Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours Hardcover – Mar 1 2010
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I bought two copies of her book and gave one to a baker friend. I've had it two weeks and have made five things: cast-iron flatbread, corn gruyère muffins, cheddar biscuits, sand cookies, and tonight the olive oil bread. All of them have been fantastic. I made the flatbread and asked my boyfriend to make some kind of fajitas with it, and he did and we were in heaven. We took Kim's suggestion on the muffins and he made chili to go with them. A couple of nights ago I made the sand cookies at midnight and making them without a bowl or utensils was like a meditation. Only your hands and it really looked and felt like sand. Was a wonderful experience and would be fun for kids learning how to bake.
Tonight I made the olive oil cake with rosemary and bittersweet chocolate. Was crazy good, like a cross between bread and cake. I really can't stand super sweet things so this was perfect. My housemate, who has tried all of them, said it was the best so far, and she has been raving the whole time. She gave me notice she was moving out before I got the book but said I was making it really hard to leave with all this baking I'm doing! Oh, and I forgot to mention that before I started on the first recipe, I went out and bought all the flours she uses in the book, so I would be prepared. I'm just so excited to keep baking, and to try the next recipe. She is really creative and has clearly put a lot of thought into this book.
I have so much anticipation for each recipe because they are all consistently wonderful. As soon as I finish one, in my mind I say, "Ok, which one will I make next?" I'm possessed with the new desire to bake, and all my friends love it. My only criticism would be that she doesn't mention how many each recipe will serve, but I do love the way she clearly puts out the ingredients and separates them into "wet mix" and "dry mix". I'm totally hooked and can't wait to make ALL the recipes, and then buy her next book!
The book is beautifully designed and photographed, with a clarity that reflects the author's encouraging voice as well as the mission of understanding each of the grains and how to use them. No showy, architectural baked goods here: most fall more toward the homey, rustic end of the spectrum, and thus the book is ideal for the beginning baker as well as the experienced.
The two recipes I've made so far have both been easy and delicious: buckwheat-pear pancakes and wholewheat chocolate chip cookies (the latter remained chewy for three days on my counter; they're so good they may replace my longtime favorite recipe).
As good as the book is, I'm docking it a star because the author has chosen to eschew weight measurements. I know my aversion to volume-measuring-only baking is a pet peeve, but I find it incomprehensible that people spend years of their lives writing a baking book and testing the recipes to make sure they are reliable - and then they don't reveal how much a cup of the flour they use in their recipes weighs. And as experienced bakers know, a cup of flour can vary tremendously depending on the volume method you use to measure it (dip-and-sweep versus spoon-and sweep versus sifting, and so on). And such variances can mean the difference between, say, a dry cake and a perfectly moist one. And not only is accuracy gained by weighing ingredients, it is extremely more efficient - you can place one bowl on the scale and add numerous ingredients directly to it rather than juggling various measuring cups and spoons.
The author offers this veiled apology in the introduction for not weighing the ingredients: "A note on scales. They are the most accurate way to bake, as they yield precise measurements each time. However, since many people don't own scales, myself included, in this book you will find measurements using cups and spoons." In other words, she is dumbing down her recipes because there is a perceived notion (probably her editor's) that most people don't use scales. (And seriously? A former Spago pastry chef doesn't own a food scale? Pastry chefs' lives depend on weighing food.) I know that more and more baking books are including at least the weights of flour in their recipes (see Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More), and the plethora of digital scales in cooking catalogues is also another sign that Americans are finally coming to their senses on this issue. In any event, if she or her editor did not wish to include a weight for ingredients in every recipe, how difficult would it have been to include a half-page chart in the back of the book listing the various weights for buckwheat, teff, spelt, whole wheat, brown sugar, and so on? (As it turns out, the King Arthur whole-grains book does have a lengthy list of such weights, and so I have been using that as a reference; but of course the King Arthur weights do not necessarily reflect how this author would arrive at a cup of this or that.)
That issue aside, I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to explore whole-grain baking.