Le pain au levain fait main/ Handmade sourdough bread

First bread baked in the oven of Sainte Anne since before COVID-19.

I have hesitated all summer long to bake a load of bread in our precious oven. For one, I haven’t baked in it since the summer of 2019. I have heated it up a few times with small fires just to “season” the bricks but not wanting to shock them with a full-blown fire of 250 degrees Celsius. To heat up the oven is a commitment of resources that one should never waste – mainly wheat and wood. I finally pushed myself to get going again though still in a smaller way than will become the norm. I made 10 loaves of approximately 1 kilo each – enough to justify getting back “online” but not too much in case the bread didn’t turn out as hoped for.

Le pétrin – placed in line with the morning sun to help warm it. I can make 50 kilos of bread at a time in this pétrin.

I got up at 3:45 AM to get my levain started. I had been experimenting with different flours for the leaven over the summer and had a lot of poor results. I keep some very dense sourdough starter in the fridge and have no real difficulty waking it up. It usually takes me about 5-6 hours for the starter to bring the leaven to full bloom, ready to make bread. I made 1 kilo of leaven for this batch of 10 loaves.

Top: 3.25 liters of water with 80 gm sea salt. Middle: 5 kilos bread flour with seeds. Bottom: 1 kg of leaven.

Time to mix it up.

Once the ingredients are mixed together in an homogenous, lumpy, sticky mass, give it a few gentle pats, cover with a towel and let rest for about 40 minutes. Now, the rest of my day is planned:

  • 4:00 AM prepare the leaven, go back to sleep
  • 9:30 AM Leaven is ready. Measure flour, salt, warm water
  • 9:45 AM mix dough, let rest 40 minutes
  • 10:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 12:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 1:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 2:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 3:00 PM divide the dough into 1 kg portions and shape the dough into tight balls. Place in individual baskets and cover with a towel. If the outer skin holds the tension during this process, then the dough should be strong enough to hold together as it continues to ferment and expand.
  • Prepare the wood-fired oven during the bread’s final fermentation. It takes about 3 hours to bring our 2 meter diameter oven up to temp. When the soot from the burning wood falls off of the bricks and the oven is clean again, remove all wood and embers, and clean the floor of the oven with a very wet towel. This hydrates the oven to prevent the crust from forming too early which allow more moisture to escape the dough. Once this is done, close the oven door for a few minutes to allow the heat to distribute evenly.
  • 6:30 PM If the bread has done its job and doubled in volume and is ready for the oven.
  • 6:30-7:30 PM Baking bread. One hour should be enough. However, test a loaf to see if it’s ready or not. I tested this load of bread and they were not ready. I left them in for another 30 minutes. AS IT TURNS OUT, I hadn’t closed the oven door really well and I lost some heat. In the end, the bread came out nicely cooked through and through.
  • 8:00 PM Put the bread in a safe place and wait til morning to enjoy it.
Sourdough, butter, honey. What a beautiful day. Merci, Dieu.

Lasagna with beef and béchamel – Slow Food heaven.

Traditional lasagna – slow food heaven!

Make this dish for someone you love. If you can, make it with someone you love. Plan ahead. Don’t do this in a rush. So many recipes on the Internet catch our attention with titles that say, “easy”, “quick”, “in less than an hour.” Throw those quick and easy ideas to the wind and embrace the slow, rewarding process of making something wonderful that can’t be done on the run. Then take the time to share this together. Tell the world to stop. Yes. Tell it to stop while you share this meal. You’ll be oh so glad you did.

My daughter and I slowly put this dish together over three days. Not that we had to or that we planned it that way. We just kept being busy with other chores and not having enough time to make this dish all at once and do it the way we wanted – making everything from scratch.

We all can get in a rush, have “so many things to do,” be too tired to cook, etc. But I’ve learned that such a busy life doesn’t mean we can’t do some things that require time and patience. Allz you need to do is look ahead and “do a bit right now,” and, “do a bit a little later.” That’s what we did with this luscious lasagna.


