June on the radio

When listening to Hot Chip's "I Feel Bonnie" I asked myself, who is this American voice? And what kind of accent is that exactly--West Virginia? Turns out it's Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and the track is a reworking/collaboration of the single "I Feel Better." It is 7+ minutes long and fantastic. Vintage Hot Chip sound, but with something a little extra special: listen here. May I also recommend the song "Taxi from the Airport," by Hot Chip drummer guy Grovesnor. It has a kind of SoCal-slash-Joe Jackson sound, like an intimate, slick, studio band. Delicious!

Finland! The Dø and Cats on Fire are Finnish bands I've just discovered. Both are very cool, which I do not think is a coincidence. As I say often on my show, I love Scandinavian pop, and am always excited to find examples that are not Swedish. Swedish pop is excellent of course, but it seems to predominate the few Scandinavian acts that make it to my backwater ears. I must remember to break out my map of electro-pop acts and add these two right next to Burning Hearts.

"Billie Holiday" is a UK bonus track from Miike Snow. It is rather more languid than the classic Miike Snow sound, which to me is slow synth-pop with optional plinky piano and dub soundz. Billie Holiday has a fading looping line going on that's very nice. Give it a listen at RCRD LBL.

!!! are a new-to-me interest. I first heard "Hello Is This Thing On?" over a year ago. It's great but I can't play it on my show because it has many F-bombs in it. Then I caught a video of them performing live. I was struck by their sheer energy, funk and exuberance. These are some cool mofos, and their sound is comfortable, even a bit 90s. Their new album Strange Weather, Isn't It? drops in August. Meanwhile you can download "AM/FM" if you sign up on their site.

I was avoiding Karen Elson only because she is Mrs. Jack White. I figured many other people would be appreciating her and I didn't have to get involved. But after reading an Interview interview with her talking to Charlotte Gainsbourg, I must admit she sounds like an interesting person in her own right (sorry I am such a fame bigot--if someone seems Too Famous I get all stand-offish). So I gave "The Ghost Who Walks" a listen. It's good! She has a good voice for what she's doing, which seems a little like death-folk-pop (this assessment based on that single song).

Oh Stars. You are back again with your luxe, your calme, your volupte. I am not sure what to think of the tracks I'm hearing off their new disc The Five Ghosts. They are very fine, but if I'd never heard of Stars before I would not become obsessed or anything. But perhaps everyone has heard of Stars before by now, and The Five Ghosts can be appreciated in proper context. (I still can't believe that the one time I saw Stars (at TT the Bears in Cambridge) there was NOBODY THERE. Probably 7 people attended the show. I drank at the bar with Chris Seligman after the show and bought a T-shirt from Amy Milan, that really really looked like it was a DIY job by the band itself. I have a feeling they don't do that any more.)



  • Future: Cut Copy
  • Laura Palmer's Prom: You Say Party! We Say Die!
  • Save It for Later: The English Beat
  • A Million Miles: Don Diablo
  • Crazy World: Ladyhawke
  • Harold T Wilkins or How to Wait for a Very Long Time: Fanfarlo
  • Happy Hour: The House Martins
  • Hey Nineteen: Steely Dan
  • Unstoppable: Santigold
  • Age of Consent: New Order
  • Sure Shot: Beastie Boys
  • White Sky: Vampire Weekend
  • O.N.E.: Yeasayer
  • Your Woman: Cats on Fire

Sourdough Tales: 40 seconds of kneading

In my sourdough projects I've been alternating starters, making a "spiked" family recipe one week (spiked means I add extra yeast), and a wild yeast recipe the other week. So far the family recipe is working out better, likely because the active new yeast helps perk everything up.

So 2 weeks ago when I made this family recipe bread it worked out very well. I got some tasty, attractive loaves. But 30 minutes of kneading to get the "windowpane" is simply too much for me. It makes my hands hurt. It wears me out. And it seems kind of insane and unnecessary. I started looking for a better way.

