We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
In her first cookbook, Flour, Joanne Chang shared recipes for many of the baked goods that have built a devoted following at her Boston-area bakeries. (Fun fact: Merrill used to work at Flour!) Now, there's a second book -- born not so much out of obligation as by demand. Flour, Too is Joanne's response to her customers' cries for the recipes behind their favorite items, from Cinnamon-Cream Brioche to roast beef sandwiches to a festive Bûche de Noël.
Recently, Joanne stopped by our offices to chat about her new book: how it came to be, what her favorite recipes are, and how tricky it is to explain the process behind Croquembouche. Read on for her advice on breaking into the food industry, as well as a recipe for Boston Cream Pie from Boston's most beloved bakery.
You've said that being a part of the neighborhoods surrounding your bakeries is very important to you. Do you think that sense of community is part of what drove you to write this second book?
I think that the regulars who come to Flour start to think of the menu as theirs. And the way people talk to me -- I feel like the Food52 community is similarly passionate -- they're so into it that they will write me emails or stop me in the bakery. It's as if they're investors, saying "do this! and do this! and do this sandwich without this!" So I feel like the second book was more focused on what they love and why they come visit us every day. I want them to be able to replicate their favorite things at home -- especially those people who have moved away and miss their favorite foods from Flour.
How did you decide which recipes to include?
We've been open for almost 13 years, and I know what we sell a ton of. After the first book came out, so many people emailed, or texted, or tweeted us to say they loved the recipes in the book, but "what about this recipe"? For the most part I didn't even think about savory recipes [in the first book], so this book is half sweet and half savory.
There were some sweet recipes that I had forgotten about too, like the Boston Cream Pie -- and then people are clamoring, "Oh no, we need the BC pie!" So when my publisher asked me if I wanted to do another cookbook, after hearing from all of these people, I realized I could do a whole other Flour book, which I didn't think existed until I put pen to paper -- and I saw how much there was to write about.
What do you say to people who reach out to you wanting to break into the food industry?
For people who want to open a bakery, the easy and the most helpful answer is that if you really want to do this, you have to commit to spending some time working at a bakery. Because if you don't like working in a bakery, you won't be happy opening one. I tell them to find a local bakery or restaurant that they like, and volunteer there. It's tough -- not everyone can work for free, but it's the easiest way to get your foot in the door and see if you like the environment. Or, get a part-time job so you can witness what the day-to-day work is like.
You must be insanely busy. Do you get to cook a lot at home?
I don't. I miss cooking at home, but because of our restaurant, a lot of times I'll be at the bakery during the morning, take a two hour break in the middle of the day, and then go to the restaurant at night. [My husband] Christopher and I get take out from there about 5 nights a week. But the food's good -- it's delicious!
What recipes from the new book are you most excited about?
The egg sandwich -- that was the one item where people would physically stop me in the bakery when the first book came out, like "where's the egg sandwich?" The chicken, jicama, and avocado sandwich is my personal favorite: we dress it with a little bit of honey and lime and make a spicy avocado spread. It's sort of like a guacamole, but chunkier and without tomatoes.
What I'm really excited about -- and I'm really excited to see if people actually do this -- is our recipe for Croquembouche. You make the puffs, put it all together, and make the spun sugar -- I spent so long trying to take what's a simple task to me and break it down and figure out how to explain it in words. Making spun sugar is like tying your shoe -- once you've seen it and tried it, you can do it, but explaining it is difficult. I hope people will make it!
Serves 4 to 6
For the sponge cake
4 large eggs, separated, plus 3 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch kosher salt
For the cake-soaking syrup
Boston Cream Pie photo by Michael Harlan Turkel; photo of Joanne by Keller + Keller