Cookbook Review: Flour

Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

By Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson

photos by Keller + Keller

Facts: Chronicle Books, 320 pages, $35.00 (or $17.99 at Amazon)
Photos: 49
Recipes: Almost 150
Give to: baker friends, budding pastry chefs, cookie monsters

New sweet-treat books are popping up on the shelves and in windows of bookstores across the country – the harbinger of the holidays! While I grind my teeth when department stores jump the holiday gun, dessert books can’t come early enough. Bring ’em!

When Christie Matheson’s Salty Sweets book hit the shelves last year, she credited Joanne Chang as one of the great pastry chefs who inspired her. The feeling must have been mutual as they decided on a collaborative effort with Flour.

Chang owns Flour Bakery & Café in Boston and has an interesting back-story.

In spite of recognizing an affection for sweets as a child, she was raised in a traditional Chinese home where desserts (other than moon cakes or almond cookies) were foreign to her. Her introduction to desserts began with spending time at friends’ homes.

She wasn’t thinking about being a chef, however, as she worked on her Harvard degree in mathematics and economics. After a year of working in Cambridge, her dreams were pulling her to relocate — to the kitchen and to baking. After two years in corporate America, she did just that.

With no formal culinary education and willing to start at the bottom, she worked her way through commercial kitchens, learning and improving techniques until she landed a job with Francois Payard in Manhattan. Her appreciation of beauty and precision of the French approach to pastry notwithstanding, she wanted to open an all American bakery and in 2000, she did. Flour Bakery now has three locations.

Does it sound weird for me to say the book felt “comfortable” from the first time I picked it up? The orderly table of contents is followed by her story and I found myself smiling, thinking she could be a friend. The techniques section is gangbusters – I’ve been fraisaging for years but now I know another word for kneading. And before getting on with the recipes, she shares her top 12 baking tips.

A lot of recipes were calling to me. How does one choose between Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart and Roasted Pear and Cranberry Crostata? Is the Crispy Magic Frosting on chocolate cupcakes really magic? And how can it be crispy when it looks so smooth? How about the sticky buns she made to best Bobby Flay in the Food Network’s Throwdown?

In the end a youthful yen won: Homemade Oreos. Delicious! If you put these on a cookie tray, they’ll be gobbled up in minutes.

Two comments: my cookie dough never seemed “too floury” as the directions indicate, so I never had to put my hands into it. I was concerned, but after letting the dough sit for an hour as directed, there was no problem shaping the dough into a log.

Also, when I make these again, I’ll make the diameter of the log smaller – perhaps 1-1/2 inches rather than 2-1/2 inches the recipe specifies.

That’ll take the guilt out of having more than one.

— Linda Avery

© Keller + Keller

From Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Homemade Oreos
Makes 16 to 18 sandwich cookies

Oreos used to be a mystery to me. The debates about splitting them and eating the filling first, eating them whole, or dunking them—none of it made any sense. My mom never bought commercial sweets, and she certainly never bought the almost-black cookies that looked burnt to her. For the same reason, they never appealed to me either— until one day when i finally bit into one at a friend’s house. Wow. 1 tried to convince my mom that they were fantastic and that we really, really needed to buy them for after-school snacking. She refused, only saying that they looked too black to be good. Years later, I created my own version of an Oreo, made with real chocolate and bittersweet cocoa and filled with a creamy mixture of sugar, butter, and a little vanilla. It’s a decidedly grown-up version of the treat I fleetingly remember. And they are delicious. Flour customers go crazy for them. At first, they expect a very sweet, vaguely chocolaty treat. Instead, they get an intense, rich chocolate cookie with a buttery vanilla cream filling— an Oreo like no other. Even Mom approves. When she visits, she always requests them for the care package I send home with her.

For the cookies
1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the vanilla cream filling
1/2 cup (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups (230 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch of kosher salt

Make the cookies
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the egg and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

2. In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well mixed. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The dough will start to seem too floury, and you will find it easiest to switch to mixing it with your hands until it comes together. It will have the consistency of Play-Doh. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 1 hour to firm up.

3. Transfer the dough to a 15-inch square sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rough log about 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Place the log at the edge of the sheet of parchment paper, and roll the parchment around the log. With the log fully encased in parchment, roll it into a smoother log, keeping it at 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. The log may settle and sink a bit in the fridge, so reroll it every 15 minutes or so to maintain a nice round log. (At this point, the dough log can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the dough is frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)

4. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325°F. Butter a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

5. Cut the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the slices about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Check them frequently after 16 or 17 minutes, poking them in the middle. As soon as they feel firm to the touch, remove them from the oven. You can’t judge by color because they start out black. Let cool on the baking sheet to warm or room temperature. They don’t have to cool completely before you fill them, but you can’t fill them while they are hot.

Make the filling
1. While the cookies are cooling, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until completely smooth and soft. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture is per¬fectly smooth. Add the milk and salt and again beat until smooth. It will look like white spackle and feel about the same—like putty.

2. Scoop about 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of one cookie. Top with a second cookie, bottom-side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges. Repeat until all of the cookies are filled.

Note: You can also mix this filling by hand. Make sure the butter is very soft, and use your hands to mix and knead the sugar into the butter. You should have about 1 cup. (The filling can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.)

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