By Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson

Cookbook review written by


Flour is available for purchase through our online store or at your local bookstore

Have you ever come across a cookbook with which you instantly hit it off and know that the two of you will be the closest of friends forever? A book that can do no wrong in your eyes and so you place them on a pedestal from which they never fall? This is the case for me and famed Boston pastry chef Joanne Chang’s Flour (published by Chronicle Books, $35.00 USD).

Co-written with Christie Matheson, this book is a collection of recipes from the Flour Bakery which first opened in Boston (MA) back in 2000. The drool worthy photographs of Keller + Keller help to create a whimsical, almost retro feel to the book that takes nothing away from the professional quality of the recipes. Each page is full of Joanne Chang’s passion for baking and her continued fascination with the transformations that take place when you combine simple ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and butter. It is written in a casual manner, full of personal memories and anecdotes that will put even the most inexperienced baker at ease while preparing pâte feuilletée for the first time. Helpful baking tips are written in a clear, descriptive manner making intimidating techniques relatable for bakers of all levels. Lists of fundamental baking equipment and pantry essentials are also included, and ingredient amounts for recipes are given in both volume and weight measurements.

The cookbook market has always been inundated with baking books. So what makes Flour stand out from the herd? Clearly written recipes that produce successful results and include a variety of treats that range from a simple peanut butter cookie to more high-falutin’ creations such as Hazelnut-Almond Dacquoise. I dare you to open this book and instantly not want to make everything. In fact, I double dog dare you.

With the recipe tests for this book I opted for a commercial classic treats theme that included making Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and Fig Newtons. However I have also made the Raspberry-Rhubarb Muffins (delightful), and Flour’s Famous Banana Bread (is there a support group for addicts of this recipe?!) along with many other recipes – all of which turned out perfectly.

I read on The Kitchen that walking into Boston’s famous Flour Bakery is like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and that the bakery’s cookbook is like winning the golden ticket. Not having had the pleasure of visiting a Flour Bakery I can only imagine the sweet pleasures held within its walls, but cooking from the bakery’s cookbook definitely made me feel like I won the lottery

Homemade Fig Newtons

RATING: 4 out of 5 (filling is unavoidably addictive…trust me!)

THE TEST: Hands up if you used to find Fig Newtons tucked away in your lunch kit? Me too. But as an adult I tend to avoid these treats, finding them to taste overly processed and much too sweet. So when I saw this recipe I was intrigued about the idea of making them from scratch, and when I found fresh figs at the market I took it as a sign and got to work.

The filling consists of figs reduced into syrupy goodness in a mixture of orange, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. At this point I must confess that I had to make a second batch of filling because it all disappeared. I will definitely be making this jam in the future! It tasted incredible on crackers with a sharp white cheddar cheese.

The shortbread dough was straightforward to make and lovely to work with, although be warned it can get a little sticky so be sure to liberally flour the dough on all sides prior to rolling it out.

THE RESULTS: Reactions to this recipe were interesting: Mr. Spock thought it turned out better than the real deal and loved the buttery shortbread cookie combined with the homemade fig jam. Other Fig Newton diehards preferred the store bought variety for nostalgic reasons. Personally, I liked the taste of the shortbread but found it a tad too crumbly to hold a dense filling like the jam.

Homemade Oreos

RATING: 5 out of 5 (incredible cookie, better than the store bought variety)

For a copy of this recipe, please click here

THE TEST: Oreos. Milk’s favourite cookie. Growing up the only time I got to indulge in this treat was at my Grandma’s house. She had this vintage cookie jar shaped like a giant strawberry, and from the moment I stepped through the door I kept my eye on this jar knowing it was full of Oreo cookies.

The cookie dough itself was simple to assemble, but make sure you start early in the day as the process itself is time consuming (dough must sit at room temperature for an hour before spending a minimum of two hours in the fridge). I happened to have just enough time to finish a batch before going out to dinner with Mr. Spock. When we came back the babysitter had a glazed over look of contentment on her face as she begged for a copy of the recipe.

THE RESULTS: These cookies are full of intense, rich chocolate flavour and would taste great on their own but combined with the vanilla cream filling are utterly divine. Like with Maya’s No-No-Nanaimo Bars from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, this is an updated version of a childhood favourite that is less sweet, more grown-up. These cookies are a decadent and addictive treat that will have everyone begging for the recipe.

The cookies taste like actual chocolate (go figure) and the filling is bursting with a decadent, buttery vanilla flavour. A recipe for peanut butter cream filling is also included as a filling substitute, and although I tend to be a purist the flavour profile of chocolate and peanut butter combined with this cookie is something that I could totally get behind.

Homemade Pop-Tarts

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (versatile recipe that is easier than you might think)

THE TEST: As a kid I tended to avoid Pop-Tarts always finding them too sweet and cardboard tasting. In hindsight my distaste was probably a good thing, as there was no way my mother would have brought them into our carob eating health nut of a house. But as soon as I saw the photo of these treats I knew resistance would be futile. They would have to be made.

The recipe uses pâte brisée, a dough with a rich buttery flavour that is often used for sweet and savory pies. The pastry’s high ratio of butter to flour gives it a crisp and crumbly texture. Oh and in case you were wondering you pronounce it “paht bree-ZAY”. Just saying.

Not having made this particular type of pastry dough before I have nothing to compare my experience, but Joanne Chang’s recipe seemed absurdly easy…dare I say ‘fun’?! It’s made half in the mixer and half on the counter using a method she calls “going down the mountain”, where you basically gather the dough into a mound and slide your palm down each side until the butter chunks are smeared into the dough.

After the dough has chilled, the filling is added and the tarts are assembled in a similar process to making ravioli (roll the dough, spoon filling into rectangles, layer a second sheet of pastry over top and press down to make pockets around the filling). I opted to use raspberry jam, but the book offers a variety of filling alternatives that include apple cinnamon and brown sugar with a cinnamon glaze, and chocolate with a chocolate glaze.

THE RESULTS: I may not enjoy store bought Pop-Tarts but this recipe turned out fabulously. The pastry melted in your mouth in delicious flakes of buttery goodness, the glaze added a nice sweetness that wasn’t too much, and the raspberry jam didn’t ooze out of the layers as I feared!

It was shocking (but not surprising) how quickly these vanished in our house.