Enter Sourdough Companion (sourdough.com), an online community for sourdough freaks where they discuss and mull problems, share formulas, tutorials and slideshows, and basically help each other out and revel in the wonders and mysteries of sourdough making. A user called SourDom seems to have a lot of good advice, so this week I decided to follow SourDom's kneading tutorial. The crux: dough is only kneaded for 40 seconds, taking it 10 seconds at a time over the course of an hour.

OK, why does this work? I think I have made it very clear that I am not knowledgeable about baking science. What I think is going on is what William Alexander describes in 52 loaves--it's "autolysing." In short: The gluten develops when you just let the dough sit. So by letting it sit for periods of 10, 10, 10 and 30 minutes, I'm STILL developing gluten, even though I'm not madly kneading. Does that sound possible? It seemed to work! The crumb of this bread is pretty much the same as the one I baked 2 weeks ago and kneaded forever. Hurray.

This week I felt ready to break out the baguette pans. On long-term loan from mom--love these loaves!

Up next: testing my theory that feeding the wild yeast starter at a different point will help my drippy, flat dough.

My samosa challenge

This month I made from-scratch samosas. Since I was also attempting lamb vindaloo for Father's Day, I decided the samosas would be the side dish.

This is the first recipe I've tried from my new book, Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen.

(Thanks mom!)

Making these samosas actually involved 3 recipes--one for the pastry, one for the filling, and one for the tamarind-date dipping sauce. I made both the pastry and filling earlier in the day. The pastry is an easy combo of butter (supposed to be shortening, but I don't have any), flour, baking powder and water. The filling is vegetarian--cooked potato, peas, onion, ginger & dried spices (including cayenne & garam masala).

Potato filling in red bowl, pastry "log" in foreground

Wrapping the samosas was easy once I got started. You divide the dough into six chunks and roll each into a circle. Then, cut each circle in half.

Working with the straight edge, you twist one half of it around and seal it to the other half of the straight edge, creating a shallow cone.

Hold the cone in your hand with seam facing, and jam in 2 spoonfuls of filling.

Then fold the top of the cone to the near edge and seal.

I have misplaced my candy thermometer, so I just guessed when the oil was hot enough.

Tamarind date sauce is a nice sweet-sour dip for these. It has a little cumin and brown sugar in it, too.

Sauce is the dark blob to the right.

These samosas were OK. I think I could have added more spices (the recipe does say to taste the filling and adjust spices as needed--I left it mild). It makes 12 samosas and we only ate 2 each. I am tempted to say that it's a lot easier (and tastier) to just buy samosas--we can get them at the Saturday farmer's market or any day at the India Palace restaurant. However, if one is trying to be frugal, making your own seems cheaper and pretty satisfying. Here's my breakdown (note: I tend to overguesstimate).

2 potatoes $3
1/4 cup peas .50
spices .50
flour, butter 1.00
cooking oil 1.75

total for 12 samosas: 6.75, or about .56 each.

These were fun to try but I doubt I will make them again any time soon. For one thing there are so many other dumpling recipes in this book, I want to keep working my way through!

Other challenges this year:
January: Banh Mi
February: Kouign Amann
March: Croque Monsieur
April: Sourdough bread
May: Chop

Aglio e olio: Dinner for one

First nasturtium

I had most of the day to myself today. This hasn't happened in almost 4 years. It is very exciting! First I had a hair appointment, then I got a massage, then I had snacks and read about Versailles, then a nap! Next I listened to music of Versailles (Lully, to help me picture what I'd been reading) while working on mise en place for Father's Day food. Then I started to wonder... if I'm by myself and don't have to cater to anybody's food aversions and pickiness, what should I eat for dinner?

Part of the mise I prepared was one head's worth of crushed garlic. This gave me an idea; I'd make aglio e olio. I'd simply reheat some pasta, and add tons of garlic and oil.

There would be nobody to think that this plain pasta was not much of a dinner, or who might find the garlic too spicy.

I picked some fresh herbs to add flavor--flat parsley and basil.

