For the last two years, around the holidays, I have been immensely entertained by “The Piglet – Tournament of Cookbooks” at Food52.com. It’s March Madness for cookbooks with the latest releases pitted head to head in brackets and judged by various experts in the field. I usually root for my favorites – books I might own or authors I like – because it makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. This past year, one book captured my attention as it advanced through the brackets– “Good to the Grain – Baking with Whole Grain Flours” by Kim Boyce. At first, I was dismissive. Whole grain baking. Snooze.
But that little book kept climbing the ranks, week after week, as judge after judge became rather enamored with the delicious recipes. Hmmm … maybe I should look into this. Then it took the top award, on a Mario Batali decision no less, a man not known for his baking prowess. I definitely had to look into this one. I occasionally bake with whole grains but hadn’t really explored the world outside of whole wheat, bran, rice and a foray once into graham flour. There was definitely room for improvement.
What I like most is that the author does not take the “white-flour-is-evil” preachy tone often found in “healthy” type books. Let’s get this straight … this is not a health food granola-type book. This woman likes her fat and is no sprout eating hippie (well, I don’t know that for sure but I think I making a safe assumption here.) She’s a pastry chef after all. My kind of people. The good ones, above all, don’t sacrifice texture, flavor or quality on a holier-than-thou principle. Her rationale is that whole grains are tasty and that they’re also nutritious is a bonus. I could tell by reading the head notes to each recipe that she and I were going to get along just fine.
Time to dig in. I started simple only because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. Now this one … well, this one is ballsy. It looks like a standard chocolate chip recipe but all the flour is whole wheat – no, processed white flour whatsoever. I was intrigued – any recipe I’ve encountered with 100% whole-wheat flour has been heavy and leaden. Game on.
I used a good chocolate as recommended – big chunks of 70% dark – and added some dried cherries too, just because. This makes a stiff dough – heed the warning to mix/knead in the chocolate by hand. I didn’t and my plastic beater blade snapped. Such a drag. I really should pay more attention sometimes.
So really now … how is a whole wheat cookie? Dry, tasteless health food fare? Hard pucks you throw at the cat to keep her off the counter? Not in the least! These were fantastic. Seriously delicious. I’ve never been a big chocolate chip cookie person but I’ve made these twice in as many weeks and have some frozen, ready to bake off at a moments notice. Parents should make this their go-to cookie recipe immediately. Why not? If the kids are going to eat a cookie, at least sneak a little fiber in there. They’ll never know.
One caveat: a friend of mine declared these “healthy cookies.” I wouldn’t quite jump to that conclusion. Sure they’re 100% whole wheat but there are 2 sticks of butter and 2 cups of sugar in these babies. Remember, they are cookies. Let’s keep some perspective.
Excitedly, I went back to the book. What other delicious thing could I make? I decided Barley Scones were on deck – they’d be magnificent with my freshly made apricot marmalade. Here’s where I ran into a snag. I couldn’t find barley flour anywhere. Five stores and no luck. Sure, I could get it online at Bob’s Red Mill but the thought of paying for shipping on specialty flour bugged me. On principle and pocketbook, I’m not quite there yet.
So I do realize that my semi-review of this book is based on one recipe. Pretty weak, I know, but this book has me excited to try some new flours, new flavors. It’s been sitting on my coffee table, next to the couch that I collapse upon each evening, for the last month. I open it every few days for inspiration. To me, that makes a winner. I’m completely intrigued by a tart dough made with rye and an amaranth flatbread. And if I can ever get my hands on barley flour, I’m all over those scones.
I’m rather impressed with this little tome. Others appear to be as well – the book won a James Beard award this month for best baking book. Huzzah!
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: OH MY OH MY. Who knew working whole grain flours into your repertoire could be this delicious? Well, not me. To pass off your lovingly crafted treats with a whisper of a health message and an all-knowing smile? Get outta here. If you start simple, it’s pretty easy too. Depending on what you choose to make there could be a little aggravation involved in seeking out some of these ingredients but then again, if you’re motivated and money isn’t an issue, there’s always that godsend upon which we all depend: the internet. I absolutely plan on taking these ideas and running with them. I also don’t think I’ll go back to a regular ‘ol chocolate chip cookie recipe again. And by the way, I read on Serious Eats that 5/15 was “National Chocolate Chip Day” so consider this my late entry to the party. It’s never too late to celebrate anything celebrating chocolate. Giddy up.
WHOLE WHEAT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
- from “Good to the Grain” by Kim Boyce
Makes about 20 large cookies
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
8 ounces cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼” – ½” chunks
½ cup dried cherries
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a medium bowl, sift the whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to remove any lumps. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
- Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix until combined.
- Add the flour mixture and mix until combined. The dough will be quite stiff.
- Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead in the chocolate and dried cherries by hand. (Note: the dough is extremely stiff and usually too much for even the most high-powered of stand mixers. Don’t tempt fate.)
- Scoop 3 Tablespoons mounds of dough and place on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet 3” apart to account for any spreading during baking.
- Bake 16-20 minutes, rotating the sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Do not overbake – these are so much better when slightly soft. Cool completely.
- Keep any leftovers tightly wrapped at room temperature up to 3 days. The dough also freezes beautifully – bake directly from the freezer adding an additional few minutes.