My bread baking log

Over the last number of months I have been refining my bread baking application. I’m definitely not an app developer – its just a humble Google sheet that helps me figure out how I want to do my bread.

If I bake bread, I usually use a sourdough preferment – so this involves that extra piece of calculation that results in a preferment. But I also will do bread from a 166% starter, and albeit rarely, from yeast. I also use up excess starter in making crackers and pancakes.

The APP sheets are formatted so that someone with an android phone with the Google Sheets App can view it easily on the phone.

How it works:

Open the sheet. You will see that the tabs are either LOG or APP tabs. Use the APP tab to figure out your quantities. You are only allowed to enter data in the highlighted cells. By adjusting the amount of starter, the starter ratio and the hydration, you can control how much bread you want, at what hydration.
If you do not like the result, just overwrite it next time you bake.
If you DO like the result and wish to replicate it, then go to the LOG sheet beside it. You will find that your entries on the APP sheet are in the 2nd row of the LOG sheet. Copy the whole row. Go to the next available row and select ‘paste special’. Then select ‘paste values only’. That will copy the data from that loaf you wish to remember without reference to the APP sheet.
I suspect that a few people might wind up reading this, and some will try it. If you like it, I would suggest making a copy of it (either as a google or an excel sheet) and then messing with it any way you like.
Here is the link……

I definitely welcome your comments on it. I’ve used it for a few months now, and finally I find I am not making little tweaks here and there.

My Sausage factory

A few weeks ago I looked in my freezer and noticed it was getting a tad empty particularly of burgers and sausages. Time to order more meat!

A little thought and a phone call to my butcher – and about $200 later I’m swimming in sausages once more. Or rather  – the meat to make the sausages with. I ordered about 3 kilos each of lamb, pork and beef. To be fair, the sausage meat itself – lamb, beef and pork cost $100.

This is about the 4th or 5th time I’ve gone on a sausage making binge. The difference this time is that I’m doing it over a few days and that I have developed a useful little spreadsheet to help me plan out my sausage making. Its more than just the meat, you see. Sausages become wonderful through other flavors: salt, pepper, garlic, wine in particular. I’m using Ruhlman’s sausage recipe for basic go-to garlic sausages for my base, though whereas he specifies a sausage ratio of 25%  fat, but I leave that choice to the maker. Feedback from family suggested this was way too much – mine are at about 15%.  Fat adds flavour, but some want their burgers and sausages leaner. His Ratio book was my inspiration to get started in this – and he’s such an excellent writer: (from p.135 of Ratio: “Sometimes I wonder if God didn’t create garlic specifically for sausage only to find out later that it went with a lot of other things too…”)

In this blog I’ll try to remember what it was like the first time out and imagine you are in the same situation. I’m also going to share and explain my calculator  – don’t know why I have not done this before!

What you need

So let’s imagine you are just starting out in sausages. Here is what you need:

  • A meat grinder with a sausage stuffing attachment. I started with a KitchenAid stand mixer with the grinder attachment. The retaining cap is made of plastic and it blew off after possibly 20 hours of use. I now use a cheap $100 Cuisinart meat grinder which is solid and metal but has a weaker motor than the KitchenAid.
  • a hefty sharp knife. I use an old, massive 10” Wusthoff. It’s not my usual light, nimble Japanese knife – but it works really well cutting through big hunks of meat.
  • a digital scale
  • lots of room on your counter
  • a microwave
  • several really large bowls
  • freezer bags
  • vinyl gloves. It can get messy. If you are averse to meat and fat caking your hands, use gloves.
  • wax paper – if you are making patties (because really, a patty is a sausage without the casing).
  • optional: a stand mixer. Beyond using a meat grinder attachment, you are likely going to want to mix your sausage mix thoroughly before stuffing. This can also be done by hand.

The basic food stuff to buy:

  • Meat. I don’t know a lot about meat cuts but perhaps I should. My usual request of the butcher goes like this: “I’m going to make my own sausage, so I’d like about 3 kilos of what you would use yourself (but specify the kind of meat you want).”
  • Sausage skins: These are made from the thin but strong intestinal skin. Buy these from the butcher. You will need about a package for every 3 or so kilos of meat.
  • Salt: Use sea salt or kosher salt. This is indispensable for flavour.
  • Fat: Sausages need between 10%-25% fat, as noted above. I save all mine from soup stocks, bacon cooking, other sausage cooking. Nothing goes to waste. I also roughly trim off any big hunks of fat from the meat so that my fat content is more truly accurate. if you really have no fat, get that too at the butcher.
  • Red wine gives your basic sausage a nice body and complexity
  • Garlic. Even if its not a “garlic sausage” it still needs a minimum amount of garlic.
  • Cayenne or hot sauce because all sausages should have a bit of heat.
  • Black Pepper is important too in the general mix.

These ingredients are what’s needed for a basic sausage. Its your base mix.

Other stuff to flavour it: herbs, spices, dry fruit, nuts even, other fruit, cheese. This is where you can get truly creative. That said, the more different flavours, the more intense the work.