  • Sunday evening: Made a double batch of beef ragù – Mom’s recipe
    • for fettuccini Sunday evening (reserve leftover in the fridge)
    • for Lasagna… sometime later, not sure when, but soon-ish
  • Monday evening: Make the lasagna noodles……. let dry overnight
  • Tuesday morning – today’s the day !!!
    • 6:30 AM take the ragù from the fridge; adjust by adding bay leaves, red wine, a bit more salt. let simmer for 2.5 hours with uncovered lid
    • While the ragù is simmering, begin making grape jelly before the bees eat all of the grapes. 11:15 AM – make béchamel
    • 11:30 AM – Assemble the lasagne and put in the oven
    • Lunch at 1 PM


Handmade pasta

Ingredients for Pasta (For a medium-size lasagna)

  • 400 g AP Flour
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk (for structure)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Method: We did this in a large bowl just to keep things from getting too messy. We cracked and mixed the eggs in a separate bowl and then poured them into the flour. Mix by hand. Add oil as needed to respond to wet/dry ratio coming from egg size and flour quality. I have always found that using olive helps to create a wonderful pasta dough, easy to manage in a hand-crank machine, supple and sturdy.

RAGÙ – family recipe (not quite typical). No quantities are given here. My daughter was in charge of this while I was elsewhere. Truth be told, quantities are not very important. Follow you instincts and the size of your pot.

Ingredients for “our ragù” – It’s all about flavor and texture that pleases you.

  • ground beef
  • fresh tomatoes from the garden that needed to be used before going bad (blanched and peeled) and canned tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • tomato paste (no more than a tablespoon)
  • aubergines (diced)/ eggplant
  • mushrooms (your favorite ones; make it earthy)
  • basil, thyme, bay leaf (2 or3)
  • red wine (enough for body and flavor, not for volume)
  • salt …….. NO PEPPER (Can you believe that? No pepper? My daughter insisted. Results were amazing.)

Method: Begin on medium high heat.Brown the ground beef. Then add the diced eggplant and mushrooms. Allow these to loose water and soften. Then add the herbs and let them warm up. Next, get those tomatoes in there with all their juice. Lastly, heat the wine to get rid of the alcohol then add it to the mix. Turn the heat down LOW. Leave the LID OFF and allow the ragù to slowly melt together, thicken and bring the flavors together. Yes. Easily 2 hours. AS WE DID, this can be made 1 or 2 days in advance if that works best with your schedule. TEXTURE: This ragù was quite chunky. Great for spaghetti or tagliatelle, but not for a multilayered lasagna. So, I took an old fashioned potato masher and mashed big time. This allowed for thin, even layers of ragù between each layer of pasta.



  • 35 g butter
  • 35 g AP flour
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
  • nutmeg (a very generous pinch)
  • salt to taste


Melt the butter the add the flour and stir using a whisk. Allow the mixture to bubble and to change a yellowish color, a minute or two. Begin pouring in milk a little bit a a time followed by vigorous whisking. Keep the sauce on the stove at a low heat, stirring occasionally, allowing it to thicken. When the sauces reaches an almost lumpy consistency, remove it from the fire and cover it until ready to use..


  • Spray your container with oil
  • Cover the bottom of your container with a thin layer of ragù.
  • Then make the following repetitive layers until all ragù and béchamel is used.
    • pasta
    • ragù
    • béchamel
    • pasta, etc.
  • TOPPING – Be sparing with the sauce at each layer. Cover the pasta completely, but thinly. The top should receive a generous layer of béchamel PLUS some other melting cheese. Mozzarella is the most traditional choice. We didn’t have any on hand and substituted emmenthal and conté. It was wonderful.

BAKING: Place in an oven at 200 degree Celsius for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Coq en croûte

When my daughter saw this dish come from the oven, she said it looked like Beef Wellington. The idea was spot on, but this is about a rooster, not a bovine.

Breast of a coq in puff pastry

This recipe is based on things I had on hand and what I hoped would work. ON HAND:

  • Breasts of a large old rooster marinated in red wine for 48 hours. (Part of a Coq au vin i was preparing but not destined for the long braise of that recipe.)
  • Puff pastry that I had made for the Tourtière limousine.
  • Tomato paste with Italian spices.
  • Emmental (“Swiss”) cheese
Coq with elements of the marinade: red wine, fresh rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, celery, carrots.
Breasts after 48 hours in the red wine marinade (in the refrigerator); split with emmenthal cheese inside).

The breasts of any fowl would work fine – chicken, turkey, Guinée hen or rooster, etc. I would suggest some kind of marinade. It doesn’t have to be the one I used. Lots of other flavor profiles are possible. A marinade is meant primarily to guarantee a moist and tender breast.

One recipe of quick puff pastry (Bruno Albouze) divided in thirds – I still have 1/3 left for another “something” to come.

With the breasts ready to be tucked away in their flaky, buttery bed, take the puff pastry from the fridge, roll it out (generously using flour to prevent sticking) and spread your paste all round, leaving the edges clean so that the pastry sticks together when folded. I used an herbal tomato paste. A pesto would also be an amazing choice.

