The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce [+ Video]

We should have posted The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe last year after we returned from Italy, but better late than never!


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background


We took a cooking class in Italy and I have to be honest with you, it was not our favorite. The food ended up really yummy, but the instruction was horrible. It was basically the chef flying through things himself, giving basic instruction, never letting the class join in until the very end for some quick pasta making, and at that point I was super over it.

Until he taught us the secret to authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce and we got to try it. I wanted to bathe in it. Cade already was. Ok, he wasn’t but I’m telling you, it was wonderful.

I can already read your mind, you’re wondering why we are so excited about spaghetti sauce, aren’t you? We actually aren’t, and I’m going to start at the very beginning, take you through the process and ingredients and then tell you the secret.

And no, it’s not cheese. Or fresh herbs. Ohhhhhh, thought you guessed it, didn’t you!


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce


What’s the Difference Between Spaghetti Sauce and Bolognese?

Is there a difference between spaghetti sauce and Bolognese sauce? They look and smell the same, but think about it, do they taste the same? In order to really break it down, we need to call spaghetti sauce by what it is more commonly known as, marinara sauce.

What is Marinara Sauce?

Marinara sauce is, at its simplest form, a tomato sauce, often with herbs and veggies like carrots and onion.

What is Bolognese?

Bolognese is primarily a meat based sauce, originating in Bologna, Italy. Bolognese has just a bit of tomato for flavor, while the rest is meat and the other liquids are generally wine and milk.

What Dishes Use Bolognese Sauce?

Bolognese is used on pasta or in lasagna. Ahhh now, you’re thinking about that meaty sauce, aren’t you?

Are Ragu and Bolognese the Same Thing?

The real answer is that they are different, but to be honest, other than the fact that one usually has a little less tomatoes and uses white versus red wine, I really don’t think they are all that different. We don’t drink alcohol, so it usually gets skipped in our recipes or a cooking wine is used, as in alcohol-free cooking wine. Sounds like we’d better go back to Italy and do some more investigating.

What’s in Bolognese Sauce?

For this authentic bolognese sauce recipe, you’ll need butter, olive oil, veggies (including both fresh and canned tomatoes), tomato sauce, ground beef and Italian sausage, heavy cream, milk, cooking white wine, herbs and spices, and our secret ingredient. More on that last ingredient in a bit! 

For the best bolognese recipe, I highly recommend buying the exact ingredients called for in the recipe card below. We’ve tested this recipe over and over again, and these precise ingredients make for the world’s best spaghetti bolognese. 

What Kind of Meat do You Use in Bolognese Sauce?

Traditionally, Italian Bolognese sauce is made with minced beef or pork. We really like the combination of beef and sausage as it’s a little more tricky to find all of the ground meats and make your own mixture like they did in Italy.


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce


How to Make Bolognese Sauce 

You may be surprised to learn that the toughest part about making authentic bolognese sauce is having the patience to let the sauce simmer for a few hours. No really, that’s the hardest part! 

  1. To make this Italian bolognese sauce, you first need to roast the fresh tomatoes. Once they’ve come out of the oven and have had time to cool a bit, blitz them up in a food processor to make tomato sauce. 
  2. Then, sauté diced carrots, onion, and celery in a little butter and olive oil. Add the garlic to the pan and continue cooking until tender. 
  3. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage in with the veggies and cook until browned.
  4. Once the meat has had time to brown, stir in the remaining ingredients and let the homemade bolognese sauce simmer for at least two hours, but up to an entire afternoon. 

If serving over pasta, keep reading to see our suggestions for which noodle shape you should buy. 


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce


The Best Pasta for Bolognese Sauce

This really shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it kind of is. The type of pasta you buy should match the sauce and recipe you’re making. For example, can you imagine eating macaroni and cheese with spaghetti noodles? Or Alfredo with macaroni noodles? It just feels wrong doesn’t it?

When you get into the red sauces, it seems like you can really mix up the pasta shapes, and that’s true, but really pasta recipes are best when you use a certain shape. It helps to catch the sauce in the right way and the flavor and texture should work together and not against each other.

Have you ever had penne with a really delicate sauce and felt like all you could taste was that hardy noodle? Point proven

Our Least Favorite Pasta for Bolognese


Penne is our least favorite pasta to use for bolognese sauce. I find the texture too thick and heavy, and the noodle isn’t wide enough to really capture the sauce. However, I must mention that it’s a typical shape that people enjoy for Ragu sauces so don’t skip it just because of us.


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background


Our Favorite Pasta Shapes for Ragu 

These are our favorite pasta shapes for Ragu sauces (try to read each one without saying it in your best Italian accent, I triple dog dare you). We’ve listed the pasta shapes in order that we like to eat them with a ragu or bolognese sauce.