Getting started:

  • Think about what you want to create. Let your palate’s imagination run wild. Once you have an idea, check out my sausage calculator. This is a sharable editable google sheet. If it gets messed up, I have a copy of it, no worries. Just email me if you accidentally mess it up. If you think the spreadsheet could be useful or if you want to mess with it and change up some of the basic formulas, I would suggest you download it as an excel sheet. If you come up with a better version, please let me know.
  • Prepare your work surface. Start spotless and clean. Set up your grinder and a bowl to catch the ground meat in.
  • I would also suggest you check out sausage making on YouTube.

Let’s do it!

  • Ideally your sausage meat should be at about 1-2 degrees celsius – slightly above freezing. This will mean you can refreeze it safely. Check my blog on this issue from a couple of years ago.
  • The sausage skins now need to go into very salty water. This loosens them up and makes them easier to work with. (1 skin package for approximately 3kilos of meat)
  • Weigh your meat and enter the weight in the sausage calculator spreadsheet
  • Next, if you want to make a variety of different sausages or burgers, use the table in the sheet below the initial information entry to sort out what is going to go into each one.  The spreadsheet will show either my exmple or someone else’s use of it. Please overwrite these and input your own. It’s set up so that only the yellow highlighted cells can be changed.
  • Cut the meat into big thin strips that can go through the feeder of your meat grinder.
  • Add the salt, pepper, and garlic required per your meat weight on the sheet.
  • Weigh and add in the ‘extra’ ingredients
  • Give a final check to make sure your grinder works well, make sure you have a fairly fine grinding plate (the round piece with the holes in it)


    This is a fine mesh coverplate.


The basic mix before it all goes through the grinder.



Let the fun begin! Note that the grind is really fine.


  • Start grinding!
  • Somewhere in the middle of the process, add the wine, and mix.
  • Add extra ingredients at the end. Be aware of what happens with things like onions. If you put onions through the grinder, you get onion puree. If you dice them and add them separately  you get diced onions in your mix. The same applies to any fruit or vegetable addition you use.
  • Depending on how much you are making, and the order you mix your sausage mix, you may want to use a stand mixer to thoroughly mix it all together.



My little taster. 20 secs in the microwave. You can add but you can’t take away.

Its important to taste your product. I put about a half teaspoon of mix in a small ramekin and microwave for 20 seconds. Taste for the ingredients you want to profile, beginning with salt, pepper and garlic. Then focus on the other tastes you want to bring out. Just remember: you can add but you can’t take away.


Think of a patty as a sausage with a different shape and no skin. If you are making patties, cut a number of sheets of waxed paper (the calculator will tell you how many based on your inputs) and spoon the required amount of mix. Roughly shape them, wrap, bag, label, and freeze. I prefer to wrap patties individually, as that’s how they are usually consumed around here.


I usually weigh them for consistency


They are wrapped in biodegradable wax paper. Try to keep it as dry as possible so they don’t stick to each other.


The finished package. The labelling isn’t elegant, but it will convey the message when I am on the prowl in freezer. Don’t try to put a sticky label on the outside of the bag. It will come off.



Once you are happy with your mix, its time to stuff them.

  • Your skins should be nicely loose by now, so gently feed it on to your sausage stuffer and mount this on the grinder according to manufacturers directions. Feed out about a few cm of skin and start feeding in the sausage mix. Leave the end of the skin open to allow excess air to escape. It takes a bit to get the hang of it at first.
20150129_105200 - Copy

In the middle of threading the skin onto the sausage stuffer. Make sure its been soaking in salty water, and gently thread ALL of the skin on. If you have extra at the end, thread it back onto the plastic it came with, and refreeze.


  • Once your mix is all done you should have a nice long sausage. Cut it off at the grinder, leaving about 20cm clear. Tie this end as close to the end as you can, make sure all the air is out, and now start twisting them off according to how long/big you want them. My personal preference is to prepare freezer bags of 3-4 sausages at a time.

I’m definitely an amatuer, no question. For pros, they come out fast and perfect. I have to work at mine – massaging until the shape is consistent and what I am looking for. I recognize that I will never really have the technique completely down. I just don’t do it often enough.


But…. I can at least get them to look like sausages in the end!


  • Once done, bag, label, and freeze, or enjoy.


Meatballs are another great DIY meat product to make while you are at it with sausages. Characteristically, beyond the basic sausage mix, they need breadcrumbs – about 20% the weight of the meat, and eggs at about 10% the weight of the meat. You can add whatever other flavoring you want to do with them.

One of the problems with meatballs if you put them into a freezer bag and slide them into the freezer is that they will be difficult to separate from each other. To work around this problem, put them on a baking sheet on parchment paper and then slide them into the freezer for about an hour. This will freeze them without them sticking to each other so that when you put them in your storage bag they will come apart easily when you are ready for them.

Bon Appetit!

I think I’m going to have enough sausages, patties and meatballs to last about 3 months. Using medium sized freezer bags, they easily accommodate both single serve and mealtime opportunities.

