Flour

I have a major sweet tooth. It’s been passed on to my kids. I must have eaten a lot of chocolate when I was pregnant with C because he considers chocolate a food group. Or should I say THE food group. As much as a love to cook, I’ve never been much of a baker. Sure, I started out making chocolate chip cookies in high school, even made a from the box cake that I decorated as a clock for a new year’s eve party my senior year, but I wouldn’t say that baking has been a strength. I have a number of baking books in my collection – a testament to my attempt to improve – but nothing inspired me to get to that “omg good” that I hoped to achieve. Until I found Flour.

I’ve had this cookbook about 4 years. It started when I was watching the Food Network with Jeff one morning and he saw an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay that featured sticky buns. He thought they looked pretty great, so I grabbed the recipe online and made it for fathers day. It was a 2 day process that pushed my baking boundaries, but I had that “omg good” moment. So when I saw the book at Barnes and Noble, it was a must buy. Full disclosure for the review – this is my go-to baking book, so I’ve made a number a birthday cakes from this. But all the recipes I tried for the review are brand new and unpracticed…maybe not bakery pretty, but let’s just say I had happy kids this week.

The Recipes
Raspberry-Rhubarb Muffins
French Lemon-Poppy Pound Cake
Basic Brioche
Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
Coconut Macaroons
Intense Chocolate Brownies
Granola Bars
Classic Carrot Cake (Cupcakes) with Cream Cheese Frosting
White Coconut Cake with Coconut Frosting
Country Ham Cheddar, and Tomato Quiche
Pate Prisee II (pastry for the quiche)
Oatmeal-Maple Scones 

The Good
Wow – where to begin. The macaroons and the brownies were definitely standouts – first to go, refill, and gone again on the dessert tray for my birthday. I loved the coconut cake, but I would have liked a more pronounced coconutty flavor – particularly in the cake itself. My friend said it tasted like wedding cake! H loved the chocolate cupcakes, C just ate the buttercream frosting. I took it as a compliment. The quiche was also a hit, especially with C…since we ate it cold, he thought it was great. Quote: “Sister! We’re having pie for dinner! Cold pie!” But my favorite would have to be the brioche. Oh, the brioche. There was a bit of drama involved with making the brioche, but it was worth every bit. Toasted brioche with strawberry jam may have been my absolute favorite bite of the book.

The Bad
A couple things were just ok. The muffins were good, but they didn’t brown up and have the wonderful crispy muffin top that I love. Oatmeal-maple scones were dry when eaten cold, but much tastier warm. Redeemable. Must be a butter thing. The carrot cake cupcakes tasted good, but looked absolutely terrible – I didn’t have enough time to frost them for my party, but they looked so sad that I almost cut them up for a trifle. Instead I just threw them in the freezer. I liked the granola bars, but they were the last to go every time – so either they don’t compare to the brownies or the millet/sunflower seeds scared people off. The pate brisee II was the easiest pastry crust I’ve ever made, but I should have used my glass pyrex to prebake so I could keep track of the browning. And there was plenty of cooking errors – Joanne Chang, the chef, started out at MIT and writes with absolutely precision…..some of the cake recipes are 3 pages long! My bad – I often fail to read the directions fully. Big mistake in baking.

The Ugly
Hmmmm – the amount of butter in my fridge this week? The way my pants fit? Gluten overload? The time baking every night? The constant heat coming from the oven fan? While the brioche was amazingly good, it created the ugliest moment…as the weight of the kneading knocked my KitchenAid off the counter on the floor. Nooooo! Talk about a look of horror on my face. Fortunately it didn’t break the mixer. It was fun trying everything out, but wow – this was a kitchen intensive week. To be honest, I didn’t even really cook for the next week because I was burned out. We just relied on the leftovers from my birthday bbq and was thankful that my friends left the salads (and ribs) behind. I needed a break!

Flour
Overall Review – 4.5 out of 5
As I mentioned before, this is my go-to baking book. I love the way Chef Chang writes – I learned how to be a better baker after getting this book. I always weigh ingredients now and I’ve learned a number of tricks, including the proper amount of time to cream butter, how to make your own creme fraiche, and the importance of time/advanced preparation. Her recipes are playful, a bit retro, and an unapologetic celebration of all things sweet. That being said, this is not a cookbook for the last minute baker. Most recipes require lots of extra time for prep, cooling, and involve lots of steps. But that’s why things are “omg good.” I’ll get back to Boston sometime and I’ll stalk her bakery – until then, I’ll keep practicing and learning from Flour. It will make you a better baker – guaranteed!

Next up – something healthy. We are treated out, and after a week of burgers and a week of sweets, it’s time to get back to basics.

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