I heated some olive oil, threw in cooked leftover fusilli and the herbs. I also put a bit of water in the pan. Covered and let heat for about 3 minutes.

I thought I'd mix it with ricotta, for protein.

I also drizzled hempseed oil on top (Omega fatty acids!) and put on lots of pepper and probably too much salt. It was pretty good! The ricotta was unnecessary, but fine.

For dessert, leftover strawberry shortcake from a special party. DELICIOUS! (Thanks CPR & NP, you know who you are!)

It's fun to eat differently--no restrictions and also no expectations. Reminds me of my bachelorette days when I would eat a nature burger with feta cheese for dinner almost every single day. How about you: if there are usually people around in your home, what do you change when you eat alone?

My sourdough needs more kneading

Since my Sourdough challenge at the end of April I have baked 6 batches of bread. The fifth was probably the worst--I forgot to add salt at the proper point and I messed around with both the starter amount and yeast amount. The result was tasteless, shapeless and hockey puck-y.

One problem I keep having is that my bread flattens out during the final rise. I shape it into a nice loaf, but when I put it on a baking sheet to double in size, it oozes sideways instead of rising up. The results would be good for muffaletta I guess, but that's not what I'm going for. I want my loaf to look like I got it at the bakery! I want it to rise in all directions!

I watched this Peter Reinhart video (author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice which I rave about in my Sweet on Sourdough post) about shaping boules (aka round loaves). I thought maybe I wasn't getting enough surface tension on my loaves, so I tried folding things in toward the center more during shaping.

No dice. The bread still flattened out sideways. Next I considered another Reinhart video about stretching and folding a very runny dough to give it more volume. I tried the stretch and fold technique after the first rise and before shaping and the second rise.

Again, no dice. Same flat loaves. (I'm not implying here that Reinhart is instructing us wrong--not at all! I just think I'm applying his techniques without really understanding them.) All this time, though, I had a sneaking suspicion that my problem was actually much earlier in the process. Maybe I wasn't kneading the dough enough in the first place. It's during kneading that gluten is developed after all, and the gluten strands are what give the bread its shape and allow the yeast bubbles to puff up the whole structure. I knew for a fact that the "windowpane test" is recommended for beginners who wonder if they're kneading long enough. The idea is that you can tell if your gluten is at a good point by trying to stretch a small piece of dough after kneading. If it stretches nicely so you can see light through the resulting membrane, you're done kneading. If it breaks, though, you have to knead some more. Whenever I tried this test, my dough always broke. But then I'd lose patience and give up. "Whatever," I would think. Maybe I was thinking wrong.

Today is baking day for batch 7. I got up early to find some videos about kneading. This one, using a flashlight to drive home that you can SEE THROUGH the stretched windowpane, really emphasized that I need to work on this before I try any more funky shaping techniques. If I'm not getting my gluten right in the first place, it doesn't matter what kind of tension or shape I try to create later. I won't have the structure to hold it up.

Kneading until I got a windowpane (and it wasn't a great one, but I was starting to pass out from kneading) took HALF AN HOUR. I was a sweaty mess by the time I set that thing to rise. I tried different kneading techniques along the way, including an elongating, pressing motion followed by a fold-and-turn that may or may not have been effective. BUT. The boule that I made actually held its shape during the second rise. It remaining round and perky and did not seep and deflate like in previous weeks. I think I'm onto something here! (Like... following the directions correctly!)

A few notes:
Although it felt naughty to introduce other variables as well, I couldn't resist also doing 2 sets of stretching and folding during the first rise. My inspiration was some excellent videos from the Back Home Bakery. Mark Sinclair (here's his Youtube channel) demonstrates that this volumizing technique is done during the first rise, not after as I'd tried before.