Perfect homemade pasta every time

This is going to be my shortest blog ever.

But it will show how you can make perfect homemade pasta each and every time.

Here is the trick. I’ll assume you have a pasta maker already.

Start by weighing your eggs (not your flour). 1 egg per person eating your wonderful ooh! and aahhh! homemade pasta.

Next divide the weight of the eggs by .6. This will be the weight of flour to use.

So if you are making pasta for 4 and your eggs weigh out to 215g, then 215/.6 = 358 which would be how much flour to add. The more precise you can be, the better will be your result.

This quite precise ratio will give you the precise amount of hydration to your dough so that when you put it through your pasta roller, it will be perfect. No extra flour needed, no extra water, no stickiness, no dryness either.

If you want to make something like spinach pasta, weigh the spinach or whatever it is, and add it to the weight of the eggs, because vegetables are 90% water so something like spinach would go on the wet side of the equation.

Finally this post assumes you know how to cook said pasta in a great big pot of quite salty water…..

My Culinary Christmas

I know its a little past Christmas. I hope you will forgive me – and also that you will be able to use some of the great recipes included in this blog. I’m  reporting on my son’s great turkey recipe, and some excellent plum pudding, fruit cake and shortbread recipes, as well as insights on creme anglais/custard.

The Big Bird

My son is in his last undergrad year, and he decided to top it off by being a residence don. It means he has to keep his freshmen charges safe and happy. Due to these responsibilities, it was the first Thanksgiving that he was not with us to celebrate. He has quite a number of international students who had expressed interest in this Canadian celebration of the harvest – Thanksgiving. So he, an old friend and girlfriend at the time set upon delivering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to about 20 kids who were there for the holiday weekend. A roaring success, apparently. Thrilled about it, he offered – or rather told us – he was going to make the family Christmas turkey.

As this was arguably his biggest culinary endeavour to date, and as he had also changed up the recipe he found, I wanted to make sure I faithfully recorded his recipe for my recipe spreadsheet.20141226_065243

A note on the spreadsheet…… In 2009 I read a book “The Cure for Death by Lightning” in which one of the characters keeps a kitchen scrapbook, and this scrapbook forms a family history through the lens of the kitchen. There are notes, recipes, cut outs, random thoughts  – but all to do with food. My spreadsheet is like a more organized, electronic version of that.  Whenever I find a new recipe, down it goes. Copy and paste. Develop a new one – definitely. I also have sheets for calculating common ratios (Thank you Michael Ruhlman who made sense of so much of cooking). I currently have about 500 recipes, both mine and others, and its where I go first when I need a recipe. There are a number of sheets covering different categories of recipes. Each recipe is written within a column, as this is inevitably the way recipes are presented in books or on the web. There’s also a sheet for memorable meals as well. This can be useful when one wants to know what was served the last time you had Mr or Ms. X over to dinner. Needless to say, my son wanted to consult it for his dinner, and I noted to him that this file was really his culinary DNA. Every recipe he is familiar with from the family crucible is here.

Back to his turkey: This was a British recipe – which seems to be particularly marked by the addition of sausage or bacon in the stuffing. But he changed it up as well. He wanted to do it all: brined, an under the skin baste, as well as basting during the cooking. Really excellent result, I might add – he’s turned out to be a really competent cook. Here is his final recipe:20141225_182812

S’s roast turkey

The original basis for the recipe is,-goats-cheese-and-leek-stuffing,-and-gravy.html


5 litres water

100g salt

turkey 12-14 lb 6-7k


1 loaf of bread

3 medium onions

half a Granny Smith apple

@ 1 tsp ea of salt, pepper; @ 1tbs rosemary, sage; @ 2 tbs ea of  thyme, oregano,  basil.  Taste though – these are minimums.

100g bacon or sausage

100g grated  unripened goat cheese  (feta or ricotta)

2 eggs

2 tbs dried cranberries

Dressing the bird – under skin baste

5 tbs butter

pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage – about 1 tsp ea


1.5 oranges, juiced

.5 cup turkey stock

.5 cup maple syrup


300g sliced  mushrooms (white or Crimini)

1L water or 750ml turkey or chicken stock

33g flour

22g fat or butter



Thaw turkey (2 days before eating). 24 hours before, place turkey in a pot big enough to contain it. Measure and pour water until it covers the turkey, and add 20g salt per litre of water. Alternatively, prepare Ruhlman’s flavored brine: boil 4 onions, 5-6 carrots, 3 lemons in slices, thyme, oregano, rosemary in half the water. Add ice cubes equalling the other half of the water. Leave the turkey in a cool (refrigerator cool) place overnight.


Sautee onions and cook with sausage or chopped up bacon. In a separate bowl, prepare a mix with crumbed up bread. Add in cheese, apple, cranberries, and mix thoroughly. Add in herbs: basil, oregano, thyme, sage  and pepper, rosemary. Add in cooked onion/sausage mix and mix thoroughly. Add in eggs. Begin with one egg and depending on how dry/wet it is, add another. It should be moist and almost stick together. Taste and add salt to taste.

