Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef
Flavor Flours is available for purchase at local bookstores. For more information on this book please visit Artisan.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Medrich when her Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy book first came out. At the end of our conversation, we started talking about gluten-free baking and how it can be so difficult to get just the right texture. I jokingly commented how she needed to write a gluten-free cookbook. Not that I’m taking credit for being the inspiration behind this book! But I did get a thrill when Flavor Flours was published because if anyone can tackle the gluten-free world of baking and become master of its domain, it’s Alice Medrich.
Dedicated entirely to no-wheat flours, this book pays homage to Alice’s skill as a pastry chef. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one tackling a specific flour: rice, oat, corn/cornmeal, buckwheat, chestnut, teff, sorghum and nut/coconut. These recipes go far beyond simple gluten-free substitutions and really delve into the structure of each flour and how it enhances the dessert based on its unique texture and flavor.
The majority of the recipes in this book are based on familiar desserts and baked goods such as brownies, chocolate cakes, muffins and cookies. Because all of the flours are gluten-free there’s less emphasis on technique as there’s no risk of over stirring. No gluten to activate means no tough cakes or cookies!
The book starts off with a glimpse into the recipe testing process and what insights came about for Alice and her recipe developer cohort Maya Klein as they got to know each of the different flours. Information about various techniques – such as the best method for melting chocolate – and details about specific equipment and the best type of ingredients to use is also included and super helpful. Each chapter begins with an introduction to the flour that describes its unique characteristics along with the best methods of storage, with each of the recipes holding detailed steps and information that I personally love about Alice’s cookbooks. No detail is overlooked and I appreciate that level of passion and caring.
I would describe this book as a bit of a baking bible, one that you will turn to and pick-up time and time again. The photos are beautiful and I personally like being able to figure out what I can make based on the type of flour I happen to have on hand.
Alice knocks another one out of the park.
Rating: 3 out of 5 (low on guilt, high on health)
THE TEST: I have little experience baking with sorghum flour. The only time I seem to use it is for the topping in my apple crisp – a seriously good flour alternative when making this dessert sans gluten. So after I saw this recipe and read the disclaimer that sorghum’s non-assertiveness balances well with overly ripe bananas I thought I’d give it a try. What sealed the deal for me was the amount of overly ripe bananas I happened to have on hand that day. Honestly, I made a batch of these muffins plus a double batch of banana bread! It was very satisfying.
This recipe is not overly fussy and comes together quickly and easily. It’s a basic muffin batter – wet ingredients combined with dry ingredients then mixey mixey – and baked in the oven for 20 minutes. These muffins are also dairy-free, with the wet ingredients consisting of egg, vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil) and brown sugar, which is then mixed with white rice flour, sorghum flour, baking soda, baking powder and mashed bananas.
THE RESULTS: The three people in my family who are not gluten-free found these muffins too sweet with an overly gritty texture. However, and possibly more importantly, the one gluten-freer in our family thought they were awesome and gave the recipe two thumbs up.
I’ve made my share of gluten-free muffins and usually find a straight GF all-purpose flour swap usually works the best and garners results most similar to the gluten-filled variety.
Dark Chocolate Soufflés
Rating: 5 out of 5 (impressive dessert, perfect for entertaining)
THE TEST: I don’t have a lot of experience making soufflés, but I do enjoy eating them. But the game-changer part of this particular recipe is the fact you can make them in advance and refrigerate until ready to bake. Genius move – especially when entertaining.
The main difference between this recipe and others I’ve tried in the past is the addition of white rice flour in the soufflé base, which Alice uses because of its delicate flavour that won’t overpower the chocolate and which also gives it a creamy, luxurious texture. I was intrigued and rolled up my sleeves to give it a try.
Maybe it was the glass of vino I consumed prior to starting this dish or the long work hours I’d put in this past week, but for whatever reason I felt an extra pair of hands during prep would have been beneficial. Either that or I should have embraced the whole mise en place concept to avoid simultaneously stirring the milk/butter/rice flour concoction while breaking apart the chocolate and whipping egg whites. Cue Mr. Spock! He took over stirring while I chopped and whipped. We make a great team.
Butter is melted with the rice flour and whisked until thickened, then chocolate is added off heat to melt with egg yolk, vanilla and a dash of more milk invited to the party. Meanwhile over in the egg white corner, cream of tartar and sugar are added to the white froth that is all folded into the chocolate mixture and put into ramekin dishes that you can refrigerate up to three days before baking. Remember I told you this was a genius recipe for entertaining? Yeah – I wasn’t lying.
THE RESULTS: There’s something about the word soufflé that tends to intimidate people. It evokes feelings of culinary inadequacy and as a result many people shy away from even attempting to make them. But here’s the thing about soufflés – they’re shockingly easy to make and so impressive when you do.
These soufflés turned out very well indeed. Light as air with a delicate, smooth texture that practically melted on your tongue, the chocolate front and centre in the flavour department. I have to admit I was a bit nervous the rice flour would result in a gritty texture, but this wasn’t the case. They were perfect.
Double Oatmeal Cookies
Rating: 5 out of 5 (the oatmeal cookie that all other oatmeal cookies want to be when they grow up)
THE TEST: This is a recipe where patience truly is a virtue and trust me, it will pay off big time. So plan in advance because for the best results you’ll want to let the batter rest overnight.
Not for the oat-faint of heart, these cookies use a combination of oat flour and rolled oats, which give the cookies a depth of flavour that just can’t be beat. Melted butter, a combo of granulated and light brown sugar along with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla are whisked with eggs before adding the dry ingredients. Because the recipe calls for xanthan gum, it gives you the power to adjust the level of chewiness of the cookies by mixing more or less (more will result in chewier/less crunchy cookies). I’m a purest when it comes to my oatmeal cookies so opted not to add walnuts or raisins, but if that’s your flavour pleasure than go ahead and add. No judgment from this stay-at-home chef.
Okay, well maybe a little bit of judgment.
THE RESULTS: While Alice does say you can let the batter rest for an hour or two, she does say upfront – and she’s totally right – that results will be best if left overnight. Plus what I love about the longer rest period is that I can make it the night before, come home from work and then scoop and bake without much effort or mess. It’s a win-win situation people.
I have no words for the awesomeness of these cookies. They are total perfection. Nice and chewy with the perfect bite, slightly caramelized sweetness from the brown sugar that in now way overpowers the cookie. Seriously – all other oatmeal cookies should just throw in the towel.
My advice? Go out and buy this book right now – if only for this recipe. Yes, these cookies are that good.