then bring them to room temperature before baking. Trust me, it helps.

5. Don’t overwhip your egg whites, you want soft peaks, not stiff peaks. Seriously, if it’s too much, there will be too much air in the mixture and you’ll either have to overmix the batter to get what looks like the right consistency but will actually end with very flat cookies, or you will not overmix, the batter will not get deflated enough and the cookies will be hollow. Soft peaks are the solution!

6. Once it gets to folding the ingredients together - folding is the key words. Be gentle but not overly so, envision the shape of the letter J when you first scrape through the dough across the bowl towards yourself and then curve it. Turn the bowl (a quarter turn) and then again, a few times. This phase is the most crucial (yeah, another most crucial phase there) to successfully fulfill all of my expectations, which is what you want to do, right? :)

7. And finally, don’t overbake them. You know that they are done once they stop wiggling when you push on the side of one gently. Take them out of the oven and let the sheet sit and cool down before you peel them off your liner of choice, be it parchment paper, silpat or a special macarons mat (not necessary).

Ok, here goes my interpretation of one of Pierre Hermé’s recipes. We’ll just do one color shells to begin with though the original has both brown for chocolate shells and pink for the raspberry shells. The filling (you guessed it) is a combination of both flavors, yummy yummy! Hope you like my choice. I went with the pink shells because it was righty before Valentine’s Day. 

This time, I’ll actually give you a list of ingredients because having everything prepared and weighed before moving forward. Yes, that’s right, a scale is unavoidable for this recipe and we will use grams (g). Do not be scared. Be proud of yourself. Be brave and let me know how it worked for you. I bet it will. You got it! 

You’ll get about 35-50 macarons, depending on the size.


For the macaron shells:

  • 150 g fine ground almond flour
  • 150 g powdered sugar
  • a few drops of gel pink food coloring (or brown, if you’re so inclined)
  • 110 g aged egg whites (divided into 2 parts)
  • 38 g  still mineral or filtered water 
  • 150 g fine granulated sugar
  • salt
  • 20 g freeze-dried raspberries

For the chocolate-raspberry ganache:

  • 140 g nice dark chocolate (over 60% cacao)
  • 160 g fresh raspberries
  • 100 g unsalted butter (temperature room)
  • extra 25 fresh raspberries


Put the almond flour and the powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse them together a few times with a very tiny pinch of salt. Then sift this mixture into a large bowl. You have successfully created a so called tant-pour-tant (referring to the equal parts of both of those ingredients).

Mix the food coloring with half of the egg whites (55 g) and pour this on top of the tant-pour-tant. Don’t mix in yet.

Pour the egg whites into a very clean and definitely not oily bowl of a stand mixer. Put the granulated sugar and mineral water in a saucepan and boil. The goal is to bring it to 244F / 118°C.  No stirring!

Once the temperature of the sugar syrup reaches 239F / 115°C, start whipping the egg whites on high speed. Once the goal temperature is reached, turn the mixer to medium-high speed and pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites (toward the sides of the bowl so the hot syrup doesn’t splash around). Keep whisking until the meringue reaches 122 F / 50°C which is when the soft peaks should be reached. It will depend on multiple factors so I would emphasize the softness of the peaks over the temperature  or the meringue to be the main decision factor.

Now for the macaronnage Using a plastic or silicone spatula, fold the meringue into the tant-pour-tant and the colored egg whites. The goal is to deflate the batter a bit and mix everything well. Clean the spatula halfway on the edge of the bowl and incorporate that, too. Don’t forget to scrape the bottom of the bowl. 

Stop mixing once the consistency of the batter is ribbon-like (also often described as lava-like, but who really knows what that’s like…), which means that it will nicely fall off the spatula in one flowy streak back into the bowl and disappear after a bit into the rest of the batter. Seriously, don’t go any longer than that because overmixed batter is the worst, it will flatten out like a chocolate chip cookie, the edges will burn etc. Undermixed is 100 times better, though it might crack on top or be hollow or pointy. But it will taste good. So stop mixing.