Prepare the bird

Gently separate the skin from the flesh throughout the breast. Begin at the cavity and work your hand in being careful not to puncture the skin. Gently pry it away all around.

Place the bird in the roasting pan, adding stock or water to the bottom of the pan.

turn oven on to 450

Prepare a baste of 5 tbs butter, pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage – about 1 tsp ea. in a pot and genty cooked for 5 minutes until the butter absorbs the flavour.

Using a pastry brush, brush the flesh under the skin with the baste. Brush olive oil over the top of the breasts and lightly sprinkle pepper and salt over the bird.

Fill the cavities with stuffing and truss them shut .

Cook as follows: begin at 450 for 30 minutes. Reduce to 350 and baste every 30 minutes: 3 hr cooking time. Thermometer should be 170 in deepest part of bird.

The exterior baste

Heat in a small pot until it comes to a boil, then turn off the heat: 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup stock, juice from 1 1/2 oranges – or 1/4 cup of orange juice. Baste the turkey every  30 minutes.

As the turkey is nearly done, do a final baste of maple syrup only, and finish the last 5 or so minutes of cooking under a broiler. This will caramelize and crisp the skin.20141225_163842 20141225_164629


Method 1: Prepare a mushroom reduction with 300g sliced mushrooms (crimini or white) in 1L water.  Boil, reduce to about 750ml. Prepare a roux with 33g flour and 22g fat or butter. Add in the mushroom reduction and stir until smooth.

Method 2:  Gently saute 300g  mushrooms (Crimini or white) in 1 tbs olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper. Remove from heat when they are barely cooked- about 1-2 minutes. Prepare a roux with 33g flour and 22g fat or butter. Slowly stir in approximately 750ml turkey or chicken stock. (You can use the liquid at the bottom of the pan too. ) Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms.

Serving the bird

Once out of the oven, leave the whole bird to rest for 5 minutes. Cut off the legs and wings, remove the stuffing to a separate bowl, and either slice the breast on the bird or remove the whole breast and slice on the platter.

And now to dessert….

This was also a desserty kind of Christmas. We had our friends, the V family up at our cottage after Christmas. English, they retain a very active interest in the best of the British culinary tradition, and nowhere is this more evident than at the dessert table with its proliferation of plum puddings, custards, fruitcakes and shortbreads. We had a go at all of them.

Plum puddings

I’ve made my own plum pudding for a number of years now. Its a variation of the Joy of Cooking recipe – but I soak the fruit in brandy several weeks ahead of time. This year I made an effort to follow the recipe pretty exactly, and I was not impressed with the result. It tasted ok, but the texture was a little  more akin to a gell. I had heard that R, their son, had likewise made a pudding, I thought “This good! Bring it on!”. He used the recipe from Delia Smith, the great British cooking maven. It was truly wonderful, so much better than what I had been using. Check it out at:

My own variation taken pretty directly from the Joy of Cooking is here:

The marination

2 c raisins

2 c currants

or mix of other dried fruit totaling 4 c

marinate in brandy/rum to cover and leave for a week. or two.

The pudding

Dry stuff:

combine in a bowl:

1.5 c all purpose flour 240g

8 oz ground or chopped beef suet 250g (butter can be substituted)

1.5 tsp cinnamon

1.5 tsp ground ginger

.5 tsp ground cloves

.5 tsp salt

1 tsp allspice

.5 tsp nutmeg

rub together until just blended

Wet stuff:

in a separate bowl whisk together

4 large eggs

1/3 c brandy

1/3 c sherry

Combining and cooking

stir wet mix into the flour mix and add

the marinated dried fruit

pour batter into prepared butttered mold, leaving 1 ” for expansion. I find this quantity works for 2 molds.

place on a trivet in a pot of water coming 2/3 up the side

simmer for 3 1/2 hrs

let stand 20 mins  – but then remove it from the mold.


We were talking about shortbread, and that led to a discussion of custard, because one of my treasured moments of childhood was shortbread dipped in hot custard. So while I was being introduced to Delia Smith, I wondered what she would have to say about custard. I found it easily enough at but when I looked carefully at it, I realized it was almost the same as Gordon Ramsay’s creme anglais recipe. The core difference is only the spoonful of cornflour. Admittedly its a big difference, but also not a lot either. Indeed Lindsey Dunne notes in her blog on Ramsay’s recipe: “Creme Anglaise is just a fancy term for home made custard.” She’s also the only version I’ve seen online of his recipe. Another key difference is that Ramsay insists on using a vanilla pod, not vanilla extract. His creme anglais also morphs into spectacular vanilla ice cream. However, I find there is too  much sugar for it to become properly texturized as ice cream. Not a huge deal – if you are doing it as ice cream, just add in another 250ml tup of whipping cream and you are there.

Michael Ruhlman’s treatment of this is quite delightful  – a few pokes at some of his bete noires  – but his proportions are quite different.