I also tried a "pre-shaping" step (which Peter Reinhart seems to call "benching" in his book). To pre-shape, I basically shaped the pieces the way I wanted them, left them for about 20 minutes, then shaped them all over again. The idea seems to be to double the surface tension, and I believe the "rest" between shapings helps the gluten do its thing. (It also re-animates the yeast a bit I think.) It is not bad to "degas" or punch down the bread quite a bit at this pre-shaping step, because the yeast gets a fresh chance to work during the second rise, or proofing, step. (Reinhart points out that this is literally about "proof" that the yeast is active enough to do its job.) Pre-shaping is in this Back Home Bakery video, which I love.

Also, my mom heard an NPR piece about the new book 52 Loaves, about a guy (William Alexander) who baked bread every week for a year to really figure out how to do it. (Sounds familiar!) This is the same fellow who wrote The $64 Tomato, by the way. I checked out the book's web site and he also has a kneading video. But I'm not sure what to think about it. He says he lets the dough "autolyse" (develop gluten) by letting it sit for a bit after mixing but before kneading. He says that then he only needs to knead it for 5-7 minutes. He also says he knows it's ready when his hands are really sticky and "webbed" with dough. This is where I'm skeptical. In the Back Home Bakery video, the guys hands are perfectly clean, and the dough isn't sticking to anything. There's also a French bread video where the baker explains (and shows!) that it takes him 20 minutes of WHAMMING the bread on a metal table to get it to the smooth point that he wants. His dough isn't sticking to anything either. And after just a few minutes of kneading, neither was mine. Once I'd reached some flour saturation point, I didn't need to add any more but could just knead... and knead... and knead. And knead. So for now, I'm going to stick with my windowpane test, and try to knead properly. The results are really gratifying.

My first really decent loaf--I am so proud.

One last thing--I got me a lame!! (That is a French word, so probably pronounced "lamm.") It's the razor-sharp blade used to score the top of a loaf just before baking. I tried several different knives, serrated, sharp, etc, but they were all horrible and either wouldn't cut at all or dragged the dough in a crude hacking manner. I spent $1.79 at the hardware store on this item. Perhaps it is not food grade, but... whatever.

Grandma's Chocolate Cake

It was a weekend afternoon and getting to be that special time when I needed something chocolatey. This has been happening a lot lately. One of my favorite fixes is to walk to the corner store a block away and buy a delicious ice cream bar coated in rich, dark, fall-apart chocolate. (They also stock a mocha kind.) On a hot afternoon, one of these (plus maybe an iced tea) is pretty much the key to happiness. They only cost about $3.

However, it was also "starve week," which is what we call the last week before my monthly paycheck. This is the week when we usually have NO CASH to spare. I had already diligently composed my weekend shopping list and budgeted for each and every item on the list. I figured I'd need $49 to buy all our groceries for the week. I checked my wallet and found $50. All of it was from the family grocery fund (meaning none of it was technically mine). Should I blow three bucks of our grocery money on the short-term bliss of an ice cream bar? Or should I somehow contain myself and find chocolate closer to home?

Grammie's chocolate cake recipe to the rescue!

Grammie is my mother-in-law, and a gifted baker. She is known for her French bread, her foccaccia, her scones, and she recently shared this super-simple cake recipe. She calls it "Grandma's Chocolate Cake"... so I think it's from her grandmother. It is so easy and very satisfying. Basically, you just dump everything together and bake. Best of all, it calls for things that I already had on hand.

  • 1 stick of butter, cut up (can be soft or cold--I used cold)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1/2 c dry cocoa powder (I used Dutch process)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups white flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup whole milk combined with 1/2 cup hot water

  1. Put all ingredients in a food processor. Blend. Scrape the sides and continue blending until everything is combined (for me, this was when the chunks of cold butter disappeared).
  2. Pour into a buttered, floured tube pan or bundt pan.
  3. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 25 minutes. Test for doneness. Bake more if needed. (I did need about another 10 minutes.)
  4. Cool. If desired, top with confectioner's sugar.
  5. Serve. Excellent with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

What do you do for your chocolate fix? I've heard that the microwave mini-cake in a mug is pretty quick and easy, for example!