I love the feeling of excitement I get when I start reading a new a cookbook and know right away that it’s something very special.
Kim Boyce, a former Los Angeles pastry chef at Spago and Campanile and frequent contributor to Bon Appetit magazine has written that “something special” in her debut cookbook “Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours.” The book is special in the way that Boyce doesn’t just give us a book of recipes that use whole-grain flours to make us think we’re eating healthier. Boyce explores the art of balancing flavors by mixing different whole grains together, pairing them with seasonal ingredients, creating a richness and depth of flavor in a collection of recipes that completely changed the way I thought about whole grains.
Working with 12 different whole-grain flours from amaranth to teff, Boyce begins each chapter with an introduction explaining the origins and characteristics of each flour. When she introduces readers to teff flour, we learn it’s used in making the flatbread injera, traditionally served in Ethiopian restaurants. Teff is gluten-free so it’s mixed with whole-wheat flour to make a starter and allowed to ferment overnight, creating the sour taste distinctive to this spongy, crepe-like bread.
I had never heard of this flour, so I was excited to try Boyce’s graham cracker recipe. Mixing this rich malt-flavored flour with all-purpose flour and graham flour, these crackers could not have been easier to put together. I even perforated each cracker to mimic the store-bought varieties. There is something so completely satisfying about making a recipe that simple that tastes better than anything you can buy in a store.
One of my favorite things about Boyce’s book is that instead of overwhelming readers with a huge number of recipes, she plays it smart with just 75 well-crafted, sophisticated recipes, ranging from breakfast pastries, breads and cookies to desserts.
Boyce, an avid jam maker, includes a chapter on home-made jams and compotes, using the best seasonal fruits and vegetables available from your local farmers markets. There is also chapter for mail-order sources. I thought it might be difficult to locate some of the flours Boyce used, but after a quick look around my local Whole Foods Market I found nearly every whole grain needed.
There are many books on the market using whole-grain flours. Most that I have read are complex and academic in their approach to the subject, but Boyce has made the subject appealing, friendly and interesting. If you were to judge a book by its cover, Quentin Bacon’s beautiful color photography would certainly make this a bestseller. I have always had a fear of baking with unfamiliar ingredients, but Boyce has changed all that. I can’t wait to finish baking my way through this remarkable first cookbook.
Tim Fischer managed The Cook’s Library in Los Angeles, named one of the “Top 10 Cookbook Stores in the World” by Saveur. He also has been a judge for the IACP Cookbook Awards for four years.
Photo: “Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours” By Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood.
Credit: Stewart, Tabori & Chang