Compare then, these 4 ingredient lists for creme anglais. Rhulman has 2 in there because what he presents on his blog is not the same as what is presented in Ratio:


Gordon Ramsay  Delia Smith  Michael Ruhlman  (Blog) Michael Ruhlman  in Ratio
250mls whole milk 570ml double cream, single cream or milk 294 grams milk 250g 8 oz milk (1 cup)
250mls double cream 73.5 grams cream 250g 8 oz cream (1 cup)
50g caster sugar 50g golden caster sugar mixed with 1 level dessertspoon of cornflour 73.5 grams sugar 125g 4 oz sugar – @ .5 cup
1 vanilla pod, split 1 dessertspoon pure vanilla extract 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise 1 vanilla bean split or 1 tsp extract
6 large free range egg yolks 6 large egg yolks 59 grams egg yolk 125g 4 oz yolks ( about 7 large yolks)


It would definitely be an interesting project to try all 4 of these at the same time. I also wonder then, if America has more potent vanilla extract than Britain!

Their instructions offer an interesting lesson in procedural writing, and the editorial choices one makes writing up a recipe – How long? What manner of whisking? When do you add what? Here are their instructions  – side by side, with the like parts together. I’m particularly curious in the 2 Ruhlman sources as they are pretty different.


Ramsay Delia Smith Ruhlman’s blog Ruhlman’s book
Put the milk, double cream and 1 tbsp of the sugar into a heavy based saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add them to the pan. Heat until almost simmering. Then take off the heat. Place the cream in a pan over a gentle heat and heat it to just below simmering point, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Bring the milk, cream, and vanilla bean to a simmer in a saucepan, then remove the pan from the heat and let the bean steep for 10 minutes or longer. Meanwhile, set a bowl in ice and put a strainer in the bowl. Combine milk, cream, vanilla bean in a saucepan bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let bean steep 15 minutes.
Remove the bean, scrape out the seeds, and return them to the pot. Put the empty bean pod in your sugar bowl. With a paring knife, scrape seeds from the pod into the milk cream mixture.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until creamy. While the cream is heating, use a balloon whisk to whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour mixture and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a cloth underneath to steady it. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar thoroughly. Combine sugar and egg yolks and vigorously whisk for 30 seconds. Fill a large bowl of 50-50 ice/water and place a second bowl in the ice bath. Put a fine mesh strainer in the bowl.
Gradually pour the hot creamy milk onto the sugary yolks, whisking as you do so. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Then, whisking the egg mixture all the time with one hand, gradually pour the hot cream into the bowl. When it’s all in, immediately return the whole lot back to the saucepan using a rubber spatula. Bring the milk and cream back to a simmer. Pour about half of it into the yolks, whisking continuously, Over medium heat bring milk cream mix to a simmer then pour it into the yolks stirring continuously.
Stir the mixture over a low heat until the custard thickens enough to thinly coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil as it will curdle. Now back it goes on to the same gentle heat as you continue whisking until the custard is thick and smooth, which will happen as soon as it reaches simmering point. If you do overheat it and it looks grainy, don’t worry, just transfer it to a jug or bowl and continue to whisk until it becomes smooth again. Then pour it all back into the pan with the remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a rubber spatula (or flat-edged wood spoon) until the sauce thickens to nappe consistency (when you lift the spatula out, you can draw a finger through the sauce). Pour this mixture back into the pan and continue stirring over medium heat until mix is slightly thick. It should pour, but running a knife through it leaves a line
Remove from the heat and strain the custard again through a fine sieve into a cold bowl (unless you are serving it hot right away). Leave to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the custard into a jug or bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool. Pour it through the strainer into the bowl set in ice, and stir with the spatula until the sauce has cooled. pour sauce through the strainer into the bowl set in the ice bath, stir with spatula till cold. Refrigerate until ready for use.


The outlier recipes here appear to be Delia Smith’s (the cornflour, not pouring it at the end into an ice cold bowl) and the Ruhlman blog (the sugar, egg and cream quantity). I’m thinking that a combination of the Ramsay and Ruhlman Ratio will be my pick in the future.


We also made a fruitcake. R is a stickler for following recipes, right down to getting the presentation perfect, including the platform serving platter. His recipe came from a little book called BBc Goodfood 101 – Treats.  There are some ingredients that are rare to find in Canada, and honestly they can be substituted. It was a quite wonderful fruitcake. I could really appreciate the difference between it and plum pudding.

Stem ginger is the little root shoots that grow on gignger root removed and soaked in a very weet syrup. I find that as ginger its not particularly potent, and so I would use fresh grated ginger instead. I would also use small bits of dehydrated ginger as well.

Crystallized ginger refers to ginger cubes that have been partially dehydrated and coated in sugar. These are commonly available in Canada.

You could also peel and thin slice approximately 200g of fresh ginger and marinate it with 4g salt and 40g sugar overnight. This will produce a strong ginger syrup. You can then also cut the ginger root fine and use it in the recipe.