Papperdelle pasta is a wider, flat egg noodle that is perfect for bolognese. This is actually what we ate it with, but in picture I had to switch to fettuccini as we were all out. It’s a light noodle, but has plenty of surface area for the heart meat sauce to sit on.


Fettuccini is a more common pasta shape than pappardelle, but they are practically the same thing. The fettuccini noodle is just slightly smaller, but still has better surface area for the sauce than a spaghetti noodle. Fettuccini is a Roman or Tuscan style of pasta that is also easy to make on your own pasta machine as that’s usually the size of pasta maker you receive.


Rigatoni is often mistaken as Penne, but they are not created equal. Rigatoni are a tube-shaped pasta. They are larger than penne and ziti, and sometimes are a little curved. Rigatoni usually have ridges down their length, sometimes spiraling around the tube.


Spaghetti isn’t usually a go-to for Bolognese as the meat just falls off of the noodles, but in a pinch, that’s the one we would choose. It’s a thin, long noodle, though not as thin as angel hair pasta.


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce


Can Bolognese Sauce be Made in Advance?

Oh heck yes!! Not only can Bolognese be made in advance, it should be!

Why? Because bolognese gets even better with time, so start that baby in the morning and simmer it all day long. Or make it the night before and store in the fridge, then reheat the next night for maximum flavor!

Bolognese sauce can be made ahead and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Can You Freeze Spaghetti Sauce?

Alright, we try to always answer the “can you freeze it” questions in these posts as we know a lot of you work hard on freezer meals. So what’s the answer? Of course!!!

I adore freezing red sauces, while I never freeze a cream sauce. Red sauces only get better with time while a white sauce will separate and gain too much water. The trick is always the same, please, please invest in a Food Saver. You will thank me all the days of your life. It’s worth it. The end.


A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background


Tips for the Best Bolognese Sauce

You’ve made it. This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for, what’s the secret to authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce?


We use the zest and just a squeeze of the juice in this traditional bolognese recipe. I know, you’re shocked, but it’s true. Try it and never look back. And no, you’re not going to taste the lemon at all.

Actually, there’s one more tip, use a red, not a white onion. It makes a difference, I promise.

You’ll also notice that other than the chopped parsley as garnish, and the bay leaves there aren’t herbs at all. Trust us, this is a meat sauce, not a marinara and you don’t need them.

Helpful Products for This Bolognese Recipe

  • A simple meat chopper — Only a few dollars and soooo worth it!
  • Le Creuset Dutch Oven — More than a few dollars, but worth the investment for durability and how your food cooks and tastes. Trust us. Put it on your Christmas list. 

Other Italian Sauce Recipes

Looking for more Italian Sauce recipes? Who doesn’t love Italian sauces!?  Make sure you try these out the next time you are making that Italian dish: 

Here are a few more yummy saucy pasta dishes that our family loves: 

More Decadent MAIN DISHES You Must Try:


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A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background
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The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe

We should have posted The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce Recipe last year after we returned from Italy, but better late than never!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 20 mins
Course: 100 + BEST Easy Beef Recipes for Dinner
Keyword: bolognese, italian, main dish, pasta, spaghetti
Servings: 12 -15
Calories: 314kcal
Author: Sweet Basil


  • 1 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
  • 2 Carrots minced
  • 2 Celery minced
  • 1 red onion minced
  • 6 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 lb ground beef higher fat
  • 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 2 cups of halved tomatoes
  • 2 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream *SEE NOTE
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • dash of cooking white wine *SEE NOTE
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese for serving


  • Heat an oven to 425 degrees.
  • Place 2 Cups of fresh tomatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and salt.
  • Roast for 20 minutes or until soft and charred bits are appearing.
  • Remove the tomatoes and set aside.
  • Once cooled a little, blend the tomatoes in a blender to make a tomato sauce.
  • In a Dutch Oven , over medium high heat, add the butter and oil. Once melted, add the carrots, celery, and onion.
  • Saute, stirring occasionally until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Add the ground beef and sausage and use a meat chopper (it's only $6 and worth every penny) to ground up the meat as it's cooking.
  • Once the meat is cooked, start adding all other ingredients.
  • Stir to combine and simmer for 2-3 hours or up to an entire afternoon.
  • Remove the bay leaves and serve with fresh pasta and fresh parmesan cheese.



