I'm biased. I'll come right out and say it. Even if this was the worst cookbook known to man (which it's so, so not), I probably wouldn't say so. You see, I have a long relationship with Flour Bakery. When you're a graduate student in English literature who sits inside and reads all day in a city that suffers an impossibly long winter, bakeries are your second home. And for me, Flour was it. If you ask me the top three things I miss about Boston, Joanne Chang's lovely bakery would be in there somewhere. And that's why I was thrilled to receive a review copy of her brand new cookbook, Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Bakery and Cafe.
In addition to the recipes which I'll discuss in a moment, the cookbook is a keeper for many other reasons. In the introduction, Chang describes how she went from Harvard student to consultant to small-time local cookie purveyor to doing stints at local and international restaurants and eventually opening the bakery. It's a story of both luck and passion and a healthy dose of hard work--the story of someone who took a circuitous route and eventually came around to doing what they love. And that love shines through from the moment you step into the bakery and from the moment you turn to page 1 of the book. First, the photographs by Keller + Keller truly capture the classic, nostalgic, and equally playful nature of many of Chang's desserts. The organization of the book is logical which is not always the case with cookbooks. She begins with "Joanne's Top 12 Baking Tips" which are helpful but, truthfully, don't contain any groundbreaking information if you bake much at home (she covers temperature of ingredients, freezing dough, and over whipping). However, the "Techniques" chapter is absolutely fabulous. In your day-to-day baking cookbook, these tips are rarely covered: it's here that Chang talks about blind baking, how to do a crumb coat on a cake, cooking perfect sugar, and filling a pastry bag. For some, these may be simple, but for others, Chang's precise explanation will make you feel as though she's standing right beside you in the kitchen.
Now, the recipes: Chang keeps it simple with Chapter titles such as "Breakfast Treats," "Cookies," and "Cakes." And for anyone who has been to Flour Bakery, the book is especially exciting because the pages contain all the typical customer favorites such as Pop-Tarts, Double Chocolate Cookies, Sticky Buns, that incredible Banana Bread, and those devilishly chocolaty Chocolate Cupcakes. I'm in pastry cookbook heaven. I don't really know where to start, so I begin where any self-respecting baker would: Homemade Oreos.