Mix together

100g each of sultanas, currants, raisins

225g each of prunes and figs, roughly chopped.

200g crystallized ginger, roughly chopped

100g stem ginger (in a jar with syrup)

2 tbs of stem ginger

4 tbs cointreau

1 tsp each of ground ginger and “spice mix” (equal parts allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon)

zest of 2 lemons

Heat oven to 285

The WET: Whisk together until light:

150 ml olive oil

175g light brown sugar

4 extra  large eggs

The DRY: Mix together

225g flour

1 tsp baking powder

Sift the flour/baking powder into the oil/sugar/egg mix

tip in and mix the dried fruit mix

Oil a 10″ springform pan & spread the batter into the pan. Bake for 2.5 hrs


Prepare the topping:

In a pan on low heat, combine

4 tbsp apricot jam

1 tbsp cointreau to make a syrup

when pan comes out, place on a serving platter, decorate it with dried or fresh  fruit and brush on the jam/cointreau syrup.


And lest we not forget shortbreads…..

I’ve tried a few different recipes, but the one my dad used to make is what I like to go with. He would have gotten his recipe from his mother, who in turn would have gotten it from Mrs. Lowrie’s Reliable Cooking – that 1906 historical gem that was Scotland’s home economics cookbook over 100 years ago. Its a very simple recipe: you cream sugar and butter, add in the flour, and pack down into a baking dish. A key ingredient is rice flour, which Ruhlman explains in his treatment of shortbread in Twenty, serves to limit  glutenizing of the flour. I didn’t have rice flour while we were there, so I substituted chickpea flour. It was not the same, but it made at least acceptable shortbread.

Here is my adaptation of the old recipe with gram weights:


180g flour

60g rice flour

125g butter

65g sugar


Oven to 350

Cream butter and sugar together

Mix in dry ingredients

Press parchment paper into a 9×9 baking dish, press shortbread dough into the pan – compact it as much as possible, use flat surfaces to press it down. Poke holes with a fork all over and then cut it to the desired size.

This quantity works for a 9×9 pan. The thickness is important. It should not be less than 1.5-2cm (1/2-3/4”) thick.

Bake 30-45 minutes. It should be a little brown on top. As soon as you begin to smell it its probably ready.

Allow to thoroughly cool.

But that is not all! There was yet two more yummy shortbread recipes on offer:

Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread

2 cups flour

pinch salt

1 cup pecan pieces (ground to powder)

Mix all together

1 cup unsalted butter  (at room temperature)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Cream together

Mix first mixture into second mixture.  Gather into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  Roll out slightly softened dough 1/4 inch thick between 2 pieces of waxed paper.  Cut into 11/2 – 2 inch shapes.

Bake in 300 degree oven on slightly greased sheets for 10-20 minutes.  (Lightly coloured)

And…. I am still waiting for the Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe. This is an amazing one. A shortbread base, with a sweet caramel crust in the middle and a layer of chocolate on top.



Sourdough freedom

What I love about what I am currently doing with sourdough is the freedom it gives me with respect to the time it takes, the amount of preferment or starter I use, and that how much bread I make is not terribly much a function of how much starter I have.
So for instance, yesterday morning I figured I wanted a loaf in the oven this morning. That is a 23-24 hour process. I had about 450g of preferment at 117% that was getting a little old. I decided to cut it in half to 200g, and then used my hydration chart to adjust the preferment/bulk flour ratio so it allowed for 1600g of dough which I wanted to get a loaf and some sandwich buns out of. With the same amount of preferment I could have done a 1000g loaf, or even made 2 loaves. I could have repeated my baguette experiment and made white bagutte loaves for last nights dinner too, by having them rise in a warmer environment. The one constraint would be that since the preferment is no longer its useful bubbly self, its best if only a little is used to ‘inoculate’ the flour and water into life slowly but surely.
Check my hydration chart out.

Its a ‘view only’ so to play with it you would need to download it as an excel file. Eventually once certain parameters become more consistent and stable I’d like to introduce lookup functions  to predict certain scenarios. But for the time being I’m pretty happy with how I am doing this.

There’s another chart too – referenced in the previous blog. Its more interactive – allowing inputs on preferment or starter weight, and hydration. It also contains a pancake formula – not quite mine.

Getting nerdy with sourdough

October 7 2014

The objective of this exercise is to develop a tool that can effectively calculate my sourdough timing using the ratios of flour and starter used.

I believe I’m going to make it one of those “as it unfolds” blogs  – a series of journal entries that chronicle the sequence my thinking and this experimentation takes me. If you are reading it because you clicked on a link from a sourdough website forum, well that is the whole idea. Yes I’d like traffic to my blog – if only for bragging rights – not that its particularly well subscribed – and that’s fine too. I also don’t want to bombard these forums with a ton of material either. That can get tedious – and while feedback is always welcome, I have also observed the presence of a milder subspecies – the sourdough troll.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about sourdough, its respect. There is such a myriad of ways to approach and do sourdough that there’s no one right way. My hydration log proves this.  So if someone has a different recipe, technique or timing than you,  respect it. Sure, ask questions “Why did you do X?” or “have you tried Y?” Even “That’s interesting. I would not have thought of doing it that way.”  But I would like to see those who pontificate as though their way is the only way – be a little more humble!

