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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.