Transfer the batter into a pastry bag with a small round tip (with an opening no larger than 1/2 inch or 11 cm) and line a flat baking tray with your liner of choice, parchment paper is fine. You’ll need about 2-3 baking trays for this recipe. Pipe out rounds of about 1.5 inches (3.5 cm) in size and far apart enough so they don’t stick to each other when they spread out (3/4 inch or 2 cm is enough}. 

Now rap the baking tray 4-6 times on the counter (I just pick it up a bit and let it fall down) to get rid of air bubbles and smooth out the surface. It’s a very important step so make sure not to miss it. Then let it sit in room temperature for about 30 minutes or until  you can gently run a finger over the top of the macaron without it sticking. You want the surface to have dried out before baking which will help it keep the shape and “grow up” in the oven. Another essential step.

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180°C and then place the baking tray in. Bake for 12 minutes total - 6 minutes, quickly open the door to release the moisture, another 3 minutes baking, again release the moisture and finish baking another 3 minutes. Then check if they are firm enough - gently push on the side of one with your finger and see how much it wiggles, if it’s just a bit, take them out. If still a lot, give them another minute or 2. Bake the next tray.

Right after taking the tray out of the oven, sift some crushed freeze-dried raspberries on the shells using a fine mesh sieve. It will smell good and look pretty and still stick pretty well while if you did this before baking, it might turn brown and loose the aroma. Let the tray rest on a cooling rack until completely cold and really don’t try to peel one off before that. You will likely ruin it and get all disappointed - no need for that. Once they have cooled down, they should come off with no effort. Set them aside while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, puree the raspberries in a food mill, then bring the puree to a boil. Set aside. Melt the chopped dark chocolate and stir the puree into it in thirds. Let it cool off in room temperature. Once it has cooled down to about 140 F / 60°C, stir in the room temperature butter until funny incorporated, then blend until smooth using an immersion blender. Transfer the ganache into a bowl, cover with a lid and let it chill in the fridge for about 2 hours. When the consistency is creamy, it’s ready. If it chills longer, it will likely become too hard to work with and you’ll have to wait for it to soften up a bit again. 


Transfer the ganache in a pastry bag with a round tip (same size as before is fine). Prepare half of the macaron shells and turn them flat side up. Pipe a rounded layer of filling on them and then place half a raspberry in the middle. Take the other half shell, try to find the size that fits the best since they are likely not all the same size, and place it flat side down on the filling. Gently twist while pushing down and connect the two shells into a beautiful cookie sandwich. 

All they need now is about 24 hours in an air tight closed container in the fridge to mature and they should be ready to go. They should feel fragile, a bit crisp on top and around, holed their shape well and then when you bite them, crunch a tiny bit and give in, revealing the moist center of the cookie part mixed with the delicious chocolate-raspberry filling.

They are such versatile little sweets, so many options for fillings, we can get into that some other time. Pierre Hermé has always been my macaron idol and his photographer Laurent Fau has been my photography inspiration.  For this article I created some images inspired by his style that he uses throughout Pierre’s cookbooks and other printed pieces. 

So, how did it go? Waiting to hear all about your experience with my recipe! Definitely reach out to me if you have any comments or questions, I love talking to people about food! 

*Recipe is inspired by Pierre Hermé’s cookbook Macaron: The Ultimate Recipes from the Master Pâtissier.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

Week 5 - Sesame soy salmon and vegetables with coconut rice - The Medicinal Chef

Quick and healthy this week! The winning book of 5th episode of our #fridaycookbookproject was Dale Pinnock’s The Medicinal Chef and I loved it! I started with 3 healthy eating cookbooks and any of them would work for me and the other two will definitely be brought back but for now, as we don’t eat as much fish as we should, I opted for a delicious salmon recipe made with some beautiful wild caught King Salmon. I’ll definitely be making this again, also for the amazing, creamy coconut rice and crispy sautéed veggies. Highly recommended  combination!

The cookbook I have here at home is in Czech, I brought it with me when I moved out here. It’s full recipes particularly created to support the health of various organs and organ systems. This one really spoke to me this week, being full of beneficial fats and vitamins, all good for the heart and circulation, nerves, skin, joints and bones, respiratory system and many other things. And it was really good for my taste buds, too, so i think we have got ourselves a win-win kind of a situation!