The spreadsheets

Next: the key to this is the spreadsheet. They started life as excel sheets, because excel is always easier and more robust to work with than google docs, but google docs is wonderful for web viewing and sharing. I offer you two sheets. The first is my all purpose hydration calculator that enables you to pop in key data and make a couple of choices. It then supplies your quantities. Generally it anticipates a 12 hour bulk rise at 21 degrees C.

On this I invite you to actively use it. You can control for quantity, and hydration. I have also added pages from my hydration log (the one below). To make sure it is not accidentally messed up, it only lets you enter data in the yellow highlight cells.

In all the spreadsheets, the cells you enter data in are all highlighted in yellow. Everything else is a formula of some kind or another, or else instructions. They are both works in progress, though the interval between Oct and December has been mainly to work out the bugs in the sheet, as well as trying out new stuff.

The second sheet  has viewing privileges but only I can edit. Its here: The GREY cells are instructions. the other colours are explained. There are 2 worksheets: one is for using a preferment, and the other is for using a starter directly for the bulk rise. This sheet  is what I have been working on and what I currently use to plan and cook bread.  If you want to give it a go, I would suggest you download it as an excel file. That will free up the locked cells, and you can mess around with it all you like.  If you come up with anything new and exciting, please let me know!

The October 22 experiment

What I wish to find out is the optimal  amount of time taken for the bulk rise to occur where the variable is the amount of flour added to a preferment at the bulk rise. Each batch had 60g of preferment that is at a 117% hydration level.

The preferment was prepared using equal weights of starter, flour and water. I used 100% organic bread flour uniquely for this experiment.  The final hydration level is between 65-70%.

My first task was to prepare a preferment. Yesterday I refreshed starter  – and its now in the fridge. I needed 720g of preferment in total thus 240g of starter.

This was followed by setting up 12 very tiny amounts of dough. These were placed in jars with label strips to mark how high the dough had risen.

The results were somewhat inconclusive. I had kept the amount of preferment the same, and only varied the flour. It meant that the sample that had 2x the amount of flour to preferment had a lot less flour and water than the one that was an 8:1 ratio. In the very small doughs I was not able to accurately measure the salt.

As a result of this I decided to do a further experiment. Instead of many samples of slightly differing ratios, I used 2 only: one sample at a 1.5:1 ratio (flour:starter) and also a 20:1 ratio. In these I kept the final loaf weight the same – about 400-500g – good for a single baguette. My prediction was that the 1.5:1 dough would develop quickly- in a few hours. Not so. After 5 hours it had barely moved. Most of its development came between 5-10 hours, and it continued to more slightly develop up to 13 hours. After shaping, it rose only slightly – not a surprise as I waited until it was no longer rising. In the oven, again not a surprise: it rose – with a tight crumb that was even throughout. The taste reflected the high ratio of starter.

The one that had a 20:1 ratio predictably did nothing for about 10 hours. Between the 10-15 hour mark it began to rise, and it continued to develop through hours 15-20.

Followup and in conclusion Dec 16 2014

I have come a long way and not written much  – at least on this. I have been busy honing my bread baking log spreadsheet though, and continuing to investigate the variables of temperature, starter, and time. Here in a nutshell is what I have learned:

  • Its a really good idea to get a wide cylindrical cookie jar – about 2 – 3 litres quantity. This is used to observe and measure the optimum time needed for a bulk rise at a given temperature  – in case you have not done this yet. This will give you baseline data you can use for future experimentation.
  • seemingly counterintuitive, if you have degraded or old starter/preferment, its best to use only a little, and have a considerably long (like 18 hours long) rising time. Look at it this way: A degraded starter means the yeast cells are dying and becoming inactive. If you use only a little (so the ratio of starter to flour is in the ballpark of 20:1) its like a starving colony all of a sudden getting more food than they can eat. And so they begin feasting on this seemingly endless quantity of food, and they begin to strengthen, and reproduce. It is very slow at first, but as the yeast reproduces it does indeed get very active, and after between 12-18 hours it is looking quite wonderful.
  • Temperature is so critical – well we knew that already. But what I was not doing was recording temperature in my log, and also working only with room temperature. At least it was all consistent. We all know the fridge is an amazing tool when you want fermentation to slow right down without killing it, but my discovery here is the wonder of the basement floor. In my house, it holds at a steady 13 degrees celsius when placed right over a drain hole – right between the fridge’s 4 degrees and the room’s 21 degrees. This solves the problem I was trying to solve earlier where I wanted to put the loaf right in the oven when I get up in the morning. The 13 degrees means that I get a good final rise overnight without it overproofing, and also without having to wait until the final rise comes out of a fridge to room temperature.
  • The proportion of starter to bulk rise flour can vary enormously. I’ve tried various ratios – from 1:3 (starter/preferment:flour) to 1:20. One day I’d like to try something like a tablespoon or about 10g to 800g of flour to see what happens. How far can this be pushed?
  • This is the kind of experimentation everyone ought to do on their own. My contribution is coming up with a chart that allows one to easily track it all, whether you use a preferment or starter as your initial point. Doing it  – especially when you vary only one variable at a time – will help you to really understand and master sourdough.
  • Using minimal amounts of starter or preferment means that you have more control over the flour mix in your final loaf. So for example: I use whole wheat (organic) flour for my starter and preferment. If I use a 3:1 ratio, it means that the whole wheat content will be significant, even if I added no WW flour to the bulk rise. If I use a 20:1 or 30:1 ratio I can do what is effectively a white flour loaf.
  • And finally: what I have wanted to do for 9 months is finally a reality: have hot bread for breakfast. Here’s how: 24 hours ahead: use  20:1 ratio of flour to starter. Leave to rise for 14- 26 hours in a 13 degree environment. stretch and fold and shape, then final rise for 6-7 hours in that same 13 degree environment. If its put together when you get up one morning, turn on the oven when you get up the next morning, slash, bake, and hot bread for breakfast.