You can use whole milk instead of the milk and cream You can use real white wine, we just don't drink so we don't have that. 😉


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 314kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 64mg | Sodium: 778mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g
Tried this recipe?Mention @OhSweetBasil or tag #OhSweetBasil!
A white pasta dish full of fettuccini loaded with authentic Italian Bolognese sauce and fresh parmesan cheese on top with garlic bread in the background

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Carrian Cheney

Lover of all things beautiful, good and delicious. Wife, mother, friend, foodie.

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127 comments on “The Secret to Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce [+ Video]”

  1. Does it have to be simmered for hours? mine burned at the bottom.. 😫

  2. I followed recipe exactly with exception of adding 1/2 cup chardonnay to cooked meat mixture. I let wine absorb and then added other ingredients. I made it night before I planned on serving it, as tomato based sauces always taste better next day.  And yes, I do believe lemon was the secret ingredient as it gave dish such a fresh flavor. Thanks for sharing!

  3. OMG this recipe is to die for!  But I did add a few ingredients (mostly because I had them around and needed to use them).  I added some bacon (cuz it’s, well, bacon), a few spicy peppers from my garden for some kick and a parm rind.  I was absolutely delicious!  Thank you so much for the recipe!

  4. What can I use in place of milk and cream, as my wife is lactose intolerant?

  5. This was amazing. I didn’t have white wine or roasted tomatoes, but followed the rest of the recipe. Cooked it for 2 hours using lamb mince and lamb sausage meat. Fantastic. Thanks for posting this recipe.

  6. This is really good! My wife can’t do citrus so I substituted champagne vinegar for the lemon juice, and about half-teaspoon of Sumac for the lemon zest. Great flavor!

  7. Question: What kind of tomatoes are you halving and roasting? Romas? Cherry? If Romas – about how many for “2 cups”? Thanks!

  8. On your video for Bolognese you add some ground herb that’s not listed under the ingredients. What is it? Does it make a difference in the recipe? 

  9. Can you simmer after preparing in a crockpot?? 

  10. This was amazing. I don’t usually comment on recipes, but this was great. Changes:

    1. Bison instead of beef. More savory/umami that way.
    2. Heck with the milk— .5 cup of cream FTW!
    3. In lieu of tomato sauce, smushed a 28oz can of San Marzanos.
    4. Added a bit of oregano.
    5. Served over shiritaki fettuccini for fewer carbs.

    Thanks for the great recipe!

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  12. My kids keep asking me to make bolognaise like the restaurants do! So I am going to try and make this today. My mouth was watering just reading it (should have had lunch first!).
    Ok, so I am in the UK and need to ask a few questions on the tomatoes. The roasted ones I can do, However, what is fire roasted tomatoes? May seem like a silly question, sorry! Is it just normal tinned tomatoes? Or is it sun dried tomatoes? Also, it says tomato sauce, do you mean ketup or puree?
    I have to get this right! Please help…… lol

    • Hi Stacey! These are great questions! The fire roasted tomatoes are in a can or tinned. You can find them by the other tinned tomatoes. It should say fire roasted on the label. The tomato sauce is pureed tomatoes. We would love to hear what you and your family think!

  13. My husband loves the Bolognese at one of our favorite restaurants. I’ve tried several recipes, but never been able to replicate it. This recipe comes very close and my husband loves it. Thank you.

  14. Got this simmering on the stove as I type this and just WOW!! The lemon zest adds SO much flavor!! Last time I made this I used wine and I am not a big fan. The lemon adds a freshness the wine lacks! Thank-you so much for sharing this little secret! It’s definitely a game changer!!

  15. I have been making Bolognese for many years as our family is a big fan of the dish – even before it started showing up on every menu. I just tried your recipe and I really love it. I definitely can taste the lemon ( of course I’m looking for it) and it is a huge addition. It’s that little bit of sour that that the sauce needs. I usually don’t use as much tomato product as this recipe calls for, and used a bit less in my rendition, but my hat is off, you have improved our Bolognese! Thank you

    Also, if time is not of the essence, slowly cooking the onion,celery,carrot combo low and slow for at least 30 mins. adds a nice bit of flavor

  16. Making it right now!

  17. I have cooked this a few times.. absolutely love it! I use chorizo in it for the sausage meat. Amazing! 

  18. I  substituted ground turkey and spicy Italian chicken sausage. It was awesome. Don’t get me wrong, it tastes great with beef but I have a friend that does not eat beef (their family is from India). I also added finely chopped red, yellow and green bell peppers to the sauce. Total yum. Try it sometime. You will be amazed. 

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  20. This was amazing and the frozen leftover sauce was just as tasty when we heated it up a couple months later!! I followed your recipe exactly. So good!!