I also remember cooking the Green soup from the book some time ago and it was amazing. But as I challenged myself here, I am cooking recipes that are unknown to me, in order to learn something new along with you in this project. Let’s do it! Here’s my interpretation of Dale’s recipe.

Get a beautiful slab of wild caught salmon, a bit less than 1 lb for 2 portions. Marinate it for at least an hour in a mixture of 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce and 1 tsp honey in the fridge. In the meantime, get the awesome coconut rice ready! Use 1 cup organic brown basmati rice, rinse it well in a collander and then transfer it to a pot. Stir in a bit of salt and add just enough boiling water to cover the rice. Cook with a lid on until there is no more water and then start adding coconut milk. It was hard for me to believe the whole can (400 ml/13.66 fl oz) would go in there but it really does, but add it in gradually, in about 5 parts, once it’s getting too dry. You may even need to add a bit more water in the end, if all the coconut milk is already in and the rice still isn’t soft. Mine took quite a while, maybe about 45-55 minutes, but things cook a bit slower up here in Denver. 

While the rice is cooking, prep your vegetables. Wash 1 smallish zucchini and 1 carrot. You want to get out your vegetable peeler and using that, slice them into long ribbons. Cut 1/2 red onion into half circles. Prepare a big handful or more of baby spinach. Take the salmon out of the fridge pat it sort of dry using a paper towel.

When the rice is done cooking, stir in 2 tbsp dried unsweetened shredded coconut and set it aside. Get your non-stick pan and heat it up with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cut the salmon slab in half and sautée it for about 6 minutes, starting on the skin side, then 2 more minutes once you flip it. The time really depends on how you like your salmon cooked and how thick it is. Mine was not thin and I like it pretty juicy inside (my husband called my piece seared but I would say more like medium, and he cooked his piece for another 3 or for minutes). While this is happening and smelling awesome, give your vegetable ribbons and onion a quick sauté in another pan with a bit of toasted sesame oil and a squirt of soy sauce. You can add a sliced clove of garlic, too, but this time i did not. Using kitchen tongs, keep fluffing and turning it, keeping the 3 parts separate if your want them looking more neat and keeping their color. But don’t go over 3 minutes or so, it’s really fast because the veggies are sliced so thinly and this way they keep their delicious crisp texture which goes great with the flaky salmon and creamy rice. Then throw in your spinach and let it just get wilted. Aaaaand we are done, friends!

Serve it right away (or better, after you take a quick photo, post it and tag me @gourmet.photographer so I can share it in my stories!) and enjoy. Believe me, it will make a great, healthy and delicious feel-good dinner! 

*Recipe is inspired by Dale Pinnock’s cookbook The Medicinal Chef.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

Week 4 - Papoutsakia - Cretan Cuisine

Greek food is definitely one of my favorite to cook and enjoy and out of that, Cretan food is the most beloved and well-known to me, since we’ve spent a lot of time on the beautiful island of Crete over the years. That’s why I was really psyched that this week’s #Fridaycookbookproject’s winning cookbook was one of Cretan cuisine. Originally, I thought I would cook a lamb recipe because I had some (what I thought was) nice piece of boneless lamb leg from New Zealand. But it so happened that most of the lamb recipes in the cookbook requested the front part of the animal and also, that meat sucked. I cooked another recipe with it and it was a no no. You wouldn’t suspect lamb to be tough, and yet… 

Anyway, Cretan cuisine, being known as probably the healthiest in the world, also works with a lot of ingredients that are hard to source here in Denver (and to my knowledge, back in Prague, too), mainly some specialty cheeses and also some less common meats like rabbit, goat or pigeon. So after some thinking I decided to go with a recipe for one of our favorite dishes that we like to enjoy for dinner when we spend our yearly vacation in Western Crete. The ingredients are easy to find and pretty common to everyone who may want to try it (looking at you, Philip and Krisztina! :))

Papoutsakia [παπουτσάκια], a dish named after “little shoes”, could be easily described as stuffed eggplants. The use of traditional Greek spices like thyme, cinnamon or cloves makes it a fragrant and delicious meal. It’s pretty nutritious and healthy, too, with all the lean protein, vegetables and extra virgin olive oil. Then of course, if you decide to accompany it with some delicious crusty white bread or pita, no one will blame you. I, for one, may even join you. Some nice red wine to cook with and to drink while cooking (sorry, I meant eating, of course… not! But also.), possibly from our favorite Cretan winery, Manousakis, will go a long way. 

