Awhile back-- a long while back now, it seems--the nice people at Abrams sent me this gorgeous book for review.
I was excited. For one thing, the photos are really sensational. I found myself salivating at the sight of deep fuchsia beet and quinoa pancakes--when in reality, beet and quinoa pancakes don't sound good to me. I was equally enamored of the beautiful Apricot Boysenberry Tarts in the cover shot.
But a cookbook can't be just enticing photographs. There are far too many of these out there, in my opinion--oversized, glossy tomes that should just be set on your coffee table while you serve dessert baked from a real cookbook.
Good to the Grain, however, is the real thing. The recipes are serious. Kim Boyce is a former pastry chef at Spago and Campanile in L.A. She's clearly earned her good reputation, which is underscored by a glowing foreward from Nancy Silverton. Boyce writes in a thoughtful way, and it's evident that she's invested years in perfecting these recipes. We're lucky she's shared them with us--and her techniques, too, honed through years of working in professional kitchens.
I'll admit that I was biased against the book from the beginning for the plain fact that I don't generally have a high opinion of cookies and cakes made with whole grains. They are often leaden and dull and what they hold in virtue they often lack in flavor. But Kim's recipes were not the familiar 25-grain bread and harvest hockeypuck selection. On the contrary, her recipes called to me. Corn and Gruyere Muffins? Iced Oatmeal Cookies? Sign me up. And I've been fantasizing about her Muscovado Sugar Cake for months now.
I decided it was a good idea to start basic: isn't that a reasonable measure of a cookbook? I chose Boyce's recipe for chocolate chip cookies made with whole wheat flour. I liked the look of the recipe for two reasons besides the mouth-watering photo: 1) The butter is added--chilled! No pre-softening necessary. And 2) It calls for chopping up good dark chocolate instead of plain old chocolate chips.
I have to tell you, these were some of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. They turned out ever so slightly crispy on top, but chewy in the center, with a nutty background from the whole wheat, and big chunks of chocolate running through. Now, most of us are loyalists when it comes to chocolate chip cookie recipes, and if I could only make one the rest of my life, it would still be the one from Baking Illustrated that I wrote about a year ago. But this would be a very close second place.
The one thing about this cookbook is that I don't see myself buying all these different kinds of flours. I mean, whole wheat I can get behind. But amaranth, barley, spelt, and kamut? It seems to require a change in life perspective--and a larger pantry. But truthfully, that barrier is my own making and not the fault of the book. And it is one I am inspired to break through, thanks to Kim Boyce.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours
About 20 large cookies
Parchment for baking sheets
3 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 c. dark brown sugar (I used light)
1 c. sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4-1/2" pieces (I used Scharffen Berger semisweet)
1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
3. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
5. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 T. in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
6. Bake the cookies for 16-20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with remaining dough. These are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They'll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.