The DIY mustard factory

Ever consider making your own artisanal mustard? Its easier than pie. Way easier.

Here’s how and why it works:


My notes – what I want to do today!

Prepared mustard is a combination of mustard, an acid based liquid (AKA vinegar) and flavoring – preferably liquid. And salt. Can’t forget that. What happens is that as the liquid is added to the crushed mustard and is absorbed by the mustard and their flavours combine. Since a highly significant part of the preparation is a vinegar of some kind, and that you are using more than a squirt of salt, most mustards will be perfectly happy outside the fridge.

The underlying formula is (by weight):

  • 1 part mustard
  • 1 part vinegar
  • 1 part flavoring
  • salt at 5% the weight of the mustard
  • sweetener is optional.

So drilling down a bit: I like to grind up whole mustard seeds, both brown and blonde, and use them in conjunction wtih yellow mustard powder. You can go anywhere you want with this, but you do have to grind up and break the whole seeds. You could even toast some of the seeds by heating a dry frying pan until its quite hot, throwing in the seeds and slamming a lid on right after, Once they star popping, take them off the heat. (Its sort of like popcorn)

You can use any kind of vinegar, from wine and wine vinegar to pickling vinegar. My preference is for apple cider vinegar as it is not too strong, and imparts a subtle sweetness to the mustard. You can also combine vinegars. Play with it!


My mise en scene


Always tare back to zero with each ingredient.


The initial slurry will be very wet until it is absorbed by the mustard.


Mustard can tend to overwhelm garlic. This is roasted garlic and I would add more fresh garlic to profile its taste better.



The flavoring you select gives the name to your mustard. For my basic, everyday Dijon style I use apple juice. Its sweet, not too strong flavour balances out the vinegar and mustard. Some other possible flavorings could include:

  • chutneys or jams you have available
  • roast garlic
  • horseradish
  • dried fruit (e.g. dates and apricots)
  • tomato products: sauce, dried tomato, paste, combinations of….

Salt should be 5% of the weight of the mustard you use. That said, you can experiment with more. At 5% you can’t really taste the salt, so don’t use less.

Sweetners are not part of the actual formula though they do tend to find their way into most mustards, either as a separate addition, or in the flavoring (chutneys and dried fruits for example). The stronger the vinegar base, the more sugar that will be needed to balance it. The right amount of sweetner can make or break the  mustard.

Useful weights

A 250 ml jar  – 1 cup – is the most common quantity that mustard is sold in. If you use 75g as your basic ratio weight (75g mustard, 75g vinegar, 75g liquid flavoring) you will get a cup of mustard.

Some final thoughts

  • Mustard is initially very strong and powerful in its taste but it will weaken in time. Therefore, when you taste and adjust, imagine it in its more integrated and slightly gentler form. Also, only make what you are likely to use over the following 2-3 months. The reason commercial mustard mild is because its been a long time between its preparation and your mouth.
  • Give it a couple of weeks for the flavours to mingle and for the mustard to settle down a bit.
  • If you have used a drier flavoring  – for example dried fruit, garlic or horseradish – you will need to add liquid to achieve the desired consistency. Do this after a day or so. You can use whatever you like: water, juice, even wine or beer.
  • On the other hand, after a day or two the hydration may be a little too much. To correct this add a little mustard powder and a pinch of salt.
  • One of the quickest ways of turning out a delicious predictable artisanal mustard is to use a favorite chutney as the flavour.
  • Do NOT, under circumstances bring your hands (which are likely to have some fresh mustard powder on them) in contact with the various orifices and mucous membranes of your body. Do not rub your eyes especially. It will be painful and you will need to rinse thoroughly. Latex gloves are strongly suggested.

My haul for today. With all the vinegar and salt I don’t waterbath them, so they can go in whatever jars are around.

Happy mustarding!