Here is a confession: this recipe doesn’t actually come from the book! Oh no, breaking my own rules, what a world. Let me explain, though. I found that the version that’s featured in the otherwise very nice cookbook is vegetarian and however delicious I am sure it would be, too, I decided to try to approximate the version that we’ve been cherishing for years, cooked and served in our favorite spot on the island, a beautiful taverna on the cliffs above the sea, owned by the family of our good friend Stelios. It’s the best place to enjoy some sunset viewing from and it’s been very special for us. For that reason I decided to use this amazing extra virgin olive oil, also produced by Stelios’ family that he kindly gifted us on our latest visit.

I think I did a pretty good job reconstructing the recipe, perhaps it could use a bit thicker layer of béchamel on top and you’re welcome to make more and add that, but in my version the flavors of roasted aubergines and beef cooked in tomatoes with spices are the most pronounced. Let’s get to it and make 4 portions at once!

First we need to prepare our “vessels”. Turn the oven on to 390F. Wash 4 nice eggplants and dry them well. Cut them in half lengthwise and remove the leaves and stems (or keep the stems for more decorative serving). Place them on a parchment paper fitted baking tray and using a sharp knife, cut the flesh in a crisscross pattern without cutting into the skin. Pour 2 tbsp of good olive oil all over them evenly and sprinkle them with some salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Then turn them skin side up and roast for about 40 to 45 minutes, until they soften up. Keep the oven on, you’ll still need it.

In the meantime, prepare the meat filling. Heat a non stick skillet to high temperature and pour in 3 tbsp of good olive oil. Roughly chop 1 onion and 1 clove of garlic and when the oil is hot enough, throw them in. Sauté them on high heat for about 2 minutes, then add 1 tsp of sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 2 tbsp of dried thyme, some salt and pepper. Sauté for 8 more minutes or so, until nicely caramelized. Pour in 6 fl oz nice red wine and once it’s evaporated, add 1 lb of lean ground beef and cook for about 3 minutes while separating it with a wooden spoon. Then add 12 oz can of peeled tomatoes and cook the whole mixture for about 20 minutes or until it becomes less liquidy. 

When it’s time to take the aubergines out of the oven, flip them so that the flesh is on top.  Then using a fork, gently mash up the cooked flesh and scoop most of it out into a bowl so that only the skin and a bit of flesh is left. Don’t go too thin so that the “boats” don’t lose their shape. Then stir the scooped out flesh into the meat filling and cook it all together a bit more, until it’s not as wet, but not too dry. Taste the filling and add some salt and pepper to taste if needed, then stir in 3 oz grated gruyere or parmesan, 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley, leaves from about 10 twigs of fresh thyme and perhaps even a bit of fresh mint if you have any.

While you are finishing the meat filling, prepare the béchamel. If you stick to my recipe, you will end up with a very thin layer to just decorate the tops of the aubergines. If you wish, you can double or even triple the amount but using a bit less milk so that your béchamel is thicker and creates a heavier layer on top. In a pot on medium heat, melt 2 oz unsalted butter and stir in 1.5 oz flour. Create a nice light roux, then gradually whisk in 9.5-10 fl oz of warm milk. Keep whisking and when everything is smooth and starts bubbling, take it off the heat. Whisk in 3 oz ground gruyere or parmesan, 3 egg yolks, a bit of salt and pepper and a bit less than 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg. Or more, if you like. 

To assemble your papoutsakia, divide all the meat filling among the 8 empty eggplant halves and fill them up using a spoon. The filling can be piled up above the edges, even better! Then pour about 2 tbsp (or more, that is if you prepared more of it!) of the béchamel over each half. Bake it for about 20-25 minutes, until dark blisters appear on your béchamel. 