  21. I made this yesterday for family Sunday dinner. My husband, who doesn’t care for pasta ate a huge plate! My home smelled delicious, like Sunday dinner should. So happy we have leftovers. Thank you for a bright & tasty sauce recipe.

  22. This looks amazing. Plan on making this for my daughter who just had my first grandson, It looks like Parsley is on it but I don’t see it in the receipt.

  23. Delicious!  I added crushed red pepper because I always add it to everything for spiciness.  I also threw in a rind of Parmesan.  Thank you for a great recipe!

  24. Do you simmer with the lid on or off?

  25. This. Is. Amazing. Thank you for posting. When we were in Italy last year (right when you made this post!!), the Bolognese and rigatoni was one of our favorite dishes. This is superb. I could have eaten the whole pot all afternoon while it simmered away. 

  26. What are the calories in one cup of the bolognese sauce?

  27. Maybe you can skip the boring anecdotes and other stuff and just get to the recipe. I would have like to try this but lost it in the scrolling.

    • That’s rude. She’s a blogger for a reason. Let people express themselves. Plus, if it’s that much work for you to scroll down through a post, you should find some bigger fish to fry.

    • Maybe you should buy a recipe book instead of looking up recipes on food blogs. Stop being rude. Guess you’ll be missing out on an amazing recipe!

    • Wow. Then buy a cookbook and don’t read a blog. Very rude. Move on

    • William, I just have to say…it’s amazing that you could scroll down and find the comments, which, by the way, are even lower than the recipe! 🤦‍♀️ 

  28. I made this with 2 variations: I used half slow roasted shredded pork and half sausage along with the beef. I also did not have fresh tomatoes so used crushed tomatoes. Used chardonnay, not cooking wine. I just tasted it after 2 and a half hours and it is amazing. Such an easy recipe and SO good. Saving it for tomorrow so it gets even better! Thanks for the recipe!

  29. Hi it’s looks declines! I’m hoping you can help clarify with the tomato sauce. 

    Do you use the raw tomatoes blended into a tomato sauce AND the 2 15 oz cans plus the fire roasted Tom can? 

  30. I disagree with your secret. I believe the secret is milk! Adding it just after the meat, and allowing it to bubble and simmer, absorb, breaking down the fats and proteins. Though I do add the lemon zest (I’ve even added orange zest, as well! Or a dash of lemon oil with my zest)
    That’s my only depart from Hazan’s recipe. And the bay leaf. I don’t understand why it isn’t in her recipe, but in Bugialli’s – another essential

  31. I disagree with your secret. I believe the secret is milk! Adding it just after the meat, and allowing it to bubble and simmer, absorb, breaking down the days and proteins. Though I do add the lemon zest (I’ve even added orange zest, as well! Or a dashof lemon oil with my zest)
    That’s my only depart from Hazan’,s recipe. And the bay leaf. I don’t understand why it isn’t in her recipe, but in Bugialli’s.

  32. I thought the secret was Grappa. You can’t make a good Bolognese without it.

  33. One of our favorites. This easy recipe turns out great every single time!

  34. I was so exhausted scrolling through all the ads, I gave up and went to a real cooking website

  35. I made this tonight and the whole family liked it!   It’s definitely something I will make again.   I used the lemon zest and just a quick squeeze for the lemon juice – couldn’t taste it at all.  

  36. I never buy cooking wine. It has salt in it and really just ruins it. The alcohol cooks out of the wine.

    • Oh my goodness, did you just use the title “authentic” and then add cooking wine instead of real wine? And then did you say the secret is lemon and then promise everyone that you really can’t taste it? The absolute Joy of tasting both those ingredients in cooking you managed to wipe out. I can feel chefs around the world cringing

  37. I’ve been searching for a great Bolognese recipe for about 10 years and finally found it. My family just finish this one and we loved it. I think it was a little garlic heavy with six clothes of garlic so I’ll try it with four cloves next time. I’ll also sweat the garlic before adding it to the mixture. I used marsala red cooking wine and it came out great. Even my two picky kids loved it.  I roasted 5 roma tomatoes for that part of the recipe.    Outstanding!!!!

  38. Hi I just made this a few hours ago.  I keep tasting it and all I can taste is lemon. I didn’t think I am supposed to taste the lemon. I used the the exact amount of lemon juice but used a little less of the lemon zest from watching your video. It has been simmering for 6 hours. I just turned it off.  Is there anything I could add to counter the lemon taste?  I used pork and 85% beef. 

