For those of you who follow me on twitter, you’ve probably gathered that I’m a huge Kim Boyce fan–I really haven’t been this excited and inspired by a cookbook in a long time. Perhaps ever. I had the opportunity to meet Kim last week at Omnivore Books and hear her take on the different whole grain flours she uses in Good to the Grain and how each affects the flavor and texture of her recipes. If you want a more detailed review of her book, I wrote a short piece for Bay Area Bites last week, so feel free to read more there.
But for now, let’s talk cookies. And let’s talk whole wheat flour. And let’s talk about how I’m flying to China with my dad and my sisters this afternoon and I’m wholly unprepared and kind of o.k. with that. The odd thing about that is I’m a big planner. Generally when I go on trips, I stock up on guidebooks, start making lists, talk to friends, email acquaintences, mock up a few itineraries. That’s just how I roll. But something seems to have changed. I just don’t care to even think about planning. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just packed up my entire life and moved it into my mom’s garage for the summer. I can’t find my running shorts or my favorite salad bowl, so that’s thrown me a little. So I guess now’s as good a time as any to throw it out to my lovely readers: If any of you have been to Shanghai and/or Hong Kong and have suggestions, bring it on! I’d love to hear them. Truly. And in the meantime, I’m settling in to my new fly-by-the-seat, carefree mentality with a plateful of whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.
Now Good to the Grain is organized in chapters according to the type of whole grain flour Kim’s using. So while there are certainly more exciting recipes I suppose (Muscovado Sugar Cake, Rhubarb Tarts, Figgy Buckwheat Scones), you can’t go wrong with a solid chocolate chip cookie and I was intrigued with Kim’s use of cold butter, 100% whole wheat flour, and atypical amount of kosher salt. Now while I may be known for hyperbole, I have to say I’m not sure I’ll ever make another chocolate chip cookies recipe again. I’ve fallen in love. Kim’s recipe yields a chewy, almost nutty cookie with uneven shards of bittersweet chocolate and glints of kosher salt. It’s a sturdy cookie begging for a glass of milk. But it’s also a delightfully decadent cookie, perfect all on its own.
Besides the insanely creative recipes, Kim’s expert tips, and Quentin Bacon’s luscious photos, one thing I love about Kim’s approach is her playfulness. I’m a typical baker in that I like to measure, I’m precise, and I don’t love straying from a recipe the first time around (although I’m getting much better with this one). But Kim encourages adaptation and taking yourself less seriously in the kitchen. A little less stringent planning, perhaps. Use what you’ve got on hand. I took her advice with these cookies and threw in chopped pecans, and I’m taking her advice all the way to China and winging it just a little. Seeking out a bit of unplanned adventure, using what we’ve got on hand, following our instincts, and seeing what kind of trouble we can muster up. Count on the fact that I’ll fill you in. Until then…
I added chopped pecans to this recipe although you could certainly add in your favorite nuts, dried fruit, or a bit of coconut if you’d like. They’re best warm from the oven or eaten the same day.
Slightly adapted from: Good to the Grain
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
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. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds.
Add the chocolate and pecans all at once and quickly mix on low speed until evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl and turn out onto a clean work surface and use your hands to fully incorporate all ingredients.
Scoop balls of dough about 3 tablespoons in size on the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them. Bake for 16-20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cook and repeat with remaining dough.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.