Serve right away or reheat the next day for even more flavor, with some chopped parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil. I hope you enjoy this week’s recipe as much as I did! Unlike some previous ones, this one is fairly easy and doesn’t take too long. A beautiful side effect is the aroma that fills your house when this meal is being cooked, as with every good homemade meal made with quality ingredients.

Καλή όρεξη and have a good meal! And let me know how you liked it, I’ll be waiting over at IG.

*Recipe is inspired by Cretan Cuisine cookbook but recreated to meet the author’s carnivore demands.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

Week 3 - Shakshouka - My Paris Kitchen

Week 3 of #fridaycookbookproject has been the most demanding on my side so far. I was really busy with some business assignments which I love doing but I really wanted to keep up with my challenge either way. So I decided to take this gorgeous book, My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz (which was the winner of this week’s vote in my stories) and let my husband decide which recipe I should make this time. And it didn’t come to me as a big surprise that he selected Shakshouka, given our history of living in Northern Africa over 10 years ago. Some of you guessed it correctly based on the ingredients shot I shared on Thursday, congratulations! But some of you weren’t convinced that it’s something to be found in a book of Parisian recipes.

But you know what? I am actually really happy to see that this one and other Middle Eastern, African and other recipes made it to David’s book because that reflects really well the beautiful melting pot of cultures that Paris, as a true European metropolis, has become. So, without further delay, let’s jump into this bubbling savory delicacy that most of you may already know but perhaps never made it at home. It’s actually really quick and simple, which worked well with my schedule of the last few days and I hope it works for you, too and you’ll let me know how you liked it. Don’t forget to tag me if you cook Shakshouka and if you also decide to shoot it, add our #Fridaycookbookproject hashtag to your post so we can all enjoy the image of your beautiful dish based on my interpretation of David’s recipe. It makes 2-4 portions, depending on how hungry you are and how much bread you want to eat it with.

On medium-high heat, place 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet or well seasoned cast iron dish. When it’s hot, add 1 chopped large onion and 3 sliced cloves of garlic. Cook them for about 8 minutes uncovered, until they become translucent. Then add 1.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp smoked or sweet paprika, 1 tsp crushed caraway seed and 0.5 tsp turmeric. [The original recipe also calls for 1 tsp crushed cumin but I skipped that as that’s one of the very few flavors I am not a big fan of. So up to you.] Let the spices cook with the onions and garlic for about a minute, watching out so they don’t get burnt and become bitter.

Once they release their pleasant aroma, add 28 oz can of organic peeled tomatoes [you can work with about the same amount of peeled or even unpeeled fresh tomatoes but I don’t really trust those in the winter. If you do, it may also take a bit longer to cook.] Add 2 tbsp tomato puree [I usually divide the can into 2 tbsp portions and freeze those individually so they are always ready to use since most recipes don’t ask for more than that], 2 tsp honey and 1 tsp red wine vinegar and if you like it hot, add some deseeded, finely chopped chili pepper to taste.

Cook altogether on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once this sauce becomes thicker but not too dry, stir in about 1 cup of coarsely chopped greens (I used radish greens and baby spinach plus a bit of flat leaf parsley) and turn the heat off. Spread around and gently push in bite sized cubes made of 4-5 oz feta cheese. Decide how many eggs you want to use (recommended 4-6, so I used 5) and using the back of a spoon, create that many indentations in the sauce.

Gently crack each egg and let it carefully slip into its well. Then use the end of a spoon to drag through the egg white without disturbing the yolk in order to combine a part of each egg white with the sauce around it. Turn the heat back on and this time just low enough to bring the dish back to a gentle simmer. Let it go uncovered for about 10 minutes and then cover with a lid and finish it. Once the egg whites are white, they should be fully cooked. The egg yolks should remain runny but again, up to your preference. It took me about 3 minutes once I covered my skillet and I used a loose, non-matching lid from another pot so I could see what the egg whites were doing. 