After applying the paste (plus adding salt and freshly cracked black pepper), wrap each breast in the pastry. You should wet the edges of the pastry so that it holds together.
Brush the pastry with an egg wash (one egg with yolk and white) and score with a knife with a design of your choice)

Place in a a preheated oven at 375-400 F / 200C. Check at about 20 minutes. Cover with foil and let bake 10 minutes more. Thirty minutes total should enough for this moist, buttery, flaky dish. It certainly was for us.

Menu: Tomates au basilique et l’huile d’olive, Coq en croûte, polenta. Wine? We had a Chardonnay but an Italian red would work well.

Bon appétit à tous.

Coq en croûte

Tourtière limousine (Pâté de pommes de terre et de la viande)

This is one variation of a traditional, savory dish in the Limousine region of France. It may be made with or without a layer of meat (pork) between two layers of potatoes and cream and the crust may be either a brioche or puff pastry. This tourtière is made with a puff pastry and a layer of ground pork between the sheets of potato.

Tourtière limousine

This is supposed to be peasant food. If peasants ate this well, count me in. Butter in a flaky crust, potatoes covered in cream, ground pork seasoned with shallots and a hint of garlic. [A Texan is probably thinking biscuits and gravy with pork sausage and potatoes on the side at this point.]

Why this recipe today? Well, I’ve been hungry to cook more, I had a very light breakfast, and I’ve been dying to use a bunch of the chives that have been thriving this summer.

Garden fresh chives

Let’s get to it: Ingredients

  • Puff pastry- one recipe according to this one by Bruno Albouze
  • 1 egg (to use as egg wash)
  • 750 g of potatoes (Yukon Gold might be the best option)
  • 250 ml heavy cream (or a reduced fat cream but not milk)
  • 300 g ground, unseasoned pork
  • Fresh chives – be generous; finely chopped
  • 2 shallots or 1 medium white onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • Ground nutmeg – fresh is always best
  • (Sea)Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sausage et al.

Process: Puff pastry + 25 min prep other ingredients + 30-40 min baking

  • Make the “Quick Puff Pastry” – this takes a couple of hours. A good idea to make this a day or more in advance. Once this is done, this recipe comes together quickly and easily.
Quick Puff Pastry (Bruno Albouze)
  • The potatoes…
  • Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, peal and slice the potatoes into thin rounds (using a mandolin if you have one)
  • Place the potatoes in the boiling water for about 4 minutes. You want them partially cooked but slightly firm for the process to follow.
  • Meanwhile, in a small/medium sized bowl mix the cream, chives, nutmeg and salt (no black pepper) for the potatoes.
  • Drain the potatoes. In a larger mixing bowl, cover the bottom with the cream mixture, add some of the potatoes, then a bit more cream, more potatoes, the rest of the cream. [Why so fussy about this step? You want to evenly evenly coat the potato slices with the sauce without breaking them. This is how I did it.]
  • The ground pork….
  • Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan on medium heat
  • Add the shallots; when translucent (don’t let them brown) add the garlic stirring frequently until fragrant.
  • Add the sausage meat, mix and stir until brown.
  • Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.
  • Assembly required:
  • Grease (butter or oil) a 9” or 22 cm tart/cake pan that has sides of 1.5 to 2 inches.
  • Remove your puff pastry from the fridge
  • Divide the pastry 2/3 (bottom and sides) and 1/3 (top) and roll out as quickly as possible
  • Fit the bottom sheet in your pan and begin layering your ingredients…
  • 1/2 of the potatoes, then all of the sausage, then the rest of the potatoes
  • Lastly….
  • Whisk the egg and brush the edges of the pastry to help seal the top to the bottom sheet.
  • Place the top sheet on the tourtière, trim any excess pastry and crimp the edges together.
  • Brush the entire surface with egg wash
  • Score the surface with a knife to create a design if you’d like to
  • Pierce the pastry in several places with a toothpick to let steam escape
  • Cut a small circle out of the center of the pastry to let steam escape

Place in your preheated oven at 190C or 375F for 35-40 minutes. Check on the tourtière at 30 minutes to make sure the crust is not over-browning. You may want to lay a piece of aluminum foil over it to protect the pastry. (I did.) At 40 minutes it should be done. Bring it out of the oven and LET IT COOL for at least thirty minutes before cutting into it. It needs this in order to hold together, for more steam to escape and for the cream to thicken.

A red Bordeaux wine is often suggested to pair with this. On this beautiful sunny day in France, I went with an inexpensive rosé and was not disappointed. Actually, after the first bite of that buttery crust, I couldn’t think about much else.
À la prochaine.