  39. This is the best I now can be the Italian I was born to be …my mama born and raised in Italy lovin this

  40. If the tomatoes are halved, is 2 cups approx 2 whole tomatoes? I did see that you buy romas… thank you!

  41. Can you tell me at what point do you add the lemon? Step 10?

  42. Can you add the cream at the end ? I forgot to add with the other ingredients ….

  43. My family is from Bologna and I live very close to the city. If you ask any Italian in Bologna for spaghetti (pasta) Bolognese, they laugh at you. There is no such thing as (pasta) Bolognese. It is (pasta) in Ragù. REAL Ragù in Bologna is not made with beef, usually not made with sausage and is not red. The restaurants serve it the way you describe it because that is what the tourits are used to seeing (even those in cooking classes) and beef is much cheaper than pork and veal which is what the true recipe should contain.

    If you read the Bolognese dialect, I have a very good traditional recipe for (your choice of pasta) in Ragù. Try a little real Italian food. Your taste buds will thank you.

  44. Could we make this in a slow cooker? Sauteing the veggies in a pan first.

  45. This recipe looks Delicious!! Can’t wait to try it!! I really enjoy your Instagram posts and stories!!💗💗

  46. What do you mean by the following ingredients:
    2 15 oz tomato sauce
    1 15 oz fire roasted tomatoes

    Tomato sauce = canned tomatoes?  Ketchup?
    Fire roasted tomatoes – This is in addition to the earlier 2 cups of roasted tomatoes?

    • Hi Char! The tomato sauce is actual tomato sauce that is right by the tomato paste at the grocery store. The can of fire roasted tomatoes is in addition to the tomatoes you roast yourself and they can be found by the diced tomatoes. The can will actually say “fire roasted” on it. I hope that makes sense! Let me know if you need anything else clarified!

  47. I just scrolled through a standard bolognese recipe where someone took one of the ingredients and called it a secret. Clickbait much?

  48. I really liked your recipe, but also questioned the use of cooking wine, but it’s so generic and full of salt. Then when I read your response to a comment about this, saying you really didn’t know much about wine, it made me a skeptic. The right wine is essential in a lot of recipes. Cooking wine just falls short in so many ways. Before posting another recipe, you should be able to know red or white, sweet or dry. I hope you can brush up on wine for cooking before you post another recipe. I’m not trying to be snotty, but wine is a basic ingredient in Italian and French cooking.

  49. My husbands’s birthday is this weekend and he wants an Italian dinner for 12 people, two people are dairy free so will this sauce turn out without using the cream or milk? I can sub the butter but question the balance without using milk product.  Also just curious why you listed butter twice? Thanks

    • Yes, you can substitute for both of them. You could try unsweetened almond milk in place of the cream if you want. Thanks for the heads up on the butter. I need to remove the second one!

  50. Do you take peel and seeds off before or after roasting tomatoes? Surprised authentic recipe in Italy uses cooking wine… me that would be a huge difference compared to a good white wine. Even though you mentioned you don’t drink… would be better to print as a semi dry white wine unless they used a fruitier. Can you clarify the wine please. It makes a huge difference in taste. Thank you.

    • Hi Gisela! You can take the seeds out before roasting, but the skin is much easier to peel off after the roasting. We don’t know nearly enough about alcohol or wine to be able to offer any advice on that.

  51. This has been simmering all afternoon and the smell is amazing! I’ve taken a couple of samples to see if anymore salt or pepper is needed and OMG!!!!  I cannot wait for dinner time!!!!!!

  52. I made the classic mistake of not reading the entire recipe before I went to the grocery store so I have no fresh tomatoes but I do have canned fire roasted tomatoes. Think that would work?

  53. This looks great! What tomatoes did you use? Roma/plum, cherry, etc? Did you chop them or roast whole?

  54. love Bolognese, but haven’t made it in a while, so thank you for this recipe and reminder, so much better than a simple marinara, especially this time of year

  55. Love all these helpful hints and tricks!! I would never never thought to add some of these ingredients, but I can’t wait to try this! 🙂

  56. Great post. Loved learning about the lemon. My secret is using my own home made pork stock (no wine) for the 3-4 hours of simmering. Just a half to one cup at a time at a super low (just bubbling) simmer. At about hour 3.5 it magically turns velvety and creamy – though I never use cream in as in your recipe.

  57. I can’t wait to make this, sounds amazing. Do I use hot or sweet sausage??  I would hate to ruin this with the wrong one. Thank you. 

    • We just get the mild Italian sausage, but any sausage would be delicious depending what kind of flavor you want!

      • Thank you!  Also, what is the “2 cups of roasted tomatoes”?  Is that in a can or am I really roasting whole tomatoes and cutting up to make 2 cups?

      • Hi Rachael! Sorry for the confusion! It is 2 cups of tomatoes you roast yourself. I clarified the recipe in the directions. Thank you for helping us make that more clear!