And you’re done. It’s a really pretty dish, so impress your guests and serve it straight from the skillet in the middle of the table, decorated with sliced chili pepper, leftover chopped up greenscherry tomatoes and feta crumbles, accompanied by some fresh, crusty French baguette (what do you say, should baking that be one of our weekly challenges? Let me know!) That way everyone can have as much as they want and you can clean the skillet with remaining bread. Sound good? I would say! I already enjoyed mine so now it’s your turn! 

Have fun and let me know how it was!

Have a great weekend and see you next Friday!

*Recipe is based on My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

Week 2 - Lumberjane Loaf - Sourdough

Week two of our #fridaycookbookproject is here! You made me pretty happy by selecting my favorite bread book in my Instagram, Sourdough by Sarah Owens. But at the same time, I’ve been using this one a lot so far, and the idea behind this project was for me to use all of my cookbooks that have just been lying around and learn something new along with you. Anyway, I found a recipe I haven’t approached yet and I decided to give it a go this time! As always, this is just my interpretation of the recipe, if you want the real deal, get that book, you won’t be sorry!

  • TLDR: Here’s my opinion - don’t do this if you are too busy to even read this article. Good bread takes time. But, I know it’s long so here is your road map: sourdough starter > levain > autolyse > float test > mix > salt > bulk ferment > stretch & folds > fold-ins > cold fermentation > scoring > steam bake > dry bake > knock > bread song > cool down > cut. [120 g L + 450 g APF + 75 g WWF + 20 g RF + 405 g W + 12 g S + 210 g fold-ins] If none of this makes sense to you and you want to make this bread, read bellow. :)

You’ll need some sourdough starter. Hopefully you have some nice active, bubbly one by now, like I do. I keep mine (9 years old, called Horatius) on the counter at all times and feed it a bit of whole wheat or rye flour and a small amount of lukewarm water every day. It can also live in your fridge and then it only needs to be fed about once a week, but in that case make sure to bring it to room temperature at least a day or two in advance and feed it multiple times before going for the recipe. If you don’t have any yet, check out your good local bakeries, they are often happy to sell you some for not much. You can also use commercial yeast for this recipe if you have to but, although you can get some pretty great bread this way, the result will not be the same in taste, structure and its health component. I am a great believer in the health benefits of fermentation and I love the fact that bread can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if made well and consumed in moderation. I just came across this great article recently, give it a read if interested.

Now this is coming from a place where you already know that I bake a lot of sourdough bread. I also mill my own flour. I got a Komo stone grain mill over a year and a half ago and it was one of the best presents ever. These things are not cheap but they supposedly last you a lifetime and beyond. It also looks beautiful on my counter and freshly milled grains make such a great difference in the bread you can come up with. Lots of my sourdough loaves use large percentages of whole grains so all of these are freshly ground in my kitchen. The fragrance, flavor and structure element it gives to my bread held up in a blind taste test I ran some time ago when I baked two loaves using the exact same method and ingredients except that, in one case, the whole grains were freshly milled. That loaf won by far but I didn’t even need to be convinced, I knew all along. That said, you will definitely make amazing bread using organic store bought flour, if you can find stone ground whole grain flour of the kind needed, even better.

Another thing that comes in handy when making bread loaves is a Dutch oven or a large cast iron pan with a lid. The idea behind that is that in the phase of the bread making process when the crust is being formed, you need some humidity. You can achieve it either by using a pizza stone and an old baking sheet below, to which you add some ice cubes or a big splash of cold water in order to create steam in the oven. After the initial hot steam phase, you lower the temperature and let the vapor out. I find this method not only less efficient but also very nerve-wracking. The Dutch oven provides the bread with enough humidity with none of that hassle. You bake it at high temperature with the lid on, then lower the temp and take the lid off. Easy peasy and the results will be awesome.

One last thing I want to mention before I get to the recipe itself is a banneton. It’s basically just a basket that the bread rests in after the initial fermentation phase and during the cold fermentation period as it gains its desired shape. You can get it online or at Sur la Table or other kitchen stores. You can replace it with a large colander lined with a well floured kitchen towel to begin with if you don’t feel like investing yet, but I bet you’ll get hooked like I did once you taste your homemade bread!

Ok, that’s all I can think of right now and I will add some good resources at the end of this article if you prefer to study by watching videos but let me just tell you, this book is a wonderful way to learn all you need to know about making sourdough bread and it has other great recipes beyond bread too, so definitely check it out! I just got Sarah’s new book for Christmas and I will definitely suggest it in the upcoming weeks of our #fridaycookbookproject!

So, let’s make some bread! Again, this is my interpretation of Sarah’s recipe, using my preferred method. As it’s pretty common in the baking world (and since I am European) I use grams, but it’s a good idea in general to have a digital kitchen scale, preferably one with both grams and oz.

First of all, take your active sourdough starter and make levain (which is basically just French for starter but it’s used to mean the active starter base part you’ll use in the concrete recipe) and take a spoonful off at the end for next time. Use 1 heaping tbsp of your active starter and add 60 g lukewarm water (preferably filtered and left on the counter for a few hours) and mix in 45 g whole wheat flour and 15 g rye flour. This creates a sort of a slurry you’ll put in a Mason jar loosely covered with a lid and place that on your counter (room temperature). And now it depends where you live (like here in Denver it goes a bit faster due to the altitude) but basically we are waiting for the levain to at least double in size. You can place a rubber band around the jar signaling where the level was when you made it and wait for it to grow to at least double the volume. It also depends on how active your starter was to begin with, so I always prefer to feed it at least 3 times over the course of the previous 2 days to make sure it’s ready. That way it usually takes it only about 3 hours to pass the float test - you can tell if the levain is ready to be mixed in with the dough by placing a teaspoon of it into a tall glass of water. If it floats close to the surface or on it, you’re good to go!

While you are waiting for the levain to increase in size (and all sorts of fun microbiological processes are happening that we won’t go into here but I love to chat about!), you can autolyse your flour. This is done to improve the structure of the dough by having the flour used in the recipe soak up the water in advance, before adding the other ingredients. Use a large bowl with a lid and loosely mix 450 g all purpose flour, 75 g whole wheat flour and 20 g rye flour along with 405 g of lukewarm water. You can use a Danish bread whisk or just your hands, it helps if you keep them wet during the process, less dough will stick to them that way.  Cover with a lid (or place a large plate on top or a hotel shower cap if you have any) and give it the same amount of time you need for your levain to rise. 

Once the levain has passed the float test, do a happy dance like I do and move on to mixing the dough. Add your levain to the flour mixture (don’t forget to save a spoonful  for your next baking adventure) using your moistened hands and mix it in well. You’ll notice that the structure of the dough has changed and hopefully it’s become stronger and not as chunky as it was when first mixed with water. It will continue to do so over time and that’s what we are looking for - strong gluten bonds that will be able to hold the air bubbles and ensure a great light texture in our loaf. Now once you’ve mixed the levain into the flour dough, cover again and let sit for another 30 minutes. 

Then add 12 g of salt.  You want to make sure that it’s evenly spread around and well incorporated into the dough. You can either use a stand mixer if you have a good one but I can tell you that the dough is too thick for my mixer and, anyway, I prefer to do the job using my hands. Again, make sure they are wet and start folding the dough over itself until everything is fully in. Then let it rest and bulk ferment on the counter, covered with a lid, for another 3-4 hours, as the dough again doubles in size. You’ll want to perform a series of stretch & folds at about every 45 minutes during this phase, which really helps to build the dough’s structure. There were times when I forgot or had to leave and only did 2 series of stretch & folds and, in those cases, I let the dough rise an extra hour. But if you want to do it right, open your lid, get your hands wet and pick up one side of the dough, stretch it as much as possible without ripping it off, then fold it over the rest of the dough and continue from all 4 sides, each time. If the dough feels very wet, you can moisten your hands, get them under the dough, pick it up a bit and let the two sides fold by themselves under the dough and repeat from the other side. Don’t panic at this phase if the dough is all sticky and not well formed, it will get better with each interval.

Once the dough has doubled (or so) in size, or after approximately 4 hours, the bulk fermentation should be done. Gently add the fold-ins you prefer - in this case we are using 90 g coarsely chopped dried apricot, 90 g coarsely chopped toasted pecans and 30 g hemp seeds. [Sarah’s recipe calls for 30 g millet and double the amount of  apricots and pecans but if you’re just starting out with breadmaking, go light, perhaps, since all these make it harder to work your dough and have it rise properly as they can tear through the desirable air pockets.]  Feel free to replace these fold-ins with dried cranberries, walnuts and chia seeds respectively, tried and true! Either way, fold them into the dough so that they are evenly spread without breaking the dough up. Let rest in the bowl one last time for about 30 minutes.

Flour your work surface well and prepare your banneton or colander, both lined with a well floured fabric (bannetons usually come with their own). Get the dough on your floured surface in order to preshape the dough -  take each one of the four sides and fold it onto the rest of the dough and then flip it seam side down on your floured surface. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes. When you come back to it, hopefully the dough hasn’t spread too much which is a sign that it’s keeping some structural integrity and isn’t over proved. Now shape your loaf. Take the piece, gently stretch it out and shape it depending on the shape of your banneton (and Dutch oven) - for rounded bread, fold the sides in the middle like before, then create some surface tension and place in the floured banneton, seam side UP this time. For oval shaped bread, stretch and bring the sides in and connect them in the middle, then roll it up and place it in the banneton, seam side up. This video might help you understand what I’m talking about here since it’s quite hard to explain if you’ve never done it before.

Now that you have your dough in the banneton, it’s ready for the second, cold fermentation. You don’t necessarily have to do that but if you try it, I can guarantee you’ll love your bread that much more, plus it will be better for you gut. So cover your banneton loosely with a kitchen towel and place it in a large plastic bag and move it to your fridge where it will rest for anywhere between 8-24 hours.

And we are ready to bake! Preheat the oven to 500F (seriously) with the Dutch oven and its lid in there for at least 30 minutes. Then bring the dough out of the fridge, carefully place it in the Dutch oven (you can use a parchment paper in there but it’s not necessary, the heat of the vessel will immediately seal the bottom of the dough and it won’t stick), give the dough a good quick, decisive slash on top using a razor or a very sharp knife (to allow the gases to rise from the bread in a controlled manner while it’s getting baked without them seeking an alternative route resulting in ripping the bread) - later on you can play with various designs for that (and in that case first turn the dough from the banneton on a parchment paper, do your ornamental scoring and then transfer it carefully into the Dutch oven using that parchment paper) but this dough with a high percentage of fold-in isn’t the best for you to practice on. We can talk all about that later when we’re using a simpler recipe! One quite deep, fast slash will do here. Cover it with the lid and bake on 500F for 20 minutes, then uncover, lower the oven temperature to 450F and bake another 20 - 30 minutes depending on the size of your loaf and until you reach your desired color. I like my bread crust pretty caramelized so I go on the longer side.

Remove the vessel from the oven, carefully take the bread out and gently knock on the bottom side. If it gives you a nice, dull sounding ring, it means you work is done and it’s fully baked. Place it on a cooling rack and, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear some of that rewarding bread song caused by the sudden temperature change. And then use all of your restraint to not cut into it right away, give it at least 30-60 minutes to cool down a bit because it’s still setting at this point. This is very important, especially with higher percentage rye bread, which needs to cool down completely before being cut into.

Wow, this was longer than expected and yet there is so much more to say about making sourdough. Hopefully I made myself clear and you’ll be able to use this recipe and method to create some delicious sourdough bread yourself! Definitely reach out with any questions you might have and let me know how it went! Good luck! 

Some helpful resources:

Full Proof Baking - my favorite bread videos by “a sourdough-obsessed home baker from Chicago”

The Fresh Loaf - News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts 

Against the Grain - a podcast from Zach, my favorite Denver baker at whose Rebel Bread Bakery I teach some classes, too

Sourdough Podcast - inspiring stories from the sourdough community

*This article was written based on my personal experience with years of bread baking. Recipe was inspired by Sarah Owens’ cookbook called Sourdough.

Text and photographs © Andrea Gralow 2020. All rights reserved.

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